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Renee Turk understands that becoming an elected official can be an arduous process. Fully aware of this, the former educator is still seeking a seat on Salem City Council, and wants the community to know that she has the experience and background to be successful.
“I have the time, the experience and the knowledge to make a difference. Numerous people have asked me to run,” she said. “Those who know me best know that I am approachable, willing to listen and ready to work hard on their behalf. I love Salem and believe I can truly be of service to the people.”
Turk, who considers herself a fiscally conservative businesswoman, graduated with a degree in Economics, Business and Education from Roanoke College. If elected, improving Salem’s infrastructure will be her number one priority.
“Exploring to see what money is available and applying for it through well-written grants is an avenue for revenue for infrastructure repairs. Every option for grants needs to be researched,” she said.
Turk and her husband, David, both worked as teachers in the city school system for many years. All three of their children – Daniel, and Michael and Rachel – graduated from Salem High School. Michael and his cousin, along with other partners, own the downtown establishment, Olde Salem Brewing Company.
Two other new candidates, Jim Wallace and Hunter Holliday, have also filled out all of the necessary qualifications to appear on the Tuesday, May 5, ballot.
Why are you running for Salem City Council?
I have the time, the experience and the knowledge to contribute to Salem City Council. Numerous people that personally know me asked me to run. Those who know me best know that I am approachable, willing to listen and ready to work hard on their behalf. I love Salem and believe I can be of service to the people. To me, it is essential to “give back” to a city that has given us a high quality of life and has done so much for my family and me. I believe that even though there are many things that we learn, we are “given” gifts, and those “gifts” were meant to be shared.
What do you consider the most important things facing the City of Salem today?
Improvement of Salem’s infrastructure is paramount, (the water system, stormwater drainage, streets, structures such as Salem High School and East Salem Elementary, the Civic Center, Moyer Field, etc.). We should push for more Federal and State money that may be available through grants. Exploring to see what money is available and applying for it through well-written grants is an avenue for revenue for infrastructure repairs. Every option for grants needs to be researched. I am not a fan of debt, but when a locality can borrow money as a municipality for three percent – currently unbelievably low-interest rates – now is the wisest time to borrow to do the necessary repairs. Council is moving in that direction, but we also need to make sure we stay on top of new developments and fulfill the promises that were recently made to citizens. The structures are what draw people/businesses, whether it be tourists or people looking to relocate, and a better quality of those structures is what will bring more people, equaling more revenue, whether it be lodging taxes, meal taxes or real estate taxes.
Greater Economic Development is every city’s desire, and Salem is no different. There are a number of empty storefronts and Salem needs to draw new businesses to fill them – it’s important to be creative in the ways we market what is available, and point out not only Salem’s qualities, but also “sell” the many assets that surround our city. Our goal should be to figure out how we can make the pieces fit for businesses to locate/re-locate in Salem, using 180-degree vision, not 90-degrees. Relationships and partnerships need to be formed, with the medical facilities, universities, and colleges in our backyard, as well as the ones right up the interstate. What can help to bring businesses into our area? Education, education, education! We are gearing ourselves towards making more technical training available in the schools and on-site, and are emphasizing the huge need in the job market for trained workers. Having a trained workforce in place draws businesses to our city. And with demand extremely high and the supply of workers low, the salaries are impressive.
But just as importantly, we must also focus on retaining the businesses we do have and not lose sight of their needs before it is too late. There needs to be a constant check on our established businesses, large and small, to provide for their needs and keep them satisfied to keep their business in Salem.
What citizens perceive becomes their reality, and right now a number of people feel city council is not listening to them. There needs to be a Citizen Comment period in Salem City Council meetings. Transparency is needed in order to build more trust and confidence in our governing board.
What separates you from other candidates?
I bring a perspective that Salem will not have on Council if I am elected: that of a fiscally conservative businesswoman whose degree from Roanoke College was in Economics, Business and Education. I’ve worked as an employee of the City of Salem as a business education teacher. My husband also taught and coached in the city school system. All three of my adult children came through Salem’s school system, and I have a son and nephew (with other partners) who own a business in downtown Salem, Olde Salem Brewing Company.
I thrive on finding ways to cut expenses, want to hear what our citizens are saying and believe that I can learn something from people around me every single day. I have no personal agenda. I am not running to replace anyone, and will work hard to do my homework and evaluate decisions that need to be made. Though I am a team player, I do not believe we should do something just because “that’s the way we have always done it.” Improvement comes as a result of change, and there is always room for improvement.
What neighborhood do you live in, and why is that?
I live below South Salem Elementary, one block off Mill Lane. Dr. Walter Hunt, Superintendent of the (then) new Salem City School System in 1983, recruited me to start up the Data Processing and Cooperative Office Education program in order to completely break away from Arnold R. Burton Vo-Tech Center in Roanoke County. I taught Data Processing and Computer Concepts at Salem High School and placed my seniors on the job in the afternoon with local businesses where they were not only paid, but earned a credit too. My husband David was also hired a year later as a teacher and coach and we were living in Botetourt County, driving a half-hour, and on I-81, every morning. We decided to move our family to Salem because of the high-quality of teachers at that time. We bought our property at the end of a cul-de-sac in 1992 and saved to build our home, which we did in 1998. We liked being close to South Salem Elementary School (where our children attended) and Salem High School (to support David’s coaching activities), while still being close to everything on Main Street. It has been a great place to raise our family.
If elected, what are some of the first things that you will do?
Thank the many people that encouraged me to run and supported me throughout, while not forgetting why they elected me. I will listen, research, ask questions and find answers. I will be their voice on Salem City Council. The employees and citizens of Salem know a lot about Salem – their suggestions and solutions are important to consider.
I will encourage other council members to look at running the city like a business, because that is what I will do: examine expenses to see what can be cut or reduced; look at revenue streams to see what/how they can be increased. A lot can be done by thinking outside of the box and being open to change.
If elected, I plan on doing my best to ensure that we, Salem City Council, are held accountable for the promises and decisions made. We owe that to our citizens.