Six-term Kanawha County Commissioner Hoppy Shores will face off against relative political newcomer George Metz Jr. in next month's Republican primary for a seat on the Kanawha County Commission.
Shores, 84, is running largely on his record and his experience, while Metz, a 43-year-old real estate attorney and former Raleigh County sheriff's deputy and corrections officer, hopes to bring some new ideas to the office.
"I think Kanawha County deserves something different," Metz said at a meeting with the Gazette's editorial board on Tuesday.
"I've had six terms, and I feel that I have something to give back to the county," Shores said, adding that he has worked well with longtime county commissioners Kent Carper and Dave Hardy.
Metz was born in Beckley, but now lives in Elkview. He said he worked at Burger King on weekends while attending West Virginia University Institute of Technology, where he pursued three different majors. Metz worked as a corrections officer and deputy before attending law school, graduating from WVU in 1999. He works primarily as a real estate lawyer, he said.
Shores was a standout athlete at Stonewall Jackson High School on Charleston's West Side, where he was on the 1947 state championship football team and ran track. "You can run fast when you're scared," he joked.
Shores graduated from West Virginia University with a degree in business. Except for a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, he has spent his entire adult life in the insurance industry.
"The biggest thing I'm interested in is saving the National Guard," Shores said, referring to efforts to protect the West Virginia National Guard's Army and Air Guard units on Coonskin Drive. "We need that airport. I'm trying to keep our present agencies open."
In 2005, federal officials tried to shut down the 130th Airlift Wing, a move that would have probably forced Yeager Airport to close. A massive effort by local and state officials, with the support of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd saved the unit and the airport, but federal officials remained concerned about security for the Army and Air Guard headquarters buildings along Coonskin Drive.
Ever since, state and local officials have been trying to close off Coonskin Drive and create a new entrance to Coonskin Park from Mink Shoals to satisfy federal security requirements for the military facilities. Construction of a new bridge for the park is expected to start this summer.
Shores said the new entrance will ensure the safety of the National Guard and make it easier to get into Coonskin Park.
Metz said he isn't sure how to do it yet, but wants to improve the efficiency of county government. "Everything should be looked at constantly," he said, adding that he was not above borrowing ideas from city or state governments or the private sector.
Metz also wants to provide more access to county offices online, particularly in the county clerk's office. "Why can you view Monongalia County's documents online, and you can't in Kanawha County?" he asked.
Metz also talked about putting an ATM in the courthouse or allowing offices that currently only accept cash to take debit cards for payment.
Both candidates support putting a library levy on the ballot, but would prefer to put the issue on a with a regular election to save money. They also agreed that county officials might have a tough time selling the county for business or tourism following the Feb. 9 chemical spill that contaminated drinking water for 300,000 people in nine counties, including Kanawha.
"There are a lot of things you have going for Kanawha County," Metz said. "You're going to have to push that."
Metz said Kanawha County has an airport, three major interstates that come together, rail lines and a navigable river going for it.
"We have to overcome what the water situation was," Shores agreed. "If we have a little bit of time, it will solve itself."
Metz, too, said that in time the bad publicity from the water crisis will fade.
Shores said he was not concerned his age would get in the way of his public service. He said he wants to serve as long as he is able.
"I'm scared to death to sit around and do nothing," he said. "I work out all the time, and I do other things for my mind."
Reach Rusty Marks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1215.