By Aila Boyd

Walter Michael is challenging incumbent Billy Martin for the Republican nomination for the Blue Ridge District for the Board of Supervisors during the June 11 primary election.

Martin has served three terms on the Board of Supervisors and is currently serving as chairman.

Walter Michael is seeking the Republican nomination for the Blue Ridge District for the Board of Supervisors.
Photo by Aila Boyd

Michael, who has resided in Botetourt County for 20 years, said that he wants to put his decades’ worth of business experience to use for the citizens of Botetourt County. Over the course of his career, he held management positions at AH Robbins and Conrail, before starting a sought-after consulting firm with two other professionals. He has since retired.

This is the first time I’m running for office. I’ve held offices in various professional organizations, but this is my first time trying to win a position not on my skills and ability, but more on public relations,” he said. He currently serves as the Blue Ridge District chairman for the Botetourt County Republican Committee. “When I retired, I never figured I’d be trying to run for political office, but I feel that I have to.”

Michael, a lifelong Republican, said that he is a strong advocate of fiscal responsibility. “The people are picking up more and more of the load,” he said in regard to the tax burden placed on county citizens. He added that because of his devotion to fiscal reasonability, he has put his bucket list and hobbies on hold because he wants to make a difference in the county.

When I went to Conrail, we were losing a million dollars a day. By getting a handle on our assets, the way we were spending money and what we were doing with it, we were able to turn the company into a Fortune 500 company,” he said.

As part of his bid for the nomination, Michael has put forth a list of policy positions that he cares most strongly about. His positions include addressing citizens’ issues, increasing transparency, more accountability, bidding of all contract work, developing a zero-based budget, helping seniors, lowering taxes, increasing citizen communications, implementing authority for expenditures, and reviewing completed projects.

Michael is currently holding monthly meetings for voters as part of the group Botetourt Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility. When the new Colonial Elementary School project was first starting to take shape, the group brought in Scott Swortzel, vice chairman of the Botetourt County School Board who represents the Blue Ridge District, Gary Larrowe, county administrator, and Jim Whitten, capital projects manager for the county, to provide insight into the matter. He explained that if he wins the nomination and ultimately wins the general election in November, he will continue to hold monthly meetings. During the meetings, he said, he plans to go over the agenda for each Board of Supervisors meeting in order to better educate citizens about the business before the supervisors and the running of the county.

Aside from the monthly meetings that he currently holds, Michael also strives to attend every Board of Supervisors meeting. One thing that he has noticed that he isn’t particularly fond of is the fact that citizens who want to speak during the public comments portion are only allowed three minutes. Michael said that he’s “just getting started at three minutes.” Ideally, he said, citizens should be allowed five minutes to speak.

Zero-based budgeting means that a budget starts at zero. Things are added on after the needs of the organization and the costs of those needs have been analyzed. The goal of this method is that all expenses have to be justified. Michael noted that he feels zero-based budgeting eliminates pet projects that can more easily slip through the cracks when budgeting using a more traditional method.

Michael said that he previously suggested offering tax relief to seniors but that the Board of Supervisors declined to pursue it.

He explained that Conrail utilized an authority for expenditures process that required that authority had to be given for any purchase over a set maximum threshold. “I think you need checks and balances,” Michael said.

As for his desire for a standard review of completed projects, he said that the Critical Path Method could be implemented to identify benchmarks to know whether a project is ahead, on, or behind schedule. Afterwards, the project as a whole can be assessed to determine the effectiveness of the operation.

It seems like people have tunnel vision and I think that you need to widen the blinders,” Michael cited as what he feels is the biggest challenge facing the county. In order to address the challenge, he suggested that the county bring in outside professionals who possess expertise in whatever matter that the county is dealing with at the moment.

Over the course of his time at Conrail, Michael served as the manager of records management, energy management, facilities, environmental quality, hazardous materials, and as the responsible care coordinator. Before that, he served as an information specialist and archival control center manager at AH Robbins.

He holds an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Mount Union University and a graduate degree in business from the University of Richmond.

Botetourt Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility can be found on Facebook.