Walk it like you talk it

This commentary was submitted by: Saul Abbate, Ralph Bates, John Beardsley, John Bourgeois, Bill Dietel, Judy DeSarno, Ed and Lynn Dolnick, Brian and Martha Donegan, Jed Duvall, Casey Eitner, Mike Ferrell, Sherri Fickel, Kit Goldfarb, Bob Hurley, Kevin Kraditor, Dan Lanigan, Mike Mahoney, Ron Makela, Jim Northup, Ross O’Donoghue, Dick Raines, Stephanie Ridder, Martin and Cheri Woodard

Over the past several weeks, reference has been made on these pages to an organization called Rappahannock Citizens for Community Empowerment (RCCE). This is a group that declares on its website that it advocates “transparency of county business.” RCCE says, as well, that it “does not look to influence legislation or campaign on behalf of any candidate for office.” Yet this pro-transparency organization itself operates in secrecy, as detailed below.

RCCE is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit “educational” organization which “seeks to leverage” members of the community to assist the county government as volunteers. Its website states that among RCCE’s purposes is to “foster good government at the local level” and “accountability of local officials.” We agree that these are laudable objectives.

But, curiously, although RCCE promotes open and honest government, there is little public information about the actual workings of this organization. Moreover, the organization promotes an understanding and respect of Virginia’s Conflicts of Interest Act (COIA) and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and yet carries on its own operations behind closed doors. Meetings are not publicized and its website states that all “corporate membership and contributions are kept confidential.” We find this secrecy puzzling, to say the least, especially given the high-minded transparency aims touted by RCCE and its officers.

A RCCE application for membership asks for an individual’s name, address, email and in what district of Rappahannock County the applicant resides and is registered to vote. Applicants are asked to enclose yearly dues of $10.00 and invited to make an additional contribution.

We have been told that a former county supervisor learned of RCCE last year, agreed with its stated purposes and aims, applied for membership and mailed a dues check. Later, he was told by RCCE’s Executive Director Page Glennie that he could not join unless he disavowed certain actions by the Rappahannock County Attorney. The supervisor declined, his membership was denied, and his check returned. Why would an organization formed to “foster good government in Rappahannock County” deny membership to anyone who wants to positively engage in such activity, let alone a county supervisor? Why would such an organization require a vow of opposition to the county attorney for membership?

Page Glennie, a regular and vocal participant at BOS meetings, offers numerous policy proposals and FOIAs voluminous county records — that is his right to do so. RCCE’s Vice Executive Director Marian Bragg has sued the BOS twice for alleged violations of FOIA. RCCE’s Secretary/Treasurer Tom Woolman is currently suing a BOS member for alleged violations of COIA. These lawsuits may or may not have merit — the judicial system will be the ultimate arbiter.

Given the actions of these three individuals and perhaps other unknown members of RCCE, one could argue the organization has an outsized influence on the governance of Rappahannock County. As such, we believe the community should have the right to know who belongs to this organization and learn more about its dealings with the county government. We call on RCCE and its leadership — all outspoken advocates of transparency — to “walk it like you talk it” and release the names of its donors, publicize its meetings and open its membership to all in the community. Of course, RCCE is within its rights to remain a secret organization, but then the question will remain — why?

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