The Observer asked all candidates to respond to a series of questions about their experience and priorities. Select candidate’s names to read their responses. These responses are edited only for brevity. 

Shepherdstown Mayor

The Mayor is the chief executive officer of the Corporation of Shepherdstown, overseeing a staff of approximately 30 in the administrative, police, and public works departments. The Mayor is responsible for faithfully executing the orders, by-laws, ordinances, acts, and resolutions of the Town Council. The Charter also assigns the Mayor the duty to ensure that the peace and good order of the Town are maintained. The role is a volunteer position with a small stipend.

 

Jim Auxer – Candidate for Mayor

Todd Cotgreave – Candidate for Mayor

 

Shepherdstown Town Council

The Town Council has authority, as delegated by the State of WV, to maintain and control the public roads, regulate businesses, control the building of houses and structures, to authorize the provision of public utilities in the town, and to maintain the general peace and order. The Council consists of 5 at large members elected for a term of 2 years, along with the Town Recorder and the Mayor. The role is a volunteer position.

Corinne Airgood – Candidate for Council

Marty Amerikaner – Candidate for Council

Jim Ford – Candidate for Council

Jenny Hayes – Candidate for Council

Cheryl Roberts – Candidate for Council

Chris Stroech – Candidate for Council

Deb Tucker – Candidate for Council (Candidate has withdrawn from election)

 

 

 

Jim Auxer – Candidate for Mayor

Jim Auxer – Candidate for Mayor

Jim Auxer is a proud graduate of Shepherd University, who returned to Shepherdstown in 1999 after a 25 year career as a corrections officer in Pennsylvania. He immediately stepped up to serve on the town’s Water Board and figured he would spend many more years volunteering in the community. Within a year he had been elected Mayor. “I never considered myself to be a politician, but the citizens saw the town needed work and I guess they figured I was willing to do it. The first year I remember we had to collect money out of the parking meters each week to make payroll. It’s important when you are in local government to remember that the unexpected is always a possibility. I’m very proud that we’ve managed the town’s finances so that in the current emergency we haven’t needed to even think about reducing services or staff reductions.”

“When you think about Shepherdstown, it’s not a big place. But it has the same types of problems and issues as any other town. Officially, this is only a part time job, but I attend maybe 25 meetings every month, and now there are even more. As Mayor, I manage a lot of meetings. From my professional training, I’ve learned that it’s important to be civil even if you have disagreements. Above all, you have to listen. Sometimes that means you need to balance the discussions to let everyone have a turn. But I do believe that the best outcomes come from letting everyone have a say. You have to represent everybody in the community and you can’t have a personal agenda.”

“But the job is not just about attending meetings, it’s about being the face of the town. Realistically, there is never a time when you are not the Mayor. I have an open door policy, so when someone wants to come in and talk, they can. Or they will stop me in the street, or even knock on my door at home. You need to be ready to do the work and help solve the problems when they come to you. We don’t have a big staff, and I really try to help people fix problems expeditiously.”

“When you care about Shepherdstown as much as I do (and I really do care about the town), you also realize that the tone of the town is important, what makes it special. A lot of it is how we respect one another, how we put our best foot forward for visitors, how that makes our town an attractive place to live and to visit. It’s important to me to go out and talk to people, to hear them in person, to really understand what they feel.”

“A big part of Shepherdstown is our history, and I spend a lot of time thinking about how we preserve that — the people, the memories. But a lot of what the Mayor does is to anticipate problems and work with the county and state government over years and years to come up with creative solutions. For example, the Shepherdstown Path project to Morgan’s Grove Park that was just announced took 5 years; getting the state to install the new lights on the bridge took 5 years. You have to be willing to negotiate until you get what’s right for the town, even if it takes a while.”

“I also spend a lot of time working with the University. It’s a very symbiotic relationship and I focus a lot on how we can help each other. That’s how we got the parking lot — it wasn’t in the University’s plan or budget, but we were able to leverage a small investment from the Town into something that’s a huge benefit for both the community and the University.”

“At the end of the day, it’s about doing the work. And I don’t see any job as too small for the Mayor.”

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Todd Cotgreave – Candidate for Mayor

Todd Cotgreave

Todd Cotgreave – Candidate for Mayor

A graduate of Shepherd University, Todd Cotgreave calls Shepherdstown home. Asked about why he decided to settle here, he remarked with enthusiasm “This August will mark the 28th year I have lived in Shepherdstown. I remember what it was in 1992 that endeared this town to me. It was the people. Every day I was in town I was greeted by people who were smiling and saying hello and taking part in a multitude of parades that had more dogs than people. The experiences I’ve had in Shepherdstown have made me who I am. Win, lose, or draw, I will always be an advocate for the people in Shepherdstown.”

Talking about the challenges and priorities for Shepherdstown over the next couple of years, Todd continued “the Town will need to focus on tourism as we proceed into the future. Our once thriving downtown has seen a slow decline over the past decade and we need to see changes made in parking, advertising, and attitude in general. We are a town full of artisans, farmers and thinkers. We need to make decisions that will focus on the people and businesses that make Shepherdstown special.”

Asked about the experience and perspectives he would bring to the table if elected to serve as Mayor, Todd responded “I have found that over the years I have really enjoyed serving the community. We’re a wonderful group of people that energetically take care of each other. With every bit of foundation that I have created in the past, it’s the community itself that realized its potential and used it for uses beyond my imagination. So my thought is that if I were able to serve as Mayor, I could bring more structure and foundation for the community to build upon.”

When asked about how he would educate himself on the issues facing the community and balance the differences of opinions on issues that come before the council, Todd said “the only way to have an idea on issues in town is to be actively engaged in community events and walking around town talking with people. You have to know everyone to know what is going on. When trying to balance differences of opinion you have to remember that we are all in this together. Even if we don’t like the outcome it’s up to us to make sure that we are still compassionate and understanding.  It’s easy to take sides and divide; it is much harder to realize that people with differences will one day need each other again. We are in a small town, we have to depend on each other whether we agree on everything or not.”

Talking about Covid-19, Cotgreave says “it’s a game changer for sure. One thing that needs to change is the communication and actions from Town Hall to residents in the area. What the Town needs to do is act as a funnel to find people with issues, learn what their specific struggles are and point them to where help can be found.  The Mayor’s office can, at a minimum,  issue weekly statements relating to the effects of Covid-19 and create a safe space for those who want to help.”

Cotgreave also commented on how Shepherdtown can lead on racial justice. “We can serve as an example by bringing questions created during recent events to light and acting on them. What has racial disparity looked like in the past and how is it affecting us now? Are many residents having a hard time due to ever-increasing rents and costs of living? Have we been slowly gentrifying our town so only retirees and commuters can afford to live here? How do our police interact with residents?”

“Have we been immune to racial disparity? No, we haven’t. We are blessed that we live in a loving and helpful community, but is that the best we can do? I don’t think so. I think we can and should do more.”

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Corinne Airgood – Candidate for Town Council

Corinne Airgood – Candidate for Town Council

Corinne Airgood moved to town in 2016 to attend Shepherd University. As she describes it, “I fell in love with the town due to its small town charm, yet being in such proximity to great resources like DC and Baltimore. In 2018 I started my own pet sitting business and that’s when it really started to feel like home. I was meeting more people, learning more about the town, working for the Visitor Center, and starting to feel like a local.”

Corinne continued “As a younger voice I can bring an entirely different perspective to the town. Shepherd University campus is within town limits, yet so many students that I have spoken with don’t know anything about the town and that needs to change. There are so many opportunities to partner with the University.”

Thinking about the challenges ahead, Airgood focused on “the need to make Shepherdstown a safe place for everyone so that our tourism industry isn’t affected too severely, and neither are our residents.

Talking about how the Town works, Airgood feels “It can be improved in every single way. The reason I decided to run for Council is because in the past year I would constantly reach out to a former Council member to ask questions from “how do I get the garbage guys to pick up a screen door?” to “how was the app that is used for parking determined?”

“I want to work on improving the Town website – making it more user friendly and easier to navigate; making the town government more transparent – making the budget available to the public, making sure all meeting minutes are published, improving communication between the town and its residents, including a FAQ page and question submission area on the website, and live-streaming all public meetings.”

Speaking about her priorities, Airgood mentioned working with the business community and building upon the Town’s welcoming spirit. “Shepherdstown is already considered a place that is welcoming and safe to LGBT+ community. It wouldn’t be difficult to make a visual set of displays to show the community of color that they will be treated with respect and dignity. I would also like to create a safe place to take complaints and/or comments of disparities in the community regarding race, sex, gender, sexuality, etc.”

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Marty Amerikaner – Candidate for Town Council

Marty Amerikaner – Candidate for Town Council

Marty Amerikaner and his wife Linda relocated to Shepherdstown 5 years ago, after many years in Huntington working at Marshall. With obvious enthusiasm, he relates “we’ve been so impressed with this extraordinary, welcoming community as we developed close friendships and become involved in many of the organizations and activities that delightfully saturate our town! I’ve always been a strong believer in actively contributing to one’s community as evidenced by the range of volunteering I’ve done since moving here, including teaching in the Life Long Learning program, and working with “Age Friendly Shepherdstown”, Shepherdstown Area Independent Living (SAIL), community groups supporting Shepherdstown Film Society and the SPEAK Story Series and serving on the Board of Shenandoah Community Health Clinic.”

“I am running for Council because I genuinely enjoy working with colleagues on important issues. My professional work in psychology included varied leadership roles – chairing the Psychology Department at Marshall University, chairing the WV Board of Psychological Examiners, and President of the WV Psychological Association. I hope my experience and skills will contribute to the Council’s work. Also, it turns out that I’m one of those weird people who actually enjoys sitting in meetings to work on strategic problem solving.”

Marty points out that “Shepherdstown is a vibrant place to live and visit, yet like most small towns, our resources are limited. Prioritizing issues based on careful assessment of constituents’ concerns and targeting budget allocations towards sustained efforts to resolve them ought to be central to Council’s work. As a member of the “Age Friendly Shepherdstown” steering committee (an AARP- affiliated group) I was involved in a project to assess community members’ concerns. “Listening sessions” with community groups, and an on-line survey completed by over 350 community residents revealed three key needs: a) improved access to public transportation, b) improved alleys, sidewalks and bike/pedestrian paths, and c) improved access to information about town-related events and resources. Following up on these results, I worked with Age Friendly Shepherdstown, along with Town Council and SAIL, to apply for an AARP Community Challenge grant that will begin to address these issues.”

Amerikaner noted that “public acknowledgement of systemic disparities is overdue, as is the need for sustained evidence-based attempts to address them at the local, as well as national levels.”

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Jim Ford – Candidate for Town Council

Jim Ford – Candidate for Town Council

Jim Ford has lived in Shepherdstown for 18 years; he and his wife ran a local hospitality business in Town for 12 years. Jim has previously served 6 terms on Town Council and has been a member of the Water Board since 2012. Asked about the challenges ahead, Jim responded “I believe economic viability is always an issue for Shepherdstown, as it is for any small town in West Virginia. That issue presents itself both as a challenge to the Town to pay its bills and a challenge for all the businesses on German Street to remain open. In addition to the normal pressures that we feel in those areas, this year will be more severe due to the Covid-19-related drop in tourism, which I expect to be extreme.”

When asked why run again for Council, Jim said “I view being a member of Town Council as a service to the community. In the past there have been elections in which we did not have enough candidates to fill the 5 Council seats. When I found out that 2 Council members were retiring I decided to run simply so we would have a full slate of candidates.” When asked about how he would educate himself on the issues facing the community and balance the differences of opinions on issues that come before the council, Jim replied with a very straightforward answer: “Listen, listen some more, then keep listening.”

In dealing with Covid-19, Jim stressed that “We will need to ensure that we stay aware of the advice and directives being given by the State and County health departments with respect to how we respond to the Covid-19 challenge. I expect that it will require a lot of vigilance well into the fall and some significant awareness into next year.” Speaking about the priorities for the next Council term, Jim stated “the issue that the Town Council has the most responsibility for is justice. I believe the performance of our police force in recent years has been exemplary. I, for one, am quite thankful for that because we have had examples of less than stellar police performance in the previous decade. However, it remains the responsibility of the Mayor and Town Council to ensure the continued excellence of the police force.”

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Jenny Haynes – Candidate for Town Council

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Jenny Haynes, long-time resident of Shepherdtown emphasizes that “working together and effectively is big for me, it’s important that everyone feels included in the future of this town. I think the key issue on everyone’s mind is and will be the ongoing challenges of this pandemic and to keep Shepherdstown financially strong. The current Council members and Mayor have been working with community members, business leaders, and organizations to keep Shepherdstown informed and to adapt to this current environment.”

Haynes stresses “while I don’t really have political motives or ambitions, I do have Shepherdstown in my best interests. I want to use my ability to engage in local resources to bring people together and continue to work with our local organizations to tackle issues in town. I am invested in the future of this town and will always do my best. I will show up and put in the work.”

Jenny recalls that she has always been an eager volunteer, “I have always done what I could, I show up to volunteer whether it be installing 1,000 bulbs, cleaning up parks, or helping out with any event in town. I have been involved with The Shepherdstown Community Club for about twelve years. A few years ago I was asked to take care of rentals for SCC and The War Memorial Building, and now I’m the vice president! I also am responsible for the care and rentals at The Station of Shepherdstown and I’m on the board of the Visitors Center. I chair Christmas in Shepherdstown and regularly run the Haunted Hallway & Vampire’s Ball at BooFest. I am currently a member of the Town’s Parks & Recreation Commission. I guess I am a little bit everywhere. Shepherdstown is important to me and I think that it is a great responsibility to keep Shepherdstown safe, lively, a community driven place for everyone.”

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Cheryl Roberts – Candidate for Town Council

Cheryl Roberts – Candidate for Town Council

Cheryl Roberts was raised in Shepherdstown, graduated from Shepherd University and earned a Master’s degree from the University of the District of Columbia. Currently serving on the Town Council, Roberts has worked at the Department of Veterans Affairs for 36 years, serves as Witness Ministry leader at Asbury United Methodist Church, is an Active Life Member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., is the newly-elected President of the Shepherdstown Lions Club, sits on the Board of the Shepherd UniversityAthletic Club, and is a Life Member of the NAACP.

Asked about the challenges ahead, Roberts prioritizes two broad issues: “First, ensuring all town residents are informed, treated fairly, and feel included, particularly those west of Duke and east of Princess Streets. Many people picture Shepherdstown as German Street between Duke and Princess Streets. Our town is diverse and a community in which I am proud to serve and will continue to do my best to represent. Second, during this pandemic, my focus is on continuing to assure the safety and healthiness of our residents, physically, emotionally, and most of all, mentally. As the Chairperson of the Town’s Parks & Recreation committee for many years, I will focus on ensuring the parks are maintained in the same manner in preparation for everything returning to our idea of “normal.”

Cheryl looks to her experience serving on Council for the past four years to understand the importance of “inclusiveness with communication and services, maintaining a safe and healthy environment for residents and visitors.” She also emphasizes the need for “continuing to support local businesses, socially, economically, and physically. I am looking forward to businesses being re-opened, residents returning to being gainfully employed, visitors returning to boost our economy, as well as Shepherd University resuming classes and continuing with the tradition in which we are accustomed.”

Roberts comments “my motivation to continue to serves is attributed to the experience which I have gained in local government, the joy of being involved with decisions which affect the residence of Shepherdstown, and my passion for the history of the town, lifelong relationships, and the true sense of belonging, having a voice, and contributing to the decisions affecting the current and future of Shepherdstown.”

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Chris Stroech – Candidate for Town Council

Chris Stroech – Candidate for Town Council

A graduate of WVU (both undergrad and law school), Chris Stroech grew up here and attended Shepherdstown Jr. High and Jefferson High Schools. Currently an attorney with Arnold & Bailey in Charles Town, Chris has a long history of volunteering his time to support the town, including service on the Tree Commission, Planning Commission, and the Recycling Task Force. He led the effort to amend the town ordinances to prohibit discrimination based upon sexual orientation.

Having participated as a citizen in various town committees, Chris feels he is well prepared to help shape the discussions and help lead the subcommittee activities that come before the council. “As a Council member, you need to identify the issues to delegate to subcommittees and task forces, and to also set parameters and clear expectations to those working groups that will enable them to report back to the Council with informed and actionable recommendations. The Council’s role is to listen to all sides of an issue and to ensure that members have the information to make informed and timely decisions.”

Chris feels strongly that the informal role a Council member can perform to engage with the town residents and businesses is just as important as the formal responsibilities: “To be effective, Council members should expect to do more than go to meetings and vote. We need to lead on facilitating communication and discussion, to invite participation, and to be creative in outreach to the community.” He points to the process that led to the “Shepherdstown Sustainable Act” ordinance as an example of engaging residents and businesses to build a consensus on a complex issue. Chris strongly believes that livestream video and recordings of Council meetings is an important component of this engagement process.

As a resident, Chris sees Shepherdstown as a progressive community that is willing to lead on important issues. “Maintaining this vitality, supporting our local business community, and connecting with other towns and the surrounding community is even more important over the next several years as we navigate the post-Covid-19 reconstruction era.”

Chris welcomes voters to email him at StroechForShepherdstown@gmail.com or to message him on Facebook @StroechforShepherdstown.

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