Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A look back at 2009

What a difference a year makes

It’s time to bid farewell to 2009 and not a moment too soon. This was a year to remember and forget.

The year began with an attempt to spread a shroud of repression over all county government operations. This included threats of immediate termination for any county employee who spoke to a supervisor without the knowledge and permission of the county administrator.

This followed revelations of as many as four years of incomprehensible mismanagement in the public utilities department.

By the end of January, the county administrator had a sudden urge to retire and followed Elvis out of the building and was allegedly feted at several retirement parties.

The consequences of his administration will affect the county for a long time.

The Tuckahoe Creek Service District, created to attract economic development to the eastern end of the county has become like a toothache that will not go away.

The wayward check matter was the tip of the iceberg for TCSD issues. During the 2009 county budget process, it was discovered that routine utility maintenance costs were never factored into rate computations. The dearth of customers for sewer service is expected to result in significant rate increases going forward.

In mid-December, a section of the fiber reinforced pipe used for the sewer force main, which was the subject of costly litigation, shredded like a piñata in the rain spewing raw sewage along River Road across from the entrance to Randolph Square. Repair costs are not covered by insurance.

A narrowly focused forensic audit of the utilities department revealed no evidence of criminal activity. A countywide comprehensive audit, whose results are expected by February, will paint a clear picture of past county operations and include suggestions for improvement.

Rebecca T. Dickson was sworn in as Goochland County administrator on July 20. She rolled up her sleeves and got right to work trying to clean up the mess. She knows her stuff and, if given full support by the supervisors, will bring Goochland up to speed. The process will be painful and messy, but well worth the result.

In May, the supervisors “requested and received” the resignation of the county attorney.

Norman Sales, the highly experienced and well-qualified former city attorney for Richmond, will take over that key position on January 18, 2010.

The most significant change in 2009 was an enthusiastic increase in public expression of citizen concern about the manner in which our county is run.

Supervisors’ meetings in the early part of the year were attended by standing room only crowds that listened to what was said and made it clear that they were not buying the carefully crafted, but absurd, contentions put forward by the old regime.

The supervisors realized that their constituents were paying attention and have changed their tune.

These same citizens let the board know that they preferred a local pharmacy when rumors that Walgreen’s wanted to buy the Fairgrounds property. The supervisors decided to take a pass on the sale of that parcel and the county kept a valued small business.

Citizen made thoughtful and constructive comments about land use issues that included rezoning and a proposed recreation master plan. They turned out in large numbers for community meetings and public hearings. Though some were discouraged that they did not win the day, their involvement put developers and county officials on notice.

Goochlanders are finally paying attention and demanding accountability and transparency in government.

A good first step was the inclusion of check registers for both the county and school system on the Goochland website Take a look and see where your tax dollars go.

The meltdown in the financial sector plagued the county in many ways.

A dramatic decline in property values is translating into far less real estate tax revenue to fund county services. The grim reality of drastically smaller budgets is just coming into focus and underlining the importance of meaningful economic development.

High methane levels from the closed landfill under Hidden Rock Park cancelled the spring soccer season for many county kids. Installation of a new venting and monitoring system made it safe by the fall season.

The Hidden Rock Park debacle motivated the supervisors to begin work on a new soccer complex near the high school. While it won’t be ready for play for a while, the new soccer field was the site of the Fourth of July fireworks, which could be viewed from many locations throughout Courthouse Village. This move eliminated the traffic bottleneck and other safety concerns at the park, which only has one entrance.

Goochland’s other new public space, Tucker Park at Maidens Landing, will finally give county residents access to the James River. This park will be developed under the auspices of a public/private task force, a concept with much promise.

We had no hurricanes in 2009, but heavy snows on March 1 and the week before Christmas kept us aware of who is in charge. Our deputies and fire-rescue volunteers did an outstanding job in the emergencies, guided by the terrific, and all too often unsung, team in Goochland dispatch who keep them all on track.

Our sports teams made us proud, but not enough to justify the cost of a helicopter to dry off the football field, no matter who picked up the tab.

The school board continued true to form by rubber stamping the superintendent’s proposed school budget without asking the hard questions. Education is an expensive business and Goochland has good schools. There’s just not enough information available to judge if the proposed expenditures are justified or fluff.

Rumors of county-funded IPhones and IPods, and justification for all of the employees in the central office need clarification.

Parents are putting on their critical thinking caps and questioning information put out, often through rumor, by the superintendent and the school board. They’ve stopped acting like automatons deployed to terrorize the supervisors at budget time. Parents and taxpayers have a right to detailed information about the expenditure of public money.

We can only hope that the results of the comprehensive audit, which included the schools, shed some light on this.

Goochland may be on the right track after many years of wandering in the wilderness. Here’s to a healthy and prosperous 2010.

Happy New Year!

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