Thursday, January 7, 2010

What a difference a decade makes

It’s Déjà vu all over again

Ten years ago, James Eads, then newly elected District 5 supervisor, cast the tie-breaking vote to rotate the chairmanship of the board of supervisors. His action ended the rule of the good old boy network. Before Eads’ vote, Andrew Pryor, District 1, had been chair for many years, easily rebuffing any attempt to unseat him. The county was then in the midst of an electoral turmoil following Pryor’s reelection by a handful of votes and many others left under a cloud.

Now, after a decade in office, Eads seems to have become the “goodest” of the good old boys.

At the Tuesday, January 5 organizational meeting of the supervisors, Eads voted with Pryor and William Quarles, Jr. District 2 to break a rotational pattern that would have moved last year’s vice chairman, Rudy Butler District 4, to the chairman’s seat. Instead, Quarles was elected by a 3-2 vote with Eads in the second chair. Quarles last served as chair in 2008. Only Ned Creasey, District 3, first elected in 2007, has not had at least one turn as chair.

Overturning the policy of chair rotation among all board members signals a return to the bad old days.

After a year of changes that filled many with hope, we seem to be headed back to an oppressive regime whose operations are as transparent as mud.

Just a year ago, a battle between the former county administrator, some board members and the citizens about a virtual gag order to be placed on county employees led to significant and sudden high-level personnel changes.

Although there were relatively few people in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting, both Oilville native Ann James, a perennial thorn in the board’s side and community activist Anne Rockecharlie of District 5 used the citizen comment period to express their displeasure at the board’s action.

“Three of you on the board felt threatened by what happened last year,” James told Pryor, Eads and Quarles. “You think the three of you hold all the cards, but you’re the ones who put us in the position we’re in now. People in this county think of you as “the three blind mice” because you turned your eyes away from everything that was happening.”

Rockecharlie, perhaps Eads’ most ardent supporter when he first ran for election, said that she has been apologizing to those she urged to vote for him.

One of Quarles’ first acts as board chair was to ask county administrator Rebecca T. Dickson to read the supervisors’ rules of procedure, code of ethics and standards of conduct into the record before they were adopted by unanimous vote. (These are posted on the county website in the board of supervisors’ section.)

The section stating “… E-mails on matters of public business before the Board which are sent to more than one member of the Board of Supervisors
should be sent to all other Board members” was amended to “shall be sent to all board members.”

Hopefully, that will prevent any board subgroup from holding electronic meetings and circumventing the open meeting requirements spelled out in the Code of Virginia.

It looks like 3-2 split on the board of supervisors will continue.

One reason for the enmity between the two factions is believed to be Creasey’s dogged pursuit of the undeposited check matter about a year ago that led to the personnel changes.

It is curious that even though the Code of Ethics states that supervisors are to “….Expose through appropriate means and channels, corruption, misconduct, or neglect of
duty whenever discovered” such action seems to have been deemed inappropriate.

Creasey has been faulted for exposing what can at least be termed profound dysfunction in the public utilities department. Had he worked through the former county administrator, the whole mess would have been swept further under the rug.

Did Eads, Quarles and Pryor truly have no clue about the mess in the utilities department or did they honestly believe that problems there would never float to the surface? Given the state financing and agreements with Henrico and Richmond for water and wastewater respectively, at some point the problems would become impossible to ignore.

Results of the countywide audit, which should be made public in their entirety, will paint a clear picture of the county’s fiscal dysfunction. The auditors, KPMG, have been hard at work for many months in all county departments, including the school system. An audit of a county the size of Goochland normally takes a few weeks. This report is expected in February.

For too many years, the same auditing firm was used to examine the county’s fiscal matters. In the real world, auditors are changed often. Fresh eyes looking at a situation ensure that nothing is overlooked due to familiarity.

The real question in all of this is what do the majority of supervisors fear enough to pull these stunts? By now they surely realize that the county faces significant challenges resulting from long- term mismanagement that must be addressed and corrected.

Crafting this year’s budget will be a painful and delicate process. There will be no room for petty internecine conflict. The county needs a sound fiscal strategy to move forward.

Goochland citizens expect the best for their county and will pay close attention to the actions of their elected officials in the coming months.

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