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Berkeley Co. candidates square off

April 15, 1998|By AMY WALLAUER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Candidates for the Berkeley County Commission and the Berkeley County Board of Education kicked off their campaigns Tuesday night with a formal question-and-answer session.

At a voters forum sponsored by the Berkeley County League of Women Voters, candidates running for the three open school board seats and the one county commissioner slot answered questions prepared by the League of Women Voters and questions from the 40 or so residents who attended.

County Commission Republican candidates Leon Close and John Wright had a brief skirmish early in the session, when Close chastised Wright for the lawsuits over sewer and water rights when he was a commissioner from 1984 to 1990.

Wright's response was curt.

"Leon, you don't embarrass me with that because I've been there and I can handle it," Wright said.

All three candidates blasted the current County Commission for raising taxes 3 percent without inviting taxpayers' comments.

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County commissioners enacted the hike last month, citing increasing costs at Eastern Regional Jail.

"I think the commission wimped out on this one," Wright said. "They should've had an open meeting, but the county commission has wasted so much money in its own budget it would've been embarrassing to meet 500 angry citizens."

Democrat Butch Pennington agreed with Wright, although he was a bit more sympathetic to the commission's decision.

"I think maybe there could've been other ways, but I don't want to be a Monday morning quarterback either," Pennington said. "It's easy to sit here and point fingers...but until you sit in that chair it's tough to make that decision."

Close said he would have held an open meeting.

"I think we should have a more open government in this county. If I'm elected I will follow the guidelines," Close said. "If I were elected, I would take the projected revenue and I would fit all the budgets in the parameters for the projections."

Berkeley County's growth rate and growing industry was also a key topic Tuesday night.

Pennington said the commission should be more involved in choosing which industries to woo.

"We don't have to let just anyone in. We can pick and choose," he said, adding that incentives to lure new businesses should be halted when existing businesses are given nothing.

He said his biggest concern is the county's growth.

"I want to see that growth is handled correctly," Pennington said, adding the Interstate 81 exit near City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va., and improvements on W.Va. 9 should be given top priority.

Wright suggested finding a way to capitalize on the historical sites in the county.

"Tourism, if this would be properly conducted, could bring in $1 million per year. We need to look across the river and see how Washington County, Md., is making money off the Civil War," Wright said.

A fourth candidate for the commission, Republican Steve Teufel, did not attend the forum.

Also at the forum were four candidates for the three Berkeley County Board of Education seats.

Three of the four candidates are finishing their first term. Only Thomas Grove, a 1982 graduate of Mussleman High School, is running for the first time.

"The goal of our educational system is learning to learn for oneself," Grove said. "Currently we're teaching children specific tasks: How to become a doctor, how to become a pharmacist, how to become a mechanic. I believe in order for our educational system to achieve its goal, we have to return to classic education, the fundamentals: Grammar, logic and rhetoric."

Grove said this is his first run for public office. With five children in the school system, he said he thought it was time.

Current Board of Education President G. William Sonnik III said he thinks the board is moving in the right direction and he wants to continue to do so.

"We have made great strides educationally, great strides with our facilities, our test scores are up and our dropout rate, while still high, is down," he said.

Board member Berniece Collis said she wants to see continuity in the schools. Todd Beckwith, wrapping up his first term, said the board should set policies, procedures and goals to reflect what is best for the children in the county.

The primary is May 12.

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