After the Aug. 4 County General Election, the new Bedford County Commission will be made up of 11 independents and 7 Republicans.Of those 18 commissioners, seven are new to the commission for this …
After the Aug. 4 County General Election, the new Bedford County Commission will be made up of 11 independents and 7 Republicans.
Of those 18 commissioners, seven are new to the commission for this term. And of those seven new members, five are Republican. Four of those Republicans are replacing two districts where independents held the seats.
There will be a swearing-in ceremony for all County officials 3 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 31, on the second floor of the historic Courthouse with Judge Wyatt Burk presiding.
Independent or a Republican?
Eric Maddox, from District 1, is one of the new Republicans. This is his first time in local government; he beat independent incumbent Don Gallagher by 3 votes.
Maddox is a self-described Christian conservative. “Overall, the Republican values are the ones I am most closely aligned with,” said Maddox.
He added, “I do understand that the issues a Commissioner will deal with are more locally based. But I also believe the individuals that make those decisions . . . align with the same standards of those in the political parties.”
“Folks that hold the County Commission positions, they’re here to serve the people,” Maddox said. “There needs to be a bi-directional communication line that stays open. There needs to be clear transparency through processes.” For example, he raised concerns over the budget, which he says he has questions on many of the line items.
Maddox said there could be more transparency for the County overall between residents and its representatives. In this way, he hopes to restore faith in local government. “The folks in Washington are the same as the folks here,” said Maddox.
Commissioner Greg Vick, another Republican, similarly said that the results seen in this past election reflect the general view many have of Washington.
“I think the overall consensus is that the people said, ‘we’re sick of the way government in Washington is running things and nothing’s getting done’. . . and I think that’s how it trickled down locally,” Vick said. In turn, many voters picked candidates with no local government experience over people with experience, according to Vick.
“Because what you see are people who ran that led the ticket who had never run for office before in the contested races. It was an interesting phenomenon . . . .”
Vick said he’s been a Republican since 1974 and has consistently voted Republican since then. “It’s a big tent but at the end of the day, we all believe in less government, low taxes, providing services to people. That’s what I believe,” Vick said.
He said he thinks all politics are local, while individuals have a core set of beliefs. “But I understand why people want to be independent because of this climate right now,” he added.
Vick has just completed his first term and will be entering his second. He hopes to help continue developing the workforce and infrastructure development for the County.
Though his partisan platform supports lowering taxes, Vick voted for the property tax increase. He cited the 81 Act as one of the reasons why the County needed to raise this rate.
According to Vick, under the 81 Act, the County is constricted from having a rainy-day fund or from having the excess ability to fund other entities. All excess funds have to go to debt service, he explained. Therefore, the money has to be appropriated to run the government.
“So, as a Republican, I hate the fact we have to price ourselves into a situation,” Vick said. “Our responsibility on a local level—not on a state and not on a federal—is we are appropriators,” he said. This is especially crucial since county employee turnovers were reaching 40 and 50%, while emergency personnel were struggling to fill and retain positions.
Commissioner Mark Thomas, District 9, agrees with the turnover rate’s impact on the tax rate decision. “I think people understood that we were behind, and for the most part people want people to earn a good wage and make a living,” he said.
Entering his seventh term, Thomas is also the County fire chief. He said he’s learned several things over the years, but most importantly, he’s learned how to be patient and to work in a team.
Thomas added that new members are always good. “It’s not a glorified thing. It takes teamwork.”
He added, “My main thing is if I can go up there and vote and still be friends with every one of them even though we didn’t agree on issues.”
It’s also a reason why he runs as an independent. “I feel like I represent Bedford County as a whole,” Thomas said. “I think I try to do what’s best for everybody. I don’t just stick to a party.”
Commissioner Bill Anderson cited a similar reason for running as an independent—he said he wants to represent everyone in his district, Democrat or Republican. “I really don’t think national politics really has that much to do with local politics. I mean, I’m a conservative but never run Republican,” Anderson said, who has served two terms on the commission.
Though he voted against the property tax rate, he (unlike Thomas) believes the new tax rate had a more impactful influence on how residents voted in this election. “The fact of the matter is people’s taxes went up about 18 percent on average two years in a row...and people are really fed up with it,” Anderson explained. “I wish we could do something about inflation, but we can’t. But I don’t think we need to do things that add to it. And raising taxes adds to it.”
And similar to Maddox’s standpoint of wanting more transparency, Anderson said he does not like how some of the issues are handled. “I’ve been more frustrated at the times I don’t feel like we are debating and discussing enough . . . . I feel like sometimes it’s predestined when you walk in there what they’re going to do,” he said.
Commissioner Linda Yockey will be entering her sixth term. Having done this for around 20 years, she said the learning curve changes day-to-day, but ultimately you have to work with everybody.
“In this last year, the thing that I hope everybody learned is that things have to come before the committee first, or chaos ensues,” Yockey commented.
She said the Commission has been as progressive as she’s seen it as they hope to “play ahead of the game rather than put out fires.”
She added that the reason she runs as an independent is because, “up until almost the last 8 years or so, all the Commissioner races, almost everybody, ran as independents.”
“There’s really no place for partisan politics at the local level. If the state can’t figure it out, we certainly can’t,” she said. “It’s local for us and that’s what we should be focused on.”
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