By Matthew Young, RealWV
SUMMERSVILLE, W.Va. – With just two weeks remaining before election day in Summersville, candidates for municipal offices are making their final push to secure votes.
On May 18, the Summersville Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a “Meet the Candidates” forum in the auditorium of the Old Main Arts and Heritage Center, featuring both mayoral candidates, as well as candidates for council member and city recorder.
NOTE: Due to the length of the forum, this article does not contain a full recap of all answers provided by candidates. However, the full Summersville Community Television broadcast is available to watch below.
Jason Eades, president of the Summersville Area Chamber of Commerce, began the evening by saying, “To the candidates, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to inform the citizens of Summersville why you need their vote.”
“And to our citizens, tonight is a big night,” Eades continued. “It is a good time for you to get to know those candidates, that way you can make an informed decision at the polls.”
After a brief explanation of the rules of the forum, Eades introduced the evening’s moderator – Bill Wise, of 3WS Lake Country radio 95.7. Following Wise’s introduction, candidates were given two minutes each for opening statements.
Due to the length of the forum, RealWV has included highlights of opening statements from unopposed candidates only. The full Summersville Community Television broadcast of the forum is available below. Ward 3, Ward 4, and mayoral candidate opening statements begin at the 34 minute mark.
Running unopposed for reelection is City Recorder Gary Withee.
First elected in 2019, Withee is seeking a second-term as Summersville’s chief records keeper. Withee used his time to highlight the accomplishments of his tenure, saying, “Through a collaborative effort, we’ve created a plan that the City of Summersville can be quite proud of – appropriately named ‘Moving Forward Together.’”
According to Withee, the Moving Forward Together plan is a “working plan,” and is already paying dividends in the form of economic development.
“As your recorder, I will continue to evaluate our ordinances,” Withee added. “With a large number of them written in the (19) 60s’ they need to be evaluated to be sure they are appropriately aligned to achieve our comprehensive plan goals.”
Running unopposed for reelection to the City Council in Ward 1 is Wayne Halstead.
Originally appointed to serve as a member of the council in 2010, Halstead is seeking a fifth term. Halstead took the opportunity to discuss his credentials, and history of service.
“I was employed by the Nicholas County Board of Education for 35 years,” Halstead said. “I’m an ARMY vet – serving in Vietnam for 14 months.”
“During my 35 years at Nicholas County High School I was the Director of Choral Music,” Halstead added. “I’m a proud advocate of our progress keeping our young people and senior citizens at the forefront. I am also a proud supporter of the proposed Sports Complex, and the Educational Complex.”
Running unopposed for reelection to the City Council in Ward 1 is Stevie Lerose.
First elected in 2019, Lerose is seeking a second-term as a member of the city council. Much like Withee, Lerose used his time to highlight the council’s recent successes, saying, “We were able to accomplish quite a bit over the last four years. We’ve laid the groundwork to push Summersville toward the future.”
Lerose cited the “Beautification” program responsible for the new Murals appearing in Summersville, as well as increased focus on the maintenance of city property as examples of these accomplishments.
“We’ve recently approved (the purchase of) a second firetruck,” Lerose added. “We will continue to protect our residents, as well as update our equipment to protect volunteer firefighters as they protect us.”
“One of my favorite projects that has come to fruition is the Summersville Sports Complex,” Lerose noted. “The city has secured property, and we are in the process of securing funds for the complex. This will bring tourism and sporting events to our great city.”
Running unopposed for reelection to the City Council in Ward 2 is Jim Epling.
Originally elected in 2015, Epling is seeking a third-term as a member of the city council. Much the same as his colleagues on the council, Epling expressed his support for the Sports Complex, saying, “I’m on that committee, and look forward to making some serious progress once the funding is nailed down – that’s what we’re waiting on.”
“The new nursing home, I was (also) on the Vendor Selection Committee for that,” Epling added. “I think we made a great choice in Stonerise. I had a brief tour this past weekend. I was impressed and very thankful that it is now a reality in our community.”
Candidates for City Council in Ward 3 are incumbent council members Brandon Waters and Mike Steadham, and candidate B.J. Smith. Candidates for City Council in Ward 4 are incumbent council members Ross “Chuck” Shaw and Eugene “Gene” Underwood, and candidate Bruce Deitz.
Candidates for Summersville City Mayor are incumbent Robert Shafer, and candidate Matt Fitzwater.
Questions were submitted by members of the audience, as well as by those watching online. The evening’s first question was for the mayoral candidates, and sought to know how both Shafer and Fitzwater intended to build the necessary relationships to guarantee continued funding for city projects.
“We have a lot of partnerships in Summersville, and one thing that I want to focus on is utilizing the assets we already have,” Fitzwater said. “I don’t want Summersville to be a city run on federal handouts.”
Fitzwater cited the Summersville Arena and Conference Center as an “asset” which could be made better use of by bringing in popular performers, adding, “That’s an example of things I want to do.”
Shafer responded to the question by discussing his working relationship with state-level officials, saying, “A week ago Saturday I was on the phone with the Attorney General (Patrick Morrisey) – a 10 a.m. appointment. We were talking about moving forward with our community because we were one of the first out of the gate to respond to the dollars being made available through the lawsuits [associated with] the opioid crisis.”
“We’ve created – statewide – incredible partnerships and relationships,” Shafer noted, adding, “the new transparency program that the state has, we were one of the first ten cities on it. All of our finances in the city are transparent to citizens, and anybody who wants to look at them through the State Auditor’s website.”
As the forum progressed candidates were asked how they would spend a hypothetical grant received by the City of Summersville in the amount of $1 million, and what projects they would prioritize.
Fitzwater was the first to answer, saying, “Very easy, youth projects. Our youth is the number one priority for me. Transforming our community is all monetary and financial, but it’s also an image.”
“I’m like a broken record,” Fitzwater added. “I feel our kids are under-represented. The first thing I’d do is build a YMCA, a skatepark – just things the kids really enjoy.”
The answer was easy for Shafer, as well.
“Last year, city council took the plunge, and we purchased 128 acres that we are going to build into a first-class, second-to-none [sports complex].,” Shafer said. “That’s an easy one – we would begin to build that out. First phase is going to be the mountain bikes, then will come the well-needed and long overdue soccer complex.”
Ward 3 Council Member Waters concurred with Shafer’s sentiment, adding, “Now that healthcare is already taken care of in the area, and the nursing home is started, the sports recreational complex will be a huge thing for the city.”
Ward 3 candidate Smith listed three priorities which he would devote the hypothetical grant to: youth and elderly activities, and community and public safety. Council Member Steadham also listed the sports complex, noting that state and federal resources have emergency services satisfactorily funded.
While all three city council candidates in Ward 4 agreed that the sports complex is a top priority, candidate Dietz noted his desire to dedicate funding toward the repair of the city’s traffic lights.
“I would look at a camera system for the stop lights in Summersville,” Dietz added.
Residents of Summersville are encouraged to watch the full Summersville Community Television broadcast of the Meet the Candidate’s Forum to better familiarize themselves with the candidates. Election day in Summersville is Tuesday, June 13.