By Brandon Martin
Billy “Dean” White is one of four candidates seeking the Iriswood District seat on the Henry County Board of Supervisors.
White, 52, is the pastor of Kearfott Memorial Baptist Church in Martinsville and he’s looking to bring his personal brand of populism to the board, if elected.
“I feel like a lot has been happening and the people haven’t been heard. I feel like if I’m elected, I’ll be the voice of the people and say what they want and not what I want,” White said. “I think as a civil servant, you’re there to voice the people’s opinion and not your own opinion. A lot of the time, people put their own interests out there instead of what the people in that district want.”
White, who was born and raised in Mountain Valley, said this was his inspiration to seek political office.
“If I wanted to vote ‘yes’ on something, but I had 80 percent of my people that wanted me to vote ‘no’ then I’d have to vote ‘no,’” White said.
To qualify for the November ballot, White said he amassed about 250 signatures, which is double the amount necessary.
“While I was doing that, I listened to what some of their concerns were,” he said. “It’s not what Dean wants to do. It’s what the people in this district want to do.”
During his canvass for signatures, White said he discovered most of the locals were concerned about the condition of the roads and the lack of adequate water in the district.
“A lot of people down in the Sandy Level area were talking about the roads, PSA and things of that nature,” White said. “A lot of people in the Mountain Valley and Leatherwood areas were talking about the PSA and water levels as well. They wish the PSA (provided service) down in this area. I know that wouldn’t be a concern for the other supervisors, but I think the roads and the PSA are a big concern for this area. I just don’t feel like it has been brought up as much as we need to.”
White said a number of residents must dig multiple wells get decent drinking water.
If elected, White said he intends to continue leaning on the voice of the community to make key decisions.
“There are a lot of things coming up in the next four years where I think you need someone that is going to find out what the people want,” he said. “You’ve got reversion, the new jail and all that stuff coming up.”
White thinks the community has a set opinion on reversion, but he said he would like more transparency in the process.
“I think it’s common sense at this point that most of the people are against reversion, but there are a lot of closed sessions going on where we don’t really know the logistics of it and what’s happening away from the public eye,” he said.
White said he would be looking for more creative financial solutions to bolster the county’s position when absorbing many of the costs for services currently provided by the City of Martinsville.
“I think for reversion, it could just be a budgeting problem that’s not being looked into the correct way,” he said. “I think we really need to look into money management and how funds are being spent to make sure we are able to make it through the reversion. I think if reversion is going to go through, then we need to find the best way to get it done so we don’t rack up all the legal fees and that sort of thing.”
There also is a need for more cooperation between the two localities, according to White.
“It’s going to take a mediator to negotiate and facilitate better relationships between the city and the county,” he added. “We as board members should also be doing that. This isn’t something that is going to be easily done. You’re going to have to mediate, nurture people, and coach them through it.”
White would also like to see an increased reliance on local businesses to help economic development efforts.
“For economic development, we need to be purchasing and contracting everything from within our area,” he said. “It looks like most of the construction work that we have going on around here is not localized. It’s not using our amenities here. They are coming from out of town and doing all the work. We need to utilize our local economy to build our local economy.”
White also said the area needs to focus on the existing businesses first.
“We need to concentrate on the businesses that we have and get them functioning,” he said. “With the unemployment rate that we have, it looks like everybody is hiring and nobody is working. It’s hard to get new businesses when people aren’t working in the ones that we already have.”
White said a concentration on existing businesses would have a domino effect, which would, in turn, attract new industries.
“If we can get the established businesses up and running, then I think that new businesses will come,” he said. “If they come and see all the windows with ‘help wanted’ signs then they aren’t going to want to come to this area.”
In a crowded field of opponents, White sees his background and personality as the keys to winning.
“I’m a people person, I’m hands on,” he said. “I do community outreach all the time and I’m always into something. I’m from this area and I relate to people well. I don’t meet any strangers. I’ll be in the community a lot. I’m a leader in the church, I’ve been a leader my whole life.”
If elected, White said he would make an effort to check in with community members to gauge their preference on key issues that he would be voting on. In addition, he said that his constituents can provide him feedback through a phone call or through visiting his website and social media pages.
White and his wife Donna have three children and 11 grandchildren. He has received a welding certificate through Patrick Henry Community College, and he attended seminary school at American Christian Fellowship. White’s hobbies include restoring antique cars, mowing and providing wood to the elderly and others in need.