Months of upheaval in the Rappahannock County government suddenly got a whole lot worse Tuesday night when Richie Burke — the county’s “workhorse” who performs the three duties of building official, emergency services coordinator, and emergency 911 coordinator — submitted his resignation effective June 1, 2017.
County administrator Debbie Keyser told this newspaper Wednesday morning that it was with “great sadness” that she accepted the resignation, which Burke delivered to her “in writing.”
“Richie has been a great asset to this county — he has worn multiple hats,” Keyser noted. “It may be impossible to find somebody to do all of these functions.”
In an interview Wednesday, Burke said he takes “great pride in the fact that we have run a smooth office” but he said the atmosphere has “reached a point where the workplace does not seem to be a happy place.
“All I know is that I have done the best job I can do for Rappahannock County for the years I’ve been here,” Burke said at his office, as emergency radio dispatches blared in the background. “People just don’t understand all the jobs that we do here, managing three budgets. It’s quite a handful.”
Still, as he pointed out, merging the three offices into one for decades has “saved the county taxpayers a lot of money.”
“It’s gotten to the point that I’m beyond capable,” Burke insisted. “I’m just tired.”
It was only Monday night that Rappahannock County Supervisor Chris Parrish, as an aside to sharp criticism being leveled against Keyser and the supervisors by a few audience members during a community outreach event in Castleton, pointed out that if the county government ever lost Burke it would be in deep trouble.
Burke has “poured his heart and soul” into “3 to 5 jobs” for 27 years, Parrish noted, warning that it would take more than one person to replace him.
In the interview Wednesday, Burke told this newspaper he regrets retiring in June before Rappahannock County is scheduled to receive on July 1 a $150,000 state grant that he personally steered to the county to create a new 911 mapping system.
“I wanted to get it implemented” before I retired, he said. “All along I had wanted there to be a smooth transition for these three offices.”
“Did you get your story?” a visibly angry Supervisor Mike Biniek asked this newspaper editor when he arrived at Keyser’s office Wednesday morning on the heels of Burke’s resignation.
“This is the work of a few people,” Biniek said in no uncertain terms. “I don’t blame him [Burke]. I’m sorry to see him go. He’s been loyal to the county and he has done a great job.”
In late February, Burke came under particular fire when Rappahannock County Treasurer Debbie Knick accused her own government of mismanagement, including sloppy oversight of business credit card purchases.
Knick wrote in a letter to the five county supervisors that “Mr. Burke is constantly having issues with his card being over his credit limit” and that “late fees and interest have been charged to his card” and “numbers don’t match up.”
“This issue has taken countless hours to untangle and is still ongoing,” the treasurer said.
During his interview, Burke declined on record to be critical of anybody in the county government, saying it was “just time” for him to retire and spend more time with his wife and family.
Keyser said the county “will be recruiting immediately” to replace Burke, who was hired as building official in 1989 by former county administrator John McCarthy. She said by law the county is required to have a building official and emergency coordinator in place at all times.
She said that Burke has agreed to “volunteer his services in the short term if the 911 equipment fails,” which he also assured this newspaper he would do at “no charge” to the county.
Keyser rattled off numerous responsibilities that Burke handles for the county, not the least being E-911 dispatch, the CAD/GIS system, and emergency radio system.
“If the 911 system goes down we would have a significant problem,” she said.
In praising Burke, Keyser cited numerous causes he has volunteered for on behalf of the county and community — including countywide fire and rescue associations and in particular the Sperryville Volunteer Fire Department — while still managing to juggle his official responsibilities
“There was a reason he was Citizen of the Year,” said Keyser, referring to Burke being named only this past January as the 2016 Rappahannock News Citizen of the Year.