Election Preview: Familiar Faces Face Off For District 4 Commissioner Seat

Election Preview: Familiar Faces Face Off For District 4 Commissioner Seat
Commissioner Ted Elder is being challenged by Virgil Shockley, who held the seat from 1998-2014.

BERLIN – Commissioner Ted Elder is hoping voters give him a chance to continue the work he’s started on the board of county commissioners.

Elder, who represents District 4, faces Virgil Shockley in this fall’s election.

“We have good county commissioners sitting there now,” Elder said. “I look forward to working with them another four years, hopefully I’ll be able to do that.”

Elder was elected in 2014, in his third effort to unseat Shockley, who served as the District 4 representative from 1998 to 2014. Elder, a small business owner since the early 1980s, has been a Worcester County bus contractor for roughly 30 years and spent two decades as president of the Worcester County Bus Contractor’s Association.

Elder says what first convinced him to run for commissioner was an experience he had with the county as a small business owner.

“I had an issue years ago with the county and I couldn’t get any traction,” he said. “I wasn’t being treated the same as other businesses. I said if I can’t get them to be fair with me and my small business maybe something needs to be done. Rather than sit and complain I wanted to do something about it. I don’t like to see anybody treated unfairly. I wanted to make sure everybody’s treated fairly—it  doesn’t matter if you’re the richest person in the county or the poorest.”

In 2006, Elder ran against Shockley but lost by more than 500 votes. In 2010, he ran against Shockley again, losing by just 90 votes.

“I was encouraged to run again by a lot of people,” he said. In the 2014 election, Elder came out ahead of Shockley by 200 votes.

Among Elder’s key concerns as the 2018 election nears are broadband and fiscal accountability. Elder said he’s been working with officials from other counties to find a way to bring broadband internet to Worcester County.

“It’s been an ongoing problem, broadband,” he said.  “I do see some possible solutions in the future. There are some other counties with ideas they’re implementing and we’re studying what they’re doing.  That’s one of our key issues. I’m working very hard on that.”

Elder said another issue facing the county was attracting qualified employees.

“With the economy doing a little better, we’re having problems finding qualified help,” he said.

Elder said the commissioners was in the process of comparing Worcester County salaries with those offered in other jurisdictions to determine where inequalities were. He says that’s just one challenge the commissioners have tackled together during the past four years.

“We’re currently working on that,” he said. “The present commissioners have been very good about working together. We don’t always agree but we always have honest discussion. We need to study what we can afford and move on. This is stuff on the burner that we’ve got to move forward with.”

Elder also hopes to ensure the county stays financially responsible.

“I want to make sure we’re keeping the county on a fiscal path we can afford,” he said. “When I was elected, they were balancing the budget on the county’s contingency fund. We would’ve had a big problem if we didn’t work on finding cuts. We had to raise taxes that first year and that was kind of painful for me but sometimes you have to do have you have to do. I think we have a great team working in the county.”

When asked why he was the best candidate to represent District 4, Elder said he didn’t want to criticize Shockley.

“I don’t say anything against my opponent,” he said. “I represented him as president of the bus contractors association for years. Either way the people won’t lose but of the two of us I think I can do the better job.”

Virgil Shockley

The former long-time commissioner aims to end a four-year hiatus from local politics as he seeks election this fall.

Shockley hopes to take back the District 4 seat he lost to Ted Elder in the 2014 election.  Shockley served as a commissioner from 1998 to 2014 and says what he’s most proud of from that time is all of the new school facilities the county built.

“I think you could truly say I have an investment in education,” he said.

Shockley, whose family has been in Worcester County for seven generations, farms and raises chickens in Snow Hill. He also worked as a county bus contractor for 30 years before retiring July 1.

Shockley said he was inspired to run for a commissioner seat in 1998 in an effort to help protect the county.

“It was a different county back then,” he said. “There was a building boom going on. There was this wild west mentality back in ‘98. Worcester is my home. People come here, vacation here, because of what we have — the ocean, Ocean City, Assateague. The reason I first ran was to maintain that, so everything didn’t get paved over.”

Shockley said bringing broadband to the Eastern Shore has been a top priority for him for more than a decade. He has served on the Maryland Rural Broadband Coordination Board and the Board of Maryland Broadband Cooperative.

“This has become a passion for me to see that this can happen and right now it’s not lack of technology it’s lack of will on the part of the providers that we have for internet service,” Shockley said. “They’re very happy to take the money that they’re getting and not bother about the rest of the people that are out there that are paying astronomical fees for 10 gigabytes or 20 gigabytes a month.”

He added that broadband would also be critical in bringing more business to the county. He said Gov. Larry Hogan had campaigned on the promise of expanding rural broadband.

“I want to take the guy up on it,” Shockley said.  “Sure you’ve got committees set up at state level to look into this, to help the counties out. It’s going to be one of the first calls I make when I’m sworn in…It’s something that we need to spur economic growth.”

Shockley said another issue that’s important to him is emergency services funding.

“I’ve always maintained that there never, ever, ever will be a day as long as I have a say about it that someone dials 911 and no one shows up,” he said.

He said that while most fire companies in the area had at least one paid ambulance crew, the county was still primarily dependent on volunteers.

“You’re asking a lot of volunteer firemen to take their time away from their families to do that with little or no compensation…,” he said. “We need to take care of those people.”

Shockley’s other key concern is education. During his 16 years as commissioner, he said he invested in education by voting to improve three county high schools and to build Worcester Technical High School and Ocean City Elementary School.

Shockley also believes in the potential of NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility. He points to the fact that it’s the only East Coast spaceport north of Florida.

“We’re sitting on a place that’s going to be a hub…,” he said. “I am a big fan of Wallops and I want to get back in there so I can go down there and basically say ‘hey guys what can I do to help you?’ Those jobs are there, they’re going to be there, you’re going to get more jobs there. And we’re in a position as far as a county to capitalize on that. We should be capitalizing on that.”

Shockley stressed that he supported the county’s agricultural land preservation programs.

“I support saving farmland which is something Mr. Elder does not…,” he said. “It should be up to the farmer to make that decision. If they want to sell those easements that’s their decision… To me, you’ve got to save farmland or you don’t save farmers.”

When asked why he was the best candidate for the District 4 seat, Shockley pointed to his track record as a commissioner.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.