Last week Rappahannock citizens along with the rest of the nation celebrated and commemorated the birth of the nation on the Fourth of July. Hopefully, almost everyone knew what we were actually commemorating. You hear the mantra, “No taxation without representation.” While that grievance was listed in the Declaration of Independence as “For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent,” it was the 17th of 27 listed grievances.
First among the listed grievances was “He (the king) has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public Good.” The 10th was, “He has erected a Multitude of new Offices, and sent hither Swarms of Officers to harass our People and eat out their Substance.”
We see this same conduct now at every level of government from the federal government to the local level. While the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Code of Virginia spell out the type of government we are to have and the conduct of officials, there are wide differences on how that actually works. Elected officials delegate authority to appointed officials until there is little to no accountability on elected officials, yet this is not what is spelled out in the duties of elected officials.
Rappahannock County is divided into five magisterial districts; every 10 years, after the national census, the population of those districts are reviewed to determine if they are statistically balanced to provide an equal number of residents for each district and, therefore, each elected representative. This is known as the “One man, one vote” rule. In the representative democracy or “republican” form of government we have, each citizen’s vote is weighted to be equal to another. The representatives we elect, if properly educated in their duties and responsibilities, cast votes reflective of their constituents’ wishes, or at least based on knowledge from study of the issues. All too often, this does not happen.
At the state and federal level, our representatives are lobbied to vote certain ways, many times in direct opposition to their constituents wishes. At the local level, elected officials often vote at the suggestions of appointed staff, giving no time to study or independent thought. This is where I have had recent clashes with my colleagues on the board of supervisors. The citizens elect the members of the board to set policy, and to make sure the county government is functioning properly. In fact, the Virginia General Assembly has so much respect for the local elected officials that when individuals are appointed to fill an unexpired term on the elected governing body they are not qualified to vote on budgets or tax increases. While they serve on the elected body, they were not elected by the people to that office.
When the elected board of supervisors abdicate their responsibilities to appointed personnel, then all the electoral processes outlined above become a sham and your vote becomes meaningless. And as recent as April 2016, appointed individuals in Rappahannock County tried to restrict the citizens’ right to appear before the board to voice their grievances. This is in direct violation of standing board meeting rules.
The Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors have gotten off course by repeatedly delegating their responsibilities to appointed personnel and allowing usurpation of their prerogatives. In some instances staff knew nothing would happen if they didn’t move prior to board direction. When appointed officials are performing the duties — delegated by statute — of the elected officials, they are by definition not performing the duties of their appointed positions. Trying to correct this has lead to problems, but many times pain in the body leads to discovering a health problem. The same holds true in a governmental body or agency.
When the citizens elect a representative they have every right to expect that individual to uphold their oath of office and perform their duties. Why is this suddenly a novel idea? A board of supervisors, the constitutionally delegated governing body, which actually performed the duties of its office would be a shock to see; but I believe it would be welcomed by the citizens and taxpayers of Rappahannock because of all the problems looming on the horizon.
It is my opinion that our county’s staff is adequate both in size and knowledge, but the board must start asserting it’s constitutional and statutory requirements of office. Working together with the constitutional officers (treasurer, commissioner of the revenue for fiscal issues, and clerk of the court, sheriff and commonwealth’s attorney for law enforcement), the county board and staff can get to where it needs to be to face the future as prepared as any county in Virginia. If we do not, we are headed toward lawsuits, higher taxes and gross mismanagement that shows public favoritism based on connections and personal friendships.
Just like every student should read the historical documents of our nation’s founding, an elected official should read the duties of their respective office, at least once in a while, to see if they are performing up to the standard set by constitution or statute. There is no other measurement. If some citizens do not like the statutory requirements of our local elected officials, then lobby the General Assembly to change them; do not ask your local reps to ignore them.
When the elected representatives perform their duties “faithfully and impartially” according to their oath of office, then everyone has due process before the law. When elected officials go by “feelings” or improperly delegate their decision-making powers and responsibilities to appointed staff, then the voters have no guarantee of due process under the law. This is why the General Assembly has deliberately spelled out the duties of elected officials. They are deliberate and consistent and, thereby, supply the citizen the best assurance of due process under the law.
With the looming fiscal issues, kicking the can down the road is exactly like putting off getting in better physical shape or neglecting maintenance to your vehicle or tractor. It will cost you more later, and probably be more painful. It is the same analogy for local government — to properly align itself with its required duties of office: a little pain now by the board asserting its rightful place rather than more pain later.
Why should Rappahannock County continue down the path of being run by anyone other than the duly elected board of supervisors? Does the reader prefer to be governed by appointees and special interest groups? That is the choice.
Supervisor, Jackson District