This is the second in our series covering the special election this November for the Board of Supervisors seat that was previously held by Dick Glover, who passed away in February. Mr. Glover was the representative for the Brookland District for 30 years, and this year marks the first election that does not have an incumbent running for the spot.
We are finishing things up by spotlighting Bob Witte, who is the Republican candidate running for the seat. Bob is a former Fire Captain and currently serves on the Henrico County Planning Commission. He has long ties with Henrico and Lakeside in particular with over 30 years of service. We sat down with Bob at Final Gravity and asked him a few questions about his experience and positions:
How do you think your experience in Henrico government and as a Firefighter have prepared you for this position?
The position of County Supervisor is about 85% planning and zoning. I’ve spent one year on the Citizen’s Transportation Board, four years on the Board of Zoning Appeals, and six years on the Planning Commission. As a retired Fire Captain with 30 years of experience in crisis management I have learned how to deal with people. No one calls the Fire Department to say you’re having a nice day. People call the Fire Department for every kind of emergency.
Dick Glover represented the Brookland District from 1987 to 2017. That’s 30 years of having one person representing the district. If elected, what changes would your constituents expect to see? What would stay the same?
I like to say that if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. If it needs improvement, improve it. There are two things that are most important to me and to this position – public safety (police, fire, rescue), and our children. Our greatest asset is our children. I’ve been very much into youth athletics and I think it’s important to combine academics with athletics. Historically, children who play athletics are more disciplined, do better at school, and communicate better – regardless of upbringing. Athletics can increase comradery and respect. Schools can’t do everything. Little League, basketball, softball – sports help expand horizons by meshing people from different areas together. I’ve done extensive work with Bethlehem Little League and Lakeside Little League to help improve their programs and their facilities. I work with Lakeside Little League even though they’re not in my district.
Lakeside Little League has had a problem with the creek and flooding. The creek wraps all around the entire facility and the creek moves a lot of water. Repairing the facility is a 10 or 12 year project, but it has to start. We need to make it as safe as it can be around the creek and raise the buildings to save the equipment and the concession area. It’s easy enough to improve and raise the bleachers, you can simply raise them and install handicapped ramp, but the equipment room and concession stands are bigger issues both in money and in time.
One set of bleachers on the youngest kids’ field is six feet away from the creek with no barriers. When the young kids play their parents bring the younger siblings. It’s difficult to watch the game and pay attention to the little kids. This is a safety hazard, and it’s something that should be fixed.
You mention in your list of priorities finding a way to honor Dick Glover and his years of service. What kind of ideas are you considering if elected?
One of the things that I have been working on, and I can’t publicly give specifics, is getting a facility named after him. I would really like to see the stadium at RF&P Park named the Dick Glover Stadium at RFP Park. Everything that Brookland has comes from Dick Glover’s vision over the past 30 years.
You’re running for a consistently Republican held seat in a district that is increasingly voting Democrat, what challenges do you think you’ll face?
Basically I’m expecting the challenges of any election. I’m running on who I am, my history, and my record. I work with people from both parties. I can’t run on anything that I make up. I’m the only candidate – and I was the only one in the primaries – who is a long term, 45 year resident with 40 years of service to the county. No one can match that. That’s my dedication and that’s my commitment. My opponent has only been here three years. I’ve raised my children and my grandchildren here – they all go to school here in the district.
Additionally, I’ve coached football, soccer, softball, anything that anyone needs in the community. Even when I don’t know a sport, I learn it and I help the children. I am Lakeside. I’ve been proud to live in Lakeside. I’ve been proud to raise my children in Lakeside, and I’ve run a business here in Lakeside.
As you know, the Governor’s race will also be on the ballot this year. To what extent do you think national and statewide politics will figure into this race?
I would hope that it doesn’t play any, because local politics are so far removed. Local politics are critically important, but they are so far removed from the way statewide and national politics are run. I’m not dealing with four million people or twenty million people – I’m dealing with twenty-thousand or so people. It’s more personal.
In Lakeside both Lakeside Elementary and Holladay Elementary are only partially accredited. How do you plan on addressing this, and what influence do you think the Board of Supervisor can have on education in the Brookland District?
The only role a supervisor has is to supply funding. That’s it. The School Board requests the funding, the supervisor approves it. Unfortunately, the way the School Board has been submitting their budget doesn’t require them to completely spend that money. The only thing we can actually do is supply the funding they need. I will push for new schools. We need new schools, but at the same time we have vacancies. Vacancies that involve redistricting that has been put off until 2020.
My history is to handle a problem when it comes up. That hasn’t been the case with redistricting. Instead of having just a few people upset in 2014 you’re going to wind up with everyone upset.
Lakeside can feel caught between the big money of Western Henrico and the low income needs of Eastern Henrico. How will you make sure that Lakeside/Brookland has a strong voice?
Children are our greatest asset. It doesn’t matter how much income you have, our children are our children and they are our asset. We need to do whatever needs to be done to correct problems and to improve things to whatever level it needs to be across the county. Of course I’d like for our district to be number one in everything, but we have to focus on the entire county.
There are so many things that are – in the grand scheme of things – minor that people make major deals out of. I choose not to do that. My experience with the Fire Department has allowed me to see many actual problems.
Even with the Fire Department, we handled problems based on the perceived needs. Sometimes a parent would call about a kid who just fell down, but they were worried that the kid had broken bones when all they had was a scratch. We treat those kids and those parents with the same level of professionalism and treatment as we would with a family who has a more serious issue.
I am the only candidate from the primaries or on the current ballot that is going to be a fulltime Supervisor. I’m the only one who will be available Monday – Sunday (except during church). I’m available 24/7. Dick was available, and I will be available, too.
While Lakeside has been seeing new developments both within the district and in the surrounding areas, some of the longer standing shopping centers (Brook Run for example) have been in a decline. If elected, how would you address this?
I agree 100%. I hate to drive down Staples Mill Rd. and see empty buildings. We don’t generate incomeor create opportunities by raising taxes. If we lower the burden on businesses, whether that’s through tax incentives or improvements, when we relieve the burden more industries will come. More businesses means more job opportunities and fewer empty spaces. It creates a snowball effect that keeps making our district and our county better. It’s microeconomics. If you want more, charge less. Look at Lakeside Avenue. We haven’t had taxes raised in 30 years. We’ve had tax reductions.
I firmly believe it is because of our tax rate and our commitment to ease the burden on businesses that Henrico has been so successful. Libbie Mill could have gone anywhere, but they chose Brookland. We can reduce revenues by as little as a penny, but you’re still going to see net increases.
The reason we didn’t have the same issues other districts had during the recession is that the board at the time shielded our assests so that while other places were dying, we never had a layoff. No one lost their jobs and taxes didn’t go up. We’ve had brilliant leadership in the county. County leaders could make six to seven times more money in the private sector, and we are lucky to have them.
Where do you see the Brookland District, and specifically Lakeside in the next 5 years?
Strong. I see improvements coming. We are going to lose a lot of our senior citizens, which have been our historical anchor, but if we provide the new blood with the assets they need we can make success. Local leadership makes a huge difference – it’s not state or national. You have to live here, live in it to be familiar with it and be successful.
Several residents have expressed concerns over lack of sidewalks and cycling infrastructure. How will you improve upon existing infrastructure?
For the last four or five years Henrico has assigned two and a half million dollars to sidewalk and safety improvements starting in one district and moving through the other district. We have a plan to improve the county. Of course the greatest need is where there is the greatest population. We have been working with state level resourcse to get this done. I just talked to the county manager about some of our wider roads and putting in bicycle lanes. We have over 16 miles of bicycle lanes in Henrico already, but right now they serve the people who ride for leisure as opposed to riding for transportation.
I’ve worked with the last two developments on Wistar to ensure that they have sidewalks and pedestrian access to the local shopping centers. When you provide access the businesses are happy and the residents are happy.
What are your thoughts on requiring infrastructure development to go along with development? (An example is the new Kroger shopping center on Staples Mill, which has no pedestrian or cyclist access.)
I do it all the time. Permanent buffers, berms, shrubs, and trees help communities and subdivisions in two ways. They protect the homeowners from the everyday traffic and also protect drivers and pedestrians from the distraction of seeing into everyone’s backyards while they travel. The more protected we can make our roadways, the safer we can make them for cars, pedestrians, and bikes.
To start, the focus has to be on connecting existing communities with infrastructure. We’ve already start hearing that we need infrastructure in new places, and we have to determine the priorities. We also have to be able to work between districts to ensure that communities aren’t cut off.
It’s interesting, because we used to be able to negotiate these kinds of improvements through proffers [Editorial note: a proffer is when a local government requires a home builder or developer to do something to offset the cost of the development, a Senate bill passed in 2016 restricts their use: read more here] , but we can’t do that anymore. We can’t even bring up the fact that we would like a proffer; we’re not even allowed to suggest it. Some counties (not Henrico) were taking cash proffers for individual properties and abusing the system, and now we can’t use them at all. It’s very restricting.
Richmond is currently working on a BRT system to move people along the Broad Street corridor from two points in Henrico. Long term plans include a bus redesign with a branch service near Lakeside (http://www.richmondtransitnetwork.com/Pages/Final-Plan.aspx) at Chamberlayne and near the south of Bryan Park. What would you want to see from Henrico on further increasing public transit to the Lakeside area? How do you see cooperative efforts with the city and Chesterfield playing out in the future?
This is something that we need to do on a “need” basis. The city has buses running through areas where they are not needed. Henrico maintains its own roads. We don’t need that extra traffic on our roads. We need a full study on what the needs actually are and then we can determine how to best meet those specific needs.
When I worked with the Fire Department we were all about mutual aid. If the City of Richmond needed assistance we provided it at no charge, and vice-versa. Henrico was always the one that wound up providing the service, and that was ok. It’s not all about dollars and cents. It’s all about needs. Regional cooperation is great, but it needs to be to meet “needs” and not “wants”. We shouldn’t be giving our tax dollars to some other locality for something that someone “wants” but is not a need. That doesn’t make fiscal sense.