By Brandon Martin
Eric Phillips is seeking the open Iriswood District seat on the Henry County Board of Supervisors.
Phillips, 45, opted to seek the post after incumbent Dr. J. David Martin decided he would not seek re-election.
“I had been hearing for some time that Martin might not run again,” Phillips said. “I talked to Dr. Martin about that at the time and he wasn’t sure. Then I talked to the new registrar to see if anyone else had filed and nobody had when I spoke with her. I told my wife that I have a feeling that this thing is going to come down to the end and he’s not going to run, so I’m going to go ahead and get all of my signatures and paperwork to hold onto in case he doesn’t end up running again.”
Even though he had tacitly been interested in local government for a while, Phillips said he was prevented from fully taking part in it because of his many business ventures.
“Locally, I had filled out the paperwork to serve on some of the appointed boards that the Board of Supervisors appoint and had never really gotten any feedback. I’m an entrepreneur and I own several businesses. One of them had kept me on the road quite a bit.”
Phillips said he once traveled across the country to remodel and refinish carpentry in hotels.
“The coronavirus had a pretty negative impact on my hotel business because the hospitality industry got hit harder than any other business,” he said. “I had kind of wanted to slow things down a bit and be home a little more, so it gave me the opportunity to do that when I bought into Fed-Ex. That business has tripled during the coronavirus as people have started buying more and more stuff at home.”
With a flourishing business that allows him to stay closer to home, Phillips said he now can be more involved in local government, and he hopes his previous experience in politics will help buoy him to success in the position, if elected.
“Del. Danny Marshall represents this part of the county, and I serve on his legislative district committee,” he said. “This is also Congressman Bob Good territory. I serve on the 5th Congressional District Committee as a representative from Henry County. I appoint the people to Les Adam’s legislative district committee. I’m already involved in politics, and I speak to those folks pretty regularly.”
Phillips said if elected to the post, he would work to change the perspective of locals on the county.
“I think Henry County and the City of Martinsville are in a better place than they have been in a long time,” he said. “A lot of things seem to be cleaned up, I see a lot of new businesses being attracted, I see some new construction taking place. There’s no reason that Henry County can’t be the best place to live, to work and to raise a family in Southwest and Southside Virginia.”
Phillips said he takes issue with the amount of negative press the county receives.
“It’s about the big drug busts or the shootouts,” Phillips said. “But there is a lot of good to Henry County, and it needs the right leadership to help steer our area in that direction.”
The biggest issue moving forward is going to be reversion, according to Phillips.
“I am adamantly opposed to it,” Phillips said. “I really don’t understand why the city is pressing it at this time. It’s bad not only for the county, but for the city. I just don’t know why they are forcing the issue right now. It’s not financial. Their own audit bears that out, so why do it? That’s the question that I want answered.”
Short of reversion, Phillips said Martinsville also has several other options to help alleviate any economic strain, if that were the issue.
I talked to Del. Danny Marshall, and he told me that the city has five substations. They only use three of them. Two of them are outdated and need to be upfitted in order to be used,” Phillips said. “Danny said he asked AEP if they would be interested in buying them and they said sure. If you are in a bad financial situation, and you are saying that you have some substations that you can’t afford to upfit and AEP is willing to talk about purchasing them, then why wouldn’t you do that?”
In addition, Phillips said reversion is an extreme measure.
“Why start with the most extreme measure that you have in your arsenal,” Phillips asked. “Why not just cede the city school system to the county first? That will save them $7 million a year. If 20 years from now that’s not enough, then we can revisit the issue. But why start off with the last resort option first?”
Phillips said he is frustrated by an inadequate explanation on the city’s reasoning and a breakdown in communication between the two localities.
“They could also choose less inflammatory rhetoric and better spokespersons,” Phillips said. “When the city attorney and assistant city manager is quoted in the local media about not wanting to fix something, like a city school having a large chiller or boiler unit go out. He talks about wanting to put a band-aid on it and not fixing it right now since it will be Henry County’s problem soon enough and they can pick up the tab. Then he laughs about it. Comments like that don’t build trust and harmony between the two parties.”
Phillips said he has mixed feelings about the recently agreed upon Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two localities.
“A memorandum of understanding is completely non-binding. All it is, is the beginning of a conversation,” he said. “There are still a lot of bitter feelings about the process. Some of the things that the city ceded, I feel were good.”
For instance, Phillips noted the city agreeing to not annex any county land for 10 years instead of two years.
“If you have a business, say something like the Speedway, then even a small increase in your tax rate is quite a large sum of money,” Phillips said. “What if some businesses say that I don’t want to deal with it, and they relocate. How does that help this area?”
To prevent some potential annexation, Phillips said he would encourage the Town of Ridgeway to annex the land around the Martinsville Speedway first.
“Currently, it’s not within the town limits,” he said. “I don’t know why the Town of Ridgeway doesn’t annex it. Well actually, I’ll tell you why. The Town of Ridgeway and Henry County have a much better relationship. The only thing it would cost the county if Ridgeway annexed it is some utility tax, which would basically be a rounding error in the county’s budget.
“There are other things down the road that the county can do that I don’t know if the city has thought through,” he said. “The battle is not over yet and there are options and other tools in the toolbox.”
Phillips said he would also look for room in the budget to allow for increased pay for law enforcement.
“Sheriff Perry is saying he’s got guys that have been there for 20 to 25 years and honestly, they are making almost a starting wage,” Phillips said. “We have localities around us that are raising officer pay to be competitive.”
Along with increasing wages, Phillips said that he would like to see more community involvement to help with the workload placed upon officers.
“The police department can’t do it all,” he said. “Most of the crime in our area stems from substance abuse. The community needs to come together and reject this stuff and support our local officers so we can get this blight out of our homes.”
Phillips is an entrepreneur with multiple businesses in the area. His most prominent business is Phillips Logistics, which is contracted to provide Fed-Ex Ground and Fed-Ex Home Delivery services throughout Henry, Patrick, Franklin, and Pittsylvania counties.
Phillips is a graduate of Virginia Western Community College, and he received a bachelor’s degree from Lee University in history and political science.
Phillips and his wife Rebecca have three children, Brandon, Tanner and Lexi-Rakes.
He is an active church member at Mercy Crossing. Phillips said he enjoys golfing and is an avid Virginia Tech football fan. He is running as an independent and his campaign can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.