BOS meeting: a struggling Rappahannock County government in microcosm

Supervisors OK $10,000 expenditure to update delinquent meeting minutes; stricter county employee reimbursement policy approved

By Patty Hardee and Luke Christopher

Special to the Rappahannock News

This past Monday’s meeting of the Rappahannock Board of Supervisors (BOS) was the county in microcosm.

In four-plus hours, the agenda and discussions touched on practically all of the challenges, opportunities, conflicts, and personalities in the county — from public safety to recreational trails, services for the mentally ill, how to govern the county, state of the schools, zoning ordinance enforcement, Airbnb operations, and more.

And it was a civics lesson in the running of county government, which has not been smooth of late.

Of most importance, stated interim Rappahannock County Administrator Brenda Garton, is bringing several months’ worth of past minutes of the BOS up to date.

In a memo to the BOS, Garton wrote: “The county does not have completed, adopted minutes for prior board of supervisors’ meetings, going back a number of months. Approved minutes need to completed, adopted by the board, printed in the appropriate format, signed, and placed in the minute books in the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office.”

Calling the current drafts of those minutes “sketchy,” she proposed two approaches to resolving the issue. One was just to adopt the draft minutes “as is” and move forward.

But the approach she favored was to have existing audio and video recordings transcribed by a professional service. She said those transcripts could compare to the drafts and be used to verify and expand on the issues discussed and actions taken in the meetings.

“The minutes are the record [of the governing body] and what you do,” said Garton, who the BOS brought in on a temporary basis to replace former administrator Debbie Keyser, who resigned last month. Keyser had come under fire for not having the minutes of several BOS meetings completed and posted for public viewing, as is required by the state.

“It’s an important element in the functioning of a global government,” Garton continued. “As it is now, we don’t have adopted minutes to tell us what happened [in the meetings]. Getting the minutes updated is the most critical thing we have to address.”

Rappahannock County Attorney Art Goff agreed, saying a good set of minutes is paramount to the functioning of the government.

Referring to recent retirements and resignations in the county administration, Goff said, “There’s a little bit of a void in institutional memory [in the county], so it’s essential” to bring the minutes up to date.

“I can’t overstress the importance of having these minutes completed in a timely manner,” Goff added. “It is a legal requirement that you do so.”

The BOS approved Garton’s request for up to $10,000 to be spent on hiring a professional service to transcribe the meetings.

Garton then proposed a process for moving forward: expanding the job descriptions of two current county employees to draft the minutes of the BOS, planning commission, and board of zoning appeals.

The BOS also approved both of those proposals by a unanimous four-to-zero vote. Chris Parrish, Stonewall-Hawthorne district supervisor, was absent.

The second biggest issue, Garton said, was to address the need for a written travel and expense reimbursement policy. She presented a five-page draft policy that she said “would provide a framework for reimbursement [of travel and other expenses] to employees while conducting the county’s business.”

Garton’s draft policy sets firm rules for what can and cannot be expensed; the maximums of certain expenses, such as meals while on travel; and the need for detailed receipts.

“You can’t just present a credit card receipt for $32.40,” she said. “How would we know if you spent that on alcohol or treating a guest [both non-reimbursable expenses]?”

Jackson district supervisor Ron Frazier asked if the county couldn’t just rely on common sense.

Garton replied, “My common sense may be different from yours. You may think $5.00 is the amount to spend on breakfast. I may think it’s $15.00. Which is why the BOS needs something in writing.”

The BOS unanimously approved Garton’s draft policy.

Streamlined permits

Responding to frustration across the BOS, planning commission, board of zoning appeals and the community over the rules of applying for special use and special exception permits, Hampton district supervisor John Lesinski proposed a method of streamlining the process.

This was in response to problems over the last year or more, such as incomplete applications being presented, improper public notifications delaying or causing public hearings to be cancelled — as occurred again this week — and general confusion as to when actions were to be taken and by which body.

Lesinski suggested “going to a system that many of our sister counties use,” in which there would be one special permit type heard by the planning commission and then the BOS. The BZA would hear variances and appeals. This would simplify the process for the public and be less burdensome for staff, he said.

Frazier suggested that many of the problems experienced in recent months could be remedied by instituting an action that was approved in the September 2016 BOS meeting — public hearings for applications should not be scheduled and advertised until the planning commission had had a chance to review, comment and receive additional information.

The problem, said Frazier, is with “hurrying up the applications, which causes a breakdown in the process.”

One recent example is the special exception permit application submitted by Thornton Hill Farm for multiple-use events at the 158-acre property south of Sperryville along Route 522. Originally submitted in April, the application has twice been before the planning commission — which has repeatedly asked for more specifics about the events, traffic control, noise abatement, and safety concerns — and once before the BOS.

The application was due to be heard again by the BOS during this week’s session, with impacted residents on hand to testify, including the applicant Bill Fletcher. But after realizing that the public advertisement for the hearing had been incorrect, as pointed out by Frazier, the BOS refused to hear the application and sent it back to the planning commission for yet a third review.

Some of those in attendance prepared to testify shook their heads in frustration.

Garton asked for and received consensus among the BOS members to follow the process already approved in the September 2016 meeting.

Other actions

The BOS adopted the Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services FY18 performance contract and supported the efforts to establish a multi-use biking/hiking trail linking Rappahannock’s villages.

The board expressed support for county assessor Sharon Dodson to enforce payment of taxes by tourist homes, B&Bs, and other transient lodging owners.

They also heard from interim emergency services manager Art Candenquist on the status of finding a location for a public safety communications tower.

An unedited video of the Monday, August 7 session can be found online at rappnews.com/video, or on the newspaper’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/RappNewsPlus. The meeting agenda
and related documents are online at
 boarddocs.com/va/corva/Board.nsf/Public.

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