Democratic candidates running for at-large seats on the Charleston City Council say their priorities would include recycling, better relationships with businesses and making the city somewhere young people want to live.
Twelve Democrats are running for the council’s six at-large seats: Shawn Taylor, Joe Solomon, Charles “Bill” Price, Jennifer Pharr, Beth Kerns, the Rev. Lloyd Hill, Stephen Grimm, Caitlin Cook, Becky Ceperley, Naomi Bays, John Kennedy Bailey and Ben Adams. Ceperley is the only incumbent.
Only three Republicans filed for the six at-large spots: Jeremy Nelson, Catherine Nutter and Randy Stanley. All of them will move on to the general election, as well as the six Democrats with the most votes.
- John Kennedy Bailey, 50, is an attorney originally from Fairmont. He’s been in Charleston since he graduated from law school in 1995. He graduated from Yale University and worked for former U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall in Washington, D.C.
A father of three teenagers, Bailey said he wants to make the city a place his kids would like to live.
Bailey said, if the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department restarts its needle exchange program, it should model it after the program at West Virginia Health Right, which distributes retractable needles and has a one-for-one exchange.
Bailey said he’d like the city to have a program for helping people move into the capital, perhaps through the Convention and Visitors Bureau. Bailey said the city could create a demand for glass recycling by requiring that paving work have a percentage of glass included in it. The glass would be ground up to make sand, he said.
Bailey said he would not vote against the city’s trash bag distribution program. Once you give people something, it’s difficult to take it away, he said.
“I’m not going to be the guy who gets rid of garbage bags,” Bailey said.
- Becky Ceperley, 70, serving her first term on the council, is the only incumbent running for an at-large seat. Ceperley said she’s running again because, after four years, she has a good grasp on how city government works and she wants to be a part of making a difference in Charleston in the future.
Ceperley is the former executive director and CEO of the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation and a former president of the national League of Women Voters.
Ceperley, who chairs the city’s homeless taskforce, said the city will continue to look at and consider what other cities are doing to address homelessness. Some cities, for instance, have work programs for the homeless, she said.
She was the lead sponsor of a bill introduced late last year that would have required panhandlers to obtain a free permit and would have restricted the practice in certain areas of the city.
The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia opposed the bill, calling it unconstitutional. The bill has yet to be taken up by a council committee. Ceperley said the bill is “stuck” on some of the constitutional issues that have been raised but that the city hopes to work with the ACLU and resolve any issues it has with the bill.
She said affordable housing is critical to addressing homelessness. Most people think people are homeless because of drugs, but the majority are working people who can’t afford housing, she said.
Ceperley said Charleston should look for ways to partner with the Innovation Center at the University of Charleston and create an environment for entrepreneurs who can work from anywhere.
She was one of 16 council members who voted March 19 to delay voting on a bill that would have eliminated the needle exchange program at the Health Department. Ceperley said the council was right to take time to review the program and the complaints about it before voting to close it.
Ceperley recently voted against raising the city’s refuse fee. Although she’s voted for the trash bags in the past, Ceperley said she didn’t think it was appropriate to raise the fee to pay for the bags.
- Caitlin Cook, 28, is the communications director for the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy.
“I’ve got a strong desire to move Charleston forward,” Cook said. “I’m 28. I came home from college to help the city flourish in any way I could.”
Cook, a former reporter for The Charleston Gazette and former spokeswoman for the Charleston Area Alliance, said the city needs better policy and it needs to follow through with that policy.
She supports the needle exchange program at the Health Department, but said the program needs to be improved. She said the council was right to delay a vote on a bill that would have eliminated the program.
Cook said the city can attract and retain young professionals through a Generation West Virginia program that places them in fellowships at companies throughout the state.
“I don’t know if they have a city fellowship, but I do see that as an avenue to attract and retain young professionals,” she said.
She also would like the city to offer downtown WiFi and encourage food trucks.
Cook said Charleston should ask its residents if they want to continue the program that distributes trash bags. She said it also should look for ways to improve the trash collection.
“There are smaller cities that will have people pay as they go, and the trash bag purchases funds recycling,” she said.
To balance the budget, Cook said, the city could shift its contracting work to people who are already on the payroll. She said the city also should look for ways to be a better partner to small businesses.
- Beth Kerns, 64, is a lifelong resident of Charleston. She’s served almost 25 years with the West Virginia Army National Guard and now is a private contractor for the Guard. Kerns said she would focus on programs and activities for young people and senior citizens, to improve neighborhoods and lessen crime, and to improve the environment.
She said she wants to see Charleston take measures to ensure that situations like the 2014 water crisis never happen again. She wants the city to be at the “forefront” of recycling, as well.
Kerns said she supports the needle exchange program at the Health Department, which has come under fire from city officials and first responders. Kerns said the program should use retractable needles.
She said she supports the city’s program that distributes trash bags to residents because it helps families that can’t afford them. She said the city should consider a “pay by the bag” trash program that would encourage residents to recycle.
Kerns said the city’s most pressing issue is its declining population. She said Charleston could address the problem by making new city employees live in the city, and creating incentives for other employees to live here.
- Shawn Taylor, an attorney and Charleston’s former municipal court judge and clerk, said his primary concern is the city’s budget. He said to increase revenue, the city should consider annexing surrounding communities.
Taylor, 51, said he supports the needle exchange program at the health department. He said he understands concerns about dirty needles, and the city needs to train workers on proper disposal of hazardous materials and disease prevention.
Taylor said, as long as residents are happy with the trash bag program, it should continue. He said he supports the council’s recent vote to raise the fee for trash collection because it hadn’t been increased in several years.
Taylor said he wants Charleston to be a place where his three children will want to stay or return to.
- Ben Adams, an attorney for the Calwell Practice, grew up in Charleston and said he’s running because he wants to give back to the city that gave so much to him.
Adams said the needle exchange program at West Virginia Health Right should be a model for the protocols at the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.
“We had harm reduction in the city starting in 2011 [at West Virginia Health Right] and no one knew until probably this year because of the way they ran their needle exchange,” Adams said.
To balance the city’s budget, he said, officials should talk with department heads to look for ways to free up funds. They also should look for ways to attract businesses to the city, to increase business and occupation tax revenue.
He said the city should find a way to gauge how many people use the trash bags that it distributes to residents.
“I’d 100 percent want to do away with the perception, the notion that the trash bags are free — we’re paying for them through sewer and refuse fees,” he said. “They’re not free.”
- Jennifer Pharr, 47, originally of Kanawha City, is a commercial real estate agent and property manager. After high school, she worked for Delta Air Lines and has lived in Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Nashville, Atlanta and Charlotte. She and her 15-year-old son have been back in Charleston for about eight years, she said.
Pharr said she’d like the city to put in some sort of sports facility on the West Side, to host tournaments. She said the Health Department should use the same procedures that Health Right uses for its needle exchange program.
To balance the budget, Pharr said, Charleston could consider wellness programs for city employees in an effort to cut down on health care costs.
She said to help boost the population, Charleston should consider encouraging multipurpose properties that have space for housing and retail. She also wants the city to look at ways to help improve educational opportunities with after-school programs and offering WiFi access so children can do homework.
Pharr said the city should look for ways to encourage people to compost and recycle, so that they might not need as many trash bags.
- The Rev. Lloyd Hill, 58, is a native of the West Side and the pastor of The Father’s House Missionary Baptist, a church he started. Hill and his wife, Rosa, have four children and 15 grandchildren.
Hill said his goal as councilman would be to govern Charleston as one city.
“We’ve got a city that’s hurting, not just parts of it,” Hill said.
Hill said he’s against completely getting rid of the needle exchange program at the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department but that it would be foolish not to “tweak it.”
“City workers must be taken care of, and the whole community must be protected, as well,” he said.
Hill said he knows that some residents need the trash bags that the city distributes every year. He said Charleston should consider distributing them to only those residents who need them.
He said the most pressing issue for the city is to bring in more businesses.
Hill served 10 years in prison for shooting his sister’s boyfriend when he was a teenager. He has talked previously about how he turned to Christianity in prison and it turned his life around.
- Naomi Bays is the owner of Oddbird Gift Emporium, on Capitol Street. She said she wants Charleston to have better communication with businesses.
“I’ve talked to people all over the city. There’s no communication unless you do something wrong,” said Bays, 40, who grew up in Germany in a military family and has lived in Charleston for about 22 years.
She said she supports the needle exchange program at the Health Department. She said she saw a bunch of needles in the summer of 2016, but hasn’t seen any since then.
“I’ve got a little background in public health. [The program] could have been tightened up, and it seems like they’ve done that,” she said. “The needle exchange is probably not the only place they’re getting [needles]. You can order them online.”
Bays said, to balance the city’s budget, officials should question what services they need — for instance, does Charleston need as many vehicles as it has and should it be doing its own trash collection. She said the city needs to encourage recycling.
Bays said the financial problems at the Charleston Town Center mall are the most pressing issue facing the city. The mall is what attracts people to the city, she said, and an empty mall would be an eyesore. But there are ways of reinventing the mall, she said — for instance, by turning it inside out and making it a park with restaurants. The city needs to think about linking downtown businesses with the mall, she said.
“Those are conversations that need to be happen now and not 10 months from now,” Bays said.
- Stephen Grimm, 47, is an insurance agent in Charleston. He and his wife, Laura, have three teenagers.
“It seems like the city’s hurting a lot,” Grimm said. “You can sit on the sidelines and complain or do something. Right now is a critical time for the city. I love this town, and I’m ready to go to battle for it.”
Grimm said Charleston needs to be a better partner for businesses, in order to keep them here.
“I work with businesses here, and I don’t feel like the city is treating them like clients,” he said.
Charleston also should do everything it can to support people who are starting businesses and to encourage national and international businesses to locate here, he said.
Grimm said he doesn’t think the needle exchange program should be operated at its current location, near the Civic Center and the Charleston Town Center.
“I don’t think we can do it there,” he said. “There are people struggling, I understand, but it’s causing problems in the downtown, for sure.”
He also said the Health Department should model its program on the one at Health Right, where patients get one clean needle for each one they return.
Grimm said Charleston should partner with schools on programs that help prevent children from starting to do drugs in the first place.
He said he doesn’t have an opinion on whether to continue the trash bag program but that he’d like to poll residents to see what they think.
Joe Solomon, 35, owns a used-book business and is a social work student at Marshall University. Originally from New York, he said he’s been working to make Charleston a better place for about five years, and running for the City Council seemed like a natural extension of that.
Solomon helped start the Clean Water Hub, a network that helped people during the 2014 water crisis.
He and fellow candidate Bill Price were two of six people arrested last year for protesting at the office of Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., to oppose a bill to replace the Affordable Care Act.
Solomon said he wants Charleston to help working families more. He said the city can require large businesses to pay workers a fair wage and paid sick leave.
“Every day it seems, it’s harder to get by here,” he said. “Thousands of people here are trying to get by with low-income jobs.”
Solomon said he would support the city having a safe injection site for drug users. Having the site would cut down on needles in public places and could be staffed with a nurse with naloxone for possible overdoses, he said.
“Right now, we should be real,” he said. “The city is filled with unsafe injection sites, and we’re OK with it.”
Charles “Bill” Price, has worked for the Sierra Club for 15 years, most recently as an organizing manager. Born in Bluefield and raised in Raleigh County, he said part of his job is to bring people together to solve problems.
He said he doesn’t like the way the city has tried to solve problems like homelessness and West Side housing blight without talking with the people affected by the problems.
Price, 61, said he generally supports the needle exchange program at the Health Department but is interested in the program offering retractable needles.
He said he doesn’t think police and firefighters should be exposed to needles but that getting rid of the program doesn’t make sense, either. He said he’s glad the council delayed the vote, so it could look at the issue further.
Price said the most pressing concern the city is facing is a lack of transparency from city government. He said he would support decreasing the size of the City Council as one way to address Charleston’s budget problems.
“There are other places we could cut, but cutting services and projects seems to be short-sighted,” Price said. “We need to bring new businesses.”
Price said he would support continuing the garbage bag program.
Price said his work with the Sierra Club has always been based in Charleston.
He’s lived in the city for the past five years, he said, but he also lived here for a four-year span before leaving and then returning again.