A highly anticipated local candidate forum drew many Nelson County residents to the Nelson Center last week, filling every available seat eager to hear from those running for election this year.

The Nelson County Chamber of Commerce sponsored the local candidates forum Oct. 3. Those running for local offices including the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation Board, Nelson County Board of Supervisors, Nelson County School Board, commonwealth’s attorney, commissioner of revenue, treasurer, and sheriff had a chance to speak to the public and answer submitted questions.

The most contentious race this election cycle is for sheriff, between incumbent Independent David Hill and challenger Republican Daniel Jones.

The two were the last to debate, taking an hour to answer a number of questions submitted by audience members. Questions included the goals they have for the Sheriff’s Office should they be elected in November, the biggest need they see in the department, and why they believe they are the best candidate.

Jones told the audience it wasn’t about who the best fit is, but who has the most relevant experience. Jones said he’s a combat veteran, has 20 years experience as a law enforcement officer, and at the ages of 19 and 20, ran two fast food chains, giving him the leadership experience necessary for a sheriff.

“People ask about my experience as a sheriff. Well I’m not the sheriff, but during this campaign I believe my experience and background outweighs my opponent’s hands down,” Jones said.

Hill told the crowd his experience as a guidance counselor and a police officer and what he has learned as sheriff since 2016 makes him the ideal candidate.

“I didn’t serve overseas. I wasn’t in the military; I have the utmost respect for those who served. That doesn’t necessarily make you the best candidate for sheriff,” Hill said. “You have to be approachable. You have to be able to make good decisions. It doesn’t just come down to how you can enter a home tactically and shoot people. You have to be able to talk to people, go to meetings, and weigh in on what’s being discussed.”

Hot button issues both candidates discussed were the need to lower the turnover rate in the sheriff’s office, the need for more deputies present in the county, and how to address the different traffic problems along the Virginia 151 corridor. The public also asked how they would handle arresting minorities — to which they both answered the same as they would anyone else — and what “areas” are most important to them.

“Nov. 5; when that comes, vote responsible. Vote for the person that has the best resume. Vote for the person that has protected you for almost 20 years and I promise you I will give you another 20,” Jones said.

Hill told the crowd he has been honored to be sheriff and would be honored to serve for another term.

“As the old saying goes, if something isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Are there things we could do better? Yes,” Hill said before summarizing his accomplishments and future plans. “I would be honored and privileged to continue to have your support Nov. 5 and remain the Sheriff of Nelson County.”

The four-way race for two seats as Soil and Water Conservation Director for the Thomas Jefferson District kicked off the two hour event. Incumbent David Collins and challengers W.F. “Bill” Plyler and Kelsey Cowger answered questions from the audience about why they should be elected. Incumbent candidate Mark Campbell was absent.

Incumbent Republican Larry Saunders and challenger Democrat Robert G. “Skip” Barton Jr. both running for South district seat on the board of supervisors discussed why they should represent their district for Nelson County. Barton made it clear he is in support of education and working with the schools and is anti-pipeline.

“I want to serve this community,” Barton said.

Saunders discussed his experience as a board member, how he’s kept his promise to not raise taxes during the eight years he has been in office, and how his vision for the next four years includes having internet in all homes of Nelson County.

“It’s been real good to have served on the board of supervisors for eight years and I sure would like to serve another four years,” Saunders said.

Uncontested candidates were given two minutes to discuss why they are running for their respective offices. Commonwealth’s Attorney Daniel Rutherford, Commissioner of Revenue Pam Campbell, Treasurer Angela Hicks, and Board of Supervisors West district representative David Parr all spoke.

School board candidates Ceaser Perkins, Shannon Powell, and George Cheape were not at the event. Doris Bibb, a write-in candidate for the school board Central district seat, told the crowd she had been a teacher for many years and is currently on the board as interim representative. Margaret Clair is also a write-in candidate for the Central district school board seat. Clair previously served on the board from 2009 to 2013.

The election will be held Nov. 5.

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Erin Conway covers Nelson County for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5524.

Erin Conway covers Nelson County. Reach her at (434) 385-5524 or econway@newsadvance.com.

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