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Local candidates lay out views at NAACP forum

SoVaNow.com / September 16, 2021
Contenders for local office took part Tuesday night in the first in a number of candidate forums leading up to the November election, this one hosted by the Halifax County-South Boston NAACP at the American Legion Post 99 in Sinai.

Three candidates for Halifax County Board of Supervisors — Hubert Pannell, Stanley Brandon and Larry Roller — took part in the NAACP forum, as did school board candidates Sandra Garner-Coleman and Thomas Lee, both running for the ED-3 seat. Melissa Hicks, the third school board candidate in ED-3, attended the forum but left early before the discussion turned to her contest.

A declared write-in candidate for ED-2 supervisor, Devin Hall, announced on social media this week that is withdrawing his candidacy. His exit leaves Roller as the only contender in the race and the only person whose name will be listed on the Nov. 2 ballot for ED-2 Board of Supervisors.

Three other candidates — Lacey Shotwell, on the ballot for Halifax County School Board in ED-6, Amy Gautier, on the ballot for Board of Supervisors in ED-3, and Mitzi Thompson, running as a write-in for the ED-6 supervisors seat — did not attend.

“All [candidates for local office] were invited to attend the debate,” said NAACP President Barbara Coleman Brown as she welcomed everyone to the forum, which was moderated by Priscilla Perry, a retired educator with Halifax County Public Schools.

Candidates for Board of Supervisors went first, with each given three minutes to answer specific questions. Pannell, Brandon and Roller were asked about topics ranging from economic development to the Confederate soldier memorial at the courthouse to hiring practices at county offices.

Coleman Brown made note of the NAACP’s efforts over the past year for fairer hiring of minorities in the county workforce, including in executive-level positions, and not just in the lower ranks. She said having minority staffers and department heads affects the perceptions of citizens whenever they go to pay tax bills or conduct other business.

On the subject of minority hiring, Brandon, one of three Black members on the Board of Supervisors, said it “is past time that we raise the bar.” He added that he does not favor hiring quotas “because it should not come to that. We should hire who is best for the job, we as minorities need to apply and position ourselves for fair consideration and not be overlooked.”

Roller responded, “I feel the available positions should be made aware to everyone, but the person who is hired should be the most qualified candidate and the percentages will work out.”

Hubert Pannell, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said he has continuously pleaded with the administrative office to hire persons of color in major roles to balance out a leadership that is largely white.

“I have always went into the main office and said, this person is leaving, I want you to get us a person of color,” said Pannell.

Pannell added that Halifax County has a “good ol’ boy” system that has long influenced the hiring of county staff. Recently when the courthouse was hiring new employees, Pannell said he issued a list of 13 qualified minority candidates who applied and not one of them was hired.

The forum also included the question of what to do about the Confederate statue at the courthouse — the subject of a 2019 voter referendum in which 60 percent of county voters rejected a call to relocate the statue to a different site. The referendum was advisory in nature and not binding on the Board of Supervisors.

Both Brandon and Pannell said they are in favor of relocating the statue to a historically suitable site, expressing the view that the location at the courthouse square is wrong.

“It is our history, but that is treasonous what the confederacy wanted to do to this great country — much like the insurrection that happened prior to our previous presidential election,” said Brandon.

Pannell shared that he tried his best as board chairman to convince fellow supervisors to vote to move the confederate statue elsewhere. He said it was a bad decision to present the question to the voters of Halifax County.

“Racially we could not win that vote, but we had to do something,” said Pannell, adding he hopes the board will revisit the issue.

He contrasted the approach in Halifax to the vote taken by the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors to move that county’s Confederate statue off the courthouse lawn in Boydton. The Mecklenburg memorial has been relocated to a church graveyard in town. The City of Richmond has removed its Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue, what had been the largest memorial to the Civil War in the country.

“But here we are Halifax County, still holding on to someone we don’t even know,” said Pannell.

Roller agreed the Confederate statue divides the community, but said he intends to represent his constituents of Election District 2 who voted 3-1 to leave the statue where it stands. “That’s how I cast my vote,” said Roller.

“Quite honestly I never paid attention to the statue,” he said. “The era of the Civil War and slavery was a horrible thing, but I look at the soldier as to remember all the young men who lost their lives in war,” said Roller. He acknowledged that some have mentioned the Staunton River Battlefield State Park, in his district, as a more appropriate location.

A final question pertained to economic growth in Halifax County and how to create high-level jobs and avenues to retain the young workers. All three candidates said the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority needs to be dismantled or taken under the watchful eye of county supervisors.

Pannell said county leaders need to step up their efforts to get business owners to look at Halifax County. Roller suggested the possibility that the Board of Supervisors should approve more conditional use permits, recalling one property — a tract on U.S. 501-S, near Cluster Springs Road and owned by local real estate broker Donnie Green — where commercial uses were considered several times, only for the board to shut it down.

Brandon criticized the decision by the IDA board to hire Kristy Johnson, a longtime member of the IDA office, to be the new IDA executive director after conducting what was billed as a nationwide search for a new leader.

“The IDA reverted back to a previous leader who has not brought anything in the past ten years,” said Brandon. He also said there needs to be more focus on the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center when recruiting prospective businesses.

Brandon stated the SVHEC is a gem in Halifax County that prepares the old and young for employment in the county.

Candidates will have more chances to set forth their positions in upcoming forums to be held in October in ED-2, ED-3 and ED-6.



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Comments

Why werent white candidates invited?
Go ahead , im waiting . Where is the inclusivity from Naacp?
Where are you on that Pannell and Brandon???

Comments

This statue madness really has people thinking it will make their life better to destroy history. In 100 years or less, I foresee a need to tear down all churches because of how it makes others feel. I saw Black people all over that statue this weekend taking pictures with their family as if they were at the White House. It was beautiful to me because they did not let the past or a statue ruin their day. No one in Richmond or Boydton will feel any better in 10 years because of the removal of a statue. If we're removing statues, I vote we never approve the commissioning of another one because it is a gross misuse of community funds to do, undo, redo, undo...


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