Supervisors assailed at meeting; new radio tower slated for Sperryville?
Asserting “we need to act now,” Rappahannock County Supervisor Chris Parrish on Monday successfully pushed through a motion to create a new position of “zoning administrator/deputy county administrator.”
The unanimous vote in favor of the motion came minutes after Rappahannock County Administrator Debbie Keyser told a packed monthly Board of Supervisors’ meeting that her office of two employees — Keyser and executive assistant Lynn Tomasiello — is “running ragged.”
“There are only two of us in the office. So When Lynn is gone I’m answering the phone,” she said, struggling to speak through a sore throat.
“I’m in on Sundays. I’m in on Saturdays,” Keyser continued. “There’s just not enough people to do what it is that we need to do.”
Parrish sought to create the position after county Treasurer Debbie Knick sent a letter last month to the five supervisors accusing Keyser’s office of mismanagement, including lack of oversight of budgeting and spending and failure to follow proper expense and payroll procedures.
“The reasons there are mistakes is because there are only two people in the office,” Keyser told the supervisors Monday. “I do zoning with no backup. So really the county is in a very vulnerable position.”
A former chief administrator for Jefferson County, W.V., but with roots in Rappahannock, Keyser has been in her position for only eight months. Adding to the learning curve, the office’s longtime executive assistant Candy Wroth retired in January. As a result, Tomasiello is also new to the office, transferring from her position as deputy clerk in the circuit court clerk’s office.
Apart from her myriad administrative duties, Keyser also acts as the county’s zoning and subdivision administrator.
“So if I get run over by a bus we’ve got no one that knows anything and it’s not a good position for the county to be in,” she pointed out.
“We’ve had increased litigation, we’ve had increased FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests — all those things do take time, and two people simply cannot do that,” she argued. “It’s just not fathomable anymore . . .
“It really has been a perfect storm.”
With Supervisor Ron Frazier absent, the four supervisors upon voting asked county attorney Art Goff to “immediately” advertise for the new position.
“We need help and this is a good start to get it going,” said Supervisor Michael Biniek, seconding Parrish’s motion.
The new position will pay an annual salary of $45,000, which Parrish hopes will attract an energetic “recent college graduate who’s majored in zoning and county administration — a younger person just out of school who is not looking for a large salary . . . [who will] do a lot of legwork for the county administrator.”
Parrish foresees a two-month-long interview process, overseen by the supervisors, and if all goes well the chosen applicant could be on the job as early as June 1, he said.
Meanwhile, several of the 70 people who crowded into the Monday afternoon meeting at the county courthouse took turns assailing the supervisors for everything from lack of oversight of county affairs to conducting public business behind closed doors.
Or the “back room of somebody’s house,” as county grape farmer Bill Freitag put it.
“We have a problem,” Freitag said, there is “no transparency.”
County resident Demaris Miller was not alone when she accused the supervisors of “arrogant disregard” by scheduling their regular monthly meetings at 2 p.m. when most county residents are working and unable to attend.
Roger Cordani blasted the supervisors for not following “their own procedures,” in particular for allowing costly county purchases to be made allegedly without the supervisors’ prior knowledge or approval.
Hearing these complaints and numerous others, two county residents — Bill Fletcher and Bill Dietel — stood in support of the supervisors.
Fletcher, an attorney and lifelong resident of Rappahannock County, was visibly emotional in praising the supervisors — and other top county officials — as “good people” who didn’t deserve the repeated attacks.
“Be polite,” Fletcher admonished the crowd. “We aren’t Washington, D.C., damn it, and we don’t want to be.”
Dietel, a well-known philanthropic leader, said what he had just witnessed during the public comment period was both “interesting and disturbing.”
He labeled today’s demands on government “onerous and complicated” and suggested that “rather than calling [each other] names work together . . . in an orderly and wise fashion”
“It’s not a time to throw barbs,” Dietel concluded to applause from many on hand.
In other action, the supervisors tabled until April the consideration of a 174-foot county pager system tower, which under the current proposal would be constructed on Sperryville Volunteer Fire Department property off Highway 211, between Sperryville and Shenandoah National Park.
Supervisor John Lesinski said before any further action is taken the county attorney should review zoning surrounding the proposed $100,000 tower, and the planning commission should also weigh in — among others in the community who may be concerned by its placement.
Indeed, as absentee Supervisor Ron Frazier wrote to his fellow supervisors prior to Monday’s meeting: “With an inventory of existing structures there may be current sites that can be used and avoid the public outrage that may come from siting a 174-foot tower just below the Park boundary.”
There are two similar existing towers in the county, but they do not provide the blanket coverage needed during an emergency, officials said.
An unedited video of the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors 2 p.m. session on Tuesday, March 6 can be found online at rappnews.com/video, or on the newspaper’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/RappNewsPlus