At a forum on Wednesday, all six candidate vying for three seats on the Lovettsville Town Council in the May 19 municipal election gave different takes on the reasons residents are so divided on issues, but generally had similar ideas on how the town should manage its finances as it weathers the coronavirus crisis.
The candidates met in a virtual forum hosted by Loudoun Now to discuss their views on how the town should budget its money, prioritize its projects and retain a small-town feel, and how they felt Town Council members should conduct themselves on the dais.
On the ballot are incumbent Councilman Mike Dunlap, a government and public affairs employee who has served since May 2018; incumbent Councilman Buchanan Smith, a corporate pilot who has served since February 2019; David Earl, a VDOT employee; Sheryl Frye, a proposal and grant writer; Joy Pritz, a high school math teacher; and Ken Tannenbaum, a veteran in the fields of retail management and administration.
In their opening statements, the candidates highlighted their unique qualities. Dunlap said that he has exhibited an “unparalleled record of success” and “unprecedented transparency” while serving on the council, while Smith emphasized that it’s his job to be fiscally responsible. Frye said she believed “a nonpartisan, open voice is really important,” a sentiment Pritz echoed by saying it would be her job to collaborate with council members. Earl said his goal is to save the town money, and Tannenbaum said he knew how to focus on the needs of individual residents while not overlooking the general population.
One of the more frequently asked questions during election season in western Loudoun is how candidates intend to maintain the small-town feel of their communities. To that end, Dunlap, Earl, Frye and Pritz agreed the 35-acre Engle Tract—where the Metropolitan Development Group previously proposed to build 130 single-family homes and close to 30,000square feet of commercial space—should remain zoned for light-industrial use, and should not be a home for residential development. Smith said the town’s Comprehensive Plan captures the small-town feel well. Tannenbaum added to that point, noting that the plan was put together for sustained growth.
The candidates were also asked their thoughts on the role of partisanship in Lovettsville—a town of about 2,300 residents that features an array of family-friendly events that draw in crowds of thousands every year, but also sometimes sees a good deal of disagreement among its residents and council members.
Smith said he felt it was a misconception that there is a partisan divide in the town. He said there has simply become a problem on the Town Council, since, he said, some council members are unable to work as a team. Pritz agreed, adding she felt there are hot topics within the town, but that the town is not partisan.
Tannenbaum said that most of the town’s disagreements happen on Facebook, which he called an “extension of society.”
“It is very partisan, in my opinion,” he said about the comments on the social media platform. “We’re going through a tough spot with disagreements.”
Earl said it remains to be seen if the divide on the Town Council spurred the disagreements on Facebook—disagreements he labeled as “nothing but partisan.”
“It’s a social distancing platform and there’s a lot of cowardice comments made on it,” he said. “It’s unfortunate it’s happening in this awesome little town we got.”
Dunlap said he felt national politics don’t belong on the Town Council. He mentioned that the council’s Feb. 6 vote to adopt a proclamation in support of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was in poor form because it brought national social issues to the dais of a small town.
Frye said she, too, disagreed with the council’s decision to vote to support the Second Amendment, since Town Councils can’t legislate on gun laws.
“We are not there to win a popularity contest or to be a Republican or a Democrat or an Independent or anything else you want to choose,” she said. “We are really there to represent the members of this diverse town.”
Pritz, who pointed out that she would be the only council member to represent the northern portion of town if elected, later said the Town Council’s vote to support the Second Amendment was important because many Virginia localities will be allowed to create gun-free zones beginning July 1.
“We need no further gun restrictions in our town,” she said.
When asked about the town budget and what they would do to improve upon it in future fiscal years, Earl, Frye and Pritz agreed they would do nothing differently, but, they said, the town needs to see how the coronavirus crisis first shakes out. Pritz said the current Town Council “has done a great job with [the budget].” Smith said the council will soon need to figure out what it will do to pay for utility projects once water and sewer hookup fee revenue begins to drop. Tannenbaum said that while the town needs to be cautious with COVID-19, “the town has to go on.” Dunlap pointed out that he has helped to reduce property taxes for three straight years.
On the question of infrastructure needs, Dunlap, Frye, Smith and Tannenbaum agreed the town needs more sidewalks. Pritz said the town should focus on water projects, and Earl said the town should find ways to fund Loudoun Street improvements other than through taxpayer dollars.
When few areas of disagreement were displayed during the hour-long form, Frye said it was great that the candidates saw eye-to-eye on so many topics.
Although Lovettsville voters on May 19 will have six choices to fill three seats on the Town Council, first-term Mayor Nate Fontaine is running unopposed.