In quicksand and sinking fast

By Page Glennie

The Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors hired Garry Curry as the permanent county administrator on Nov. 8, 2017. Although I haven’t had the opportunity to meet Mr. Curry, I’m impressed by his negotiating skills and appalled by the lack of negotiating skills of our board. They gave him everything he wanted without any commitment on performance, which will undoubtedly add to the county’s spending problem and be reflected in next year’s tax bills.

Mr. Curry’s contract salary is $135,000 per year and his benefit package for the first six months will cost well over $30,000, including $7,500 in moving expenses plus $400 a month health insurance subsidy (more than any other county employee). There is a six-month severance clause if he is terminated without cause. There are also unpriced benefits such as a car, he accumulates leave as if he is a five-year employee, as well as reimbursement for professional dues (should we be paying for his engineer license), training, and subscriptions. The contract refers to an annual performance review based on yet to-be-developed criteria, but contains no performance objectives or incentives, such as to improve county government or stay on the job.

That makes Mr. Curry’s compensation comparable to John McCarthy’s after 30 years of service. Mr. Curry’s duties don’t include zoning administrator, which the board estimated to be 40 percent of the job and hired a full-time zoning administrator at a $55,000 salary. The board also hired a full-time human resource administrator at a $60,000 salary. In the space of a few months, the county administration staff has more than doubled, with total annual salaries increasing from $140,000 to $285,000, plus benefits. Why?

To put this in perspective, I researched 23 counties with populations of less than 15,000 (twice ours). Twenty-two of them had a lower per capita budget (total budget divided by population), and 22 with lower per capita county administrative staff salary and wages. No county had a higher county administrator salary then Rappahannock. King and Queen County, whose population is only 374 less than Rappahannock County, operates with 61 percent of our budget and 56 percent of our county administrative salary and wages. Their county administrator’s salary is only $91,160 — not $135,000 — one third less than ours.

Ms. Garton [the interim administrator] came from the county administrator position in Frederick County that has a population 11 times larger than Rappahannock County. That larger government perspective explains our ballooning bureaucracy in our county government and the tax increases we will soon be paying. Mr. Curry is coming from the deputy county administrator position at Gloucester County that has a population 5 times larger than Rappahannock County.

The root issue is that most of the board refuses to fulfill their responsibility to do the work required of their position. The board has delegated their responsibilities to the county administrator for decades. The board lacks the management and business skills to address the challenges facing the county. When John left, the wheels fell off the wagon.

Let me give you some details of what has been going on. First, the board was surprised to learn about the acquisition of the SUV for the emergency services coordinator and an Army truck that still doesn’t run and is parked at Sperryville Fire Department. Next, they were surprised to learn a county employee was misusing a county credit card. Then, they approved a $750,000 radio contract that provides no better radio coverage and is significantly behind schedule. Also, they imprudently approved a resolution supporting a bike trail without indemnifying county taxpayers. Now they have approved a contract for a county administrator that gives away the store. As Richard Brady asked the other week, “What in the world is the matter with you?”

Thanks to our board of supervisors, our county is in quicksand and sinking fast.

The writer lives in Amissville

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