On the ballot in Ronda

Candidates on the ballot in Ronda and the elected positions they’re seeking are, from left, Rheajean Benge, mayor; Gene Fowler, commissioner; Kevin Reece, commissioner; Sandra Simmons, commissioner; Victor Varela, mayor; and Bobby Munsey, commissioner. Fowler said he dropped his candidacy.

Voters in the Town of Ronda are electing a mayor and two commissioners this year, all for four-year terms. Ronda’s elections are non-partisan.

Commissioner candidates, written like they appear (including order) on ballots Ronda voters will see, are Gene Fowler, Bobby Munsey, Kevin Reece and Sandra Simmons. The two mayoral candidates are Rheajean Benge and Victor A. Varela.

Ronda’s municipal election is being held in an even-numbered (presidential) election year for the first time this year. The Ronda town board requested this to reduce expenses (normally about $2,000 per election) since voting site staffing and other election expenses are borne by county government in even-numbered election years. The legislature approved the change.

Race for Ronda mayor

Varela, 60, a mortgage loan originator for Hamilton Group Funding, is seeking his fourth term as mayor. A nuisance property ordinance, discussed for over a decade but never adopted, is still a key Ronda issue. Varela said he supports it. “It’s about common sense things like not leaving mattresses and junk in yards that hurt the value of neighboring property…. When it’s (visual) things that hurt property values, there needs to be a way to rectify it,” he said, adding that it would be complaint-driven.

Varela said results of a study on whether Ronda’s water system should be merged with Elkin’s are due next month. About 70% of Ronda’s water is already bought from Elkin, with the rest coming from two town-owned wells. He said the issue is more about maintaining adequate service for Ronda’s existing 400-plus water customers rather than expanding. Infrastructure for buying water from North Wilkesboro or Wilkesboro is lacking, said Varela, adding that Elkin has the additional capacity needed.

“I want to continue the good stewardship of the town that has occurred in my administration. We updated the accounting system and have good consultants to guide us. We want to stay on the good side of regulations,” he said.

Benge, 66 and retired, was elected a Ronda commissioner in 2013. She was an unsuccessful candidate for Ronda mayor in 2015 and lost as a candidate for Ronda commissioner in 2017. Benge said last week that her primary issues of concern as a mayoral candidate include the town’s water system, street improvements, speeding motorists and illegal drug activities. “I am concerned that issues brought up have been ignored. The town of Ronda and the residents deserve better,” she added. “I would like to see great improvements in how the town operates” and see the town thrive.

When she filed to run for mayor in July, Benge said it saddened her to read statements by Ronda candidates in support of a nuisance ordinance since the Ronda board rejected it a decade ago. “The Town of Ronda does not have the manpower, equipment, means or revenue to slap an ordinance on the people without hiring a company” to enforce it. “Work is needed to get our own house in order before we tackle other issues. It will take time and effort, but it will get done,” she added.

Commissioner candidates

Munsey, 51, is seeking elected office for the first time. He owns and operates Elderberry Landscape.

Simmons, 75, is seeking her second commissioner term after being elected in 2015. She retired from work in the corporate office of Lowe’s Companies Inc. in 1995. She then worked part-time for the N.C. Department of Public Safety, transporting juveniles for the juvenile justice section.

Reece was elected a Ronda commissioner when he ran as a write-in candidate in November 2013 after multiple unsuccessful candidacies earlier. Facing a recall petition, he resigned in July 2014.

Simmons said she favors adoption of an ordinance addressing visual nuisances and said public safety and illegal drug concerns need to be better addressed. She cited her interest in community watch programs and added that she appreciated the Wilkes Sheriff’s Office’s work in Ronda. Simmons said she would like to see citizens more involved in community affairs and express their concerns more at Ronda town board meetings “instead of only talking among themselves.”

Munsey said better road maintenance is needed in Ronda, including repairing potholes and washouts from heavy rain. He said the Ronda town park, including the walking track, also needs maintenance. Munsey said he supports adoption of a nuisance ordinance as a means of addressing the most obvious problems such as dilapidated and unoccupied mobile homes. These issues impact Ronda’s ability to grow and attract new residents, he added. Ronda is rich in history and has a lot of potential, Munsey said.

Reece said he wants to be a swing vote on the Ronda board and work with different factions. “I feel I can work with any of the other members of the board.” He said he wants to help the government of Ronda and its services operate more efficiently and help Ronda citizens have more say in town government. Reece said he opposes the proposed nuisance ordinance “because the less government people have in their lives the better.” He said he also wants to address safety concerns.

Wilkes Board of Elections Director Kim Caudill said that after the candidate filing period ended, incumbent Ronda Commissioner Manual Wood filed a campaign finance disclosure form with the elections board as a write-in candidate for re-election. Wood is ending his first term. He was an unsuccessful candidate for Ronda mayor in 2011.

About three weeks after he filed for office in early July, Fowler told the Wilkes Board of Elections and the Wilkes Journal-Patriot that he no longer was a candidate for Ronda commissioner. Caudill said that because Fowler made the announcement about a week after the July 14 deadline for withdrawing a candidacy, his name is still on the ballot.

Fowler said Thursday that he still isn’t seeking a seat on the Ronda board. He said Wood convinced him to file for office and that he dropped out when Wood decided to run as a write-in candidate and that he supports him. Fowler, 77, was appointed to fill the unexpired Ronda commissioner term of Cody Soots in April 2017 when Soots resigned, and was defeated in the November election that year. He also was an unsuccessful Ronda commissioner candidate in 2015.

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