Town of Rocky Mount voters are being asked to choose from four candidates for three town council seats on May 19.
The election, originally scheduled for May 5, was pushed back two weeks by Gov. Ralph Northam via executive order 59, due to concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor also moved the June primary elections from June 9 to June 23.
In April, Northam recommended moving the May elections to November, which required action by the General Assembly. While the House of Delegates approved the measure, the Senate did not.
In Rocky Mount, current Vice Mayor Billie Stockton, Mark Newbill and Greg Walker’s seats are up for grabs. Stockton is running for reelection as is Newbill. The council seats are being challenged by Tyler Lee and David Clements. Walker is not running for reelection.
Meet the candidates
Newbill has been serving on town council since 1998. He served as mayor after winning a special election in 2001, and was elected to serve a four-year term in 2002. A Franklin County High School graduate, Newbill also graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in dairy science in 1988. He started his business, Newbilt Construction, in 2006 as a Class A contractor. Newbill and his wife, Becky, have lived in Rocky Mount for 29 years.
Incumbent Stockton was born and raised in Franklin County and has been a resident of the town for more than 20 years. Stockton is a U.S. Army veteran, who served from 1973 to 1980 when he was discharged as a sergeant E-5. Stockton worked for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office from 1981 to 2012. During his tenure, he received numerous awards and recognition, including deputy of the year by the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce. He currently works part time for Stanfield Mortuary and occasionally serves as a substitute bus driver for Franklin County Public Schools. Stockton has served on town council since 2012 and has been served as vice mayor since 2018.
Clements is a lifelong resident of Rocky Mount and a graduate of FCHS. He has been a self-employed contractor for 36 years and has served as a volunteer firefighter for Rocky Mount for 43 years. He currently serves on the Franklin County Planning Commission for the Rocky Mount district. Clements also serves on the board of trustees of Rocky Mount United Methodist Church.
Lee grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee and came to Franklin County as a student at Ferrum College. After graduating from Ferrum, Lee worked at Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital as the Community Health and Outreach manager. He recently joined SleepSafe Beds as director of sales and administration. He is a volunteer firefighter for Rocky Mount and serves on the Economic Development Authority. Lee said he has also served with Community Partnership for Revitalization and helped with annual events, including Court Days and Come Home to a Franklin County Christmas.
When it comes to prioritizing the needs of the town, Stockton said the top three needs of the town are quality jobs, affordable housing and revitalization of the town.
Newbill said he believes the town’s top needs include additional dine-in restaurants to complement the existing restaurants in town, recruiting businesses to the industrial park and focusing on making the town an attractive place to live, work and raise a family.
Lee said he would like to see more jobs and more opportunities for the younger population to come back home to work. He also counted a 24/7 public safety medic truck among the top needs for the town, as well as supporting local businesses and revitalization.
Clements said, “I would like to work with the town officials to promote growth and development and make our community a beautiful and inviting place to live.”
As businesses slowly begin to reopen when Northam’s orders relax restrictions, all four candidates expressed a desire to help local businesses get back on their feet as the pandemic subsides.
“The large cooperate stores in town have been phenomenally successful during this crisis, however, the small local ones are the ones are extreme risk and have the most community benefit,” Lee said. “We must look at this as a team and be strategic about how to move forward … I see our community struggling, but I know the home team will rally behind their favorite store and shop when they open.”
When it comes to housing needs, Newbill said some local neighborhoods are transitioning from privately-owned homes to rental properties. He said council should work collectively with the planning commission to create a policy that makes sure that traditional residential neighborhoods continue to be the goal.
Stockton said he sees a need for affordable housing that serves young families and retirees, as well as professionals and empty nesters. “There is a need for different housing options: apartments, townhouses, lofts and alternative styles for single family housing,” Stockton said. “Encouraging new housing developments in existing neighborhoods is one way to address this need. We also need to continue to work with and recruit real estate development. Our greatest resources are our real estate developers and agents within our area.”
Clements said he didn’t see a major concern with many properties in town for sale. However, Lee said he “would love to see high-end apartments that could bring a vibrant energy to town with gradual growth.”
The Harvester Performance Center has been a hot-button topic since the inception of the music venue. During its 2019 financial review, Harvester CEO and Assistant Town Manager Matt Hankins said for every dollar the town has invested in the venue, $3.30 comes back into the town through retail, food and lodging. All four candidates agreed the Harvester is an asset for the town, especially after the pandemic ends.
Newbill noted the recent addition of Traditional Medicinals, Inc. to the Summit View Business Park was due in-part to the proximity of the Harvester.
“We as a council face that question each year as to how much of new revenue created by the economic impact of the Harvester should we return to it to keep its operation sustainable,” Newbill said. “Currently that figure is around 60%.”
Stockton added there is a 10% reduction in the upcoming budget to cover Harvester expenses and said this is a trend he expects will continue.
Clements added he would like to see the venue stand on its own without subsidizing from taxpayer money.
Candidates were asked by The Franklin News-Post: “If you received a $1 million grant to use for the town any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why?” Here’s a look at what the candidates had to say.
Newbill: “Sidewalks are always useful for our citizens. I would love to see more sidewalks installed in town to make it safer for our walkers, runners and folks pushing strollers.”
Stockton: “A million dollars would not be enough to complete all of the projects! I would address the need of additional housing for new and current town residents, encourage new development initiatives for uptown and downtown, encourage and pursue businesses, industries and employers that offer quality jobs and a better quality of life, protect and preserve the natural resources in Town. Why? Because our citizens deserve it!”
Clements: “Restoring empty buildings in town to the beauty they once were to bring in businesses; education; update and redesign road sections in town for easier and safer travel and on town beautification.”
Lee: “I would love to see a walking loop to connect the Veterans’ Park to many other wonderful parks around the county and town to promote healthy living. I believe if one has a healthy community then the town has a better chance of growth. As positive energy moves then hopefully the positive vibes will reignite the flame of business in town.”