In her bid for a third term on Martinsville City Council, incumbent Jennifer Bowles discusses her accomplishments and her record.
Bowles, 33, who currently serves as the vice mayor, said that one of the biggest issues Martinsville is facing right now is transparency and communication.
“One of our biggest challenges is transparency and communication, and I hear this from our citizens at our neighborhood meetings, when citizens call me, when I see them out in the community,” she said. “One thing to address was hiring Kendall Davis as our Public Information Officer. We’re going to continue to think of innovative ways in which we can improve our transparency and communication.”
Another solution that Bowles proposed is using a variety of avenues to reach residents.
She also wants to focus on making Martinsville an attractive and enjoyable place to live.
“Another one of my issues and top priorities is the revitalization of our neighborhoods and commercial buildings,” she said. “One thing we’re doing is because of the one-time ARPA funding we received from COVID, we are now able to allocate a half a million dollars to work on some dilapidated housing and properties. This can have a very huge impact on the livability and the way our city looks, and that’s a very exciting thing that we’re able to do that.”
She wants to keep taxes low and protect those with low income who may struggle with a tax increase.
“I also want to keep our taxes low and our community affordable. During my tenure on council, we have not raised taxes, which means so much to me and it means a lot to our citizens who live paycheck to paycheck, who don’t have a lot of flexible income to spend,” Bowles said.
In fact, keeping taxes low throughout her time on council has been one of her greatest accomplishments in the position, she said.
“I found ways to not increase the tax burden on our citizens. I’m really excited and thankful that I’m able to do that,” she said.
Other accomplishments include her support “for the solar energy project, and we have the battery project, to keep power costs low and reduce costs for our citizens,” she said.
She also discussed the new Martinsville Seven marker recently put in front of the Historic Henry County Courthouse.
The marker memorializes seven Black men, Francis DeSales Grayson, Frank Hairston Jr., Howard Hairston, James Luther Hairston, Joe Henry Hampton, Booker T. Millner, and John Clabon Taylor who were put to death for the rape of a white woman in 1951. In the Commonwealth, every person put to death for the crime of rape has been Black.
“I’m excited about the Martinsville Seven Marker. That was a way that we can take the first steps to heal our community and recognize that we had something that happened here that was traumatic. I was excited that I could lead that charge,” she said.
Bowles also pushed to add lights to Fayette Street early on in her tenure.
“When I was first on council, I made sure that new lights were installed. Lights weren’t extended down Fayette Street, so I was excited that I could say, ‘Hey, Fayette Street is part of Uptown too, let’s make sure we’re inclusive and doing the right thing,'” she said.
Another “thing that I’m excited about is how we highlight our veterans. Martinsville is the first locality in Virginia to have all of its historical African American cemeteries recognized by the state and we have some veterans in those cemeteries. That’s House Bill 2406, so that’s very exciting that Martinsville is the first locality, and I led those efforts. I was very excited about that,” she said.
Bowles said she is particularly excited about the success of the small businesses in Martinsville, especially during the pandemic. She wants to continue to support these small businesses and find more ways to help them thrive.
“I’m excited about what we’ve done in our small businesses. We had businesses opening up during the pandemic, that’s a very exciting thing. During my tenure on council, I made sure that we lowered the spending that we were doing to the EDC (Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp.) because the EDC focused on those larger corporations,” she said.
“I was pushing to make sure that we partnered with the Martinsville and Henry County Chamber of Commerce and now we have 40 new businesses that have come in Martinsville alone. We’ve also diversified the businesses that are in Martinsville and that’s such a big thing to have entrepreneurs. We may not have those big spaces where we can have huge factories, but what we can do is help our small businesses, which are the foundation of our community.”
Bowles’ overall vision for Martinsville is to make it a place where people love and want to be, especially younger generations and make sure that everyone in the city has opportunities to thrive.
“The vision for Martinsville is to make Martinsville a place that truly is a city without limits. And specifically for our next generation. Of course, I want people my age and older to have a great place, but if we’re not pulling people up from behind us to give them opportunities, I believe that’s what we need to do is give the people behind us opportunities to be successful,” she said.
When it comes to reversion, Bowles said she voted against not allowing citizens to vote on reversion, but has changed her stance.
“Initially, it wasn’t even a legality that could occur. Then, there was a push at the General Assembly, and I called some of the people who worked in the General Assembly, and they told me that there was one main person who was pushing for this, and it was this push from Henry County,” she said.
Bowles said this initial push did not change her stance on the issue of voting because it was coming from Henry County and not Martinsville citizens.
“My only issue with being against this was I felt that this was a way to stop Black representation from being on the Board of Supervisors,” she said.
Over time, however, she has heard more from Martinsville residents on the issue who say they want to vote.
Bowles also commented on the notion that her shift in stance was only for votes.
“I shifted my viewpoint in April of 2022, this year. This was prior to the election, prior to knowing that anybody else was running, so it’s not to get votes. It’s because when I’m offered additional information from the citizens, I’m going to change my opinion,” she said.
She now believes residents should be allowed to vote on the issue, but wants to make sure they have all of the information and know the results of either outcome.
“I believe that we should just let the citizens decide, and if the citizens want to revert then we’ll move forward that way. If they don’t want to revert then we’ll move forward that way,” she said. “I just want to make sure that our citizens aren’t having to pay high taxes or aren’t having to feel this fiscal burden that we have. Martinsville is the third fiscally stressed city in our state, so that shows that we’re struggling financially.”
Bowles urges citizens to reach out to city council when there is an issue, so that the issue can be addressed. She also wants to bridge the gap between the citizens and the community.
“I believe we need to continue to push for our citizens to reach out to us before something becomes an issue. I want to personally try to be more approachable to the community, even more so than before, to make sure my number is out there so they can call me directly,” she said.
Bowles said the city needs leaders who are transparent and not afraid to disagree in a civil manner. She said she wants to help in every way she can.
“I ask for the citizens’ vote on November 8th because I truly care about our citizens. I don’t have any hidden agenda, I don’t have anybody who I’m doing this for other than the citizens. I truly enjoy solving issues for them. I enjoy representing them. I enjoy standing up for them.”
Bowles is a graduate of Martinsville High School. She then went on to receive a Bachelor of Arts in African American Studies from University of Virginia and a Master of Business Administration from Averett University.
She enjoys spending time with her friends, family, and two dogs, King and Wiggles. In her spare time, she enjoys reading and watching TV and sports.