Oak Hill municipal candidates made their pitches Thursday evening at the Lewis Center during an informational Meet the Candidates event hosted by Canyon Rim Rotary Club.
For the seat of mayor, incumbent Fred Dickinson is facing four challengers: Saundra Smith, Barbara Hickman, Daniel Wright and Mark Hurt.
For the council-at-large seat, incumbent Tom Oxley is facing challenger Quartney Settle.
For three Ward One council seats, incumbents Dianna Janney and Missy Kidd Wilshire are facing challenges from Don Williams, Christa Hodges, Michelle Holly, Wes McDonald and Curtis Taylor.
All the incumbents representing Ward Two, Paul Baker, Jeffery Atha and Steve Hayslette, are running to maintain their seats, with newcomers Charles Smallwood, Colby Lopez, Timothy Moses, Tim Buskus, Danielle Dearing-Harris, Erin Ellis-Reid and Vicky Pizzino offering a challenge for the three seats.
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Running for Ward One, Don Williams, a Main Street business owner, told the audience that he wants see the city succeed.
Williams noted that the city has been run by the same people for some time and that he believes the city needs new ideas. He said although he doesn’t know all the answers, he is willing to work with anyone.
Missy Kidd-Wilshire, an incumbent for Ward One, spoke about efforts to move the city forward during her tenure, including raises for city employees and the purchasing of Needleseye Park.
Christa Hodges, a member of Destination Downtown, spoke about Oak Hill’s potential. She added that she regularly attends city council meetings.
Hodges also pitched increasing the city’s police force to 24 officers, hiring a park manager, forming a City Youth Council and calling for a team effort.
Michelle Holly, a librarian at the city’s library, told the audience that her job and the ability to find answers to questions lend experience to the position she is seeking.
Naming the opioid epidemic as a key hurdle, Holly called for an “all hands on deck” solution and a coordinated effort to make the city successful.
Curtis Taylor, who said he was asked to run and that prayer led him to the decision, pointed to the city’s empty storefronts as a key problem.
Taylor said that when he was young it was a “joyous” occasion when his family came to town. He said he wanted to bring that back.
Dianna Janney and Wes McDonald were unable to participate at Thursday’s event.
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For Ward Two, Danielle Dearing-Harris, a local teacher, pointed toward the “good old boy club” getting in the way of progress.
Dearing-Harris called for the restoration of abandoned buildings, adult education, an end to corrupt politics and hidden agendas and for a partnership between the city and local nonprofits.
Calling for hope, change and progress, Dearing-Harris told the residents of Oak Hill to ask for something better.
Charles Smallwood highlighted his 40 years of experience in teaching and as an administrator, while calling for the development of programs and opportunities for young people.
Smallwood said he would maintain working relationships throughout government — he said working together is the best form of government.
Looking for a return of retail businesses, Smallwood said the city needs to work on supporting current businesses, fighting drug abuse and supporting the city’s first responders.
Paul Baker spoke highly of Destination Downtown Oak Hill and said that making downtown Oak Hill a cultural and entertainment center is key.
Baker pointed toward city paving, the city’s nuisance ordinance, adding more parks and working with others as his missions.
Vickie Pizzino told the audience she would put the people of Oak Hill first and that she is able to be fair, act objectively and to listen to problems.
As for problems, Pizzino pointed toward encouraging the younger generation to stay in the city.
Colby Lopez, the youngest candidate at age 18, said candidates cannot pick one problem — all the city’s problems must be tackled.
As for objectives, Lopez pointed toward health care, tackling the opioid addiction, education, infrastructure, community policing and a program he calls “Profits for the People” as his main objectives.
Lopez said he would work hard to get projects done at all times, not just during election years.
Steve Hayslette, an incumbent from Minden, pointed toward the drug epidemic, homelessness and a stagnant economy as problematic.
Hayslette told the audience that he wants to attract industry, promote tourism, improve the city’s infrastructure, host town hall meetings, build a community park in Minden and to help that community heal.
Candidates Jeffery Atha, Tim Buskus and Erin Ellis-Reed were unable to attend.
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For the council-at-large seat, Quartney Settle pointed to her career as a social worker, her time as a coach and volunteer as key experience.
Settle said the city was failing to fight back against its problems for all of its citizens, and that she was not concerned about being like Fayetteville.
She pointed toward adult education and training, an investment in the city’s youth and a possible vacant building capitalization program as her goals.
Tom Oxley pointed to his experience on the council and as Oak Hill’s city manager in the past as reasons to re-elect him.
Oxley, a member of the West Virginia Municipal League, said he has a grasp on the process of running a municipality. He said the city needs to have a correct blend of residential and commercial properties, and he wants to create a vibrant downtown.
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As for the mayoral candidates, Barbara Hickman pointed to her 28 years of experience on the city council and as mayor beginning in 1979 as key traits.
The former mayor said the city’s drug problems are larger than the city knows, and that consequences for drug crimes cannot be handled with a slap on the wrist.
Calling for city clean up to bring back businesses, Hickman said that she believes that many of the city’s homeless are coming from Beckley or Charleston.
The current mayor, Fred Dickinson, said his biggest success may have been getting more people interested in the city’s government, calling for volunteers to help solve the city’s problems.
As for future work, Dickinson said that he would continue to work on the city’s infrastructure and that he would put the new council to work right away.
Mark Hurt, a local businessman and marketer, said more needs to be done to bring in businesses and industries.
Hurt also called for more holiday activities, telling the audience that he would work with energy, compassion and common sense.
On the drug epidemic, Hurt called for the creation of a task force which would include community leaders, experts and those addicted to drugs to work on a solution.
The marketer said that one of the first things he would do is to pick up a phone to tell businesses that “Oak Hill is open for business.”
Danny Wright, a history teacher, college professor, and longtime Fayette Circuit Clerk, pointed to the loss of downtown businesses as a key concern, though he added he is optimistic about the city’s future.
On the drug epidemic, Wright said that he would host a summit to bring in experts to set a baseline for the problem.
On improving the city’s economy, Wright highlighted 13 steps which would develop a clear plan to follow.
On homelessness, Wright said there are no easy answers. He said the first steps would be simply to reach out and talk to those who are homeless. He pointed to the need for funds to battle homelessness, and urged local churches to get involved.
Saundie Smith said that as mayor she would be open to both sides of an argument, that she works off facts, organizational skill and is committed.
She called for business growth, for better marketing of the community, activities for the city’s youth and for the city’s government to listen to the residents.
On the opioid problem, Smith said that any solution would have to be a community solution. She said in reality, the city will not be able to stop the problem, but could help control it.
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The Oak Hill municipal election will take place on June 11, with early voting from May 29 to June 8.
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