White Sulpher Springs ‘Meet the Candidates’ event held ahead of municipal elections

By Jeffrey Kanode, for RealWV

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, WVa—Residents occupied every seat in the house on Monday,  as candidates in next week’s municipal election in White Sulphur Springs gathered for a “Meet the Candidates” event at the White Sulphur Springs (WSS) Community Center.

Sponsored by the WSS Club, the forum featured candidates for mayor, city recorder, and city council. Rotarian John Gillespie served as moderator. 

Each candidate was given two-and-a-half minutes to make their opening statement before engaging individually with attendees. 

City council candidates:

Jennifer Andrews

Jennifer Andrews said her family serves as the impetus of her candidacy. She has a  daughter who owns a business in town, and another who both lives and works in WSS. Andrews’ granddaughter attends WSS Elementary School. 

“I want to see this town moving forward, to keep our children here,” Andrews said. “We need our youth to stay here and help grow this town.”

Audrey Burns VanBuren

Incumbent Council Member Audrey Burns VanBuren focused on her eight years of experience on the council. 

“I love White Sulphur with a passion,” VanBuren said. “I love the children. I love the elderly. I have done everything in my power to help my city, my community,” 

VanBuren reflected on the 2016 flood, when, she said, she lost two family members and her childhood home. VanBuren said that after the flood, she made a decision to put her pain aside, “and go to work for the city.”

Ryan Lockhart

Ryan Lockhart introduced himself to the voters as a “lifetime resident” of White Sulphur Springs. 

“It was my decision to buy my childhood home and live in the same neighborhood I grew up in,” Lockhart said. “My family is here and I am invested in White Sulphur Springs.” 

Lockhart added that he has attended the last seventeen city council meetings, and those meetings piqued his interest in the “growth and development we’ve experienced in the last four to six years.” 

Lockhart identified spurring “residential revitalization” to parallel the revitalization occurring downtown as his chief area of focus should he win a seat on the council.

Melanie Argyrakis

Rainelle native Melanie Argyrakis said that she has worked in WSS for nine years, and lived in the town for seven. She wants to focus on continuing the progress the town has made since the 2016 flood. 

“I only want what’s best for the town, keeping in mind what’s truly best for the town isn’t always what’s popular,” Argyrakis told those in attendance. “Some decisions are hard.”  

Argyrakis added that she will make decisions based upon “as much information as I can gather.”

Nancy Marshall

Nancy Marshall presented sobering statistics during her time at the microphone. 

Citing Census information, Marshall said that the population of White Sulphur Springs has decreased from around 3,200 in 2010 to approximately 2,200 in 2020. 

“We’ve lost 30% of our population in that time, and we have to know that people are the living wealth of a community,” Marshall said. “People are the energy and the force and the drive and the reason for us to do anything,”

 Marshall also said that 91%t of the children in WSS Elementary School live below the poverty line. At a time when “food prices are going up and up and up,” Marshall cited a city ordinance prohibiting backyard laying hens and the dissolution of the community garden. 

“The city should not stand in the way of (the) opportunity to live better,” Marshall added. “We are 2,200 people here – a responsible city government can make it possible for us all to live better.”

George “G.P” Parker

Incumbent George “G.P.” Parker focused on ongoing projects of the city council, especially new water projects and a new sewer line on the east end of town. He also mentioned a bridge project on Route 60 –  originally approved almost 15-years-ago – which now, he says, has been fast-tracked. 

Additionally, Parker mentioned other bridge projects in the town which have been delayed, and

progress in the town’s infrastructure -reducing water leaks and improving water pressure. He

then shared information about the continued flood recovery. 

“We are still working on tearing down old, dilapidated structures and the removal of junk cars out of the city,” Parker said. “That’s a slow process, but it’s ongoing. Our name is in the hat for the dam that may be built—we’re number six—on Howard’s Creek.” 

Thomas Taylor

Former city recorder and mayor Thomas Taylor cited his previous experience in city government, and called for a balanced budget. 

“We really need to dig into our budget and balance it, and keep it balanced,” Taylor said. “I’ve done it before. A couple of you were on the council with me when we did that. It’s possible. It can be done.” 

Taylor also reflected on the lack of compassion he discerns today. 

“Elected officials from the municipal level, to the state level, on up to the national level need to be more compassionate and they need to care about other people,” Taylor noted.

Ted Humphreys

A native of Lewisburg with a background in accounting, Humphreys said he worked at The Greenbrier for 10 years, and he and his wife moved to White Sulphur Springs and have found it a great community to raise their children. 

“I like to see both sides of the story and make a good and informed decision, whatever that may be,” Humphreys said.

Having previously served on city council, Humphreys added that if elected, he would encourage citizens to contact him with their concerns.

City recorder candidates:

Mark Gillespie

Mark Gillespie spoke about the wonderful marketing the Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors Bureau has done for WSS. 

“They’re on our bandwagon,” Gillespie said. “We are being featured on all, if not most of their ads.” 

While expressing gratitude for the growth occurring in WSS, Gillespie also voiced caution and concern. 

“We can’t give our town away,” Gillespie noted. “Those people who owe taxes on businesses need to pay those taxes. We do have some big businesses and big corporations that are coming in here now. They’re

making good money. They need to pay.”

Gillespie also called for “an even playing field” when it comes to the enforcement of city ordinances.

Penny Fiorvante

Penny Fioravante said that a new career brought her to Greenbrier County a decade ago.

“A lot has changed in ten years, and I am proud to say I have been a part of that revitalization,” Fiorvante said. “I have poured my heart and my pocketbook in restoring two historic properties here in town and

I’m proud of that.” 

Citing her restoration efforts, Fiorovante said her work has helped “transform the neighborhood.” She said she is active in the WSS Rotary club, and the Old White Garden Club. Fiorvante serves on the board of the Greenbrier Valley Theatre and the WSS Municipal Planning Commission. 

“My career in nonprofit administration, I think, gives me a very unique skill set that would benefit the city,” Fiorvante added. 

Fioravante broke out in tears when she concluded, “I may have not grown up in White Sulphur Springs, but it’s my hometown now.”

Mayoral candidates:

Michael “Mack” McIntire

Mack McIntire shared his passion for making businesses and locations accessible for everyone. He reflected not only on the need for greater accessibility for all, but for marketing that accessibility in the overall marketing strategy for WSS. 

McIntire lifted up the tourist guide for Richmond, VA. – the Richmond Region – saying, “In their magazine, they have a special section called ‘All Access.’ Any business that has spent a little bit of money to make things more accessible can be evaluated and written up and given free advertising. This is something we can accomplish. We have very doable projects, and a bright future.”

Erin Lovell 

Erin Lovell has lived in White Sulphur Springs for twenty-five years. She said that though she didn’t grow up in the town, she raised her two daughters in the town, and now she is raising her four year old son in White Sulphur Springs. 

Lovell stated that she has been the proprietor of two successful businesses on Main Street. 

“I have a stake in this community,” Lovell, adding that she doesn’t make promises about what she anticipates doing as mayor, because government action happens as a team effort between the mayor and the council. 

However, Lovell did identify three priorities: children, transparency, and business. 

“I care about our children, giving them things to do to keep them here,” Lovell said. “I want to make

sure we retain the businesses we have, and I am interested in bringing new businesses into town.”

Kathy Glover

Kathy Glover reflected on her lifetime in White Sulphur Springs, citing her experience as city recorder as good preparatory work for serving as mayor. 

“As the city reporter my job is to report the words and interactions of council meetings,” Glover said. “This position has also allowed me to learn the ins-and-outs of city government, and to get ideas on what it takes to run our city for the best interests of all of our citizens.” 

Glover said she has marveled at the resiliency of White Sulphur Springs to “regroup and rebuild” after the 2016 flood.

“I believe we have that same resiliency to regroup and overcome the challenges that we face today, and also to find the strength that we need to work together for the future of our community,” Glover said, noting that she has chosen to enter the race despite the current financial struggles WSSfaces. She said that if the people work together, the town can continue to grow into the future.

Residents of WSS can vote early through Friday, from 7:30 a.m to 4 p.m, and Saturday from 9:00 a.m to 5:00 p.m at City Hall. The polls will be open Election Day, next Tuesday, June 13 at White Sulphur Springs Elementary School.

RealWV will provide updates regarding the WSS municipal elections as additional information is made available. 

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