Break The Wheel has recently reached out to all Aquia Supervisor candidates in an effort to learn more about them and why they have entered the race. Today, BTW is posting the responses of Independent candidate Sharon Foley, a longtime citizen of Stafford and part time activist. You may know her from the Facebook group Stafford Citizens for School Parity, a group formed after the very contentious middle school redistricting in 2015. Learn more about Sharon at her website and FB page.
Break the Wheel: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Sharon. Tell us about yourself.
Sharon Foley: I have lived in Stafford since 2004. My husband retired from the Marine Corps and we chose to settle in the area due to federal job opportunities. I am a counselor by training and have spent most of my professional career involved in direct service delivery or management of substance use disorder services. I also worked with military families when stationed in Okinawa. I currently work for DLH Corporation and manage a Navy contract which provides clinical supervision to Navy drug and alcohol counselors. I have three children, two who will have graduated from Brooke Point High School, as of June 17th and one who is attending Stafford Middle School.
Break the Wheel: What drove your decision to enter the Aquia Board of Supervisor Race?
Sharon Foley: I decided to enter the Board of Supervisor race after several years of learning about local government. I became actively engaged in School Board decisions in response to redistricting decisions. I have also closely watched the Board of Supervisors decrease their financial support of schools. It is the Board of Supervisors who have the greatest influence on the community life of Stafford – schools, recreation, public safety, historical and ecological preservation, and economic development.
Break the Wheel: What do you think you bring to the table that others may lack?
Sharon Foley: I believe I bring two attributes that I don’t always see in elected officials and will make me an effective representative for the people of the Aquia District. First, I have a strong belief that we should try to be fair. I am not naïve, life is not always fair. But, if we start from a belief that our decisions should not inherently benefit or exclude a particular group, neighborhood, district, business, or individual, then we are likely to come to a balanced decision more often than not.
Secondly, I know how to listen. If elected, I will ask questions and I will wait to hear the answers before coming to a decision. Candidates for office have many opinions. Opinions should not dictate decisions. Sometimes, a solution cannot be determined until you delve into the depths of the problem. The only fair promises are the promises to listen, be honest, and do my best to make the best decisions I can.
In addition to these attributes, I am currently engaged in the schools in Stafford County. I believe offering a quality public education is one of the most important responsibilities of a local government. While specific policy decisions are within the purview of the School Board, the responsibility for providing the resources for great schools lies with the Board of Supervisors. We need Supervisors who are invested in the schools. Several supervisors have been heard to say that their kids got a great education in Stafford County Public Schools. I believe my kids are getting a great education now. I will be committed to enhancing the foundation built in the past so that, for years to come, supervisors will be able to say their kids got a great education in Stafford.
Break the Wheel: What are the most pressing issues that you feel face Stafford County?
Sharon Foley: I believe Stafford needs to address school funding, support for public safety, and transportation. Our increasing population will continue to put strains on all our infrastructure. We need to explore options that will allow us to build capacity and provide needed equipment and facilities to maintain the quality services offered by all departments, especially the school system, sheriff’s department, and fire and rescue. I support the efforts the county has made to explore shared services across departments and believe we need to expand and expedite that process as much as possible. A community is as strong as the services it offers. I believe we should do all we can to create an environment in which Stafford County employees can afford to live in the community they serve.
Transportation is a challenge that impacts all of us daily. I live off Route 1 and any time there is an accident in the region on I-95, the traffic backs up at Courthouse Road and Route 1 as cars come off 95 and attempt to travel north on Route 1. This not only impacts the morning commute for anyone trying to go north, it ties up local traffic causing school employees, busses, and students to be late to school. The bus ride for my children can easily go from 10 minutes to 45 minutes if I-95 shuts down. Our transportation woes are negatively impacting our schools and local businesses. I support exploring the establishment of a Regional Transportation Authority that could target a gas tax specifically for local transportation needs. While progress has been made with the Courthouse Road improvements that are just getting started, both west of 95 and the movement of the interstate access points, backups on 95 will continue to clog the local roads unless we make further local road improvements.
You may note that I don’t have controlling development on the list of priorities. Local government is limited in its capacity to control development due to Virginia by-right development laws. The Board of Supervisors does have control over development that requires rezoning. Some of the approved rezoning plans have benefitted the region through the proffering of preserved acreage and cash. Unfortunately, proffers have not always been used to effectively relieve the impact of the increased population. Changes at the state level have essentially done away with proffers, so we need to more closely scrutinize every development application.
I believe the board needs to be very transparent about the choices they are making. If a rezoning plan is evaluated, the Board should be very clear on the value of that rezoning to the community – what is being gained, what is threatened, and what is being lost. We need to be aware of the infrastructure impact of all development – both rezoning projects and by-right development. The last numbers I saw stated there are approximately 10,000 by-right lots available to be developed in Stafford. The property tax that may be paid when those lots are developed will not off-set the impact to roads, public safety, and schools. The Supervisors are going to have to make some hard choices. The Board of 2018 will be forced to deal with choices, good and bad, made by prior boards.
Break the Wheel: Are you willing to work hand in hand with the School Board to deal head on with some of the major problems others have left for you to clean up?
Sharon Foley: I am interested in working closely with the School Board. I support efforts that have been started regarding shared services and a Joint Capital Improvement Plan process. The proposed federal budget will likely result in reduced funding to localities for special programs, special education, and reduced meal prices, just to name a few. We cannot expect that the state funding will make up for what we lose from the federal government. Stafford will have to explore sharing services across the county to free up funds for unmet needs in the schools, as well as other departments. The two elected bodies need to be partners, not adversaries, in our efforts to improve the quality of services offered to all citizens. The quality of the school system impacts the economic health of the county and all tax-payers – not just those with children in the schools. Housing values, business development, and opportunities for local employment are all influenced by the quality of our schools. The Board of Supervisors has a responsibility to support quality schools.
Break the Wheel: Any final thoughts?
Sharon Foley: I am running as an independent candidate because I do not believe building a strong community should be influenced by partisan politics. I believe we build community by being honest about the issues before us, openly discussing the impact the available choices will have on the county, and then making the tough decisions with the future in mind. I will make those decisions without worrying about my political future or whether I’m living up to a platform that may not offer the best solution. My campaign slogan is “Stafford: From a Great Past to a Greater Future.” We have a marvelous history to celebrate and expand on and an even greater future to build.
Thanks a bunch, Sharon! To contact Sharon Foley, you can go to her website at Foley4Aquia.com or on her Facebook page.