Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results

Around Rappahannock County, a pothole can become a cause celebre, and a major funding problem can be kicked down the road for years. Some folks put in endless hours of hard work to make ends meet, while others care more about being in the “in-crowd” than figuring out a way to get the barn painted. We are not unique in that way, but this odd condition seems a bit exaggerated around here.

Disgruntlement and disagreement is a hobby for some. Some of that has to do, I fear, with getting older and crankier and having a little more time on our hands. And no doubt we have more than our share of folks whom Mark Twain described as being “educated beyond their intelligence”.

But it seems to me that new and more exalted heights of sanctimony have been reached by the letter in the April 13th edition of the News entitled, “Open letter to fellow residents.” It seems that suddenly an “Upstanding Citizens Brigade (UCB)” was formed while we slept and they took it upon themselves to posit in piteous prose that the County Government was being beset by ornery and outspoken criticism (!) and that the UCB, in their altruism, their caring, their rightness and righteousness, were bringing the word down from Mary’s Rock that this sort of thing has to stop because it will somehow be the end of our county as we know it.

The greeting is to “Dear Lovers of Rappahannock:”, which I assume would be just about everybody who lives here and our many thousands of visitors. (Unless it is some sort of singles club called “Lovers of Rappahannock” . . . Naahhhh.)

Well, I love Rappahannock, really love it. But then the letter suddenly rails about local “brouhahas, FOIA suits, negativity, and multiple county employee resignations” and creates a divisive “straw-man”, an unnamed bogeyman who isn’t as “positive” about the county government as the many signees of this proclamation. They tell us that “It is time to change to be more supportive and positive” and that “now the rest of us need to speak up.”

So let me speak up: Why is this “Upstanding Citizen’s Brigade” challenging the free and open questioning and criticism of our own elected officials? Discontent with government, you will recall, is the birthright of our nation. It is how the United States came to be, and open debate has been the foundation of our freedoms.

I know many of the signatories of this piece of pablum and some of them I consider to be good and old friends. Others I respect. A few I do not respect. As their letter points out, we are a small county. Those of us who keep our ear to the ground come to know the agendas and loyalties of just about everybody else.

Over the years, we in Rappahannock have been relatively free of partisan politics in county politics. This spat is not of an ideological nature, not about left and right. It is about “process” and about the rules and regulations that are meant to provide for open, honest and trustworthy representation. We are in a difficult transition, but it is not nearly as drastic a divide as the letter signers proclaim.

Their letter also implies that those whom the “UCB” derides are somehow not supportive of our county employees. That is flat wrong, and has no place in this discussion. As one who has followed this debate, I have heard none of it from either side. These folks are our neighbors. We know them, we appreciate them, and we understand the constraints they have to deal with. No one should be lectured on that by anybody, much less by some of these signees who just fell off the turnip truck around here.

It appears to me that the problem is, in part, a lack of vision among certain county officials and the lack of efficiency at the county management level. These problems were not created in a vacuum. In the decades I have been around here, the problems of growth versus the allure of open and quiet Blue Ridge lands have always been at counterpoint. We need to “grow”, say many, but they understandably want to do it while not running the risk of losing what we have. Which means we don’t grow, and that we must adjust to the inevitable tax challenges of that policy. Attempts to develop a broader base by attracting small businesses have not been pursued or even supported by the elected leadership.

I would be more “supportive and positive” of those things that I think are “supportive and positive” in return. There is no sound argument made in the “Upright Citizens’” letter. In fact, nothing is suggested about actually addressing the very real problems we face. It is all baloney, sliced so thin as to be almost transparent.

The writer, a former U.S. congressman, actor and playwright, lives in Harris Hollow