Candidates for Town of Herndon Mayor Face Off

Candidates for Town of Herndon Mayor Face Off

Critical time for the town

Sheila Olem, Sean Regan, and Jasbinder Singh, the three candidates running for the two-year term as mayor of the Town of Herndon, took part in a live televised debate on Thursday, Sept. 8, available at Video On Demand at HCTV. Given that the mayor's powers are mainly ceremonial under Virginia Code and the Town Charter, the election takes place while three significant town Land Use and Development Projects have not broken ground.

In addition, constituents are raising concerns about town taxes, traffic, and pedestrian safety, and the council is divided, as the mayor begins public meetings by reminding councilmembers not to interrupt and to speak with respect.

Developer Comstock Herndon Venture LC exercised its right April 2022 “in the amended comprehensive agreement to pause construction commencement for up to 24 months, due to market conditions or other matters, including delays as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the town’s website. Located in the heart of the historic business district, part of the land is currently fenced off.

Two transit-oriented economic developments planned near Herndon Station, part of Phase 2 of the Silver Line Dulles Corridor Metrorail six station projects, are 555 Herndon Parkway and Woodland Park East. They are not out of the ground. At the other yet-to-open Metrorail stations heading west, retail, office, and public space projects are completed, and others are underway. 

Brian Tumulty, the moderator, took questions from the audience and the media.

Key Takeaways From the Hour-long Event hosted by the Herndon Chamber of Commerce, part of Dulles Regional Chamber. (Edited for clarity and space.)

Sheila Olem described living in the town for 30 years, its community events, serving on the Hunter Mill and Dulles Toll Road task forces and other groups, and getting to know many individuals involved in decisions in the community.

“As mayor, I know that part of my job is to go out and work with other entities, that we need to interface, those that staff doesn't necessarily have the opportunity, like the Board of Supervisors or the other elected officials or members on the various boards and committees that town councilmembers serve on. By doing our homework and representing the town and the needs, we have brought lots of dollars back to Herndon.".

Sean Regan described how he enjoyed serving on the Planning Commission. 

“It is the attitude that I will continue as mayor. Working with other people, collaborating, compromising where you have to, refusing to compromise where you can, and trying to create sound policies, reasonable budgets, and good processes for the town. Of the three candidates, I'm in the best position to provide that leadership as mayor. If you think somebody else has it, by all means, go vote for them. If not, I would love to have your support. And I look forward to serving you," he said.

Jasbinder Singh said he wanted to propose initiatives to make the town government and documents more transparent and public.

"In heart and practice, I am a public interest person. ... I care about you. What makes me different is my education in civil engineering, public policy, economics, and federal-level experiences. I worked with law firms all over the country and on large environmental cases. I can guide; I can have interactions. I can deal with state and local officials. I will not give up at all if developers want something free.

Q: Since the mayor position is largely ceremonial, what inspired you to move from councilmember to mayor when there's so little difference?

Regan: At a minimum, the mayor has one vote out of seven councilmembers.  It traditionally sets the town's agenda. I think it's critically important to work collaboratively with the other six people on the council, with staff, and with the public, and not get too big for that job.

Q: Is our tax rate set right for expenditures and revenue?

Singh: "It's important that we do not throw away money at the developers because our property taxes will increase and our water and sewer bills. We should run our government as efficiently as possible. They've increased the meal tax many times, and each time they said we needed it for the arts or this or that, they've gone up. We are not managing some parts of the budget properly.”

Q: Should the town grant waivers or enforce rules for additional outdoor seating? Should it be a continued amenity for the foreseeable future?

Olem: “Thank goodness our governor declared a state of emergency and relaxed all the guidelines at the beginning of the pandemic. It helped Virginia restaurants survive. One restauranter (in the town) spent $800K on building outdoor dining because he had room. Most of our restaurants didn't take advantage of additional outdoor seating because they didn't have the outdoor property to expand. We are no longer giving away ten parking spaces.”

Q: Address pedestrian safety; especially on Elden Street, would you consider a working group?

Regan said he raised his voice maybe three times while serving on the Planning Commission but only during discussions on pedestrian access.

“A residential developer or a property owner didn't want a bike path or a sidewalk complaining about a path to get continuous pedestrian and bicycle access to our town. It's important to me. Elden Street is a challenge. We have many things on the roadside (or on the sidewalks), whether a stop sign, trash can, planter, power pole, or light pole. Individually they have value, but when you put them all out there, you can't fit walking side-by-side.”

Q: Would you consider grants or budgeting to complete a pedestrian tunnel under or a bridge over Elden Street?

Singh: “In the downtown, there is an issue. There is a tremendous amount of delay at that point. It would be worthwhile to look at how to solve this problem. How much money would it take? It doesn't matter. I think it will make life much easier for everybody. So, I will propose to take a look at it.”

Q: Herndon Downtown Center (Herndon Downtown Redevelopment Project) has been postponed.

Olem: “They (Comstock) pulled the trigger on the agreement that we had worked out with them. There has been a series of unfortunate events that have taken place (delays because of citizen appeals, the pandemic, supply chain, and labor issues). We're moving forward. I know that Comstock is paying for the temporary space for parking. They are paying their taxes. I signed off on the releases in the agreement for the public emergency access on their property. It is moving forward. Our staff meets with them twice a month to get updates on where we are."

Although various topics were covered during the event, others were omitted such as why there is so little affordable housing being built in the town; risk management; the demise of some town co-sponsored or sponsored events; vacant town police and staff positions, and others.