6 filed for Council; 7 needed
Church Street resident Josh Stella, a current member of the Planning Commission and vocal opponent of the recent annexation of Shepherd University’s West Campus dormitories, has filed to run for a Town Council seat, saying that he wants to reduce the power of the Council.
Stella’s filing brings the total number of Town Council candidates to four, one short of filling the five at-large seats. No one filed to run against incumbent Mayor Jim Auxer, nor against incumbent Town Recorder Lori Robertson. The entire slate is currently active in municipal leadership. Four of the candidates sit on the municipal Planning Commission.
Barring a write-in campaign, everyone is running unopposed. Write-in candidates have until April 20 to file for elected office. Their names will not appear on the ballot. As of Wednesday, March 17, no candidates had filed for write-in campaigns.
According to staff at the Town Hall, this year’s municipal election campaign has gotten off to an unusually slow start. On the eve of the municipal filing deadline only five candidates had filed to run for any of Shepherdstown’s seven elected offices. One of those candidates is incumbent mayor Jim Auxer, who filed March 10.
“I’m choosing to run for re-election because of my feelings of commitment to our town,” said the Mayor on March 17, reading a prepared statement. “We are passed the threshhold of several water and wastewater projects. We are also formulating plans to mill and pave the streets. I feel my experience will allow us to see these projects come to fruition.”
Town Clerk Amy Boyd, who has handled all candidate filings for Shepherdstown since 1999, wonders where all the candidates are. “This is extremely quiet compared to the other ones,” said Boyd in an interview on March 11. In a separate interview on March 17, Boyd expanded on her feelings about the election. Boyd, though a public official, is a paid employee of the Corporation of Shepherdstown. She said that the low rate of civic involvement in the town has been a contributing factor to the delay of important municipal work. She says it produces a situation where there is a lack of institutional knowledge about the big municipal issues of the day, sometimes causing delays that affect the municipal employees.
“It’s hard,” said Boyd. “Every two years we have to explain the decisions of the previous Council to a new group of people.”
Further complicating matters is the number of incumbent officials who did not seek new terms. Councilmen Stuart Wallace, Tom Martin, Jim Ford and Howard Mills have all declined to seek new terms.
Boyd says that the election will proceed as usual, despite the underparticipation. She also noted that if a single write-in candidate could technically vote him or herself into a Town Council seat.
Council candidate Josh Stella, in an interview last Friday evening, said that he was motivated to run because of his distaste for how the Corporation of Shepherdstown has managed the budget and how the new Town Hall project has been handled. Most importantly, Stella takes issue with the Town Council’s recent decision to annex Shepherd University’s West Campus dormitories into the town, where Stella saw a gap between public opinion, and the decision of the Town Council.
“That was the last straw for me, to see that go through, despite the fact that the town strongly protested it by my measure at least six or seven to one,” said Stella. “Pretty much everyone one I knew and on High Street opposed it, with a few exceptions and Council is supposed to be listening to the people, so the law didn’t work. Because those hearing were supposed to resolve that.”
Stella says that he wants to reduce the power of Town Council, and says there’s a lot more the Town Council can do to involve the community in a substantive way.
“I don’t really have a strong agenda on particular policies. I think we’re a small community. We could do a lot more to involve . . . the people who live in the town,” said Stella. “I don’t think it’s Council’s role for, again, for five or six or seven people to make these big decisions for the whole town. Really, that should be up to the Town.”
Also running unopposed for Council seats are David Rosen, Wanda Grantham Smith and Bane Schill.
David Rosen filed to run for Town Council on March 8. Rosen is currently a member of the Shepherdstown Planning Commission.
“I want to make sure that the town is taken care of and the town runs correctly,” said Rosen by phone on the day he filed.
Rosen says he has lived in Shepherdstown for a little over two years. Prior to that he lived in Harpers Ferry.
Rosen is also a graphic designer, photographer and part owner of the Plum jewelry store on West German Street. Rosen also maintains a semi-regularly updated blog called Creating Itchy on WordPress where he writes about art and graphic design.
On his campaign, Rosen says he plans on pounding the pavement to drum up support. “I’m just going to be talking to my neighbors, it’s easy for me to get around and talk to my neighbors.”
Wanda Grantham Smith, who lives on College Street on the east end of Shepherdstown, filed March 9, after the regular Town Council meeting. Smith says she’s seeking a fourth term because she wants to be able to serve the people of Shepherdstown. “I just feel like part of Shepherdstown,” said Smith by phone on Thursday. “I’m in touch with the people of Shepherdstown, and I didn’t want to lose the sense of being there . . . when people need help.”
Smith has served on the Town Council since 2004. She is the only African-American on the Town Council. When asked, Smith acknowledged that she is the de-facto voice of Shepherdstown’s African-American community. “I feel thankful and blessed that they do feel comfortable with me being their voice,” said Smith.
The first two candidates to file were incumbent Town Recorder Lori Robertson and Bane Schill, a Town Council candidate with experience on the municipal Planning and Tree commissions.
Robertson, a resident of Princess Street, says she’s running again because she likes municipal politics. “I think we’ve done some good things in the last two years,” said Robertson in a phone interview on Monday. She also highlighted her work with the Jefferson County Commission to create a soon-to-be constructed bicycle path connecting Shepherdstown to Morgan’s Grove Park on W.Va. 480. “I’d really like to see the bike path get done,” said Robertson.
Schill, a German Street retailer (owner of D’accord Boutique) and resident, is pursuing one of the five at-large Town Council seats. He laughs as he says that he doesn’t really have a platform. “I just wanna do what needs to be done, whatever that may be as situations may arise,” said.
“I don’t have any axes to grind, is what I’m trying to say . . . at least not yet, that could change next week.”
Schill is an active participant in municipal civic affairs, currently holding seats on Shepherdstown’s Tree Commission and Planning Commission. He also frequently attends Town Council meetings.
Shepherdstown’s municipal election is on the first Tuesday in June.