In anticipation of the upcoming election on November 7th, BTW has reached out to all Supervisor and School Board candidates to answer some questions about their candidacy. Today, we present the responses from Yolanda Russel (D), one of three challengers running to fill the seat vacated by Paul Milde. We thank Ms. Rousell for her time!
BTW: Tell BTW’s readers about yourself!
I am a strong intelligent woman who believes that education and a great community are the keys to success. In August of 2005 my family evacuated the New Orleans metropolitan area due to the impending arrival of Hurricane Katrina. Two days later, we (evacuees) were informed through news releases that we would not be able to return to our homes. The devastation was such that no time frame for returning could be determined. My husband's brother invited us to his home in Alexandria, Virginia. In an effort to protect our, then, 10-year-old son, from the horrifying, daily news of events in New Orleans, we immediately enrolled him in school on Sept. 6. Later, after determining the schools and community were outstanding, we decided to remain in Northern Virginia until our son graduated from high school. In our search for a home, we settled in Stafford, the Aquia district. Our son attended Stafford Middle School then graduated from Brooke Point High School in 2013. We are still here!
I earned my Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communications with a minor in English from the University of New Orleans. I held a real estate brokers license and managed district offices for a 230-year-old fortune 500 company prior to 2005. For the past 12 years, I have worked within the Office of Special Education Instruction for Fairfax County Public Schools, specifically assisting 7th and 8th grade students with learning disabilities. I’m also an entrepreneur and operate a small business from my home.
BTW: What drove your decision to enter the Supervisor race this year?
What fueled my decision to enter the Stafford County Board of Supervisors race is my disgust with the Aquia Towne Center fiasco; my frustration with the relentless congestion on our stretch of I-95 that spills onto our neighborhood roads; and my bewilderment over the reluctance to pay teachers, support staff and bus drivers a decent wage with adequate benefits. After speaking with members of our community, many just by pure happenstance, I realized that most share my concerns. This served to lite the fire that drove my decision to enter the race.
BTW: What differentiates you from the incumbent (or other challengers) in your race? What, if any, mistakes do you think the board, in general, has made that you would not have?
The Aquia District’s seat is open so there is no incumbent, but I will address those things I would not have done, in contrast to the current board.
1) I would not have entered into negotiations on TIFs with developers whose purpose was to attempt to bribe a retail entity who would, then, be dependent upon the community to patronize their business. Double dipping? Absolutely not!
2) I would not continue feuding with the Stafford County School Board while teachers and staff, students and bus drivers all suffer.
3) I would have been working harder at bringing a Regional Transit Authority (RTA) to Stafford to help solve the traffic congestion issues.
4) Last, but not least, I would treat the constituents of Stafford with more respect and consideration than have been afforded them by some members of the current Board.
BTW: What skills do you think you bring to the table that makes you a particularly good choice for the job?
I believe my business acumen and teaching skills will serve to be an asset to the Board of Supervisors. I spent many years working with Encyclopedia Britannica USA (EBUSA), a 230-year-old fortune 500 company. I started as a field representative, but I quickly rose to the rank of Field Trainer. Within a year and a half, I was promoted to District Manager of the Birmingham, Alabama, office. The condition of the office was dire, but, within three months, I was able to hire, properly train and field a crew of representatives who were excited about their ability to earn a great income. As a team we worked together to right an office that was on life support. Nine months later, I was promoted to Assistant Division Manager in EBUSA's Overland Park office in Kansas. My primary duties there were to train Field and District managers. I am confident that these skills are transferable to the Board of Supervisors.
BTW: What are the most pressing issues that you feel face Stafford County?
The Aquia Towne Center (ATC) is a top issue for the Aquia District. It has been a pile of rocks for 10 years while other areas like those along Routes 17 and 610 springs to life. We must work with the owner of the property while advocating for the community to bring the ATC back to life. It's the first thing folks see when taking the first exit in the county heading south from DC, and it is not helping property values in the area. Without dipping heavily into tax payers’ money, we need entertainment for kids and a good shopping venue for the community.
Stafford County Public Schools needs to be a priority. The education of our children is most important. But for our kids to get a good education, we need to keep good teachers and support staff in our county. We can only do that by providing better pay and benefit packages. This is the only way to keep our talent from heading to northern Virginia schools. Of course, that begins with better funding of the county school district by the Board of Supervisors. The county and the school district must also find a better way to work together to reach the goals of better education and better teachers.
I have spoken with a lot of voters, and most say that traffic congestion is the area's number 1 issue for them. We need to bring all entities and stakeholders to the table to find viable solutions. Our community needs relief from the mind boggling congestion on our stretch of I-95, which is now the worst in the nation. We need to carefully look at all options, like a transportation authority organization similar to what Northern Virginia has. We also should consider extending Metro, improving VRE, adding express vans from Park and Rides to the VRE stations, adding telecommuting centers, creating more local jobs so folks don't have to drive to DC, and any other ideas folks may have. We must put forth every effort to assure that the community will not be hit with additional costs and exorbitant tolls to travel from home to work and back each day. The express lanes have become a rich person's luxury, while those of us living paycheck to paycheck suffer in the traffic.
BTW: How do you plan to utilize your skills to address the issues in the previous question?
I believe I can bring together the necessary entities needed to get us on track to better serve our community. What is also needed are fresh eyes, fresh attitudes, energy and a willingness to work with colleagues on the BOS, governmental managers, state delegates and senators, office of the governor, federal entities, SCPS Board, Education Association, homeowners associations, community development organizations, NAACP, etc., to get Stafford County moving better together.
BTW: The relationship between the School Board and the Board of Supervisors has long been a rocky one. Are you willing to work hand in hand with the School Board to deal head on with some of the major problems?
A widespread perception exists in the Stafford community that the BOS and the SCPS Board has not/cannot get along professionally and, as a result, our kids suffer. Issues concerning mistrust, lack of a working relationship between members of the boards, charges of fiscal mismanagement to the tune of approximately $3 million, lack of proper allocation of resources, the requests for money to update computer management systems, and more were ignored by the BOS. Then there is a lack of professional development opportunities afforded education professionals, lack of job satisfaction among teachers, inability to recruit people to our school system (i.e. two weeks out, SCPS had more than a dozen positions unfilled), loss of teachers to other northern Virginia school systems, the inability for teachers to earn sufficient pay to afford to live in a decent community here in Stafford County, inability of students to pay for school lunch, etc. This is an exhausting list, yet it's only a synopsis of so many other issues going unsolved by the current boards. It’s easy to see why both boards are in need of fresh eyes, fresh ideas and people whose primary goal will be to solve problems for the benefit of the community.
BTW: Any final thoughts?
I believe in fighting for what's right and working with the community to make it happen! I did in the aftermath of Katrina by relocating my family to Northern Virginia. I positioned myself in the Northern Virginia area to provide for my family and contribute to the local community. I started a STEM program (501c3) for budding middle and high school students, boys and girls, interested in engineering. They were provided the opportunity to get first hand exposure to engineers, many of whom, looked just like them. It's pleasing to know that so many of these students are currently living their dreams of studying engineering in college or actually working in a particular discipline of engineering. We owe them the opportunity to come back to their community to live, work and play. We all deserve the very same quality of life here in Stafford. I pledge to fight to create that environment here. With your support and, most of all, your VOTE, we will get it done and prove that we are Better Together!
If you would like to contact Yolanda or learn more about her campaign, you may do so by visiting her website Yolanda4Aquia.net or on her Facebook page. Thanks again for your participation, Ms. Roussell!