Ed. — From the Sunday, March 27, print edition.
VIRGINIA BEACH — City Councilmember Barbara Henley, who was first elected to office in 1978 in the former Pungo Borough, will run again to represent southern Virginia Beach — this time in the newly created District 2 seat.
Henley confirmed during an interview with The Independent News this past week that she will seek election this year. She is a Pungo farmer and former educator known for her advocacy for the agriculture industry, the city’s third-largest economic driver, and land preservation, as well as supporting constraints on development in sensitive areas.
Henley said on Tuesday, March 22, that she wants to work on ongoing priorities such as addressing flooding and restarting the city open space program while providing experience and continuity to the council during a time of governmental change and recovery from the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“There are so many issues that are going to be critical for the next year or two, and, if we hadn’t been shut down for nearly two years, would have been complete,” Henley said.
“I think how we position and set up this district over the next year or so is really the future,” Henley added. “We’ve got to stay on top of it.”
So far, two other candidates have stepped forward to run for the District 2 seat, which includes much of the main coverage area of The Independent News in southern Virginia Beach and generally is similar to the Princess Anne District under the former voting system.
The other known candidates are Elaine Fekete, a realtor from Sandbridge who is seeking office for the first time, and Matthias Paul Telkamp, a technology consultant who lives in Indian River Woods and who ran unsuccessfully for the School Board. [Ed. – A story about their candidacies ran in the Sunday, March 13, print edition. It now appears online at princessanneindy.com.]
Henley was among those who opposed changing Virginia Beach’s former voting system, a controversial mix of citywide and residency districts in which all city voters – even those living outside a specific district – selected representatives for every district. Due to a federal court ruling and changed state law, now only residents of districts can vote to select representatives. The ruling is under appeal.
Henley said that change is part of the reason she decided to run again because it will be important for the District 2 representative to understand issues such as flooding and agriculture while working with other members of the council.
“A lot of people are starting to understand what this change is going to mean for us and starting to realize its going to be really different,” Henley said, adding that members of the council will need to balance district needs with important issues in other parts of the city.
“What it’s going to take is a group of people on the council who can understand their commitments to their district but understand we’re still the city of Virginia Beach,” Henley said. “It’s important that we still keep the focus of the city and the long-range vision of the city while we focus on the issues of the district.”
She said she sees part of her role as a council member as educating colleagues about the issues unique to southern Virginia Beach.
Henley said priorities for another term include ensuring the city makes progress on the flooding prevention projects funded this past year after the public backed a bond referendum. Henley said the public also expects the city to move forward with other capital projects, stormwater needs and maintenance issues, such as clearing ditches.
“I think we’ve made some important commitments to the public, and we’ve got to see them through,” Henley said.
Other priorities include preserving forests in the city and growing the tree canopy and restarting the open space program, a proposal she brought forward earlier this month with City Councilmember Linwood Branch, who was appointed to the Lynnhaven District seat in 2021 and is running for the new District 6 seat this year.
Henley also said she will continue to be an advocate for limiting development in sensitive areas, including where development is not suitable or could impact flooding concerns.
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