Rappahannock’s new interim administrator will calm but not ‘tread water’

Brenda Garton has been administrator of four Virginia counties

There’s a new vehicle on the streets of little Washington and it has everybody talking. It’s a snazzy black and white three-wheel motorcycle that on nice days can be found parked outside the Rappahannock County Administrator’s office on Gay Street.

It belongs to the newly hired interim county administrator Brenda Garton, who uses it to commute to Rappahannock County from her home north of Winchester in Frederick County, where she lives with her husband and three dogs.

When asked if she would be interested in being the county’s full-time replacement, Brenda Garton answered with an emphatic, “No, I’m retired.” By Patty Hardee

Garton is filling in while the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors selects a successor to outgoing administrator Debbie Keyser. Keyser resigned as of June 23 and tomorrow is her last day in office.

Before Garton bought her bike in February, “I considered a two-wheeler,” she said in an interview Monday, “but this design is more stable. And it’s fun to ride.”

She’s certainly earned her fun after decades of working in a wide range of public and private sector roles.

“I’m on my third career,” she says. “I was a high school and community college math teacher, then a CPA for several years in private practice, then a county administrator in four counties in Virginia.”

Garton served as county administrator for Orange County from 1993 to 2002, for Prince George County from 2002 to 2008, for Gloucester County from 2005 to 2015. And she recently retired after being Frederick County’s administrator since 2015.

She holds both a Master of Education and Bachelor of Science in Education degrees from the University of Virginia, and is an International City/County Management Association (ICMA) Credentialed Manager. She’s a past president of the Virginia Local Government Management Association (VLGMA), a professional organization consisting of over 300 local government professionals in Virginia.

When Keyser announced her resignation, the BOS appointed supervisors John Lesinski and Chris Parrish to act as a search committee to find an interim replacement for Keyser and, ultimately, a new full-time county administrator.

Garton’s contract with the county was announced at the July 5 BOS meeting, effective immediately.

Lesinski and Parrish were able to move quickly to find an interim administrator by tapping into a network of county government professionals.

“We reached out to [the county’s former administrator] John McCarthy for referrals,” said Lesinski in a phone call Tuesday. “McCarthy has a friend who has kept up with retired county administrators around the state.”

Through that contact the two supervisors were able to assemble a list of potential candidates, but, said Lesinski, Garton’s name soon rose to the top of the list.

“We needed someone with her wealth of experience to calm the waters and help get us situated for a future candidate,” said Lesinski, referring to the tumultuous transition from McCarthy, who served the county for 30 years and retired in 2016, to Keyser’s administration, which had been met with sharp criticism from some members of the community.

“An interim administrator can go in any of several directions,” depending on the needs of the county, said Garton.

During the interview process, said Lesinski, Garton asked what the BOS saw as her role.

“She asked if we wanted someone to ‘tread water’ while we looked for a full-time administrator or if we wanted an interim who would be more active in running of the county,” said Lesinski. “I told her we would be foolish to have [someone with her background] just tread water.”

He said the BOS is hoping Garton can “make some solid recommendations on how the county is staffed and organized,” as the board refines the job description for the next full-time administrator.

For the time being, though, Garton’s goal is to spend as much time as she can with Keyser to learn about the county, its challenges and opportunities.

“Once Debbie has left, I want to have longer meetings with the county’s constitutional officers to get to know them and understand what they need,” said Garton.

When asked if she would be interested in being the county’s full-time replacement, Garton answered with an emphatic, “No, I’m retired.”

But another factor plays into that decision. The Virginia code requires county administrators to reside in the counties where they work. After years of moving to various counties, she’s content to stay put.

During most of her seven years of marriage, she and her husband have been geographically separated, due to their work.

“We’re an unusual couple,” she said. “We are both county administrators and had been serving in different counties in Virginia.”

“For most of our marriage, we would only see each other on weekends,” she said. But now that she is retired, they can finally be together full-time.

So she’s more than happy to ride her snazzy three-wheeler the hour and some from her home to Washington.

About Patty Hardee 277 Articles
Writer, consultant, actor, director, recovering stand-up comic, Patty covers the county’s courts and other topics of interest for Rappahannock News. She lives with her grape-growing husband Bill Freitag in Flint Hill.