Maria Elena Valdivia
BEACON PHOTO/NOAH HERTZ TRADITION — Farmworker Association of Florida Pierson-area organizer María Elena Valdivia is dressed for the 2021 Hispanic Heritage Festival in Pierson in Tehuana dress, traditional garb from Oaxaca, Mexico. Valdivia is the first woman to head the local Farmworker Association branch.

The Northwest Volusia town of Pierson may have just a fraction of the population of cities like DeLand or Deltona, but the problems on voters’ minds are still very big, rendering the Pierson Town Council election an important one.

Three seats on the council were up for grabs this year. One was filled automatically when no one filed to run against Vice Mayor Robert F. Greenlund for Seat 3. Two races will be on the ballot: Two candidates are running for Seat 1 and three for Seat 2.

With just two candidates, voters won’t get to choose whom they want in Seat 1 until November, but Seat 2’s hopefuls will be narrowed down in the Tuesday, Aug. 23, election.

What concerns will drive voters to the polls in Pierson? Some residents sounded off on social media.

Pierson resident Rochelle Will said she cares about fixing up the town’s infrastructure and appearance, as well as getting a grocery store and better internet services. She also cited as important reducing property crime and having a decent park for the town’s kids, both topics that have been top of mind for the current Town Council in recent years.

Vandalism — which many believe is perpetrated by Taylor Middle-High School students — has been a recurring problem in the town’s parks and other facilities. Town Council members have repeatedly said they suspect kids of doing drugs and even, in one instance, lighting pieces of furniture on fire.

The Town Council is working on some of the other items Will mentioned, too. At its June 28 meeting, council members agreed to proceed with using grant money to fix up the town’s playground equipment.

On social media, other commenters echoed Will’s sentiments.

“We definitely need to bring an actual grocery store here, or create an open market for locals to buy, sell and trade goods and services from each other,” Josie Edmund-Pate commented.

Another matter on one voter’s mind is the Town Council’s planned move to its new Town Center. Melanie Sowell Macdonald worried that the move has taken too long, and she’s also concerned about a lack of action on code enforcement.

Those are just some of the things that will inspire Pierson voters in August and November, but some are concerned that not everyone’s voice will be heard at the ballot box. Maria Elena Valdivia said she is worried that the only people whose voices are regularly heard are those who can make it to biweekly Town Council meetings.

“I feel like, although whoever wants to be involved needs to go to those meetings, it’s hard to get people after 7 p.m. to get to those meetings when they’re resting at home,” she told The Beacon.

Valdivia is an area organizer for the local Farmworker Association branch in Pierson. She took over as the local leader last year and is the first woman to hold the position.

When it comes to voting, Valdivia wants to see candidates be more effective in getting the word out about their positions on the issues.

In the 2020 general election, roughly one-third of Pierson’s estimated population cast ballots. Valdivia said she thinks those numbers could be increased if more residents were part of the conversation.

“If we’re looking to support someone, we need to support the change the town of Pierson needs. And for that, we need to let everyone know who are the candidates, what are their backgrounds, and what do they offer,” she said. “When they say, ‘We want the best for our town,’ well, what is the best?”

Valdivia continued, “They may have a different perception than our low-income families. Be more specific. What are the needs of the ones who aren’t voting, the ones who don’t come to the Town Hall meetings every two weeks? I would like to see that.”

One way she believes that could be done is with a better presence at local events and on social media. Meeting people where they are, she said, could pump up the number of local voters.

The bottom line, Valdivia said, is that she wants Pierson to be a more inclusive community for everyone who lives and works in the small town.

Who’s running for Seat 2?

In August, voters will get the chance to choose among the three candidates running for Seat 2 on the Pierson Town Council. There had been four candidates for that seat, but Dale Barnhart dropped out of the race July 1.

Lambert James “Jimmy” Anderson — Anderson is a retired Pierson Public Works employee. He ran for a seat on the Pierson Town Council in 2018, narrowly losing to longtime Town Council Member James Peterson.

When Peterson died in May 2021, Anderson threw his name in the ring for an appointment to the vacant seat, but didn’t quite make the cut. Instead, then-Planning Board Chair D. Gray Leonhard was appointed to Seat 1.

Kelly Green — Green has lived in Pierson for four years. She believes her experience as a Navy veteran and a paralegal would serve her well on the Town Council.

Brandy Peterson — Peterson is a lifelong Pierson resident and currently serves on the town’s Planning Commission.

Who’s not running?

Dale Barnhart — Former Pierson Mayor Dale Barnhart qualified to appear on the ballot for the upcoming primary, but he has since withdrawn from the race due to health reasons.

While Barnhart will not campaign for a seat on the Town Council, he believes the other candidates have the town’s best interests in mind.

“Regarding the issues here in Pierson, I believe that all of the candidates recognize what they are,” Barnhart told The Beacon. “Hopefully some successful solutions will be found when addressing them in the near future.”


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