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Martinsville City Council debates to become a virtual reality

Martinsville City Council debates to become a virtual reality

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candidate collage

Tammy Pearson (left), Nelson Edwards, Kathy Lawson, Jim Woods and Chad Martin.

The pandemic has changed how many things are done these days, and with election day looming, an upcoming debate among candidates for Martinsville City Council has been modified to safely inform the voters.

Star News in Martinsville traditionally holds televised debates involving local races at its studios at 909 Commonwealth Blvd. in Martinsville and frequently with a live audience.

This Thursday, all five candidates for City Council will be in separate locations of their choosing, connected remotely and participating in Martinsville and Henry County’s first virtual debate.

As many meetings, conferences and events have taken to the cloud by use of popular platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet and Skype, many people have already become familiar with a webcam and computer monitor as acceptable solutions for being together while staying apart.

The first of two Martinsville City Council virtual debates will occur live at 6:30-8 p.m. Thursday and will be followed with another on Oct. 22. Both events are cosponsored by the Martinsville Bulletin and Star News and may be viewed on Facebook at the Martinsville Bulletin or Star News pages and on Comcast cable Channel 18 in the Martinsville and Henry County viewing area.

The debate will be moderated by Martinsville Bulletin reporter Bill Wyatt.

“This really is historic,” said Charles Roark, the owner of Star News. “Because of the media working together, the audience gets served with relevant information.”

Four of the five candidates participated in a forum last week sponsored by the Mount Sinai Church in Martinsville, where Martinsville Bulletin Reporter Holly Kozelsky asked 11 questions to challenger Tammy Pearson and incumbents Jim Woods, Chad Martin and Kathy Lawson.

A fifth candidate, Nelson Edwards, did not attend because of a prior commitment to a family event out of town.

“We’ve talked to everyone, and all of the candidates have agreed to participate,” Roark said. “They know it’s serious.”

The style of the virtual debate will be different from the traditional format in which each candidate gives an opening remark, and everyone is then asked the same question and given a limited time to respond.

“We’re going to do the introductions at the end,” Roark said.

Those questions will not be shared with the candidates before the debate and unlike a forum, a candidate may challenge another candidate’s position on an issue. Candidates may not be asked all of the same questions and although a time limit will be observed, everyone will be encouraged to answer the question and refrain from pontificating.

The format suggests yes-or-no questions to be answered with a “yes” or a “no.”

Topics from last week’s forum included reversion, finances, the Black Lives Matter movement, conflict of interest within the administration, the failed Henricopolis School of Medicine and the new solar panel project at the former Lynwood Country Club.

“Everyone is listening to leaders when they talk about reversion,” Roark said. “They want to understand how they intend to handle the issue.”

Taking advantage of the latest technology pushes the boundaries for local television with limited resources, but Roark thinks it is a risk worth taking.

“We are going to be working feverishly this weekend to ensure this virtual unit is going to work,” Roark said. “We want to make sure everyone can see and hear the debate at the Martinsville Bulletin and Star News on Facebook and on television.

“We have never had a debate quite like this.”

Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 236. Follow him @billdwyatt

Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 236. Follow him @billdwyatt

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