Sunday, November 6, 2011

Stop the insanity

Endorsements for local office

Doing something over and over and expecting a different result is one definition of insanity.

Next Tuesday Goochland voters will go to the polls and select a team to lead county government for the next four years. For the first time in decades, every seat on the board of supervisors and most school board positions have been contested giving voters real alternatives to the status quo.

Remember, we have elections every four years even though some incumbents act as though they were elected for life. Only the voters can disabuse them of this notion.

Goochland on my mind has been observing the candidates and makes the following endorsements.

The treasurer slot is the only contested constitutional office. Pamela Cook Johnson, who has served as interim treasurer since her appointment by the Circuit Court in April deserves to be elected to a full term. She is to be commended for her hard work and willingness to confront the mess left by the former treasurer.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Claiborne H. Stokes, Jr.; Sheriff James L. Agnew and Commissioner of the Revenue Jeanne S. Bryant have all served the citizens well.

Jonathan Lyle will be an excellent commissioner for the Monacan Soil and Water District.

During the course of the campaigns a wise man observed that Goochland has morphed from the equivalent of a mom and pop store to a major corporation and that its supervisors need higher level intellectual and experiential skill sets than that possessed by long term incumbents.

The multi-term incumbents (MTIs,) Andrew Pryor District 1; William Quarles Jr. District 2 and Malvern R. “Rudy” Butler District 4 have all tap danced on a tightrope this election season by simultaneously touting their experience and distancing themselves from the revelations of abysmal mismanagement of local government on their watch.

Although they promise greater transparency in local government, an eleventh hour campaign mailing by Butler— probably similar to those sent by the other MTIs— promising that the supervisors have a plan to solve the ad valorem tax problem (the mailing misspelled ad valorem several times) indicates more of the behind closed doors decisions that got the county into trouble in the first place. The MTIs have irrevocably broken the public trust and must be replaced.

For too long the fortunes of Goochland County have rested in the hands of the same few men and their handlers.

The sense of entitlement exhibited by the MTIs is very troubling. After presiding over years of incompetence in local government, they voted to put a mechanism into place to raise their compensation next year when further reductions in real estate value are expected to translate into more budget cuts. This is the same bunch that went to Hawaii on the public dime a few years back.

To be sure, the job of supervisor is no picnic, which makes the reluctance for incumbents to retire and let someone else have a turn in the cross hairs of citizen discontent quite puzzling.

Many of the challengers are relative newcomers to Goochland. This means they are free of often hidden entanglements that influence public policy.
Susan Lascollette is the best candidate for District 1. Her business experience gives her the analytical tools and insight to evaluate proposals brought before the board. Our new county staff is far more sophisticated than the old and needs supervisors able to rein it in when needed.

Lascollette has also done an outstanding job of listening to the concerns of all District 1 citizens, not just enough sycophantic supporters to ensure reelection.

Manuel Alvarez, Jr. will bring a new day to every citizen of District 2 and Goochland County. On his own in a foreign land at an early age Alvarez has never had anything handed to him and knows both the value of hard work and meaning of responsibility. He too has a long record of achievement in the business world coupled with the common sense to understand what is good for Goochland.

As a relative newcomer to Goochland, Alvarez will look at our problems with fresh eyes and seek achievable resolutions to chronic difficulties.
Quarles is a fine man and was an outstanding planning commissioner. His career as a supervisor, which began with great promise when he succeeded his father-in-law in 2004, got derailed somewhere along the way. For at least the past two years he has used his political skills to keep the lid on ever unfolding trouble in county government. It’s time for him to return to private life and pursue other interests.

Ned S. Creasey District 3 is the only incumbent supervisor who merits reelection to finish what he started four years ago. Creasey’s detractors have learned to underestimate him at their peril.

He advocated posting of check registers for the county and school system online. He insisted that all public meetings be recorded and those recordings posted on the county website so that citizens unable to attend the meetings could hear what transpired. Creasey refused to go along to get along and insisted on answers to questions about those pesky checks in the utility department.

He has tirelessly pursued documentation of location of the entire TCSD infrastructure and refused to put up with the school board’s annual game of budget chicken.

Butler, who has been a supervisor for about 20 years, has done a great job on the ceremonial side. Unlike Pryor, he returns phone calls from constituents even if he knows the ensuring conversation will be unpleasant.
He touts his experience in luring Capital One to West Creek in almost the same breath that he says he supports the Sheriff and fire-rescue. Yet, Capital One was assured that if it came to West Creek its law enforcement and emergency services would be provided by Henrico County.

Butler’s pledge to support law enforcement, fire-rescue and the library are vague at best.

Butler’s eleventh hour mailing also contends that his opponent Bob Minnick will increase taxes by voting to spread the debt service for the TCSD to the entire county. Minnick’s website clearly states that he opposes raising taxes to service the TCSD debt. Few incumbents or contenders favor that resolution to the TCSD debt quandary.

At one forum, Butler sloughed off responsibility for the peculiar bond configuration of the TCSD debt by blaming it on advisor recommendation. That is precisely why we need supervisors who understand complicated financial matters and area able to ask hard questions and understand the answers. Butler’s attempt to throw money from the rapidly shrinking general fund at the seriously flawed school budget this year was very troubling.

Butler also seems to be preparing to assume the mantle of obfuscator in chief wielded so deftly by retiring District 5 supervisor James Eads to derail important initiatives. Butler’s unprofessional tendency to berate county employees and others at public meetings, including his angry outburst at a Comcast representative earlier this year, is embarrassing at best. He does not understand that swaggering belligerence is not appropriate or acceptable behavior for an elected official.

Butler should have quietly retired and rested on his laurels.

Minnick, who comes late to the race and has a lot to learn about Goochland, is far better equipped than Butler to deal with the hard choices that face the county in the next four years. His work with the Boys’ State program sponsored by the American Legion has helped him connect with a wide range of Goochlanders.

He too has a wide range of experience in dealing with large budgets and complicated transactions.

Ken Petersen, who prevailed in an August primary for the republican nomination for District 5 supervisor faces no opposition in the general election. His financial background will be invaluable as the county tries to find its way out of the TCSD debt morass.

Petersen has pledged to do a cost/benefit analysis on any proposal coming before him to determine if the risk to Goochland is worth any potential reward.

The three incumbent members of the school board running this year, James Haskell District 1; Raymond Miller District 2 and Ivan Mattox, Sr. District 3 seem not to have noticed the widespread discontent expressed during at least the past two years by a large number of parents.

They seem to believe that the only problem is a lack of money that can be fixed if only the mean supervisors would just increase property taxes. The school board MTIs act as though they are unaware that county revenue has declined as a result of the economic downturn and do little other than rubber stamp recommendations made by the superintendent.

One action that these MTIs do often is to extend the employment contract of the superintendent while eliminating teaching positions. Although Mattox and Miller have excellent educational credentials, they seem unable or unwilling to make an effort to work with the school financial staff to craft a budget using expected revenues. They do not understand that the superintendent works for them.

District 1 challenger Michael Payne who is a parent and teacher brings on the ground insights about providing a meaningful education for all students. His contention that reinstating vocational education opportunities, which were removed by the MTIs, makes a lot of sense.

District 2 challenger Kevin Hazzard has given a great deal of thought to issues facing the schools and the best ways to reach all students. Unlike the incumbent, Hazzard believes that the school system must work harder to ensure that black and economically disadvantaged students, whose academic performance often trails that of other students, leave school equipped to seek their piece of the American dream.

Hazzard believes that supporting and nurturing good teachers is the foundation of excellence in education. His website, which contains several thoughtful essays on the subject of education is
John Lumpkins District 3 challenger is a lawyer, accountant, former police officer and concerned parent. He will use all of his skills to eliminate the "us and them" mindset that pits the school board against the supervisors every budget cycle to the detriment of all.

Lumpkins also believes that teachers are the cornerstone of excellence in education and the current school board seems to have little interest in supporting teachers. Lumpkins’ legal skills will add a new dimension to the school board.

Voters in District 4 are blessed to have two excellent candidates seeking their open school board seat. In a campaign season all too often marred by snarky comments and outright attacks, Phil Davis and Beth Hardy have conducted themselves and their campaigns in an exemplary manner that defines good citizenship.

Both Davis and Hardy have children in county schools and have been involved in with their kids’ education. They both believe that our schools can do a better job for all of our children and be fiscally responsible. They have excellent educational and career credentials.

This is the only race that GOMM believes there is no clear choice but that the students and citizens of Goochland will be well served by whoever is chosen by the electorate.

Accountant John Wright, who faces no opposition for the District 5 school board seat will be a fine addition to the Goochland leadership team. Wright was one of the first parents to take a hard look at the school budget a few years ago, which lead to probing and unanswered questions about school finance and operations.

The level of dissatisfaction with business as usual in Goochland government is higher than it has been in recent memory. Only the voters can ensure that the county takes a new path next year.

Stop the insanity, chart a new course for Goochland by voting in new supervisors to help Ned Creasey finish what he started and replace the entire school board with people who really want excellent and fiscally responsible education for all of our kids.

Please remember to vote on Tuesday, November 8.


Anonymous said...

Love your line up, and agree 100% with every one of them.

Time for Goochland Voters to wake up and vote to help some of these current "leaders" to "exit stage left.

Goochland residents, please vote on Tuesday. Let's turn out in record numbers.

Anonymous said...

"Jonathan Lyle will be an excellent commissioner for the Monacan Soil and Water District."

Upon what do you base this statement?

Pat said...

Sandie, I agree for the most part with your recommendations. I have reservations about Ned this year in part because I think he handled the disclosure about returned, unspent funds poorly, playing a game of political gotcha, instead of using it as a leadership moment to bring the boards together and discuss ways to better leverage these unspent funds. The question arises as to why it took 3 years for the BoS to become aware of this issue - surely there must be some shared responsibility. The school administration does have a reasonable explanation for why they must operate as they do with regard to these unspent funds, but as usual, they make little attempt to communicate their reasons and logic to the community at large, though if you ask Dr. Underwood she will provide a rational and reasonable explanation to individuals who request information on this or any other subject. I hope that the new SB will stop curling up into a ball when bullied and will be more forceful in explaining their reasons for their decisions to the public at large. I would like to see something like a "Superintendent's Corner" in the local paper, for example; but at a minimum the 'Superintendent's Notes' page on the school web should be updated with explanations for difficult decisions on a regular basis. I've promoted this to the powers that be, as best I can and hopefully we'll be seeing more of this in the future - but it seems perhaps that the SB is fearful of playing tit for tat with the bullies, and that restricts this communication. Perhaps we'll see better communications under a new SB.

I also applaud Ned's work to uncover and remove problems within the county government, but I think there has been enough tearing down, and it's time to start building back up again. Ned told us at the forums that he was not finished and we can expect more of the same. It's the act of looking for the negative rather than the positive that concerns me as we tend to find what we look for. I believe there are some morale problems within our county government and there are probably some very good and dedicated employees who might leave if the job market was better. People can't do their best work if they feel like there is a target on their back.

From my perspective, Ned joins all the others in not having any "big ideas" to move the county forward. Unfortunately I found Ned's competition to be lackluster, vague and uninspiring and so it's a toss-up whether to vote for Ned again or to write in Brett the Wonder Dog. I'll probably decide at the last moment. In any event, he appears to be assured of reelection.

My decision for SB in Dist 3 is also difficult. My "gut feeling" was that the incumbent is interested in the kids and the challenger is interested in himself. Whether true or not, it just came across that way to me in the events I attended. I guess I'm also not that crazy about lawyers given that their very existence depends on separatism and pitting people against each other. On the other hand Mattox and the rest of the board have done the community and themselves a disservice by not communicating as well as they could have, particularly their reasoning (which I often agree with) for their difficult decisions. The new SB is going to have to make more cuts; that's a given since revenues are going down again, and it will be interesting to see how they handle it when the love-fest is over and the vocal few again see their favorite programs come under the knife.

My biggest hope and prayer is that we move forward with as much civility and fairness as possible, ant that we strive to do what Sandie does here - communicate, communicate, communicate. Thanks for providing this forum Sandie.

Anonymous said...

Is this Sandie's blog or Pat's blog?

Pat said...

Does it matter?