Strong public support for Christine Smith resolution
The bike trail appears doomed.
The proposed Schools Connector Trail, sponsored by the RappTrails Coalition, suffered a tremendous setback Monday night after Piedmont District Supervisor Christine Smith put forward a last-minute resolution to decline an $800,000-plus grant from the Virginia Department of Transportation to fund 80 percent of the public-private project..
At 11:20 p.m. — after passionate remarks in which he castigated residents at the meeting for acting childish and saying “I’m disappointed to see you arguing and laughing” — Board of Supervisors Chair Roger Welch called for a voice vote on Smith’s resolution. Then Welch, the last of five members to vote, drove the final stake through the heart of state funding for the project by voting “Aye!”
Welch’s surprise vote was in sharp contrast to a comment he made in the afternoon session of the BOS meeting, during a discussion of a RappTrails’ request to continue working with the county to find solutions. At the end of a 30-minute board conversation about whether the request contradicted a previous BOS action to require RappTrails to provide a letter of credit or another surety, the chairman commented, “What’s the rush to kill the project?”
Monday evening’s vote came at the end of a long and especially contentious regular BOS meeting that convened at 2 p.m. and adjourned shortly before midnight, with only a short dinner break.
Anticipating an evening session crowd larger than could be accommodated at the Rappahannock County Courthouse, where the BOS normally meets, county Administrator Garrey Curry secured the high school auditorium for the evening session. Attendance reached just over 150 in the 350-seat capacity venue.
RappTrails had been awarded the VDOT grant in June to cover 80 percent of the estimated cost of building the 1.2 mile path between the county’s two public schools.
As required by VDOT, the other 20 percent had to be supplied by the county or raised from outside sources. RappTrails raised the 20 percent and more in private donations and nonprofit grants. And the group continued to fundraise.
In a Nov. 5 letter to the BOS, RappTrails’ founder Jane Whitfield reported that her group had raised an additional $105,000 in only one week’s time. This additional amount was to counter earlier citizen concerns about the cost of maintaining the trail for the VDOT-mandated life of 15 years.
Nearly 60 people spoke at the evening session, the majority in opposition to the trail. Many asked questions or expressed concerns that Curry, Whitfield, and members of the RappTrails board had tried for months to answer, to no avail.
At the Sept. 5 BOS meeting — also a lengthy, combative, heavily attended meeting held at the high school — the supervisors voted 4-1 to table consideration of the schools path until RappTrails could deliver an irrevocable letter of credit or some other guarantee that taxpayer money would not be used to build the trail.
Then and several times hence, Whitfield has stated that there is no need for a letter of credit, as her organization has raised $1.2 million dollars in cash and grants.
In addition to her Nov. 5 letter, Whitfield sent another letter to the BOS, dated Oct. 30. Both letters asked the supervisors to authorize Curry “to work with RappTrails, Bohler Engineering, and others to identify and develop additional scenarios for funding and executing the Schools Connector Trail project.”
The Oct. 30 letter also stated, “[I]t makes sense to allow RappTrails and the County Administrator to take a fresh look at the project and develop a strategy that meets the needs of the county.”
In Monday’s afternoon session, the BOS actually voted 3 to 2 to give RappTrails a chance to keep working on a solution. But the supervisors failed to mention this at the evening session.
Code of conduct
Amid a call for a proposed code of conduct for county officials, employees and appointees following a series of disparaging and often profane attacks on residents by Board of Zoning Appeals member David Konick, Jackson District Supervisor Ron Frazier, one of the leaders of the board’s Rules Committee, directed BOS attention Monday to codes of conduct and ethics from several jurisdictions in Virginia.
Among them a draft code of conduct for county officials and employees fashioned after Madison County. A note on the draft from County Attorney Art Goff acknowledges citizens Al Regnery of the Hampton district and Stephen Brooks of Piedmont for drawing attention to the Madison code.
Regnery and Brooks, in the October BOS meeting, proposed the code of conduct. As founders of United Citizens of Rappahannock, a nonprofit organization that encourages “civility among all of our government officials and our citizens,” Regnery and Brooks offered in October to work with Goff.
“We’ll keep after you till [the code of conduct] gets done,” Regnery told the board at the time.
In Monday’s meeting, Frazier asked for direction from the board for how the Rules Committee should proceed on a draft. Should the code of conduct be as a stand-alone document approved every year at the board’s January organizational meeting, a preamble section to the county code, or language incorporated into Chapter 30 of the county’s code?
Frazier was concerned that including it in the code would make violations a misdemeanor criminal offense. Goff suggested that language could be included to exempt conduct violations from criminal sanction.
“I don’t think the other counties’ codes of ethics are enforced through a criminal proceeding,” Goff said. “It would be easy enough to draft language that would exempt violations of the code of ethics under the general enforcement statute. If they are not misdemeanors, the code of Virginia allows you [to] assess penalties among the members of the board for disorderly conduct.”
Goff offered to draft such language. Frazier said he would meet with the Rules Committee again and come back with proposed text at the BOS December meeting.
If the decision of the BOS is to include the code of conduct in the county ordinance, Curry said a properly noticed public hearing would be needed.
In an email yesterday, Brooks wrote: “United Citizens of Rappahannock believes that adoption of standards of conduct by the Board of Supervisors is a high priority and looks forward to the Board’s action at its December meeting. United Citizens is committed to encouraging all parts of the County government to adopt the same standards.”
Curry also reported that while responsiveness from landline telephone service providers, such as CenturyLink or Verizon, has improved in recent months, residents are still experiencing problems. He emphasized that county residents having problems with landline service requests could contact his office directly.
He will contact the provider himself to expedite repairs. Curry can be reached at 540-675-5330 or at email@example.com.
An unedited video of the supervisors 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. sessions on Monday, November 5 can be found online at rappnews.com/video, or on the newspaper’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/RappNewsPlus. The meeting agenda and related documents are online at boarddocs.com/va/corva/Board.nsf/Public.