KINGWOOD — Candidates for Preston County Commission John Crippin and Samantha Stone met Tuesday with The Dominion Post Editorial Board to discuss topics facing the commission.
Crippin, a Democrat, is retired after 30 years in the construction industry. He has volunteered with the Fellowsville Volunteer Fire Department since 1986 and volunteered about 25 years with Mountaineer Ambulance. He is an Army veteran.
Stone, a Republican, runs a cattle farm with her husband. She also is a substitute school bus driver and has three sons. She is active in the community and runs a business from home.
They are vying for the seat of Commission President Craig Jennings, who chose not to run for a third term.
The Dominion Post was represented by Managing Editor Pam Queen, Opinion Editor Randy Vealey and Controller Brian Cole.
The editorial board referred to the strife between the Mon Commission and Morgantown Council and asked the candidates how Preston Commission gets along with Kingwood City Council?
“When you have a group of leaders you also have to have the people willing to turn their ears on and listen to what the other people are actually saying on the underlying issues and problems,” Stone said. She believes the relationship is good between city and county, but keeping the lines of communication open is always important.
Crippin noted the county just worked with Kingwood on an electronic recycling day that brought in more than 40,000 pounds of recyclables. And Kingwood recently benefited from a federal grant that helped pay for new sidewalks and road paving. “Communication is the key to all things,” he said.
Cole asked the candidates about Preston County’s economy and how closely the commission works with the Preston County Economic Development Authority (PCEDA).
Crippin said the closing of the Albright Power Plant was a blow, but most of those employees found work at other plants. Many Prestonians find work in Mon County, he said.
“We need to get roads, water, stuff like that taken care of so that businesses will be willing to come in,” he said, adding that he doesn’t know how closely the commission works with the PCEDA.
Stone said, “Preston County is made up of a lot of small businesses, and we do still have a lot of farmland, different things like that … Everything is changing.
As far as technology, the way we communicate, the way we need to advertise our businesses, everything is changing.”
The commission needs to “spearhead communication, technology, and not focus on the past.” She believes the commission and EDA should work with existing businesses to help those businesses grow.
Jennings is known for thinking outside the box, Vealey noted. That’s seen in the disaster declaration because of road conditions and his work to expand internet service. How would the candidates think outside the box?
“I truly believe as a county commissioner [I need] to get out and speak to the people,” Stone said. “Not sit in the county commission office and wait for the ideas to come to you … it’s their ideas that matter. My agenda means nothing.”
Adequate internet is important, she said, adding that she is results driven.
Crippin asked why are we waiting to hear results on roads instead of going to Charleston and asking questions? The canopy over roads concerns him, he said.
“We’ve got to get to the office,” he said. Likewise, it may be necessary to go to the offices of internet providers to push for service, he said. He doesn’t understand the DOH’s statement it has to do an environmental survey before removing any trees over 4 inches in diameter. Do other companies do that, he wondered?
Queen asked the candidates’ thoughts on the upcoming retirement of County Administrator Kathy Mace.
Crippin said in the past, commissioners were free to do other things because Mace does office work. He would talk with other commissioners about filling the position and take applications, he said.
Stone believes the new county commissioner should have a role in selecting Mace’s replacement. The position frees up commissioners to go out and do other things, Stone said.
Cole said the Preston sheriff and commission seem to be in a tug of war regarding funding.
Stone said she does not know how many officers Preston has and if that is enough. “I do support the sheriff’s department,” she said. Adequate law enforcement is key to economic growth, she said. If elected, she will educate herself about the budget and other law enforcement matters.
Crippin said Sheriff Dan Loughrie told him he needs three to four more deputies. Crippin calculated the cost of adding a deputy at about $150,000 the first year and less in subsequent years.
“Where do we get the money?” he asked. From cutting other budgets or possibly a levy, like the fire levy, Crippin suggested. It is something he would have to investigate.
Vealey asked about animal control problems in Preston County and the discord over the sheriff’s department serving as humane officer.
Crippin said at least one shelter officer needs to be designated as a humane officer. Stone said the animal shelter is, “a great operation,” and also suggested a shelter employee be named humane officer.
On the matter of obtaining high-speed internet in all of Preston County, Stone said there are many potential providers. She suggested reaching out to them and encouraging competition.
Crippin said he would meet with service providers, even if it means going to New York or Florida. He said it may be necessary for some residents to rely on satellite internet.
The North Central Caucus on Roads originated with the Preston Commission, and Cole asked the two candidates if they would continue with it.
Crippin said it is important to keep communication open with the DOH, and he would continue with the caucus. Stone said the progress made on roads so far, “isn’t true progress,” it’s a Band-Aid. “Why would you want to be part of something that hasn’t seen progress?” she asked, but said some progress has been made.