For the first time in years, six people are running for two seats on Salem City Council. After the May 1 election, at least one will be a new face, since Councilman Jim Chisom is not running for re-election.
The last time there were this many candidates was in 2008 when three seats were up.
Randy Foley, who is currently mayor and the only incumbent on the ballot, is running for his fourth term. The other term up this year is Chisom’s. He announced he would not run when he was appointed to fill former Councilman John Givens’ seat after Givens’ resignation.
The other five council candidates are Todd Hester, Joshua Kier, John Saunders, Tim Sutphin and Renee Turk. Except for Sutphin, who ran for Salem Sheriff in November, it is the first time any of them have been candidates in Salem.
In January, Foley was the first to announce he was running. Former Director of Civic Facilities Saunders was the second to go public three weeks ago, with an announcement in the Salem Times-Register. He already has some campaign signs in yards. The other candidates qualified for the election by filing their petitions with at least 125 verified voter signatures in the Salem Registrar’s Office by the 6 p.m. deadline on March 6.
Foley, 48, said he is running because: “I have enjoyed the past 12 years and I am really excited about where we are right now. There is finally a period of positive economic growth, and I want to be a part of that and see it all come to the fruition.”
He particularly singled out “the largest capital decision the city has ever made, the new addition to Salem High School,” which is projected to cost somewhere between $25-40 million, depending on what the city “deems necessary versus what is nice to have,” said Foley. Part of the challenges he wants to be involved in are how to finance construction at the high school, which would likely begin about 2020.
Foley continued, “I want to see the West Main Street Body Shop development completed, whatever happens with Ridenour, Valleydale, and the possibility of a new hotel at the Civic Center. We think those things and with more people living downtown will drive more economic development. I know for certain this is the best economic environment in the 12 years I have been on council,” he added.
Foley is a partner and director of sales in Nicus Software. He and his wife of 26 years, Nicole, have three grown children, all products of the Salem school system: Bronwyn Allerton, 25; Salem; Natalie Foley, 23, graduating from Roanoke College in May, and Grant Foley, 21, a Virginia Tech student. Nicole Foley is an interior designer with her own firm, Foley-Stephens Designs, and a Realtor with The Real Estate Group.
Hester, 46, is a retired Presbyterian minister. On his Facebook page, Hester for Salem City Council, he says, “I’d like to see us increase our revenue streams with innovative options such as private-public partnerships.”
He has attended a number of Salem City Council meetings in the past year and says he likes digging into the type of policy issues which local governments tackle. He also said he gets excited about such things as how zoning can affect economic development.
His wife, Alison, is an emergency room physician with Carilion, and they have raised two grown daughters, Katie Marie, 23, and Madeline, 19, both Salem High School graduates.
Hester said he has always found community service to be very important. “I’ve always been good at public policy. Those two things converge at city council.”
“I’ve really been impressed by the work of City Hall staff since I have been attending council meetings,” he continued. Our city is poised to continue growth. If I have the privilege of being elected, I intend to hit the ground running,” said Hester.
He said he plans to conduct his campaign through social media, door to door, yard signs and at local public forums. He grew up in “an incredibly small town of Travelers Rest in South Carolina.” He and his family have lived in Salem for 12 years.
Kier, 33, teaches English in North Cross School upper school. The Salem native said he has been planning to run for council for a year. He and his wife, Allie, have two young daughters.
He said he is running to: “encourage new and continued growth for the city by “capitalizing on the attractive location in the valley, and the beautiful city.” He emphasizes those natural advantages “must be utilized better than they have been in order to upgrade and update our strong existing infrastructure.”
In his campaign announcement to the Salem Times-Register, Kier wrote that Salem does not “need to risk everything on some hare-brained idea because the city has great resources to turn this around with some attention to detail and hard work. Our people are ready to make changes to improve their city. I look forward to being a part of that.”
He also said he is encouraging a higher level of civic involvement and is planning a voter registration event soon. Kier pointed out his mother recently retired from teaching in the Salem School System.
Saunders, 57, is passionate about wanting renovations for aging city facilities, such as the Salem Civic Center and Salem Stadium where he spent so much of his career.
He said he believes city employees and facilities need to be taken care of better. He explained he thinks things “need to change in Salem and I want to be part of it.”
He continued, “There’s a lot more to Salem than just downtown. It can’t just be restaurants.”
In his earlier announcement in the Salem Times-Register, Saunders said, “It’s time to reorganize how we take these new revenues and how we spend them.”
Saunders said he was trained under some of the greatest visionaries, when “Employees used to come first. We (Salem) used to be the visionaries, the people who took chances. Now it seems we procrastinate and don’t do anything.”
Saunders is the father of a 17-year-old-daughter, Heather, a student at Salem High School where John Saunders also graduated.
Sutphin, 52, is a former Salem Police Officer and Roanoke County Police Officer. “Having worked for the city and two different municipalities, I see some improvements can be made and it all starts with holding people accountable and making sure we do what we can for our employees first and citizens,” he said. “We’ve lost so many good people. I think we need to have a re-organization from within at the city. He plans to use “Leadership with a new perspective,” the same tagline he used in his race for sheriff. To practice economic stewardship, he said he intends to use his existing signs from the sheriff’s race with stickers over them.
He has been an asset protection manager Walmart at Valley View for five years. He and his wife, Kelly, have two sons, Carson, 18, a freshman in the architecture program at Virginia Tech; and Chandler, 15, a Salem High School sophomore.
Turk, 62, who taught accounting, data processing and computer concepts at Salem High School, raised her children, then went into management at the Saturn dealership, yellow page sales, and was an account executive at Q-99 Radio before retiring. She is also well-known around the Roanoke Valley for co-chairing the Lebanese Festival from 2009-2017.
Turk said she is running because she wants to be a part of continuing Salem’s progress in economic development. “I like the progressive path Salem is on, and I would like to see that continue,” she said. “Having been an employee of the city and knowing many employees, it is their dedication and energy they bring to their jobs which is part of the reason Salem continues to move forward,” Turk said.
She added that she understands Salem is currently re-evaluating salaries so that some will receive pay increases. “I feel very strongly that it is important for everyone to be at a competitive level,” she said. “I know we are working hard to bring more businesses to Salem and I would like to help enhance businesses in the city.”
Turk said she would also like to help with Salem’s challenge to find funds necessary to improve our infrastructure and services.
Her husband David taught government at Salem High School for 29 years. He also coached volleyball and boys’ lacrosse there, and Renee Turk volunteered with him for two years when he coached volleyball at Roanoke Catholic.
Their children are Michael, 31, of McClean, who is a part owner of Olde Salem Brewery; Daniel, 29, of Salem, assistant manager of the brewery, and Rachel, 27, of Radford where she is working on a doctorate at Radford University.
All the candidates are being invited to speak at the Salem Council of PTAs forum in the Andrew Lewis Middle School auditorium on Tuesday, April 24 at 7:00 p.m. Questions will be taken from the audience with each candidate having an opportunity to respond. Questions can also be submitted prior to the forum to email@example.com.