CHRISTIANSBURG — Outspoken Councilwoman Johana Hicks says she will run for mayor.
Hicks announced her intention at the end of a council meeting Tuesday night as she was responding to a suggested resolution of reprimand against her for a code of ethics violation.
“I’m done with this,” Hicks said during the routine council member reports. “I feel like this is a personal attack because maybe you guys found out I’m running for mayor … This has to stop … and I’m done.”
Hicks formally announced her plans later in the week.
Mayor Mike Barber, who is seeking reelection, rebuffed the suggestion that he drew up the reprimand resolution in direct response to Hicks’ plan to run for his seat.
“I don’t care whether you’re running for mayor or not Johana. That makes no difference to me whatsoever,” he said.
Despite her still short time on town council, Hicks said she decided to make the leap for the mayoral seat after hearing positive feedback from many in the community.
“Because in the last two years numerous people have told me personally how I have been their voice,” she wrote in an email. “I want everyone in the community to feel welcome and have an opportunity to voice their opinions.”
Hicks won election to council in 2019 after running largely on a promise to challenge convention. She has fulfilled that promise on several occasions over the past year, resulting in frequent clashes with other council members.
Hicks has, among other issues, stirred controversy over her opposition to closed sessions, water rate increases partly driven by a water treatment plant project and the longtime funding of certain entities that each of the local governments across Montgomery County contribute to.
Hicks is also a staunch opponent of a nearly $18 million multipurpose park project off of Peppers Ferry Road.
Although the town council spent several years mulling over the park, they had generally touted the project as key in long-term plans to help drive economic growth and tourism. Hicks, however, questions the park’s need at the moment and has called it a waste of taxpayer money.
Council members over the past year have also raised questions about whether Hicks has committed ethical violations. Some of the councilwoman’s behavior that has drawn scrutiny involve several comments she previously made on social media that her colleagues have called problematic.
Hicks has characterized the scrutiny as nothing more than bullying by colleagues who she argues are simply upset she’s challenging the status quo.
“After a year and [a] half of attacks, council needs a new direction,” she wrote.
As far as other issues she’d like to further tackle in the future, Hicks said infrastructure is a major concern and pointed to flooding that occurred in the area of College Street last year.
Hicks said she’d also like to help push for more small businesses and overall growth in the area. One item, for example, that she said she fears could drive out some local restaurants and make Christiansburg less competitive with neighboring localities is the town’s meals tax, which she describes as high.
Christiansburg levies a 7.5% meals tax, which is in addition to the state’s 5.3% sales tax.
Barber voiced few comments on Hicks’ challenge.
“It’s certainly her priority to do so, as well as anybody else who wants to run,” Barber said.
Barber has served on the town council for more than two decades and first took office as mayor in 2014.
Barber said he decided to run again because he sees several items that he’d like to see finished in the future, including the redevelopment of the Christiansburg Marketplace, outstanding stormwater issues and the development of the park off of Peppers Ferry.
The Marketplace, which Barber described as a “diamond in the rough,” is a shopping center just off the intersection of Peppers Ferry and North Franklin Street that had for years suffered from blight and vacancies. The property is currently undergoing a revamp with several businesses having either already opened in the development or announced plans to open.
The town spent more than $1 million to improve parts of the Marketplace site, with town officials expecting to recoup that money with various tax revenues created after the redevelopment.
Barber, along with other town officials, expect the Marketplace and park to complement each other and significantly contribute to Christiansburg’s fast-growing northwest section.
“That’s going to be one of the biggest economic drivers we’ve done in a while,” he said.
Regardless of the mayoral race’s outcome, the town council will see a significant change in makeup this year as three current members whose seats are on the ballot — Merissa Sachs, Brad Stipes and Steve Huppert — have announced that they’re not seeking reelection. In the meantime, several hopefuls have emerged. They include: Hil Johnson, Anthony Woodyard, Casey Jenkins, Tanya Hockett, Mike Scarry and Tim Wilson.
Whether Hicks will be an underdog in the mayoral race is unclear.
When Hicks won her seat in 2019, she got more votes than any candidate in that year’s five-way race. Among the candidates were three incumbents, one of whom lost his seat.
Hicks is also a close friend of Christiansburg businesswoman Marie March, who has become increasingly involved in local politics over the years. In April, March clinched the GOP nomination in the 7th House District state race.
March has gained popularity — and notoriety — in the region over the past several years due to her staunch criticism of local government and affiliated organizations and later her self-avowed support of former President Donald Trump. She has also received much attention for her controversial views on some national issues.
March backed Hicks and provided funding to the councilwoman’s campaign in 2019. About a year before that election, March created a small campaign against Christiansburg town government that she dubbed “Vote ‘Em Out.” The campaign involved the handing out of button pins bearing the slogan at her Christiansburg restaurants.