VACo Spotlight: Sara Carter | Appomattox County Supervisor

March 17, 2017

Q1. You hold a master’s degree in planning, and in addition to working as a planner for several local governments, you served on the Appomattox County Planning Commission. What sparked your interest in planning and land use? 
SC: When I was a senior in high school, I was invited to participate in Model County Government Day (shout to Thomas Dale High School and Chesterfield County Public Schools for a great program). I got to be the School Superintendent. I was fascinated by local government – the real impact that it had on our lives. As a college junior, I applied for a grant that allowed me to intern at Isle of Wight County for a summer. I shadowed in a few departments before I landed in the Planning Department, where I stayed the rest of the time. One of the people there, a young planner, full of ideas, really got me interested in the impact of planning on the community’s future. That young planner, by the way, is still full of great ideas, and happens to be the Orange County Administrator (thanks, Bryan David, for all of the encouragement).

Q2. What made you decide to make the leap from working in land use as a staff member or a citizen appointee to being an elected official yourself?
SC: I have a family that always believes that I can do anything. And they keep encouraging me. I have done so many things that I don’t think I could have done without so much support. I’ve worked as a planner, run a dance company, homeschooled children. Now, I am back to planning and being elected too. I may be a planner, but I have come to realize that all plans – for communities and life, require a great deal of flexibility and encouragement. I am also so grateful for the 12 years that I worked in Chesterfield County at the start of my career. I had a mentor that gave me so much of herself – I can hear Barbara’s voice in my ear even today. Chesterfield County has such a culture of training and development, as well as the focus on continuous improvement – and I had the opportunity to do so many big things there even as a young planner.

Q3. In addition to your service on the Appomattox County Board of Supervisors, you’re also the Planning Director and Zoning Administrator for Cumberland County. What additional perspective does your staff work provide in your role as an elected official?
SC: I value data. What are other places doing? What do the numbers say? I really think my focus on there being an empirical answer to most governmental policy questions comes from my staff perspective. Everybody has opinions. Well-prepared people have data. And staff knows stuff.  If you want to know why something is coming up, or where a person is coming from, call staff and ask. Chances are, they know. And they will work with all of their will to keep you from doing something ill advised.  When the official looks good, staff looks good. I try really hard to let them make me look good.

Q4. What challenges and opportunities do you see facing Appomattox County in the near future?
SC: Finding great opportunities for our young people to be able to stay in our unique and sweet community is our biggest challenge and opportunity. Economic development is all about working the fundamentals and then getting a little bit of luck. We are doing the right things – fully accredited schools, a forward thinking EDA, a strong partnership with our Town, a competitive tax rate with aggressive pay down of debt and reinvestment into our public facilities. But some of what we have to do as a locality on the regulatory side (yes, I’m talking about stormwater again) makes no sense in rural Virginia. The challenge is always finding a way to join rural localities together to work to make sure we can stay competitive in the global economy today and tomorrow. Constituents don’t always understand the value of this work, but it matters in their life every single day.

Q5. What’s the best advice you’ve gotten as a public official? What advice would you give to others who are considering a run for elected office?
SC: The incredibly smart and savvy Ronnie Spiggle told me – Do your very best to make the best decision you can make. And then let it go. You can only do what you can do.  And most of your constituents will grant you grace and mercy when you don’t do what they want, if they trust that you are truly trying your best and your integrity is there. That is great advice – and this too. Return all the phone calls. And answer all the personal emails.  Especially the ones you don’t want to. One of my most faithful and ardent supporters today didn’t particularly like me when I ran. And I’m pretty sure she didn’t vote for me. She supports me now because I have listened to understand even when I didn’t want to, and I honestly told her what I was doing and why.

Q6. Please tell us a little about your family and your hobbies.
SC: I have three children. Daniel, 18; Grace, 16, and Faith, 12. They are smarter and funnier than I am and they hold me accountable to be my very best every single day. They encourage me and fuss at me all at the right times. Dan is in college in England. Grace is looking at colleges in a variety of states, but at least so far, in the country. Thankfully, Faith will still be hanging with Mom for a while. Hobbies? Are you kidding? I have three children.  I work in a job with night meetings. I sit on the Board and act as the Board representative on the Planning Commission. Really, if I manage to do everything I am supposed to in a week, as well as exercise and cook occasionally, that is a really good week. Though, I do bake for work.  Because cakes and cinnamon rolls are excellent for morale.

VACo Contact: Katie Boyle

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