Friday, May 22, 2009

Poppy Time

Remember the fallen on Memorial Day

On Monday morning at 10 a.m. Goochlanders will gather on the Courthouse green to honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in defense of liberty.

Come early and bring a chair.

Get a crepe paper poppy from one of the lovely ladies of the American Legion Post 215 auxiliary. The poppies are distributed for donation, not sold. Dig deep; every penny is used to help the disabled veterans, who make the poppies, not factory workers in China.

Look at some of the monuments on the green. Goochland boys and girls have been marching off to war for a very long time. Some did not come home.

Paul Galanti, CDR USN (Ret.) will address the gathering. Having spent almost seven years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, he knows more about honor, patriotism and torture than all of today’s pundits combined. Galanti came home and went right back to being a good citizen making up for lost time.

It is far too easy to forget that Memorial Day is much more than the unofficial start of summer. We need to remember the cost of war and honor those who bought our freedom with their blood.

Today in known conflicts on the opposite side of the world and secret battles closer to home brave American troopers hold back the forces of darkness who would destroy our way of life. Because our troops voluntarily go into the Valley of the Shadow of Death, we can plan a picnic, shopping excursion or a trip to the beach without giving a thought to our safety.

Since Bunker Hill, when the first shots were fired in the cause of freedom, Americans have owed a huge debt to those who wrenched liberty from tyranny and keep its flame burning bright.

Memorial Day is not about the hate of war, but about the greatest love of those who gave their lives for others.

It is too easy to forget about forever empty seats at the Thanksgiving table; children whose lives will be forever changed by the loss of a parent and lives filled with promise that ended far too soon.

That is why we set aside this day to remember with love our fallen whose blood nourished the poppies of Flanders Field and those who came after to fight in our stead.

Take time before you hit the mall or the beach to remember and appreciate the cost of freedom and national security. Take time to give loving thanks and never forget the sacrifice of ordinary Americans whose duty and honor keep us safe every day.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Toxic personnel purged

Get out the mops and disinfectant

On the evening of May 19, after about 100 minutes of closed door deliberation, the Goochland board of supervisors unanimously voted to accept the resignation of Andrew R. McRoberts as county attorney, effective immediately.

In remarks made by interim county administrator Lane Ramsey in open session, it was disclosed that the supervisors “requested and received” the resignation “in the best interest of everyone.”

In accordance with his employment contract, which McRoberts is believed to have written himself, he will receive $49,000 plus $9,440.45 for unused annual leave and $5,000 for accumulated sick time.

McRoberts is the alleged author of the press release announcing his resignation, which attempted to portray his abrupt exit from Goochland government as his decision alone. Some media outlets ran this almost verbatim. McRoberts is also credited with leaking the identity of the new county administrator to the media in advance of the board announcement, perhaps in return for favorable spin.

During the closed session, Darvin Satterwhite, a local lawyer who served as part-time county before McRoberts was hired in 2001, acted as county attorney until the board could appoint Barbara Rose as interim county attorney.

Rose, a superbly well-qualified lawyer with extensive government experience in Hanover county as well as the office of the Virginia Attorney General, will handle Goochland’s legal matters while the supervisors search for a permanent replacement for McRoberts. Her appointment was effective as of May 20.

She will be paid $140 per hour for 20 hours per week and the supervisors approved not more than $10,000 to retain outside counsel as Rose deems appropriate.

They also voted to retain the Springstead search firm, to help them fill the vacant position.

Ramsey said that the county has already received several resumes for the county attorney position, which will be passed on to Springstead for vetting.

The supervisors set a good precedent in hiring a well qualified outsider for county administrator, let’s hope they continues the trend when hiring a new county attorney.

Given the sensitivity of many rezoning and other matters that come before the board on a regular basis, it is crucial that this important staff member have no local allegiances or connections of any kind. Perception is very important matters of government. Smarting from the consequences of good old boyism that descended into gross incompetence at best, corruption at worst, the board should continue to eagerly embrace hiring fresh faces with new eyes to address the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Now the clean up begins.

The situation in county administration is much like the day after the end of one of those movies where giant monsters or hoards of space aliens are vanquished by the good guys.

We never get to see the clean up. They never showed, for example, what they human race did with the remains of the bazillion defunct spaceship beings that littered earth at the end of H. G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” or the giant mother ships that crashed down at the end of “Independence Day.”

What did the world do with all that stuff? Was it recyclable, compostable or hazardous waster? We’ll never know, but someone had to clean it up, probably the women.

And so it begins in Goochland.

Rose’s initial task may well be sorting and organizing the legal matters of the county to ensure a smooth transition to the new person.

However, during his tenure, McRoberts seemed to involve himself in a wide range of county business, perhaps far beyond the normal purview of the county attorney.

Who knows what sorts of time bombs may lurk in complicated agreements or policies already in place. Hopefully, they will be identified and defused before they explode in the county’s face.

The supervisors, with good justification, seemed very anxious to put this chapter behind them. Goochland doesn’t need any more scandals.

Voters however, must remember that three board members did nothing to address or stop the machinations of toxic personnel when elections roll around in 2011. The clean up has just begun, there is still much to do.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Right in your own backyard

Interesting things to do in Goochland County

Please consider attending the following events of interest. Come to learn, meet old friends and make new ones. Weekends in Goochland offer something for everyone if you just know where to look!

The 15th annual Goochland Relay for Life, which raises awareness about cancer and funds for research, will begin at 4 p.m. on Saturday May 16 at the Goochland Elementary School on River Road West in Courthouse Village. The event runs until Sunday. A wide range of activities are planned. Relay is a great way to have fun and contribute to a serious and important cause.

THE Goochland Historical Society will meet on Sunday, May 17 at 3 p.m. at "Soldier's Lodge.”

The guest speaker will be John Chettle, a Rhodes Scholar, attorney, lecturer and author. He is currently completing a book, which will be the subject of his talk, "What Do Presidents Read: And Why It Matters." Refreshments will follow.
"Soldier's Lodge" is located west of Oilville on Fairground Road (Route 632), between Broad Street Road (Route 250) and Hawktown Road (Route 637). Look for GHS signs and balloons.

The true cost of food
An educational and entertaining program about sustainable food will be held on Monday, May 18 at 12 noon at the Grace Church Parish House 2955 River Road West, Goochland, VA 23063. It is sponsored by the Center for Rural Culture.
Cost: $10.00 in advance and $12.00 at the door (Center for Rural Culture Members, only $10.00 - pay at the door). Checks, cash or credit cards accepted.
“THE TRUE COST OF FOOD” DVD Series will be shown, followed by a moderated discussion with CRC Executive Director Lisa Dearden and local farmers. A light luncheon buffet of local foods will be served. All participants will be given a coupon valued at $5.00 for the Goochland Farmers Market. Raffle tickets will be offered for a chance to win a Year of Free Organic Valley Dairy Products!
Register online at or call: 804-314-9141.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The sad saga of Andrew McRoberts

News of the resignation of Goochland County attorney Andrew McRoberts traveled through the community like wildfire well in advance of the notice published on Friday.

The announcement was met with jubilation by many who believe his departure was long overdue.

Hired as the first full time county attorney in 2001, McRoberts’ tenure in Goochland began with great promise that was never fulfilled.

As our once sleepy county moved into the 21st century, McRoberts faced an extended to do list when he walked in the door. The ink on the contract between Capital One and Goochland was still wet as the county turned its attention to expanding public utilities in the eastern end of the county.

McRoberts did much of the cobbling together of right-of-way easements, contracts and agreements with Henrico for water and the City of Richmond for sewerage into the Byzantine arrangement known as the Tuckahoe Creek Service District.

He also handled lawsuits spawned by that project.

They included a challenge to the water tower contract by the lowest bidder, whose proposal was declared non-responsive; a dispute over the location of the road to the Rt. 6 pump Station; the Bryant Electric fiberglass pipe installation matter and the two massive West Creek real estate assessment challenges that resulted in exhaustive court cases.

Although McRoberts worked long and hard on all of the litigation, outside counsel costs are believed to have exceeded $1 million.

McRoberts’ aggressive defense of the county’s 2000 assessment of West Creek generated far more legal fee expense than real estate tax. His contention that the county needed to stand firm in the face of assessment challenges lest other property holders become emboldened was sound. Somewhere along the way, however, the process seems to have gotten out of control.

According to West Creek insiders, McRoberts’ idea of a successful mediation is total capitulation by his opponent.

Goochland Circuit Court Judge Timothy K. Sanner, and on appeal, the Virginia Supreme Court upheld the county’s position. After the second week-long trial, however, Sanner chastised McRoberts’ team and opposing counsel for their conduct during the proceedings.

McRoberts has been sanctioned and fined by Sanner at least once for his failure to comply with court instructions in a timely manner during litigation. It is unknown if the county paid those fines or they came out of McRoberts’ pocket.

While at Goochland, McRoberts was elected president of the Local Government Attorneys of Virginia, Inc.

McRoberts was at least partially responsible for perverting zoning ordinance enforcement into a form of punishment. We may never know if he did this on his own initiative or just zealously followed directions from the former county administrator or factions on the board of supervisors.

The torment endured by Debbie Gibson, owner of the Paws Inn kennel in Centerville, degenerated zoning enforcement into outright persecution. Although on the surface, county complaints focused on barking, odor and escaped pets, the true motivation for the enthusiastic pursuit of zoning compliance may well be more sinister.

A land map shows that the Paws Inn property sits like a keystone in an arch formed by properties lining Plaza Drive. Before the advent of public utilities the land, though conveniently located, had limited potential. Once water and sewer were in place, however, the Paws Inn site became an impediment to development of surrounding parcels. Instead of encouraging and assisting Gibson to relocate, the county, enabled at least in part by McRoberts, has relentlessly attempted to destroy Gibson’s successful and tax paying business..

Andrew Dykers, owner of Orapax Plantation, a commercial hunting preserve, has been at odds with the county and some of his neighbors for about 20 years. In 2007, Dykers let it be known that he planned to file an application to build a sporting clays shooting range at Orapax, which, he contended, was permitted by county zoning laws as an accessory use to his main business.

Before Dykers could file that application, McRoberts presented the supervisors with an emergency ordinance to redefine accessory use. During the presentation of the proposed ordinance, Bob Hammond, director of planning and zoning contended that an emergency ordinance was needed to prevent construction of illegally sited garages, which he estimated happened about twice a year. Two out of place garages per year is certainly cause for emergency action.

The board approved the measure. The ensuing dispute included hearings before the planning commission, supervisors, Board of Zoning Appeals and may still be involved in litigation.

During repeated postponements of the Orapax hearing, the BZA experienced an 80 percent turnover in members. Along the way, the BZA decided that it needed its own lawyer because McRoberts deluged it with materials supporting his argument, including briefs and case law citations beyond the ken of ordinary folk.

Indeed, this was viewed by some as an imposition on people willing to do their civic duty by serving on the BZA.

The Orapax hearing, which occurred about six months after its initial scheduled date, resulted in a tie vote (one member was out of the country on a previously scheduled mission trip.) That outcome upheld the county’s position.

During his tenure, McRoberts at least facilitated if not encouraged the supervisors’ proclivity to conduct business behind closed doors. Indeed, since the arrival of interim county administrator Lane Ramsey, closed sessions have dwindled markedly. There was none at the supervisors’ May 5 meeting, a trend that will hopefully continue.

McRoberts’ relations were at best contentious with some supervisors. Other board members seemed cowed by his professional prowess, which he often touted.

Although no authorship was ever attributed for the Signgate fiasco or the expanded supervisors’ code of conduct, which caused much heartburn in January, it is difficult to believe that McRoberts was unaware of either matter.

Charged with advising the county staff and supervisors about legal matters, McRoberts should have strongly argued against sending what amounted to threatening letters to property owners displaying large campaign signs for Ned Creasey and Pat Turner during the 2007 local elections.

Although the county got only one complaint about the signs, 17 people received letters. We still do not know who compiled the list.

McRoberts’ cost to the county above and beyond his generous compensation package may never be known. It may takes years to unravel unintended or unforeseen consequences of his time as county attorney.

It is good news indeed that this strange chapter in Goochland government is over.

Let’s hope that the supervisors have learned from their mistake and will work with the incoming county administrator to fill the post of county attorney with a competent lawyer anxious and willing to serve the government and people of Goochland in a fair and just manner.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A new day in Goochland

Supervisors select new county administrator

Goochland board of supervisors’ chairman Andrew Pryor introduced Rebecca Dickson as the new county administrator at the board’s May meeting last night.

Dickson, who is currently a deputy county administrator in Chesterfield was one of 60 applicants for the job. In addition to impressive professional credentials and local government experience, Dickson will bring a monumental attitude shift to county government.

With a firm handshake and pleasant demeanor, Dickson makes it clear that she knows her job is to serve the citizens of Goochland, solve problems for their benefit and not build a personal empire.

In brief remarks, made after the board voted unanimously on her appointment, Dickson used the words family and team to describe government staff. She said that she believes in the importance of cultivating relationships that are “open, honest and mutually respectful.”

She commended the supervisors on their selection process. From the start, she said, the board made it clear how much they care about the citizens, businesses and staff of Goochland County. The board worked hard to make the process “positive, gracious and thorough,” and she is looking forward to facing the opportunities and challenges ahead.
Dickson said that her family will move to Goochland and become part of the community. Dickson is expected to start work toward the end of July.

Having grown up on a small horse farm near Warrenton, Dickson said that moving to Goochland will be like coming homes.

She looks forward to the challenges and opportunities that face her as Goochland county administrator. Dickson seems well qualified in education, experience and temperament to succeed. Her horse farm background will come in handy too, because county government still needs some mucking out.

Welcome Rebecca Dickson, may your tenure in Goochland be long, happy and beneficial for all.

The future for Goochland looks bright with new leadership.

In the few short months that Lane Ramsey has been part-time interim administrator, new eyes on old situations have produced amazing results.

At yesterday’s meeting, the board unanimously authorized creation of the position of assistance county administrator for financial services. This person, will be a certified public accountant or have equivalent skills, will be charged with reorganizing the county’s financial operations.

Ramsey told the board that the county currently has no one on staff with the expertise to properly handle accounting matters. In the past, auditors would close the county books, make the conversion from a cash to accrual basis then prepare the statements needed for the audit, which created a conflict of interest.

The fragmented nature of the county’s fiscal operations created an environment that fostered the financial mess in the utilities department.

Ramsey commended Myrtis Quarles for her outstanding work on the budget under the difficult conditions in place early this year.

The new position will be charged with the eventual consolidation of all county fiscal operations, including the school system, under one umbrella into a central accounting and purchasing arrangement for the benefit of all players.

It will be interesting to see how that concept is received by various entities. Rumor has it that the school system may retain counsel to remain independent.

Ten years after the then Industrial Development Authority raised the notion of providing water and sewer to encourage development at the Oilville Interstate 64 interchange, the board finally gave its blessing to a plan devised by Ramsey.

With the expected closure of the Oilville rest areas, any participation by VDOT was removed from the equation. Instead, the supervisors agreed to a plan whose initial costs to the county will probably be less than $25,000.

Landowners inside a perimeter centered on the interchange must rezone their property to facilitate development. No public utility infrastructure will be built until $11 million worth of development has occurred. All land in the district must be removed from land use taxation. The landowners will make an advance deposit to the county of $1 million, which will be kept by the county, including interest generated, and used to fund the infrastructure.
The landowners are also required to donate land for wells, wastewater treatment plants and rights of way for the district.

When the $11 million threshold is reached, the county will use the $1 million put up by the property owners and issue revenue bonds to pay construction costs. The county will then levy an ad valorem tax, expected to be no more than 40 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to provide revenue for debt service.

The county will receive sales tax generated by development and real estate tax revenue on the property only on the 2009 assessed valuation. Tax proceeds from increases in property values will revert to the district for debt service until a cash balance of $2.5 million is reached, at which time revenue sharing will cease.

A fresh look at an old problem resulted in a simple, workable, common sense solution that will benefit all concerned.

Attention soccer fans. The board approved $261,656.05 to clear, rough grade and seed the acreage next to the high school with the eventual goal of building four full sized soccer fields. There will be additional work needed, but it is a start. Currently, there are no full sized soccer fields on county property. It is expected that one of those fields will be dived crossways into several fields for the younger players.

Fireworks will take place there this Fourth of July.

Check out for a great article about the county’s geographic information systems department and its interface with the department of emergency management to better protect citizens in time of crisis. Qiana Foote, GIS Coordinator for the county, is justifiably proud of the system, which is able to provide a myriad of useful information to improve the performance of many departments.

The gas monitoring system at Hidden Rock Park is in place and working well, according to Don Charles, director of community development.

Friday, May 1, 2009

There’s a there here!

Spring Festival and Goochland Farmers Market

Come to Courthouse Village this Saturday, May 2.
The county’s May Fest will be held on the athletic field behind the administration building on Sandy Hook Road from 10 until 4.

There will be something for everyone.

County fire-rescue volunteers will set up their smoke house to give kids an opportunity to use a real fire hose.

If the weather is dry, the Friends of the Goochland Library will hold their annual book sale. This is a great opportunity to stock your bookshelves, save some money and help fund programs and equipment at the Goochland Library. If you don’t have a library card, stop in at the library and sign up.

A car show and Bingo tent are just a few of the other events on tap.

Visit the county website for more information.

The Goochland Farmers Market kicks off its 2009 season on the grounds of Grace Church on River Road West diagonally opposite the Courthouse. Market hours are from 8 to 12 every Saturday through October 31 weather permitting. A Halloween extravaganza is planned for the finale.

Local vendors will offer products grown nearby, crafts and other wonders. Food grown here tastes better and is more nutritious without a long truck ride on the way to your table.

Sponsored by the Center for Rural Culture and considered one of the best farmers markets in Virginia, the GFM provides wholesome food and nurtures the body, soul, intellect, community and local economy. Every week there will be different activities for children as well as entertainment.

A market for locally produced food encourages small niche farms that preserve the rural character that makes Goochland special.

Come to Courthouse Village on Saturday and see what the people of Goochland are all about. It’s a great opportunity to meet old friends and make new.

Both events will happen in light rain, but thunderstorms cancel.

To help the Center for Rural Culture Cultivate Local Roots, a benefit for the Goochland Farmers Market will be held at the Camel at 1621 West Broad Street in Richmond on May 6. The music will start at 5:30 p.m. (The Camel has safe, well-lit parking across the street at Lowe's.)

A great mix of music and bands including Rod and Elana, The Dregs and Broda will combine for memorable evening at one of Richmond's coolest hot spots.

A suggested donation of $10 at the door will benefit the Goochland Farmers Market and help it raise $5,000 to obtain a matching grant.

For additional information, call Lisa Dearden at 804-314-9141.