Editor’s note: The Salem Times-Register requested that Dr. Thomas McCracken, who is running against incumbent Martha Hooker for the Republican nomination for the Catawba District seat on the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors, answer questions about his background and positions. His answers are printed in full below. -Aila Boyd
Q: What prompted your decision to run for the board?
A: In April I was approached and asked to consider challenging Martha Hooker to offer fresh insight and a new perspective in addressing our high property tax assessment rates, our lack of small business startups, declining demographic, the lack of attention to our current infrastructure; including unsafe schools, and our fiscally irresponsible spending; building new library’s and creating technological parks when we have roads in disrepair, are lacking security resources for our schools, and providing insufficient funding to recruit and retain teachers. In 2016 we conducted a demographic analysis and realized a downward trajectory, providing the data to reveal our Valley’s inability to recruit and retain young families, create jobs, small businesses, and professionals. I have a desire to sit at the table of our county’s leadership to address these issues so that for generations to come the Roanoke Valley will be a magnet for families looking for work, a safe place to raise their children, a place that offers the best educational opportunities, and a place to vacation to and retire in.
Additionally, I am running for this office because I, like many, am tired of politics, division, and disunity, weary of politicians entrenched in the establishment, so much so their vision has become cloudy, their judgment tainted, and their decision making no longer reflecting the views of their constituents, but self-serving and having a “party over people” mentality. On a national level this has been very evident, and I would like to be an agent of change, showing our community how a servant leader leads and represents. I am a Christian, I am a conservative, I am a Republican, and I will always keep my leadership and life in that order.
Q: What in your background makes you feel equipped to serve on the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors?
A: The board of supervisor’s seat is one that requires a certain level of education coupled with experiential knowledge, of which I believe to be most qualified. A great majority of this position is focused on economic growth, making business decisions, overseeing a $244M budget, developing business relationships, and creating opportunities. In addition to having a bachelor’s degree in business, I am currently serving my second term on the Virginia Israel Advisory Board. In the past. 20 years, our board has brought 100 companies to Virginia with an economic impact exceeding five billion dollars to Virginia’s GDP. Therefore, I can bring these established connections and relationships to this seat as we work toward bringing businesses to this county. I also currently oversee millions of dollars of properties and funds annually in my current vocation.
In addition, I will bring much needed unity to this Valley using my experience and education. With a master’s degree in theology, I recognize that we are all created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-28), therefore believe that all should be treated with dignity and respect. I have a higher calling to represent every citizen, listen to every voice, respect every view, and consider every idea. I have successfully grown a very diverse congregation to impact this community in positive ways for almost two decades and will bring that same ideology to this position; people expect, and God demands, no less.
Lastly, with 40% of the county’s budget dogeared for the school system, I believe with my doctorate in education, my experience as an educator, and being endorsed by the majority of school board members, I offer something no one else can, an existing healthy relationship with the school board that is responsible for stewarding almost ½ of the county’s revenue.
I believe I am most qualified because I have been an active force in this community for over twenty years, not just during an election cycle; Google me and you should see that a VOTE for me is a VOICE for you.
Q: In your estimation, what is the role of a county supervisor and how do you see that role lining up with your idea of leadership?
A: I take a very holistic view of the role of a county supervisor. Generally, the role of a county supervisor is to represent all citizens in their decision-making processes in regard to the infrastructure, community safety, economic development, recreation, planning, and housing, to name a few; the most important of which is representing every citizen in an ethical, balanced, respectful and fair manner.
I believe the Catawba district citizens are educated and informed. And, are tired of being treated in any other manner. When we have an increase in tax assessments but reduce the tax rate, most of us know that is like a store on Black Friday that raises prices by 30% while offering a 20% sale. Or the county enjoying a year end large financial surplus, yet leaving many citizens wondering where that money is, especially in light of the schools being in disrepair, roads in bad condition, teachers struggling, and still having to pay large property tax bills. I had a conversation this week with a teacher that is paying more than ever before yet hearing about how low the county’s tax rates are, many would consider that a slap in the face to their intellect. I am a firm believer in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”, therefore, I promise to vote “no” to any board of supervisor pay raise for the next four years, and give back to my community 25% of my monthly salary. This county deserves a servant leader, one that is concerned for others and one that is willing to sacrifice for the greater good; that should be what a supervisor is and what they do. If elected, I will strive to be that leader.
Q: What will some of your priorities be if elected?
My foundational priorities, upon which everything else is built upon, are focused on making Roanoke County safe and affordable while being attractive to families and commerce.
I will focus on several areas during my four-year term, among which are being fiscally conservative and reprioritizing our county’s spending habits. I believe it to be fiscally irresponsible to build new libraries, engage in big projects, develop land without any potential prospects in the pipeline, all while having our children in dangerous learning environments by neglecting outdated, and unsafe schools (open concept), not competing with surrounding districts in pay and benefits for our teachers, decreasing our schools funding (which is down to 40%), overlooking the conditions of our roads, and purchasing new land for potential businesses while there are existing properties going unused. While I appreciate and use the Greenway expansions, know there are some families that enjoy the Green Ridge Recreation Center, and love the beautification projects, I also understand that a pretty location that offers aesthetically pleasing selfie opportunities and seasonal “things to do” are not what brings people to our county, nor what keeps them here; job opportunists-corporations AND small businesses, schools housing the best educators offering advanced learning opportunities, and a county that is safe and affordable for all, that is what brings families to this Valley and is what keeps them here.
In addition, there are two areas of communication that I will address in my first few months on the board. As reported by WDBJ7 on March 17th, the Board of Supervisors and the School Board are “at odds”. This is unacceptable and I will strive to support the school board, especially since 40% of the county’s budget is entrusted to our five elected members. I will attempt to repair this relationship by opening channels of communication, involving the school board in discussions related to educational matters, work on increasing funds to help with teacher recruitment, retention, and infrastructure, and by getting back to an annual lump sum payment. Additionally, I will work on improving communication to our citizens by starting quarterly town hall meetings so that everyone knows what is being planned, afforded the opportunity to be heard, provide input, and hold me accountable, transparent, and accessible.
Lastly, research shows that our county is very week in creating jobs. While we have the infrastructure in place, and being maintained at tax payer expense, the past 10 years shows little to celebrate in regard to job creation. This must be addressed and rectified if we are to remain a viable and sustainable place to live.
Q: What challenges do you think the Catawba Magisterial District will face over the next four years?
A: Our county is facing many issues. A declining demographic, losing qualified teachers to surrounding counties for better pay, a lack of new small businesses, leaders that have been too political for too long, few attractive jobs for our graduating students, and a failure to provide frequent opportunities for citizens to voice their concerns and provide input outside of election years. One of the greatest issues facing our county is having elected leaders that are inaccessible, unavailable, and unapproachable until they are seeking votes. Elected representatives who only visit neighborhoods every three years to obtain signatures, elicit a vote, and place a yard sign. For this community to be a safe, affordable and attractive place to live it must be one led by board members that are constantly engaged in their communities, listening to their constituents, and making decisions based on wise counsel that includes hearing from and representing those that voted them into office. “A wise man will hear and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:”-Proverbs 1:5. I will address these issues and many more in my four year term, but will not do it alone, I will listen to those around me; those I will represent in the Catawba district.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like voters to be aware of before voting?
A: I would ask that everyone that votes to be informed and educated on the issues and what each candidate brings to the leadership table. When the Clerk of Court position was vacated by Steve McGraw, I had lunch with Michael Galliher for almost two hours, then had coffee with Rhonda Perdue for almost two hours. I have known Michael for several years, but had never heard about Rhonda, but I didn’t want to vote for someone out of preference or because of personality, I needed to know their vision, values, and histories. I would ask the same for this race, that we all put aside our preferences and look past the personalities and focus on what matters; electing a someone that most closely aligns with our beliefs, values, and vision and will fully represent everyone in the Catawba district.