The Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors monthly meeting this week was marked by raised voices, contentious debate, and split votes on important issues facing the county. Each time, Jackson supervisor Ron Frazier and newly elected Piedmont supervisor Christine Smith formed a bloc.
The first instance was about 45 minutes into the afternoon meeting when the BOS began the process of appointing a member to the Planning Commission to fill the vacancy left in January by the resignation of Gary Settle, who became superintendent of the Virginia State Police.
As Settle was from the Piedmont district, it was Smith’s prerogative to nominate a candidate from her district. She nominated long-time county resident Tom Junk.
“Mr. Junk served 12 years previously on the Planning Commission,” said Smith. “He has the expertise to lead the [commission] through the final stages of the Comprehensive Plan revisions.”
As soon as Smith nominated Junk, Frazier seconded the nomination and immediately moved to close off further nominations, even though former supervisor Mike Biniek and Sperryville landowner Cliff Miller had also submitted applications to be considered.
Chair Roger Welch ruled that the board had to vote on the nominee first and then take up the other motion. The board voted three to two against the nomination of Junk, with Frazier and Smith voting in favor.
Hampton supervisor John Lesinski then nominated Biniek, but before that vote could be taken the BOS had to vote on whether to close nominations. That vote resulted in one vote to close (Smith), one abstention (Frazier) and three votes not to close.
Frazier and Smith both expressed outrage. “The Piedmont supervisor made her recommendation,” Frazier said. “It has been the policy of the board to accept [district supervisors’ recommendations]. Everyone here has used that same prerogative.”
“I thought I was nominating someone qualified,” Smith said. “I didn’t know this was a popularity contest.”
Smith and Frazier repeatedly demanded to know why the other board members voted against Junk. Frazier called the others on the board “cowardly” and directly attacked Welch. “You won’t say what you have against Mr. Junk. [By not voting for him], you’ve made a statement against his character, yet you won’t qualify it.”
Welch answered, “If I’d thought he was the best candidate, I would have voted for him . . . I’ve worked with [Biniek] for the last eight years and thought he was a fine gentleman.”
Smith moved to table the nomination until the April meeting, but that proposal was voted down three to two (Smith and Frazier) before the board then voted three to two (Smith and Frazier) in favor of Biniek. Even so, Frazier continued his persistent questioning for another five minutes.
Frazier and Smith also voted together against a motion to hire the county’s former interim administrator Brenda Garton on a contract basis to complete the many months’ backlog of unfinished BOS meeting minutes. Using Garton is one of several options for completing the minutes. For instance, said Curry, “Nita Clewis has come forward. She has experience with the courts from the past … and land use matters.” Curry said Clewis would charge $22 per hour compared to $35 per hour for Garton. (In a previous meeting, the BOS set aside $10,000 to complete the job.)
Lesinski and Stonewall-Hawthorne supervisor Chris Parrish argued that Garton would be the most efficient candidate to work on the minutes, as she knows the issues and the board members.
Without endorsing Garton, Goff said, “The person drafting the minutes should have enough knowledge of government law, local government procedures, and the personalities and issues that are being acted on.”
Parrish moved to accept Garton’s proposal, but both Smith and Frazier objected.
“Ms. Garton said last August that [completing the minutes] was the most critical, most important task and yet she didn’t get it done,” Smith said, insisting the board set a deadline for completion of the minutes. “I question her ability to get it done.”
After more heated discussion, the board voted three to two to accept Garton’s proposal.
‘It disturbed me’
The evening session of the meeting was more orderly, but a tinge of hostility still hung over the proceedings. During public comments, Hampton district resident Henry Gorfein, referring to the day’s earlier motion by Frazier and Smith to immediately close nominations for the Planning Commission, said “This is the first time I have seen parliamentary procedure used [by the BOS] to stifle debate and it disturbed me.”
Moving on, Lesinski addressed the suggestion to compensate Interim Emergency Management Coordinator Art Candenquist for his service as a volunteer to the county since June 5. The search is on to hire a permanent coordinator.
“We just had a major incident [the weekend’s storm, power outages, and wildfires] and Mr. Candenquist was in the chair,” Lesinski said.
The board voted unanimously to pay Candenquist $7,500 at the end of his eventual tenure.
The board also voted unanimously in favor of two actions involving the county code. The first action was to authorize County Attorney Art Goff and County Administrator Garrey Curry to draft an advertisement for a joint public hearing with the Planning Commission and the BOS to amend the code chapter having to do with the length of terms of service on the Planning Commission.
The issue arose at the BOS’s February meeting when the legality of the nomination of David Konick as the Board of Zoning Appeals representative to the Planning Commission was called into question. The code states that appointees to the Planning Commission are to serve four-year terms. However, it is ambiguous in regard to the terms of the BOS and BZA appointees.
The other proposed code amendments involve allowing condominium conversions. BZA chair Alex Sharp wishes to convert the Aileen plant on Aileen Road into business condos, but the county’s code does not provide for it. The BOS and Planning Commission also need to meet jointly in a public hearing to consider the changes.
In both cases, Goff will draft advertisements based on the board’s discussions and present them at next month’s BOS meeting.
An unedited video of the supervisors 2 p.m. session on Monday, March 5 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.