Wednesday, Oct. 19, the Student Assembly hosted a Williamsburg City Council candidate forum in the Sadler Commonwealth Auditorium. The forum provided candidates a chance to highlight their position on key issues ahead of the Nov. 8 election. Candidates Stacy Kern-Scheerer, Richard “Rick” Overy, current council incumbent Ted Maslin MBA ’80 and Williamsburg Mayor Doug Pons were all present.
John Cho ’23, president of Student Assembly, and Marley Fishburn ’24, secretary of public affairs for Student Assembly, moderated the forum. The moderators granted candidates three minutes for an opening statement, three minutes per question and four minutes for closing remarks. The candidates discussed their qualifications, relationships between students and permanent community members, the housing crisis and student political involvement.
Overy provided the first opening statement, emphasizing his expertise in business.
“As a William and Mary business graduate, as an employer in town, as a longtime resident and as past chair of the Economic Development Authority, I believe I have the finance and budget experience that we need on city council as we navigate our top priorities going forward,” Overy said.
He also touched on the growing tensions between students living off-campus and residents.
“That is an area which I’m sorry to see has deteriorated since I was a student, but I believe it can be improved,” Overy said.
Maslin provided the next opening statement and highlighted his past efforts as a member of the council. He noted his work to prevent the previous athletic director from terminating seven of the College of William and Mary’s varsity sport teams.
“I was the first elected official to push back,” Maslin said.
Maslin also recounted his efforts to aid students academically and professionally.
Kern-Scheerer detailed her professional background as a legislative lawyer for the United States Senate. She currently teaches at the College of William and Mary Law School and works as the director of Clinical Programs and the founding director of the Immigration Clinic.
“My work at the law school lies at the intersection of teaching and serving the community by providing pro-bono legal representation to vulnerable and underserved members of our community,” she said.
“I am dedicated to community cohesion, both physically connecting space, but also positive relationships between residents and city leaderships,” Kern-Scheerer said. “I strongly believe in transparency, humility, accountability, and solving issues through teamwork and consensus building.”
Pons rounded out the opening statements by discussing his previous efforts on the council, as well as his professional experience.
“Several years ago I saw a need, an opportunity, to convert my hotel into apartment complexes geared towards affordability,” he said.
The moderators first asked candidates about their perspective on how relations between students and the broader Williamsburg community can be improved.
Maslin believed relations are mostly positive, and emphasized the importance of introductions between students and their neighbors.
Kern-Scheerer echoed Maslin’s sentiment.
“I think there is a lot of mutual respect between students and year-round residents,” she said.
However, she acknowledged that issues do arise. Kern-Scherer noted her support for greater data on town relations to determine areas where relations could be improved.
Pons stated that relations are better than they have been in years. In his response, Pons discussed the need to improve communication with students on expectations such as trash pick-up.
Overy disagreed with the other candidates.
“I think the relationship has deteriorated significantly,” Overy said.
He specified Indian Springs Road and Burns Lane as the main locations of tension.
“The one thing students and residents can agree on is that parties belong back on campus,” he said.
The moderators then asked candidates about the student housing crisis. Kern-Scheerer emphasized the need for collaboration between the College and the city.
“We do not want to be in a situation where the city is left to grapple alone with the difficult questions of student housing,” Kern-Scheerer said.
Kern-Scheerer stated her support for lifting the moratorium on the four person exemption to the three-person rule. She also detailed her support for improved transportation in the Williamsburg area, and safe housing options.
Pons countered Kern-Scheerer, explaining that lifting the moratorium will have a minimal effect. While on the council, Pons worked to increase the height and density limitations for buildings. He believes efforts to increase housing capacity should be focused on campus, as highlighted by the College ten year plan.
“I think there is great initiative among the administration at the college to make sure that happens,” Pons said.
Overy agreed with Pons, stating that efforts to increase housing capacity should center on safe, attractive, on-campus options.
Maslin noted his concerns regarding the College ten year housing plan.
“William and Mary must be held responsible for providing quality, affordable housing for freshmen and sophomores, as well as those upper class students who want to live on campus,” Maslin said.
The moderators then asked candidates how students and family members can become more involved in local politics. Pons explained his annual letter to students at the start of the year, welcoming them to the Williamsburg community.
“Come to city council meetings, join our social media networks, too so you can see what is going on and how to be engaged,” Pons said, speaking directly to the students.
Overy detailed the many ways in which students are currently involved in the community.
“The Office of Community Engagement is a huge step forward and we just need to continue those efforts,” Overy said.
Maslin explained possible opportunities for students to get involved.
“Our city council, boards and commissions meetings have been lacking public comment,” Maslin said. “Nobody is showing up, so there is a void. This would offer a great opportunity for students to research an issue and present a point of view.”
Kern-Scheerer recounted her personal experience with becoming more involved in the Williamsburg community.
“There are so many grassroots organizations in this town that are doing amazing work in so many types of spaces,” she said. “Williamsburg really is so multidimensional and I am just so thrilled to help students discover that.”
The final question asked candidates about their top priority if elected to the council.
Overy reiterated his commitment to increasing affordable housing in the community.
“My role, if I am fortunate enough to get elected on council, is to not do any more studies, but to implement the things that we have already agreed on and make those happen,” Overy said.
Maslin echoed similar priorities, but specified that his efforts to increase affordable housing is centered around students. He also emphasized the importance of holding the College accountable for its ten year plan.
Kern-Scheerer also committed to improving affordable housing in WIlliamsburg.
“My priority would be a package that would not just serve as part of the affordable housing puzzle, but also recognizes that there are many members of the community,” she said. “This is a multidimensional problem, so it is going to take a multidimensional solution, and I would prioritize having that happen.”
Pons took a different approach to the question. He explained the need for more jobs in the community.
“I think if we could do one thing, it would be partnering with the college to help advance the data research center and an off-campus facility off of Bypass Road,” Pons said.
The candidates then provided closing statements.
Maslin led off by detailing his plans to improve transportation for students by expanding Zipcar availability and creating a dedicated transportation system at the College.
Kern-Scheerer reemphasized her professional experience in her closing statement.
“As a councilwoman, I would bring my qualities of strategic thinking, problem solving, consensus building, and honesty and transparency to work for Williamsburg, bringing my perspective and dedication,” she said.
Pons summarized his key initiatives as a current city council member.
“My candidacy reaffirms my commitment to Williamsburg and my strong desire to see Williamsburg continue to address areas of needs and mainiatin areas of strength, and expand on various initiatives that are currently underserved here in Williamsburg,” Pons said.
Overy concluded the forum with his statement.
“I enjoy this kind of discussion, and what I really enjoy is implementing some of these solutions in the next couple of years with the help of everybody in this room and other community members,” Overy said.
Midterm elections will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. The City of Williamsburg votes at the Williamsburg Community Building, which is located at 401 North Boundary Street.
The City of Williamsburg Election Office will be open Monday-Friday 8 a.m. — 5 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 29 and Nov. 5 from 8 a.m. — 5 p.m. and on Election Day from 6 a.m. — 7 p.m. for in-person voting and absentee ballot drop-off. The last day for absentee ballot drop-off is Saturday, Nov. 5.