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A Campaign Journey

The past seven months have flown by, and we find ourselves with less than a week until Election Day. It seems fitting to reflect on my journey toward the goal of becoming Staunton’s newest City Council member. 

This entire campaign experience has exceeded my expectations in every way. On the one hand, it has meant considerably more schedule juggling, more stress, more commitments, and more late nights catching up on work. On the other, it has been more rewarding and educational, has provided more self-growth, and has resulted in many new personal connections and relationships. All in all, the single most significant result of this journey has been developing a greater appreciation of and love for Staunton and its people.  

Along the way, I have had the opportunity to meet city department heads, our elected constitutional officers (Treasurer, Commissioner of Revenue, Sheriff, Clerk of Circuit Court, and Commonwealth Attorney), and both current and former city council members. I’ve learned about all of their responsibilities and experiences, and now have a much clearer understanding of the city’s operations, needs, and services. 

Meeting and connecting with fellow Staunton citizens and community organizations has been equally valuable. These connections have served to reinforce my principal campaign ideals. More importantly, I now have new insights, approaches, and perspectives on our city’s needs and how they may be addressed. Here are some of the specific issues and ideas that have emerged in all my conversations with Stauntonians during this campaign:

Communications and opportunities for public participation

This topic has resonated the most with people I have met through campaign outreach activities and events. An informed community is a stronger, healthier community. Nearly everyone I have connected with agrees on the importance of improving city communications and expanding and encouraging public engagement and participation. 

The good news is that city leaders are already aware of this need. We have seen improvements over the past six months including:

  • an expanded social media presence regarding public meetings
  • the decision to revive and refine the search to fill the long-vacant Communications Manager position
  • a clearer focus on community engagement.

We still have significant areas for additional improvements, including the return of the Staunton Citizen University, more proactive public outreach on city issues of a certain scope and scale, and more approachable dissemination of important city information. However, I am encouraged to see that we are trending positively in terms of communications and opportunities for public participation.

Public investments and grants

Staunton has had several successes in this area in 2023 alone, including awards of $4.5 million from the Virginia Business Ready Sites Program for Staunton Crossing, $5.9 million in a Virginia Department of Health grant for the rehabilitation of the Gardner Springs pump station, and $1.5 million in a Virginia Industrial Revitalization Grant for the Arcadia Project. However, there are more opportunities to bring outside revenue to the city that we must capitalize on to meet future needs. 

City Council recently approved a resolution of support for a state cost-share application to extend the Churchville Avenue streetscape improvements to Thornrose Avenue. This is the same program utilized for the recently completed Central Avenue improvements. Unfortunately, if awarded, the best-case scenario for construction of this project is a minimum of six years into the future. 

We need a proactive approach to these types of grants with an ongoing and continual pursuit of opportunities, so that we can establish a pipeline of projects across the city. With Central Avenue completed, the next project would then be ready to begin, as opposed to facing a multi-year lag that does not maximize city investment or community benefit. 

The awareness and identification of other grant opportunities is also critical. In September, the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission was awarded a $4 million EPA Solid Waste Infrastructure for Recycling Grant. A significant part of the grant will focus on expanding curbside recycling pickup across jurisdictions in the northern region of the Shenandoah Valley. 

Collaboration and partnerships

There is so much opportunity here. I recently attended both the Staunton-Augusta-Waynesboro Housing Summit and the Bike/Walk Summit. Both events provided opportunities for regional collaboration to identify needs and trends, and to share ideas and best practices. 

One of the best learning opportunities of this entire campaign process has been gaining a better understanding of the various non-profit organizations in our region, their focus areas, and their relationships to the community, local governments, and other partner organizations. These organizations include, but are not limited to, Valley Community Services Board, Community Foundation Central Blue Ridge, and the Community Action Partnership. Some specific opportunities for regional collaboration include:

  • recycling (providing greater economies of scale),
  • mental health services (such as a crisis receiving center in partnership with Augusta Health), and
  • transportation/public transit improvements (including micro-transit/on-demand services/regional trail connectivity).    

It truly does take a village…

Throughout this journey, I have been overwhelmed by the support from our community. I am currently completing more than 100 personalized thank-you notes to express my appreciation to more than 80 individual donors to my campaign, as well as the dozens of volunteers who have helped distribute thousands of pieces of campaign literature and hundreds of yard signs (as well as two special individuals who have committed their time and talents to this newsletter series). Finally, I want to thank my wife and children for their flexibility and understanding in accommodating this commitment. I could not have done this without the support of all of you.        

I don’t know what the outcome of the election will be, but I do know that I have successfully run the campaign that I envisioned and could not be more pleased with the results at this juncture. Regardless of the outcome, this has been an amazing experience of personal growth and I truly appreciate the new friends I have made on this journey. I will always do what I can to support our city and I will continue to show up for Staunton.  

Category: Feature Article

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