Town Council candidates ready for upcoming election
SHEPHERDSTOWN — Shepherdstown residents will head to the polls to elect a new town council this year. Originally scheduled for June 2, the election has been rescheduled to July 21 because of the change in the state’s primary election.
The mayor’s seat is open with two candidates, Jim Auxer and Todd Cotgreave.
The position of Town Recorder is also on the ballot, with one candidate running, current Town Recorder ?Lori Robertson. She has served on the Town Council since 2008, first as a council member then as recorder. Robertson is originally from Winchester, Va., but has lived in Shepherdstown since 2006. She is the mother of one daughter and resides with her significant other, Chris Crawford. She is the operations manager at Morgan Academy, as well as a part-time manual therapist.
Robertson says she sees the priority of service as keeping the town solvent and bringing it back to life again at the appropriate time after the crisis.
Robertson is very involved in town, as chair of the Tree Commission and serving on the Police, Parks and Recreation, Parking, Personnel and Planning committees.
“This town comes together for those that need it,” Robertson said as a reason why she loves serving here. “I love town government and Shepherdstown is the best town to serve in.”
Seven individuals are vying to fill the five council seats, including Cheryl Roberts, Jenny Haines, Jim Ford, Marty Amerikaner, Corrine Airgood, Chris Stroech and Deb Tucker.
Roberts, a native of Shepherdstown, graduated from Jefferson High and Shepherd University, as well as the University of the District of Columbia, and currently works as a national project manager for the Employee Education System of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Roberts currently serves on town council and is hoping to be re-elected, because she loves the involvement in making decisions that affect local residents. She sees the top issues of the town centering on fair treatment of all residents, keeping everyone informed and making everyone feel a part of town.
During the pandemic, Roberts says the safety and health of all residents is key to her current work on the town council. As chair of the parks and recreation committee, Roberts hopes to see the parks maintained and ready to open for the well-being of citizens.
“My experience over the past four years has placed me in a position to continue to lead our town now and in the recovery phase of COVID-19,” she said.
Actively involved in many facets of the town, Roberts also serves on the police and finance committees. She holds membership in a variety of organizations, including the NAACP, the Centennial Shepherdstown Lion’s Club, Shepherdstown Fire Department and the Eastern Panhandle Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
Jennifer Haynes is another well-known face around Shepherdstown, having grown up in Shepherdstown attending its elementary and middle schools, as well as Jefferson High. Her family history can be traced to the Shepherds, specifically to Moses, brother of Shepherdstown founder Thomas Shepherd.
Haynes has worked for chef Mike Luksa since she discovered her love for the food industry at age 16, serving first at the Yellow Brick Bank and then at the Press Room. In addition to her job at the Press Room, Haines also schedules rentals for the Shepherdstown Train Station and War Memorial Building.
Haines is seeking a council seat because of her investment in the town’s future, retaining traditions while ensuring growth.
“Downtown businesses are the backbone of our town. They will need community support to rebound from the current craziness,” she said. “I want to continue to work of previous councils and bring people together to tackle issues in our town.”
Haynes actively participates in holiday preparation and events in town and is the vice president of the Shepherdstown Community Club. She is on the town parks and recreation committee and the board of the Visitor’s Center.
“My mother is Judy Shepherd, so I have big shoes to fill,” she said, mentioning she feels ready for the task. “I am a hard worker, loyal and willing to play well with others to bring our town together.”
Jim Ford, born and raised in Philadelphia, has been a Shepherdstown resident since 2002. He and his wife owned and operated the Thomas Shepherd Inn from 2002-2014, and have since purchased and rehabilitated the property next door to the inn.
“I view serving on Town Council as a way to contribute to my community,” he said.
According to Ford, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a re-focus on challenges facing the town, such as coming out of the crisis fiscally sound and maintaining the economic visibility of German Street.
Along with being a town council member of-and-on since 2004, Ford has served as a member of the Water Board and supported many nonprofits by maintaining their websites.
“I currently only do it for Shepherdstown Film Society and Rumsey Radio Hour, but over the years, I have also done it for Street Fest, Christmas in Shepherdstown, Back Alley Garden Tour, the Shepherdstown Daycare and others,” he said.
Loving everything about the town, Ford said he threw his name in the hat to ensure there was a variety of candidate choices in the election.
“Over the years, there have been times when we did not have enough people running,” Ford said. “That is why I chose to run. I think the town will be well-served with a council of experienced members and new members, and I hope to bring my experience to the council to help meet the challenges.”
Marty Amerikaner is another citizen seeking a seat to the council for the first time. Originally from New York, he relocated to West Virginia 33 years ago. Prior to making Shepherdstown his home, Amerikaner was a psychology professor at Marshall University.
“I am running for a seat on the Town Council because I genuinely like to work with colleagues on important issues and move towards consensus-based problem-solving strategies,” Amerikaner said.
Amerikaner has served in a variety of previously elected positions, including Chair of the Psychology Department at Marshall, as well as faculty representative to the Marshall University Board of Governors. Through results from listening sessions and an online survey conducted by Age-Friendly Shepherdstown, he sees significant issues in town revolving around the lack of public transportation, upgraded alleys, sidewalks and bike/pedestrian paths and improved access to information about important town-related events.
“We (Age Friendly Shepheredsotwn, the town council and SAIL) are already hard at work on a grant proposal that will help address some of these concerns,” he said.
Amerikaner is an active participant in the Lifelong Learning program, both as a student and instructor. He also serves on the Shepherdstown Film Society Steering Committee and on the board of the Shenandoah Community Health Center.
“I’m hopeful that residents of town will recognize my background and my commitment to working on the problems and issues that they have identified – not any personal agenda – will ‘ring true’ to them and thus, they will support my candidacy,” Amerikaner said.
Deb Tucker is currently serving in her third term on the council and hopes to continue, because she believes she brings a business perspective to the council and balances the historic significance of the town and the habits of its current occupants.
Tucker moved to Shepherdstown in 2011, when she purchased Stone Soup Bistro and converted it into Bistro 112. Formerly, she was a marketing executive in the aerospace, high tech and financial services industries. Originally from McLean, Va., Tucker has lived in Costa Rica and France, where she developed her passion for food.
One of Tucker’s goals, if reelected, is to maintain a vibrant downtown, particularly in light of the current lockdown.
“For far too long the shops, bars, eateries and galleries on German and Princess streets have been taken for granted by the town, its residents and the university,” Tucker said. “The council needs to address economic development and implement other aspects of the long-term strategic plan.”
In addition, Tucker hopes to revisit the topic of AirBnBs to allow for short term rentals in town, help establish committee budgets, written processes and procedures, develop a long-term financial plan for the town and improve communication of the decision-making process of town governance.
Over the years, Tucker has been an active member of the Shepherdstown community.
“I founded BEST (Better Experiences for Shepherdstown Tourists) that created new festivals such as DogFest, BooFest and GardenFest,” Tucker said, mentioning she has served on the board of the Shepherdtown Visitors Center, chairing its marketing committee and the town planning commission.
“My background as a marketing executive offers a perspective of the importance of communications to all constituents,” Tucker said. “I also want to complete some of the projects I have worked on as a past member of the council.”
Chris Stroech is the final council candidate.
A resident of Jefferson County since he was 10 years old, Stroech is a Jefferson High graduate, as well as a graduate of West Virginia University undergraduate program and law school. He is currently an attorney with Arnold & Bailey, PLLC in Charles Town, specializing in property law litigation.
Over the years, Stroech has served as a member of the Tree Commission and Planning Commission. He helped restart Shepherdstown Street Fest and worked with that event for many years. Most recently, Stroech has served as chair of the Recycling Task Force and has led the effort to amend town ordinances to prohibit discrimination based upon sexual orientation.
If elected, Stroech says he will focus on controlled growth, balancing the need for economic stimulation, particularly in the post-COVID-19 reconstruction period, with the preservation of historic interests.
Communication between all stakeholders in town is also an important element of Stroech’s campaign. He believes the relationships in town must be nurtured with open communication and a willingness to cooperate.
“I look forward to working on progressive initiatives that will not only set an example for the state, but will help attract tourists and visitors to our town,” Stroech said.
Candidate Corrine Airgood was not available for comment.