Four board of supervisors hopefuls take the stage in Washington
One thing was certain at the conclusion of the Board of Supervisors Candidate Forum held Monday night at the Theatre at Washington: all four candidates have a tremendous love and respect for Rappahannock County and its way of life and will work hard to keep it the same.
Otherwise, the quite orderly two-hour-long forum, during which moderator Marianne Clyde posed the same eight questions to the four hopefuls running for two open seats, revealed both shared goals and sharp differences on how best to manage the county government.
Incumbent Stonewall-Hawthorne District Supervisor Parrish and his write-in challenger David Konick aired the most disagreements from the theatre stage.
The latter, an outspoken lawyer and persistent thorn in the side of supervisors when it comes to county government proceedings, recalled Thomas Jefferson in his opening statement: “I prefer the tumult of liberty to the quiet of servitude. I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”
For good measure, he added: “If the washing machine didn’t have an agitator, the clothes would never get clean.”
Apart from the increasingly bitter Parrish-Konick contest, political newcomer Christine Smith, who resides in Sperryville, is challenging incumbent Piedmont Supervisor Mike Biniek. Smith told the audience that she decided to run for the board because without bringing to light the many challenges the county faces would be a missed opportunity.
Konick echoed Smith, saying his fellow residents in the Stonewall-Hawthorne district “are a little agitated from what I’ve been seeing and hearing,” adding he’s been told campaigning door-to-door that “something is just not right with our county government.”
For Parrish to say otherwise, the lawyer said, is more “sunshine and lollipop talk.”
Without question it was Smith and Konick, more than the two incumbents, who rattled off potential solutions to what ails the county, from the vacant administrator’s post to struggling fire and rescue departments.
Parrish warned the crowd that Konick was peddling “twisted figures” while campaigning, especially surrounding a proposed privately-funded multi-use trail system that the supervisors voted last month to support.
Konick has warned that the county could be left holding a multi-million dollar bill for the unprecedented countywide project, while Parrish assured the audience that he wouldn’t spend “$5,000” taxpayer dollars on “any trail” — including the $1 million, 1.2-mile initial phase that would connect the county’s two public schools.
“As I have gone around knocking on doors in my district — I would say I’ve probably talked to 400 or 500 people over the last three weeks — and I met exactly one person that thought the trail was a good idea for the county to do. One!” the lawyer insisted at the forum, sponsored by Businesses of Rappahannock and the Rappahannock News.
“This thing, whoever is paying for it, and the notion that it’s not going to cost the taxpayers any money I think is a canard, that is just not true,” Konick said. “The trail is going to cost — from Washington to Sperryville, according to the committee’s own engineer — $5.9 million dollars, if they don’t hit certain problems.
“And 80 percent of that money is coming from some grant. Well, grant money doesn’t grow on trees. There’s no such thing as free money, and there’s no such thing as extra money.”
Konick was also critical of the supervisors for not scheduling adequate public hearings on the trails: “A project of this magnitude — the biggest thing we’ve ever done in the county — would have to go to a public hearing and have people comment.”
After Biniek voiced support for the trail — saying it was a safe place for children to learn to ride bikes, joggers to run, and mothers to push babies in strollers “without getting run over” — Parrish took his turn at the lectern. He told the audience that the proposed trail project had “turned into a political football.”
“I would never support this bike path if I believed that the taxpayer would have to pay for it,” Parrish said. “And we voted to pass a resolution in order for this [ad hoc group] RappTrails to apply for this grant. The grant money has already been taxed by the federal government, it’s already in a pot” that would cover 80 percent of the initial project.
Smith, a married mother of two older boys, conceded she’s “beyond the ‘babies in strollers’ stage, but I do still have kids who ride bicycles and ride skateboards. And I do know safe places in the county to take them in the county that nobody has to pay for.”
“In talking to people around the county I just don’t think there’s a lot of support for this plan,” Smith continued. “I just don’t see broad-based support for it.”
Smith added that the so-called bike path isn’t a “priority” when the supervisors’ “dance card” is filled with revising a long-overdue comprehensive plan, updating zoning ordinances, considering applications for Airbnb’s and a venue sites, restoring aging county buildings, and bolstering fire and rescue services.
Parrish, meanwhile, took the opportunity to “correct some facts” aired during the campaigning, including a suggestion that $590,000 has recently been added to the county’s budget.
“No,” said the supervisor. “There is basically $66,230 added to the budget that is a permanent addition.”
And then this dig at Konick, who has gained a reputation for filing costly lawsuits against the county and county seat amid his claims that the law isn’t being followed by appointed or elected officials.
“There is another $38,000” added to the budget, said Parrish, “that’s like one-time, this year only, not next year . . . and one of those is our litigation fund because we’re dealing with numerous frivolous lawsuits.”
Among other issues debated by the four candidates:
Broadband and cell phones
Biniek: Supports increased broadband and cell phone infrastructure, particularly to help home-based businesses and improve safety and emergency services at a time when landline services continue to deteriorate.
Smith: Lack of broadband and cell coverage impacts working families every day. Cites her background in telecommunications as a bonus if elected supervisor.
Parrish: Important for all the obvious reasons, and particularly essential for fire and rescue. Given it’s not a flat county, geography must be taken into consideration. Encourages patience over cell towers, given technology advances by the day.
Konick: A pressing issue. Supervisors must display leadership and find solutions. Cites his wealth of experience in public utility matters and regulations. Agrees that broadband is constrained and not economically viable given the county’s geography. Encourages applying for grants to build and facilitate broadband.
Preserving county character/open spaces
Biniek: Open spaces, natural beauty, dark skies are all God-given gifts to the county, and it’s the job of residents to protect them for future generations. Property rights also have to be taken into account, thus common goals towards preservation must be reached.
Smith: Charmed by rural character of Rappahannock, a “paradise.” Night skies vital; one of the few remaining places in the East where the Milky Way is visible. Thanks farmers for the surviving open spaces. Pledges a strong commitment to preserving county’s agricultural and rural character.
Parrish: Commits to keep development out of county, promote conservation, and scenic easements. Major supporter of night skies; proud to carry in his pocket a map of the county as seen at night. Downward facing lighting important.
Konick: County supervisors can do more to preserve night skies by controlling and limiting growth — more houses mean more lights. Key to preserving landscape is updating comprehensive plan, which has no mention of night skies. Zoning ordinance similarly needs to be updated. Farming needs to be encouraged.
Jobs and commerce
Biniek: Jobs for young people are important, but as for box stores, grocery stores, retail and shipping outlets “they don’t belong here.” Doesn’t desire additional traffic and infrastructure, nor does the county have the demographics or population to support retail stores; county would be left with an empty building. Education of young people is key to creating jobs.
Smith: County was once home to manufacturing and shipping businesses, jobs that provided primary and secondary incomes. Future business creation is a question of balance and appropriately zoned location. Sees room for job growth, particularly for young people, granted it’s balanced with the county’s agricultural and rural nature.
Parrish: Demographics are changing and county could use a pharmacy for its aging population. Otherwise, all points in county are 30 minutes away from a major town or city. Weekenders are helping to create jobs for county residents. Against any large industry in county.
Konick: County a decade ago tasked a committee to study economic development, but their findings virtually ignored by supervisors. Grocery stores require water and sewer, which outside the town of Washington don’t exist. Is opposed to large box stores.
Volunteer vs. paid fire and rescue
Biniek: Fire companies are manned predominantly with older volunteers, including senior citizens, a problem shared with other rural communities. Believes paid members will be a reality in the not-so-distant future, which will increase taxes.
Smith: Hiring paid personnel is a “slippery slope” — wants to increase call for volunteers, encourage volunteerism, especially among young people, or else taxes will have to increase.
Parrish: Prefers a hybrid system — a combination of volunteer and paid personnel, especially for EMTs, but only to a degree where there are gaps in firehouse staffing schedules.
Konick: Paid system is costly — $600,000 per hire, given salary and upgrades to facilities, including providing overnight accommodations. Will increase taxes by up to 25 percent; a huge burden.
Turmoil in county government
Biniek: There’s been an almost 100 percent turnover in the county government, resulting in a big hole to fill — “and we are trying our best to fill that hole.” Supervisors are being forced to seek higher caliber employees, which could or could not be a good thing for the county and taxpayers.
Smith: County government has been through ringer in last 15 months; huge void from administrator John McCarthy’s 2016 departure, leaving a lack of leadership. Cites her background in management and administration, and the challenges and crises she’s faced that would help her to right the county ship.
Parrish: Why he is running for reelection. County is experiencing a 30-year shakeup, like other governments do in time. Once straightened out, and with the right people put in the right places, county business will return to normal. Pledges to get ship back on even keel.
Konick: Quotes Yogi Berra: “If you don’t know where you’re going you’re liable to end up somewhere else.” Says supervisors had no contingency plans in place post-McCarthy, and as a result are “flailing about.” County needs new leadership, personnel, and accountability; he has the management experience to get the job done.
Biniek: Supports funding “soft tourism” — B&B’s, restaurants, theaters, art galleries, antique stores, and those who come out to view the county’s natural beauty. Tourism also provides much-needed jobs for the county. And the tourist dollar remains in the county.
Smith: Tourism is a no-brainer, but also a question of balance. County is currently earning a quarter-million dollars in tourism revenue, so what should the county be expected to invest in getting that return? The current tourism level is just about right, although reviving the once-popular Sperryville apple festival would be a excellent idea, among others, to attract tourists. Need to work on reputation to being open to the right kind of tourism.
Parrish: Tourism helps county revenue stream, but is opposed to a large budget for promoting tourism. Tourism has “ruined” some counties and their way of life, so must be “careful” not to overdue it.
Konick: Tourism doesn’t generate considerable revenue for the county like in other places — particularly anywhere near enough to justify cross subsidizing it out of taxpayer dollars. What the county is doing now is just enough and I would not propose to increase it.
Closing statement highlights
Biniek: “I’m not a big talker. I like to go to the meat of a fact or meat of an issue, get it done, get it over with. I think I can do a good job. I’m here for the people of the county. And I hope to create a future with you, people of the county, one that we can be happy with, that our children can be happy with.”
Smith: “This is my pledge to you: I will be competent; I will be well prepared for meetings; I will follow through with my commitments; I will actively participate in committees that I take on; I will adhere to the Freedom of Information Act; I will avoid conflicts of interest; I will subscribe to records retention; and I will follow correct parliamentary procedure for meetings and encourage my peers to do the same; I will work with the county to institute job descriptions and performance reviews and transition plans for county positions; I will be accountable; I will make my own decisions based on input from the voters of the Piedmont District, not special interest groups — you will never catch my saying ‘My lawyer told me to say this,’ and I will stand by them and not expect the county to bail me out if my decisions are questioned. And being accountable I will safeguard your hard-earned tax dollars; I will be responsive.”
Parrish: “I consider myself kind of a bridge between the old regime and the new regime. I’ve been here all my life; I’ve been going to supervisors meetings for many years . . . I’ve been involved all this time. We have some changes to make and I’m here to help implement those changes.”
Konick: “I’ve probably been to more board of supervisors meetings, more planning commission meetings, and board of zoning appeals meetings than anyone else in the room since coming to Rappahannock over 40 years ago . . . Now the county’s facing some very serious development pressures, some very serious financial issues . . . and some very serious management challenges . . . I feel that my education and my practical experience . . . all make me uniquely qualified to help the board and moreover help the county navigate the very difficult waters that are ahead of us.”