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Q and A with City Council candidate Frank McMillan

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This Q and A was done as part of a series covering all the non-incumbent candidates for the city council election on Nov. 6. More Q and A’s will be posted throughout this week.

Frank McMillan

Q: Why are you running, and when did you decide to run?

A: I want to retire, and I want to retire in the city of Harrisonburg. Taxes have gone up 44% in the last ten years in the city, and I just don’t have any confidence in the city government to stop the excessive spending. I felt like it was time for me to stop complaining and do something about it.

Q: What are some parts of your platform that affect students or young people?

A: Everything we do in the city government, if you plan to stick around Harrisonburg, is going to affect young people. Trying to run the city government more effectively, like a business, to control the spending [is important]. Obviously we need to spend, that’s just what we have to do, but we need to be a little more fiscally responsible. It looks like the city government has been putting everything on a credit card and expecting [young people] to pay for it later, rather than taking care of it now. We have to make hard decisions sometimes in government, just like we have to in our family budget… They may not always be the popular decisions, but at the end of the day, we need to put the citizens first. That may be painful at some points, but in the long haul, it’s going to benefit us, my grand-kids, your kids.

Obviously we need to spend, that’s just what we have to do, but we need to be a little more fiscally responsible.”

Q: What’s your plan for building the new high school?

A: I think there’s a right way of doing it and a wrong way of doing it. At the end of the day, [students] understand that it’s not always the pretty facade, building with the lovely glass and all that stuff. What makes you become a better graduate is the teacher. I think we need to invest more into teachers, into programs, into things that will make a better graduate. Your high school is clearly overcrowded, and after taking a tour of it a couple weeks back, I got a better understanding of that whole problem. This needs to be addressed and it needs to be addressed now, not necessarily waiting to 2023. We need to start doing things today. The city has consistently, under the old superintendent, discouraged students from going to Massanutten Technical Center. That’s a shame… There’s also been ideas floated out about taking [HHS] honors students and letting them take classes at Blue Ridge Community College, so you get the dual enrollment… That also takes away some of the students from the school. Let’s just say we knocked out 250 kids by sending them to other locations. We’ve relieved the pressure in the school. Hello, that could be done now. Why do we keep talking about how we care about the kids and this is so important to fix, but city council hasn’t come up with any solutions that could fix this today? That’s a problem for me. The only solution they’ve said [to fix this] is to build a school. If we start construction today, that school is not going to be ready for two to three years. So, if it’s such a problem today, why aren’t we coming up with solutions to fix that. There are common sense solutions to this, but nobody wants to talk about the common sense solutions. They only want to talk about spending money. And I understand we’re going to have to spend money, but we are not going to build another school that looks like Bluestone Elementary over there. Now, granted that is an amazingly beautiful school, but it’s one of the most expensive schools built in the state for its category. We need to come up with smart solutions. We need to have discussions about this and start working on it now, rather than just saying we’re going to do this in three years.

Q: What does HCPS do well and what can be improved?

A: I employ people. So for the past 20 years, I have found people jobs. I see lots of students that come to me. The skill sets that they have vary. If you’re not going to go to college, you need to get some vocational education. Starting out just graduated from high school with no skill set, if you didn’t go to vocational education, you’re going to start out between eight and 10, maybe 12 dollars an hour. That’s not enough money to live off of. If you go to vo-tech and you get a certificate in something, you’re going to start out between 18 and 20-some dollars an hour. Now that’s a game changer… You’re doubling the salary because you spent two years investment. So some things [HHS] does well: you run an efficient school for being overcrowded… [HHS] is a well organized, very well run school, but [help is needed] in vocational education. I think that’s a real strong point to focus on… Both of my kids graduated from here.

Q: You are for teacher pay increases, correct?

A: I think we need to ultimately retain our teachers better. Some of the concerns, speaking to the educators, are that because of the overcrowding, there is no place for them to do their administrative work because they have to jump from class to class. There’s really not a home base for them… It really makes it difficult for them to do the job that they do. It would be really good to focus on providing them with increases, but also a better working condition overall. [Students] can list off every one of the teachers that were great and every one of them that was not so good. The ones that were great, [students] got a lot out of; they were engaged in the classroom; they did what they were supposed to do. And the other ones just probably felt like they were on an island and didn’t feel a part of the community. That’s what we need to work on. We need to get all of the teachers to be your great teachers.

When we graduate the best students, they become the best tax payers.”

Q: How do you do that while also being fiscally responsible? Where does the money to pay teachers more come from?

A: We need to stop spending on buildings. If we can cut the spending on buildings, then we can find some money in that bucket. And being fiscally responsible doesn’t always mean that you can’t spend. It’s called an investment. We need to invest in our teachers… It’s like putting money in the bank, it’s going to grow and turn into something positive for you. The way the world works, the way Harrisonburg works: when we graduate the best students, they become the best tax payers. If you earn more, you’re going to pay more taxes. You pay more taxes into the community, we have more money to put back into the community. If we graduate students that don’t make a lot of money… then they are a tax burden to us.

Q: What qualifies you to speak for young people?

A: I’m old, so it’s hard. Well, my daughter just graduated from James Madison University, so I’ve had young people in the house; my kids are still young. I try to stay in tune with what’s important to [young people]. On a consistent basis, I employ hundreds of young individuals that work for me. I listen to their struggles. I listen to their pain. I listen to them trying to make ends meet.

I’m a numbers guy. I love looking at numbers.”

Q: How will being a business owner influence how you run the city?

A: I’m a numbers guy. I love looking at numbers. I love looking at where we’re investing our money well and where we’re not investing our money well… I’m not the kind of person that’s going to say, “Ok, we need to do a 10% cut across the board.” There are some areas where we need to invest significantly more in. There’s a Latino organization that’s been working in this area mentoring Latino students and getting them full ride scholarships to universities like Harvard, JMU, Virginia Tech. That’s an organization that we need to invest significantly in… That’s getting bang for the buck. Any time you think of the term “city government” or any government, you automatically know that there’s wasteful spending there. I need to get in there and look at where we’re wasting our money and make some improvements on that to be able to funnel those savings into areas where we can get a larger reward. I don’t think it’s the government’s responsibility to do everything, but we should fund a lot of these local non-profit organizations that are doing a lot of good in the community.

My mother always told me that I have two ears and one mouth; listen appropriately. ”

Q: If you get elected, what will you do to make sure that student voices are heard?

A: On my website is my personal cell phone number. My mother always told me that I have two ears and one mouth; listen appropriately. I just think that the citizens and the residents of Harrisonburg need to be heard. I’m never going to be the smartest person in the room. I know that. I have to listen to both sides of the issue. That’s one of the reasons I’m running as an independent. I firmly believe that I want to listen to both sides of the issue and then make the best decision for the citizens of Harrisonburg.

Q: Did you ever think you’d get into politics?

A: The only time I thought I was going to get into politics was when my kids were in school, and I was thinking about running for the School Board… When Ted Byrd was stepping down, I was encouraged by a lot of people in the community who liked what I stand for and that I’m not a guy that wants to take the mic. I’m the guy that wants to wash the dishes in the back when I volunteer at the soup kitchen… I’m the guy that gets it done, but I don’t have to brag about it.

Q: What’s some advice you’d give students that want to get involved?

A: I tell you what, get involved. It’s going to help your resume. Everything I do ultimately equates back to how it’s going to make me employable… By being involved, it not only shows that you have the drive, but it also shows that you get along with others, that you have critical thinking skills and that you have the ability to prioritize your schedule and to commit to other things in life besides video games. These are the things that make you a more employable person… When you get involved in the community, you’re giving of yourself, and that makes it easier for employers because you’re not that self-centered person who’s not going to get along with anybody.

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Q and A with City Council candidate Frank McMillan