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July 10, 2018

Q&A: Rookie councilman stresses “new perspective”

“Folks want activities. They want things to do. But no one wants the whole sprawl,” says new Warrenton Councilman Renard J. Carlos (At-large).
Anyone who devotes a good portion of their lives to public service deserves a tremendous amount of credit.
Renard J. Carlos
• Age: 29

• Home: Fairfield Drive

• Town council experience: Elected to at-large council seat May 1; four-year term started July 1.

• Annual town council stipend: $4,800.

• Work: Product and sales manager, Barber DME (Durable Medical Equipment) Supply Group, 2016 to present. 

• Education: Bachelor’s degree, government and international politics, George Mason University, 2016; associate’s degree, general studies, Lord Fairfax Community College, 2013; home schooled. 

• Family: Mother, Nancy; twin brother, Matt; fiancée, Lea King.

• Hobbies: Tae Kwon Do and Tang Soo Do. 

• Facebook page: Click here
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
In one fell swoop, the young political unknown in May defeated an incumbent Warrenton at-large town councilwoman by almost 500 votes.

First-time candidate and lifelong town resident Renard Carlos, 29, attributes his 2-1 margin of victory over Linda “Sunny” Reynolds, 74, partly to “timing” and voter hunger for “some new perspective.”

With his election, Mr. Carlos became the fifth African-American to serve on the council and its youngest member. The council’s average age stands at 54. The members’ ages range from 29 to 81.

His win also means the council no longer has a female member.

> Video at bottom of story

In an interview Friday, Mr. Carlos talked about his reasons for running, the campaign, the controversial Walker Drive mixed-use project, proposed improvements to Broadview Avenue, the need for town government to improve communication with citizens and race.

• Why did you run for town council?

I had some folks say would you consider it. I saw there were a lot of younger families who were moving into the town who were looking for some different perspectives or some new ideas.

I thought to myself, “I’m kind of a younger guy here. I’ve got a fiancée.” So, I felt I would be able to speak to some of those issues we see younger families looking for.

At the time, Main Street businesses — you saw some shops closing, businesses seemed like they had a bit of a hard time doing business in the town.

We also looked at the larger scope, as far as age and diversity and things like that. I can kind of speak to that. You want your council to look like to your town, in some ways. You’ve got a diverse group of people in your town. You want to have a diverse group of ideas and thinking on your council.

• During the campaign, you talked about “issues” and “problems” facing the town. Can you identify three issues or problems and how you will address them as a town council member?

One of the biggest challenges I think we see is coming up with a real strategic vision as far as a strategic goal: What’s your plan? Where do you see Warrenton in the next 10 years, next 20 years? What does it look like?

It’s not necessarily for one councilmember to say, “Hey, this is what I want to see. These are my three goals that I see. This is what my plan is.” It needs to be done as a group. You have your best bang for your buck when all council members are on the same page.

With that being said, I think some things that we should consider and always look at are a couple of things: Community development; how we build matters. Citizens have kind of said — and I agree — if you look at the housing in Warrenton, we have very little affordable housing.

No one wants a sprawl, but we also want to see more folks coming in. Warrenton is a fabulous place. We sit an hour and 30 minutes, hour and 40 minutes from Washington. You’ve got wine country coming in the other direction. This is possibly one of the best kept secrets in Virginia.

One of the big things I’ve heard from citizens is they want some recreation. When we look at that and getting industry to come to Warrenton, one of the things that go hand-in-hand is your workforce housing.

Community development, affordable housing and the economic future of Warrenton — they should be in the same sentence. We’re thinking about them all together.

• What kind of recreation do you have in mind?

I’ve talked about, in the very beginning, some types of mixed recreation gym — climbing walls, things like that.

• Would you have voted for the Walker Drive proposal that could include a movie theatre and bowling alley, along with restaurants, shops, offices and apartments?

Folks want activities. They want things to do. But no one wants the whole sprawl.

The biggest problem with Walker Drive is folks felt like, “Hey, this is going to increase our traffic volumes” and things like that, and were not comfortable with it.

I’m just not going to the whole “yes, no.” The way it was handled, from talking with citizens, was we could have done a little bit better job on communication. And, that’s all I’ll say on Walker Drive.

• So how do you improve town government’s communication with citizens?

I’m hoping that’s a conversation we’ll be able to have and look at the best way, with the town manager and the other council members.

• So do you have any ideas about how town government can do a better job of communicating?

Absolutely. You’ve got to look at the social media platforms. It’s a lot of work; it’s challenging; it’s taxing to try to keep up with those things.

• You believe it’s government’s job to create and implement policy to attract business to Warrenton. Specifically, what new policies would you support to accomplish that?

One if the things I talked about was our sign ordinance. Let’s get it hammered out. Let’s get it done.

What’s your zoning ordinance looking like? What requirements do you have for business? How do I start a business in Warrenton? One of the things I talked about was let’s get a planning matrix. I’m coming into Warrenton and I have no idea how to start . . . . Come in, we’ll give you the A, B, Cs, and you’re good to go.

• You objected to a recent version of the approximately $8 million proposed improvements to Broadview Avenue. Why?

For business owners — from the folks I’ve spoken with — it’s a bit tough, because they felt like there was a plan in place at a point in time. Now, the plan has changed at a certain point in time.

And, that’s again communication — something that perhaps might have been a bit stronger to communicate those changes to them.

For the business owner side, it’s a balancing act, because it’s not just saying, “Well, there might be a little difficult time with folks turning and what not, and you’ll be all right.” Well, this is their livelihood.

We’re talking about how do you bring new business to Warrenton. We can’t necessarily give ourselves a black eye by hurting the businesses we’ve already got here.

Those businesses also employ folks. So, now it’s also individual livelihoods.

You’ve also got this other side of the angle. And it is the citizens who are driving up and down the road.

There’s a third challenge on Broadview: We have a (traffic) volume issue.

So if you want to put a median down the middle, I’m hoping that VDOT (the Virginia Department of Transportation) will be able to come back and we’ll be able to work together . . . coming to a compromise for a better plan that will be conducive to businesses. And, it’s going to address the volume.

• You beat incumbent Sunny Reynolds by a 2-1 margin. How’d you do that?

Each of the candidates brought forth something. And, I was grateful to folks who found myself to be kind of attractive — the fact that I had some new perspective on some existing problems.

I think the timing was just at the point where folks were looking for some new perspective to address the same issues they’ve been seeing.

Anyone who offers to do public service deserves a tremendous amount of credit. Anyone who devotes a good portion of their lives to public service deserves a tremendous amount of credit.

• You’re the fifth African-American to serve on the town council. Do you feel a special obligation to represent the interests of African-Americans and other minorities in town?

I’m the at-large town council person. So, I represent all of Warrenton. I feel an obligation to make sure I represent everybody.

• As an African-American, did you experience discrimination growing up in Warrenton and even as an adult?

I think we’re all mindful that nothing is perfect. There’s no perfect society. I think Warrenton is as fabulous place. I personally can’t really say I’ve been discriminated against necessarily in Warrenton. But, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. It doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can do a little better.

• As a council member, will you try to encourage African-Americans and other minorities to participate in town government?

My role, my hope is a whole lot of people who may not have felt so included or just didn’t know how to start, will be encouraged to kind of get involved.

• Do you view yourself as a role model?

Maybe not a role model. I hope approachable and able to communicate and talk.

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