First-time candidate Mitchell Cornett (R) is challenging two-term incumbent John Fant (I) for the at-large seat on the Grayson County Board of Supervisors in the Nov. 7 election.
Both candidates submitted profiles to the newspaper, to introduce or re-introduce themselves to voters.
Cornett won the Republican party’s nomination at a mass meeting earlier this year.
“I am a Christian Conservative and I am saved by God’s grace,” Cornett said in a statement sent to the newspaper, in which he addressed his qualifications for the seat and his aims if he wins.
A lifelong Grayson County resident, he said his family has lived here for generations. He grew up in the Rugby community, graduated from Grayson County High School in 2012 and from Southwest Virginia Community College in 2014. He married his wife, Kaitlin, in 2020 and is a member of Turkey Knob Church in Fries.
Cornett volunteers with Independence Volunteer Rescue Squad as a nationally registered paramedic and has been a member for more than 10 years. He was also a member of Rugby Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad for nearly 10 years prior to moving to Independence.
He works as a real estate broker in Virginia and North Carolina with Collins & Associates Realty in Independence. “I am also a cattle farmer, entrepreneur and local business owner,” he said.
Addressing his reasons for running for the at-large seat, Cornett said that, “I am a normal, everyday working class citizen and I understand the issues and challenges that Grayson County citizens face. I am youthful, motivated and dedicated to making Grayson County a better place to live, work and operate a business.”
Cornett described himself as fiscally conservative and said he believes in smaller government, less spending and lower taxes. “It is apparent to me after attending board meetings and budget meetings over the past few years that some of our elected officials are out of touch with our citizens and do not understand their concerns and challenges,” he said.
If elected, he promised to work to rein in wasteful spending in county government. “There is a lack of trust and transparency in our county government and I am running to restore honesty, integrity, transparency and common sense to this seat. That’s why my campaign slogan is Common Sense Solutions.”
Cornett listed some of the issues that are driving his campaign.
“I am pro-life and I am an ardent supporter of the 2nd Amendment,” he said, noting that he is a member of the Virginia Citizens Defense League and the National Rifle Association.
Broadband internet service and emergency radio communications are among his priorities. “I am committed to assisting in delivering to the citizens the broadband capability that they deserve and need in our modern world,” he said. “It is widely known that the current broadband project has not lived up to the expectations and there have been broken promises. There are other currently available capabilities that must be looked at including satellite and cellular capability.”
Cornett said the technology is in place for all citizens to be connected to high-quality service. “There has been a lack of transparency on the project and leaders have not been upfront and honest with citizens about the failures and shortcomings of the project. Another county in the region connected over 90% of citizens to 5G capability in around five months.”
Grayson County’s broadband project was scheduled to be completed this fall, “and we currently only have around 200 households connected,” he said. “People are solving their own problems with available technology, including Starlink and others because of the failures with the current project. The county should be helping these folks with that capability.”
Cornett also expressed concerns that Grayson has “had a failing emergency services radio communication system for many years and it is important to get a new system up and running quickly and efficiently. Much of the county has little to no cellular reception, so oftentimes first responders are left without any means of communication in emergency and life-threatening situations.”
He pledged to support first responders and law enforcement. “Our citizens’ safety will always be my top priority. As a first responder, I know firsthand some of the challenges that are faced every day. For years, our first responders have been forgotten about and pushed to the side. Our first responders put their lives on the line every day and deserve to be supported adequately and our citizens deserve top quality service in their time of need.”
He said he is committed to having a good working relationship with the Grayson County School Board, and would advocate for more vocational training to better prepare students for the “real world.”
“I also want to work with the school system to establish an EMS and firefighter training program to allow students to become certified as an EMT or a firefighter while in high school,” Cornett said. “This will help our volunteer fire departments and rescue squads with manpower and our students to provide training for a well-paying job upon graduation.”
Cornett described himself as “a public servant, not a politician” and said he would “stand up for our citizens and be a voice of the people.”
If elected, he has a plan to promote local government transparency by publishing a monthly newsletter on social media, and by posting physical copies of the newsletter in gathering places throughout the county.
“I will fight for the citizens of Grayson County and be a voice for all citizens and will have an open line of communication via social media, email, text, phone calls, and at events throughout the county,” he said. “I would love to hear from citizens and discuss other county issues that are important to them.”
In closing, he said he appreciated voters’ consideration and “would be honored to earn your support in the upcoming November election. God bless.”
Fant, an independent candidate, is a military veteran and a cattle and sheep farmer. He is seeking a third term on the board.
He said that, if reelected, he would remain focused on “improving communications infrastructure, develop affordable childcare services and continue to work with Grayson County School Board to expand economic opportunities for vocational training and education.”
During his first two terms, Fant said he has championed improving the communications infrastructure for all citizens of the county.
“Regardless of what we want to do – healthcare services, shopping, economic development, education, recreation, etc. – it requires an effective communication system,” he said. “From the start, the county’s goal has been threefold: to develop a reliable and redundant system, which provides broadband internet access for all; universal coverage of cellular service; and enhanced communications capabilities for our first responders.”
So far, the effort has prioritized broadband access, as it is essential for private citizens and businesses, Fant said.
It has been a long slog getting the needed technologies in place in order to start connecting customers. He acknowledged that progress has been slower than desired, but noted that customers are being connected to fiber or fixed wireless service.
“The second portion of our effort is cellular communications, starting in the western end of the county,” Fant said. “Universal mobile communications is really important for our emergency services, our residents, our farmers and our visitors. Not only will it allow someone to communicate more effectively, but it also will bring with it 5G internet capability.”
He emphasized that having an effective, layered communications system is critical for the future of Grayson County.
Fant said he feels another of Grayson County’s needs is affordable, quality childcare.
“It is clear to me that childcare services are vital to the future economic development of the county and for the individual development of our youth,” he said. “We need more childcare options tailored to working parent’s needs.”
With people traveling further in a variety of directions for employment,” Fant said that “a dispersed but complimentary system will help families and be attractive for business recruitment and retention.” By partnering with the United Way and other external funding sources, he feels the county has the tools available to solve this problem.
During his time on the board, Fant has emphasized the importance of agriculture to the county’s economic development efforts. Citing examples, he noted that, through the Agriculture Advisory Committee, the county has put agriculture at the forefront of its comprehensive plan; established the Agriculture Economic Development Office; revived the annual county fair; and hosts an annual Agriculture Banquet, all to acknowledge and celebrate the importance of agriculture, forestry and horticulture in the county.
Fant said he believes Grayson County Public Schools is doing a excellent job of educating children, and he sees a unique growth opportunity.
“We can do more with our vocational education to provide a path for our youth to stay and work in Grayson,” he said. “This region needs ag specialists, welders, diesel mechanics, carpenters, masons, plumbers, chefs, machinists, etc. I feel there is an opportunity to develop a regional school for vocational education, which would be located in Grayson and unique in the commonwealth. Call it a Governor’s School for Vocational Education. Vocational education is the cornerstone of our future economic development.”
In closing, Fant said he is proud of the progress the county has made and would like to continue working on these issues that the county can affect.
“Grayson is a great place to live, work and play,” he said. “There is so much opportunity here, which we can accomplish by working together.”