Thursday, June 30, 2011

Breach of trust

Goochland was stunned in early February be revelations that county treasurer Brenda Grubbs reportedly confessed to embezzling county money. Initially, the amount Grubbs was believed to have taken from county coffers for her own as yet unspecified use was $135,000.

While many people might have characterized Grubbs as lacking in sophisticated financial skills, her honesty was never in question. Indeed, before the February disclosures, expectations of irregularities in the treasurer’s office would have been improper accounting, but not missing money.

Boy, were we fooled.

Grubbs seems to have been quite arrogant about her powers as a constitutional officer. After her arrest she resisted resigning until the Virginia Attorney General began removal procedures concurrent with circulation of a petition among the citizenry to get her out of office.
Interim treasurer Pamela Cooke Johnson leaped headfirst into the task in late April and is tirelessly working to straighten out the mess. She is running for the office in November as is Tanya Hogue.

In the fallout following Grubbs’ arrest, we learned that county administration and the supervisors had been trying without success to deal with Grubbs’ arrogance and incompetence in a low key manner for years. They were trying to keep this quiet perhaps to avoid yet another scandal. Once again, the majority of the supervisors whistled past the graveyard until it blew up in their faces.

Following grand jury deliberations and an ongoing investigation of the Goochland Treasurer’s office Grubbs was indicted on 18 counts of embezzlement for an amount greater than $200; one count of attempted embezzlement of an amount greater than $200 and one count of unlawful financial transaction for an amount greater than $200. All of these are felonies that carry jail time.

A report recently issued by the Auditor of Public Accounts for the Commonwealth of Virginia (attached to notification email) indicates that $229,000 is missing. The report also states that the exact amount taken may never be accurately determined. In short, the books were a mess.

While the $229,000 or whatever the final amount stolen turns out to be, will probably be covered by a state treasurer’s bond, the cost of countless hours of extra work on the part of county staff; the Sheriff’s Office and State Police investigators may never be tabulated and will not be recovered.

Grubbs will be back in Goochland Circuit Court for arraignment on July 26.
Please read the report. Once again it gives chapter and verse about the dreadful dysfunction of county fiscal matters under the previous regime. Note the comments about Grubbs’ handling of utilities payments.

She also permitted vendors access to county accounts, which, at the very least resulted in the county making short term interest free loans to these entities, which is neither a prudent use of public money or a proper function of county government.

Given Grubbs’ protestations that she warned the supervisors about the failure of the utilities department to properly deposit checks, details in the report show that she ran the county treasury with a similar disregard for orderly process and segregation of duties. This created fertile ground for embezzlement.

Board chair William Quarles, Jr. District 2 regularly glosses over the incident and characterizes it as a failure to use best practices. While that is partly true, the matter of Grubbs’ alleged crimes is far more serious.

The county paid its former auditors handsomely for annual fiscal review of all departments and they never caught any of these problems. After the county retained KPMG to perform a certified annual financial report (CAFR) for 2009 many of these problems were discovered. Grubbs ignored recommendations to change and improve the function of her office.

In this election year the supervisors, especially long term office holders like Andrew Pryor, District 1, must not sweep this latest mess under the rug. Grubbs must be held fully accountable for her deeds. “Thou shalt not steal” is a basic tenet of our society. Stealing public funds and betraying the trust of the electorate, while not a crime, is certainly a transgression.

Grubbs’ alleged actions were not mistakes, they were crimes. They were also a personal tragedy for Grubbs and a public tragedy for Goochland.
Grubbs will face the consequences of the crimes with which she is charged if found guilty. All of the details must be made public if the board of supervisors has a prayer of regaining public trust.

Election year shenanigans are already under way to ensure that the long term supervisors, or their chosen successors, retain power to keep whatever they’re hiding behind the curtain.

What might have happened had Grubbs’ alleged embezzlement not come to light before the election? She ran unopposed in 2007 even though difficulties with the treasurer’s office were already evident. Had the supervisors been more open about the problems, another candidate might have come forward. We’ll never know. While Quarles seems to natter on about government “transparency” we seem to be moving back to the bad old days when that term was code for “it’s none of your business.”

County Administrator Rebecca Dickson and County Attorney Norman Sales did a great job of facing this crisis head on and moving through remedial actions. Let’s hope this is the last mess the county must address.
Voters can make necessary changes to improve the county, but will they?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The people speak

Citizen input alters plan

Misguided social engineering rammed through the Virginia General Assembly during the Kaine administration is withering on the vine, at least in Goochland. The mandated designation of urban development areas (UDAs) to provide high density zoning options is drowning in the devil of its details. Strong opposition to the entire concept nearly repealed the legislation this year and may well do so in 2012.

The state has spent about $3 million to hire consultants to craft UDA policies for county like Goochland. That money would have been better spent on asphalt than hot air.

In April, consultants hired for Goochland by VDOT—an agency that should be placed on the endangered species list— presented their recommendations for size and location if UDAs in Goochland. That scheme included high density housing along the James River behind Courthouse Village and placed the lion’s share of UDA acreage there. That same scheme designated fewer acres for UDA use in Centerville.

Under the UDA legislation Goochland is required to designate between 470 and 1056 acres, depending on the degree of permitted density, for UDAs.
A revised proposal presented to the supervisors for informational purposes at their June 13 meeting recommends only 112 acres in Courthouse Village along River Road West for what is called “traditional neighborhood development.” The proposal cautions that this land could be threatened by strip development, which describes virtually all commercial development in Goochland.

(Details are in the board packet for June 13, which can be found under the supervisors’ tab on the county website

The June plan also designates the land along the river as environmentally sensitive and indicates that it could be a candidate for some sort of permanent conservation use. While this protects land along the river, it could also punish the landowner by limiting development opportunities.

The June version of the proposed UDA shifts the concentration to Centerville, where 757 acres, fronting Broad Street Road are designated for UDA use. That’s a total of 869 acres, or one half of one percent of the county’s land area.

More community meetings will be held to gather citizen feedback about these two proposals. Please read the compendium of comments from the first round of meetings. No decision has been made how or if Goochland will address the UDA issue.

The response of county administration and the consultants to the citizen outcry about the bizarre initial UDA proposal is heartening. There are still some important questions about the UDAs that remain unanswered.
The most important unknown is what happens if Goochland fails to comply with the UDA mandate? The consultants and others seem to indicate that sanctions, if any, for failing to designate UDAs and make necessary zoning changes, are vague at best.

The UDA mandate does provide a metaphorical two by four to get Goochland supervisors to create higher density zoning options in areas served by public utilities. Aside from all of the rhetorical nonsense about absorbing growth to prevent dreaded sprawl, the county is drowning in debt. Adding more customers to our dreadfully under subscribed water and sewer lines makes sense. Denser residential configurations, which do not translate into housing projects, make sense in Centerville.

At the June 13 meeting, the supervisors voted to forward a request to amend the proffers on land in the southeast quadrant of the Rt. 250 and Manakin Road intersection to the planning commission. The amendment would change the existing zoning from an age restricted town house use to a traditional single family subdivision and pay the full cash proffer on each lot.

As the application was filed by the same group that developed the Parke at Centerville, it will probably be a similar set up. In spite of the hue and cry about building more homes that will flood the school system, both of the Parke developments tend to be settled by empty nesters.

More homes in the Centerville Village will add to its sparse population making the area more attractive to additional development where we want it. Market forces are driving this and it makes sense.

We still do not know if the county, once it has UDAs in place, will no longer be permitted to rezone land in other parts of the county for residential communities or even allow “by right” subdivision to occur. This is a huge issue for people who bought land years ago with the intention of selling lots to realize the appreciation of the property for their retirement.

The proposed UDAs target specific parcels of land, whose owners have expressed interest in the concept. Why not designate the entire Centerville village as appropriate for UDAs, make higher density zoning applicable there and let market forces guide development. As any land destined for UDA use will need to be rezoned, the supervisors retain control of what goes where. Exclusion of parcels only reduces the possibilities and arbitrarily favors some landowners.

In April, Citizens Concerned with Goochland Growth and the Partnership for Smarter Growth held a workshop to further explore the village concept as it applies to Centerville. While some of the speakers made good points, they seem to be fighting the last war.

They worried that Goochland will be inundated by runaway growth and assumed that a booming economy is just around the corner. The economy is dead in the water. Competition for scarce new business is fierce. Financing is scarcer than hen’s teeth. Every time we close a door to possibilities fewer people knock.

The time for creating a unified plan to develop the heart of Centerville is long gone. It will develop on both sides of the new improved Rt. 250 speedway. Only those with a death wish will cross that road on foot. Forget traffic calming devices and a totally walkable community there. Nodes suitable for pedestrian activity already exist, at least in the imagination of some landowners.

Iterations of plans for Manikintowne include retail and commercial use at grade with apartments or condos above and town houses along the golf course. George Andrews, who owns the land roughly behind the Shell station, envisions multistory mixed use with a commons area anchored by a fountain or other water feature. Zoning does not exist for these visions so there is little incentive for landowners or investors to further explore the possibilities.

The UDA mandate is yet another example of mega government intrusion into local matters. It could pave the way for zoning opportunities to enable creative development.

Market forces will decide what actually gets built here, but without some meaningful changes in zoning laws the money will go elsewhere. If the UDA mandate is a lemon, we need to find our own recipe for lemonade.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Moving into the doldrums

The June meeting of the Goochland Board of Supervisors was held on Monday, the 13th. It was sparsely attended perhaps due to the time change or simply because the weather was just too nice to be indoors.
County administrator Rebecca T. Dickson reported on the economic development strategic plan kick-off. A report on the findings and recommendations are expected in late summer.

Major Don Bewkes of the Goochland Sheriff’s Office reported that the county is beset by a rash of thefts of large batteries from heavy equipment. Bewkes said that the high price of lead seems to be driving these crimes. So far there are no leads, but anyone with information about these thefts is urged to call 556-5349.

County Attorney Normal Sales outlined changes in laws resulting from actions made by the Virginia General Assembly. Some of these will require amendment of county ordinances and will be part of the July 5 board agenda. Others are automatic. For the complete list go to the county website and open the board information packet for June 13.

The supervisors spent a great deal of time discussing the merits of accepting a donation by Hoffman Communications of the tower and broadcasting equipment of WZEZ radio to Goochland County Public Schools. The estimated annual cost of operating the tower is $65,067. Moving the existing building owned by the county to house tower equipment will cost $260,000, equipment replacement will cost $66,000. That does not include the cost of relicensing existing first responder frequencies, which are located on the existing tower.

This tower was built after Hoffman Communications applied for and received a conditional use permit in 2006. Proffers included the company’s intention to seek a wireless broadband internet provider to locate on the tower, which is 495 feet tall and located just south of Rt. 250 near Gum Spring. Although a wireless broadband internet provider was found following a lengthy search, that company was unable to secure needed financing in the wake of the economic meltdown three years ago.

In the meantime, the tower became an integral part of the county’s emergency communication system. WZEZ entertained many local listeners and broadcast Goochland High School football games. Indeed, when the Bulldogs were in the state championship, thanks to an internet simulcast by WZEZ, fans are far away as Iraq reported following the game in real time. It is also the source of the AM 1610 frequency currently used to broadcast emergency information.

The proposal seems to indicate that sports broadcasts could continue and increase but would be operated by the schools.

Bill Cleveland, county director of information technology, pointed out that a significant portion of the county’s emergency communication infrastructure is already mounted on the tower and would need to be moved. This would also incur expense and an alternate site has not been identified.

In addition to the tower, Hoffman Communications is prepared to donate all of the broadcast and studio equipment, which would be used by the schools to augment its broadcast journalism program. The donation also includes payment of the salary of the station manager for a one year period to help the school system assimilate the facility.

School superintendent Dr. Linda Underwood said that there would be no additional cost to the school system to assimilate the equipment and broadcast capabilities. She had no information about the cost of physically moving the equipment from its current location in Chester to Goochland. The county would assume regulatory responsibilities including necessary FCC filings to maintain the broadcast license.

Cleveland said that having a locally operated radio station would be very useful to disseminate vital information in times of emergency. He cited the difficulty that the county had in the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel getting the word out to Goochland residents about the availability of ice, bottled water and emergency shelters. During that time, Richmond broadcast media ignored repeated requests from the county to broadcast public service messages for Goochland. He also said that this broadcast capability could offset the decline in readership of local newspapers to provide an additional resource for getting public information to residents.

District 4 supervisor Rudy Butler argued that the cost of operating the tower, which includes an escalating lease agreement on the tower site, is too high. He contended that the county would be better off in the long run buying land and building its own radio tower but did not present any figures to support his argument.

Ned Creasey District 3 said that he would like to see a business plan for the continued use of the broadcast facility. His fellow supervisors agreed and more detailed information about future operations will be presented at the July board meeting.

Local amateur radio operators sometimes called “Ham radio operators” who were honored for their service and accomplishments at the evening session, also plan to locate some equipment on the existing tower.

Goochland is blessed to have one of the best organized ham radio groups in the country, if not the world, thanks to Ralph Fetty. Working closely with the Sheriff’s Office, Fire-Rescue and county emergency management, Fetty was the guiding force that organized a rapid response system of local Ham operators.

While we think of them keeping lines of communication open in disasters like Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, they’re always ready to help.
A few weeks ago when Goochland emergency communications went down, our Hams stepped in and kept things running, including emergency dispatch, until the normal system was back in operation. These unsung heroes are always there; ready to help at a moment’s notice.

Goochland’s amateur radio operators will hold their annual field day at the Courthouse Company 5 fire-rescue station on Fairground Road on Saturday, June 25. This is a great opportunity to learn more about amateur radio.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Exploiting the sweet spot

Consultant looks at Goochland
After at least a decade of pretending that Goochland has an economic development policy, the supervisors finally hired a consultant to craft a strategic plan economic development. John Rhodes, principal of Moran Stahl & Boyer, and his colleague Ellen Pemrick were retained for the task.

This firm, which has experience on both sides of the table, handling site selection for companies as well as assisting localities with economic development strategies, seems well qualified to guide Goochland into the 21st century. Heaven know we need the help.

On their initial visit, Rhodes and Pemrick gathered input from a wide range of stakeholders including land owners, business people, realtors, and school officials, the chamber of commerce, Rotary and the community at large. Rhodes, who has worked with other Virginia counties, had breakfast in Richmond with people who create jobs and attract new business on the state level.

The schedule for the initial visit was chock full of meetings. For instance, on Tuesday, June 7, Rhodes and Pemrick met during the day with a host of people, including each supervisor individually and the county Economic Development Authority prior to a public meeting in the evening.
They met with the planning commission on June 8 and a second public session at the Hermitage Country Club on Thursday, June 9.

Rhode’s basic presentation— he adjusts it slightly for each group—can be found on the MSB website at Click on information center” then on Economic strategies for smaller communities to view. The other reports in that section, especially Beyond Shovel Ready, are also well worth your time. Similar documents are part of the board packet for next Monday’s meeting, which can be downloaded from the county website under the board of supervisors’ tab.

Trite buzzwords like passionate and high energy do a disservice to Rhodes’ style, but that’s pretty much how he operates. He understands Goochland’s need to attract business while protecting its unique rural flavor. He knows finding the ideal mix will be a delicate task but seems up for the challenge.

Rhodes is a good listener and knows how to ask questions to get information flowing. He seems interested in everything that has to do with Goochland.

He tapped the EDA for information about Goochland’s existing industrial parks. Most do not have access to public water and sewer, which limits the type of businesses they can accommodate. District 4 Authority members John Joyce, owner of Down Under Limousine in the Old Dominion Industrial Park in Oilville, contended that many small businesses can function nicely with well and septic, but are crippled without access to high speed internet.

The discussion turned to broadband resources. Rhodes commented that the Richmond SONET ring, a dual direction fiber optic network that provides redundant capacity and enables high volume data operations to switch paths in the event of disruptions and ensure continuity of operations, is not a complete circle. Usual a clock face image, Rhodes said that the Richmond SONET ring does not cover the northwest quadrant of the region, which includes Goochland. This limits the county’s ability to attract a data center.

District 3 authority member Ben Slone, CEO of FML a software company in Courthouse Village, outlined the locations of high speed access in the county. He also explained that servers for his and other data intense businesses are located well to the east of Parham Road to take advantage of the SONET ring.

Rhodes explained that his job is to look at what businesses want versus what Goochland has to offer and sort down to identify the most promising possibilities and go fight for them. Matching county resources with needs of specific kinds of businesses seems fairly obvious, but for Goochland, it represents a significant attitudinal shift in tax base enhancement activities.

Goochland county administrator Rebecca T. Dickson said that one of the desired outcomes of Rhodes’ plan is to find ways for the EDA and Board of Supervisors to leverage each other and do what is necessary to attract businesses to the county and remove barriers to that process. That’s certainly a refreshing change in attitude!

Rhodes met with folks from Capital One, CarMax and other West Creek enterprises. He said that looking what works is an important piece of the puzzle. Going forward knowing which businesses work well side by side and which need to be separated is also important.

Speaking from a site selection perspective, Rhodes said that businesses narrow their final choices to five from among 3,300 counties and 900 metropolitan areas in the country is the normal process. They also tend to be in a hurry and want detailed information quickly.

Rhodes said that he found there are no ground rules for land prices in Goochland and there seems to be no average price. In some cases, parcels not served by public water and sewer are priced higher than those with utilities in place. He contended that it is hard to market land without knowing what the owners want for it. Landowners must be ready for business; companies will go elsewhere if you do not have what they want ready to go.

Joyce observed that business prospects want answers in 72 hours but in Goochland, it takes more like 700 days.

Virginia, Rhodes said, is already one of the premier states in the country to do business and Goochland’s location near its center, accessed by Interstate 64 and Rt. 288, puts it in what should be a sweet spot location. Goochland, he contended has some outstanding attributes including its beauty and the great character of its people. Goochland needs to know what it is, what is has to offer and who is interested in was a theme that Rhodes used often.

Gary Clower EDA chair District 4 asked what kind of business opportunities are out there right now.

Rhodes said that a fast growing segment of business use is a multitenant situation where many companies are in the same building or high density area and have access to shared amenities like conference rooms and perhaps data centers. Small businesses want ready to lease space and have no interest in developing raw land. Companies that want to build move quickly and seek property that is properly zoned for their intended use.

Rhodes said that he will make his report “with respect and love but not pull any punches.” He expects to present his recommendations in September.
The Tuesday evening meeting for the community at large drew a small but thoughtful audience.

People who live here pretty much like Goochland just the way it is and fear being overrun by what they moved here to get away from. They also acknowledged the need to sustain the quality of place while providing for the next generation.

“Goochland is gorgeous, Rhodes said. “The trick is how you grow the tax base to pay for needed services without selling you soul”
Rhodes’ focus is on opportunities near I64 and Rt. 288, exploiting the advantages for business growth on the edges of the county while leaving the interior untouched.

Several people suggested defining and developing “brand Goochland” to attract revenue generating tourism. While festivals and events do bring people to the county and heighten awareness of our lifestyle they will not generate a large and dependable enough revenue stream to fund county services. Nevertheless, this sort of activity should be encouraged.

Citizens seemed accepting of businesses confined to the edges of the county but rejected westward creep of fungible national chains that characterize Short Pump. Instead, they prefer unique shops to enhance the charm of the county and make it a destination. Such stores are charming, but they need a critical mass of customers to stay in business.

It would be nice to have one large destination retailer tucked away on a very small footprint in eastern Goochland where people from the entire region could come, spend their money to generate sales tax and go home. This is what happens every day as Goochlanders leave their sales tax dollars when they shop in Short Pump.

Among the negatives mentioned by citizens was the county’s perceived reputation as being unfriendly to business.

Some people, including District 5 supervisors James Eads, believe that spending $50,000 to hire a consultant to craft an economic development strategy is wasted money. However, Rhodes brings a nationwide perspective as a salesman and customer to Goochland, its assets and its problems. He has the resources and skill to craft a workable strategic plan for economic development.

Goochland must compete for business. An aggressive and intelligent marketing plan will help Goochland find the money it needs to pay its bills. We need to do this now, not at some vague time in the future.
The county does need its own economic development director. However, a county employee is beholden to the supervisors and may not have the objectivity of an outsider. The information and recommendations produced by Rhodes and his team will provide information and direction that could expedite the process.

The real concern is that the supervisors, who make the final decision on actions concerning economic development, will ignore Rhodes' plan and revert to wishing and hoping. We know how well that has worked in the past.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

At last the school budget is approved

At its May 31 meeting, the Goochland School Board voted unanimously to approve the budget as presented to it by Dr. Linda Underwood, superintendent of schools ( For details please go to or the school website.)

The meeting was held in a high school auditorium about half filled with parents, teachers, interested parties and some students. Once again it was good theater. The chorus from Randolph Elementary School got up on stage and sang a song in support of their music teacher, whose job was threatened by budget cuts.

Even before the 30 minute public comment period, which School Board Chair Ivan Mattox, Sr. District 3, condescendingly noted was something that the school board did not have to do under rules of procedure, Underwood announced that programs including drama; elementary art; band; swimming and gymnastics as well as transportation for the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School had been reinstated.

That took the edge off the anger of many speakers. An undercurrent of distrust permeated the entire meeting anyway. Mutual contempt between parents and the school board was palpable.

Indeed, the e school board seemed to hold a closed meeting in full view of the public by the simple mechanism of refusing to speak into the microphones in front of them. (There is nothing wrong with the public address system in the GHS auditorium. During the supervisors’’ public budget hearing earlier this year, every word they uttered was clearly audible because they spoke directly into the microphones.) To her credit, Underwood’s remarks were easy to hear even though she spoke without a microphone.

Dr. Richard Carchman observed that in difficult times no one can expect everyone to be satisfied with measures taken to deal with those circumstances. The level of dissatisfaction that has existed throughout the entirety of this year’s school budget process has far exceeded those expectations, he said.

He warned that newly released economic reports show few signs of improvement.

Carchman contended that the school board must be far more transparent in its dismissal and rehiring process. He wondered what sort of processes were used by the school board and administration to produce the” helter skelter result” and suggested that employees who were dismissed then rehired might have second thoughts about coming back.

Sekou Shabaka thanked the board for reinstating the previously cut items to the budget. He took the board to task for not using an active listening process when parents, teachers and concerned citizens expended time and effort to address the board.

“When you speak in public it’s like putting your heart in a meat grinder,” said Shabaka. “If speakers got a response from the superintendent and school board that says ‘I hear you’ the public response would be more reasonable. It should not take a mobilization of half the county to get results.”

Shabaka urged the school division leaders to actively seek feedback, be respectful and let the citizens know that they’ve been heard.

Michael McDermott accused the school board of improperly making the decision to reconvene the May 24 meeting during a break rather than in open session. He said that action violated Virginia’s public meeting laws and declared that the school system has too many chiefs and no Indians.
He also announced that he had filed suit against Underwood and Mattox in Goochland Circuit Court alleging that they violated the Freedom of Information Act. He is seeking court costs and damages.

Jane Christie contended that, at the end of the day, the 2011-12 school budget will be the flat budget that Underwood and the school board requested at the start of the budget brouhaha early this year.

Christie also contended that Underwood is in the process of filling the position of director or elementary education, which has been vacant for years, to the tune of $130,000 in salary (about two and one half teachers) and benefits, while firing teachers due to lack of funds.

Underwood explained how the programs had been saved, moving this position here and that there made the whole thing sound like a complicated shell game. Given the plethora of mandated reporting requirements and state, local and other funding sources, this is how it’s done.

“It’s not pretty, but we made it work,” said Underwood f the final budget, which seems to have been put together in the past week in spite of the fact that the school system had a good idea of the amount of available funding late last year.

Enraged parents, who are quite clueless about the workings of the local government budget process, demanded that the school board get its act together force the board of supervisors to fork over the money to fully fund the school budget.

They do not understand that Goochland does not have the money to give the schools. They have no idea that every other county service, including law enforcement, which makes everything else possible, and fire-rescue charged with saving lives and protecting property, are also running on fumes. These parents apparently are blessed with secure incomes and totally unaware that there are many people in Goochland living on very modest fixed incomes that cannot afford a tax increase of any kind.

Indeed, young parents who came of age during a period of prosperity in this country proudly wave their sense of entitlement with no clue that the money to pay for everything they demand that other people pick up the tab.

Happily, there were no demands to find a way to pick the pocket of the pesky rich folk who, though a statistical anomaly, allow fatuous journalists to declare that Goochland has one of the highest per capita incomes in the nation and is therefore a rich county. In reality, a significant portion of Goochland’s population lives below the poverty level. Goochland Social Services are being swamped with new clients forced to seek help by the bad economy.

Indeed, there are a few very wealthy people in the county who are thoroughly hosed by the tax man.

All that aside, the Board of Supervisors‘ failure to put an aggressive economic development plan into place a decade ago as part of the creation of the Tuckahoe Creek Service District has left the county cupboards nearly bare and facing a huge debt burden.

The fracas over the school budget was dreadful; the fear of parents trying to ensure that their kids’ education is not irredeemably broken, heartbreaking. Frustration and resulting anger on the part of parents, which caused some of them to speak out of term at the meeting, is understandable, but does not justify breaching the order of a public meeting.

At one point a parent shouted a question from the audience and was ignored. “You work for us, answer,” he yelled and was ignored. This sentiment was undoubtedly shared by many in attendance.

None of this needed to happen. It was caused by a long standing void of leadership on the part of the school board, which is unaware that Underwood works for them and that they are responsible for her actions.

The real mystery is why Underwood and the school board made no effort to collaborate with teachers and parents to craft a budget based on available funds to preserve the most programs, fire the fewest teachers and eliminate low priority items in the budget.

Instead, constructive suggestions were ignored and ridiculed; teachers and parents were allegedly bullied into silence by school administration and the community at large lost faith that their tax dollars allocated for education were wisely spent.

Next year, there may be new faces on the school board. The challenges will be the same. Unlimited funds will not flow from county coffers for education because the money just isn’t there. Going forward, implementation of new attitudes and approaches to problem solving in the school system are vital. A more transparent process will let everyone know just how dire the situation is. This could create greater support from the community and parents. We have to work together but we can’t do it in the dark.