Two people filed for the office of Ronda mayor and four for two Ronda commissioner seats by the time the filing period ended at noon Friday.
The last to file was Kevin Reece of Factory Street, running for one of two commissioner seats on the ballot. Reece filed late Friday morning. The election is Nov. 3.
Candidates for mayor are incumbent Victor A. Varela of Maple Street and Rheajean Benge of North Hoots Road.
The other commissioner candidates are incumbent Sandra P. Simmons of Second Street, Gene Fowler of North Hoots Road and Bobby Munsey of Main Street.
Reece, 43, is a longtime vocal opponent of nuisance ordinances sought by Varela for Ronda, including one that would prevent poultry from being raised in the town. Reece has raised game chickens for export. He couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.
Reece was elected as a write-in candidate for Ronda commissioner in November 2013 after unsuccessfully running for a seat multiple times in prior years. He resigned in July 2014, facing a recall petition at the time.
About a month later, Varela and his wife, Teri, were awarded $25,000 in compensatory damages from Reece in a Wilkes Superior Court civil case. A jury found Reece liable for invasion of privacy and civil conspiracy. Varela and his wife sued Reece in June 2013, claiming Reece had an 18-year-old secretly make a video in the Varela home showing Teri Varela smoking marijuana. The video was released to the media.
In connection with the same matter, Reece pleaded guilty to felony possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and misdemeanor common law blackmail in August 2014. This was an Alford plea, meaning he didn’t admit guilt. An extortion charge was dismissed. Reece received a suspended sentence and was ordered to have no more contact with Varela. His prior felony conviction was for possession of stolen property in Virginia in 2005.
Varela, 59, seeking his fourth term, works as a mortgage loan originator for Hamilton Group Funding. He said his reasons for running for mayor again include securing passage of a nuisance property ordinance to help clean up Ronda. “I’m hoping that with a different board, we’ll be able to get something done,” he said Wednesday.
The nuisance property ordinance and other ordinances have been debated in Ronda for nearly a decade. Several times, they’ve been discussed by the Ronda board and then tabled.
Benge, 66, was elected a Ronda commissioner in 2013. She was an unsuccessful candidate for Ronda mayor in 2015 and was defeated when she ran for a Ronda commissioner seat in 2017. Benge, who is retired, said she is running because she believes it’s well past time that concerns of Ronda residents are heard and not pushed on the back burner.
“It saddens me to read that the majority of people signing up for office state that they want to impose an ordinance that had been shot down a decade (ago) now. Apparently, some people are not catching on as to why. 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 such ordinances… 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.
Simmons, 75, is seeking her second term as a commissioner after being first elected in 2015. She retired from work in the corporate office of Lowe’s Companies Inc. in 1995. After that, she worked part-time for the N.C. Department of Public Safety, transporting juveniles for the juvenile justice section.
“I would like to make a difference in this little town,” said Simmons, explaining why she is seeking re-election. She said this includes working to get the nuisance property ordinance and other ordinances passed.
Fowler, 77, was appointed to fill the unexpired Ronda commissioner term of Cody Soots in April 2017, and was defeated in the election in November that year. He also was an unsuccessful candidate for Ronda commissioner in 2015.
“I really wasn’t planning on running (this year) until someone asked me,” he said. “I like Ronda. There are a lot of good people here… and I would like to see people get more involved in town meetings and what is going on.
Munsey, 51, is the owner of Elderberry Landscape and is seeking elected office for the first time. He wasn’t immediately available for comment. Munsey spoke in favor of the proposed nuisance property ordinance at a Ronda board meeting in December 2019. He said abandoned and neglected homes pose health and safety issues and drive down home values.
Ronda’s election is being held the same year as a presidential election for the first time this year. The town has non-partisan elections, which means there are no primaries. The mayor and all of the commissioners serve four-year terms.