This is one is a series of articles highlighting the views of candidates vying for a seat on Morgantown City Council. Future articles will appear as candidates are interviewed by The Dominion Post Editorial Board, which includes Publisher David Raese, Opinion Editor Randy Vealey, Managing Editor Pam Queen and Controller Brian Cole.
MORGANTOWN -- The Dominion Post Editorial Board met with Morgantown City Council candidates Jay Redmond and Mark Brazaitis on Monday morning for a question-and-answer session that covered a number of topics, a few of which are highlighted below.
While the board is not necessarily meeting with candidates by ward, circumstances dictated that this first session included the two candidates vying for the 6th Ward seat.
Redmond is an incumbent, finishing his first two-year term on council. Brazaitis is a first-time council candidate.
Philosophy and focus
Redmond said his time on council has been devoted to creating the best possible outcome for the greatest number of citizens, even if that means his personal beliefs must take a back seat.
“My particular concentration and the things that I think are most important ... are to provide quality municipal services to the residents, to encourage and spur smart economic growth, to create lasting and productive collaborative relationships with all of our stakeholders ... and then to maintain the quality of life, especially in our neighborhoods,” Redmond said.
He put the airport expansion project, which includes a runway extension and the creation of a business park, at the top of his list of priorities for the city if reelected. Redmond also said he would like to see the city aggressively pursue the removal of restrictions placed on it by the West Virginia Public Service Commission when it comes to selecting vendors for services such as trash collection.
Lastly, Redmond said he would be a proponent of increased enforcement of speeding in neighborhoods and blocking the box at busy intersections, among other law and code enforcement issues, as increased personnel allows.
Brazaitis said his campaign is focused on three tenets — livability, accountability and sustainability.
“We need, as a city, to protect and enhance what’s essential about us,” Brazaitis said, listing recreational facilities, neighborhoods, transportation infrastructure and public services as areas of focus.
Brazaitis said he would work to increase the flow of information to city residents and push for a proactive approach to advocacy in Charleston as well as the pursuit of grants and other funding opportunities.
He also noted the city is facing external pressure in terms of population growth and revenue generation.
“One of the things we could look at and need to look at ... is expanding our borders, becoming geographically larger,” Brazaitis said. “That’s not necessarily going to be popular on certain fronts, but we need to do it in a win, win way.”
Brazaitis, an English professor at WVU, said he’s proud of the university’s impact, both locally and abroad, but also isn’t afraid to point out its shortcomings.
He said community engagement was one his priorities while serving on the WVU Faculty Senate.
“Because when I go out in town and talk to people, I hear we’re not being a good neighbor in certain ways,” Brazaitis said. “One of the plans I have is to reinstitute the town-gown committee, where we actually have a formal body that engages with WVU on a regular basis to talk about our concerns.”
Redmond said he feels much of the breakdown in city, WVU relations is tied largely to two facts. One, former City Manager Jeff Mikorski did not foster the kind of working relationship necessary.
“We had no working relationships with any of our stakeholders in the community,” Redmond said, adding “Can that relationship improve? It must improve.”
And two, the city doesn’t really have the authority to do anything beyond ask WVU to come to the table.
“We need WVU to be a better neighbor really is what it comes down to,” Redmond said. “There’s many institutions of higher education in the country making payments in lieu of taxes in the communities in which they exist. WVU is not going to do that,” Redmond said, noting the university did agree to tax some of the entities that utilize space on university property.
“That’s a start, but I think we need to take that further,” Redmond said.
Redmond, one of three councilors who voted against implementation of the $3 weekly user fee, said he’s going to push for changes to the fee if reelected.
He said his vote against the fee was strictly philosophical as he agrees additional funding for street repair and law enforcement was needed.
“I voted against the user fee for two key reasons. Number one, the $3 was a number that was sort of plucked out of the sky. That number was not studied very well,” Redmond said, noting nearly $1 million in carryover after the first year of collections.
“More specifically, I voted against the user fee because WVU students were not included in it,” Redmond said, explaining that students use city street and benefit from city police as much or more than others.
Redmond said he would like to see the weekly fee reduced to $1.50 and include WVU students among those who pay for the time they spend in Morgantown, which he estimated at $48 a year.
He noted that students who work in Morgantown already pay the fee, which can only be collected once.
Brazaitis said he would be against including students among those who pay the user fee.
“I don’t think we should be targeting the poorest part of our population, in some respects, to gain revenue. We need to think more broadly than that,” Brazaitis said.
As for the user fee in general, Brazaitis said “it was absolutely necessary,” citing data that indicated Morgantown residents spend $800 annually on vehicle repairs due to the state of city streets, making the $3 weekly fee a net savings.
“It’s not an ideal mechanism. I hope it can go away with the ideas I’ve talked about for generating more revenue, but it was absolutely necessary to put a stop to our decaying roads that are costly,” Brazaitis said. “It was a brave thing. It wasn’t necessarily a popular thing. It’s not necessarily something we want to continue long term, but it had to happen.”