‘There’s a certain expectation that these things are done right’
Garrey W. Curry Jr., had no misconceptions about the precarious state of Rappahannock County affairs when he arrived here almost six months ago to fill the glaringly vacant position of county administrator.
Who would believe that such an arguably tense transition — for Curry and the county alike — would proceed so smoothly and constructively that the government’s chief executive is already joking about the process?
“I haven’t been run out of town yet, which is positive,” Curry laughs during a wide-ranging interview at his new Library Road office, shared with his Executive Assistant Krystal Porras and Human Resources and Special Projects Director Lauren May.
They’ve already become quite the team.
Since the start of the year, the office of three has packed and moved from grossly inadequate space into a roomy suite of offices, produced an entire county’s budget from start to finish, taken a giant step in updating an overdue comprehensive plan, streamlined the preparation and postings of county meetings, corrected an abysmal minutes-taking process for meetings, increased transparency and the sharing of information with the public, created employee personnel and medical files where none previously existed, zeroed in on finance functions and purchasing processes, deleted an antiquated email server, prepared to move current and historical files to safer storage, and last but not least insisted that county leaders begin to follow — and enforce — code-required procedures for official meetings and public hearings.
“There’s nothing like a couple of lawsuits to help you understand that it’s important,” Curry doesn’t mind saying, referring to recent litigation brought by citizens against the county government, with one lawsuit winding up before the Supreme Court of Virginia.
“And that is largely my job,” he says. “I am the FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] officer, so it is incumbent upon me to let them know that, yes, we’re properly noticed, or not, or whatever the case may be. And to guide that and make sure we’re being open, and advertising when we need to . . .
“I hope the community is gaining some trust that people are paying attention to the importance that administration and the Board [of Supervisors] has on making sure we’re following FOIA, COIA [the Conflict of Interests Act]. And nobody’s perfect,” reminds Curry. “There may be mistakes and I would hope, as has been the case, where if a mistake or something questionable pops up a member of the public will reach out to me beforehand to say, ‘Hey, you might want to look at this again,’ rather than wait until after the fact and say ‘gotcha.’
One such important requirement that county officials previously let slip through the cracks surrounded the preparation, posting and approval of meeting minutes. But Curry says his staff has recently made tremendous inroads in catching up on minutes, particularly those missing prior to July 2017.
“I’m the clerk, and Krystal is the deputy clerk, so she’s been working on all the current minutes post-July 1, 2017. And they are all completed,” the administrator happily announces. “The process is well in hand and moving forward. Staffing is different now. Lauren’s position is new, and she has great capacity. [Administrator] Michelle Somers in Zoning is new. Having those assets available makes us properly staffed, and gives us an opportunity to keep up on things, as well as chipping away at this backlog of minutes.”
All told, seven sets of back minutes were approved by the BOS at their May meeting, and 11 sets were presented to the Board at their June meeting, which are presently being digested until approval.
“There are about seven sets of minutes left for mostly budget work sessions and small meetings that we’re working to gather information that is not very apparent,” Curry concedes. “The last few we are challenged, quite frankly. So we will run down those loose ends as well as we can [but] that big issue of minutes is largely resolved, which is a big one.”
Towards that end, in part, he thanks a handful of county residents who exerted time and effort to repeatedly point out what former Interim County Administrator Brenda Garton herself said was “the core of many problems: no record of action taken by the Board, citizen dissatisfaction and criticism, no record to show what needs to go to future agendas, appointments not being managed, etc.”
Says Curry: “There’s a certain expectation that these things are done right. They [citizens of Rappahannock] have every right to expect that their local government is going to be investing properly that [minutes preparation] happens. For whatever reason it couldn’t happen over the last couple of years.”
The new administrative team is also racing to create personnel files for county employees, as none previously existed. Medical data, for instance, is required per HIPPA — the medical information safeguard Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — to be kept in separate files.
“Lauren [May] is firmly engulfed in that whole process,” Curry reveals. “The filing I think took a hiatus. So we are back on track and she’s been doing a lot of backlog stuff, too, as director of HR and special projects. Some other filing was not done for a couple of years. That backlog is now easing up.”
Curry praises May often for all the county functions she is handling, payroll included, saying “she’s really jumping into the HR side of things, particularly now, going through open enrollment with HR and making sure she’s touching every new employee that comes through.
“These are opportunities that are now available to us with proper staffing that was just another added layer for [former Administrator] Debbie Keyser when she was here by herself without a Lauren, without a Michelle. I would hazard a guess it was just impossible,” he says. “There is this common theme when you think of all the things that Debbie had to do, and it’s no wonder the i’s didn’t get dotted. I think we resolved a lot of that.”
One year ago this month the BOS “accepted, with regret” Keyser’s abrupt resignation after she’d spent only one year as chief executive. Supervisor John Lesinski ultimately criticized his own board for setting Keyser up for “failure” by putting too many responsibilities — zoning included — on her plate that no one person could effectively handle.
Turning to the county’s long overdue comprehensive plan, which by state code should have been updated a decade ago, Curry offers no excuses but stresses that Rappahannock is “not the only locality that is or ever has been behind, I can assure you that.
“For whatever reason it didn’t get done,” he says. “I told the Board and many others I can’t waste too much time looking backwards, I can’t effect change. We can recognize the past and do the best we can but I can’t dwell on it. People really want to get into the nitty-gritty of what happened — who shot who? It’s generally not constructive. So how do we get things done?
“The issue kept coming up over and over that we need to get this data updated, the demographics, all the charts, all the maps. So I reached out to [executive director] Patrick Mauney of the Rappahannock-Rapidan Regional Commission and we contracted with them to do it. It’s already done,” he announces.
Cost: About $4,000.
Curry points out that the RRRC undertook similar work for Madison County, and within 45 days “we got the deliverable back and so that data is now being incorporated into the plan’s draft to be provided to the Planning Commission to review,” and then when all is said and done opened up for public review and comment.
“The one thing I know is that a comprehensive plan doesn’t have to be a static document. You don’t only have to look at it every five years,” Curry adds. “So they can clean it up, adopt it, and work on it, and improve it. We don’t have a great interest here of changing things drastically — we’re not going to go from the current model that we have, this kind of unique rural environment, with limited commercial, very limited industrial, mostly residential, and then tip it on its head and say we’re going to open this place up. That’s not going to happen.
“Recognizing that you can get a win, get this [plan] updated, and then we can work on it over the next several years.”
All in all, Curry, whose wife and family have yet to join him from his former home in Gloucester County, says he is very happy in his position — and his new digs, where people who want to use the restroom don’t have to walk through his office. That actually was the set-up in the tiny two-room “dollhouse” building on Gay Street that until recently housed the county’s administration.
“I’m in a good spot,” Curry reflects. “We’re here in the new building. It’s great to have the space that we have to entertain meetings, we’re not on top of each other, and we can be more productive. On the flip side I would rather be in town, close to where the action is happening in the county offices, where I can drop in more easily, be a more visible presence. Pros and cons in pretty much anything.
“But in these first five, six months, with my family not here, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to work,” he says. “I haven’t put my hiking books on once!”