Lawsuits consuming county’s time, energy and money

Supervisor Frazier wants private legal expenses paid with county funds

Welch reelected BOS Chair; Smith Vice Chair

Despite several members of the public asking for civility of the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors in the New Year, this past Monday’s meeting was marked with disagreement, aggression and raised voices — supplied mostly by Jackson Supervisor Ron Frazier.

Frazier erupted several times during the meeting, mostly around the topic of ongoing taxpayer-funded litigation in defense of the county government. At present, there are four lawsuits naming the BOS, County Attorney Art Goff, or individual BOS members.

Jackson Supervisor Ron Frazier, declaring he is entitled to use county litigation funds for his private legal expenses, makes a joke of it by passing around his hat during Monday’s BOS meeting in Washington. By Luke Christopher

Frazier was initially named in the first suit known as Bragg 1, which charges violations of public notification before the supervisors went into closed sessions to consider hiring a Rappahannock County Attorney in 2016. But in conjunction with the suit, the plaintiff’s attorney, David Konick, offered members of the board an out — any of the supervisors who admitted to the violation would not be a named party.

Only Frazier acknowledged guilt and took the offer. The other supervisors maintain their innocence of the allegations.

In Monday’s meeting, as in the December BOS meeting, Frazier insisted that he was entitled to use the county’s litigation fund for his legal expenses, even though he is not a defendant. He also protested against being subpoenaed as a witness — a routine procedure during evidence collection before a trial — implying that with the subpoena, County Attorney Art Goff with calling him a liar.

The disagreement about payment of Frazier’s legal fees arose during the discussion of accounts payable. Two payments were discussed: one for $4,080 to the Walker Jones law firm, whose attorney Mike Brown is acting as co-counsel with Goff; the other for $200 to Offit Kurman, a law firm that Frazier consulted.

After several minutes of Frazier’s vocal challenges to the Board and to Goff and his contention that the county should pay his legal bills for Bragg 1, Stonewall-Hawthorne Supervisor Chris Parrish brandished his wallet, pulled out $200 and offered the money to Frazier, who accepted it.

Frazier then made a joke of it, passing his hat around the meeting pretending to solicit other contributions.

But during a subsequent discussion about the meeting agenda, Frazier again flared up.

Smith had requested that a standing item be placed on the agenda for the Board to get information about and discuss current litigation against the county. Hampton Supervisor John Lesinski asked that the item be deleted.

“We had that item on the agenda in December and it turned out to be nothing but a tongue lashing session of the County Attorney [Goff],” Lesinski said, alluding to Frazier’s verbal attack of Goff at the Dec. 3 BOS meeting.

Frazier responded, also referring to Goff, “Unfortunately what we had was an employee that was insubordinate to this board.”

Smith explained that she placed the item on the agenda not for “an in depth analysis,” but for information on bills, court dates, and other significant events.

During a heated argument with Lesinski, Frazier claimed that he was being “deliberately” left out of information.

Two suits brought by Gid Brown Hollow resident Marian Bragg charge the Board with violations of the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Another, filed by Amissville resident Tom Woolman, alleges that Lesinski violated the state’s Conflict of Interest Act (COIA). And the fourth, filed in late December by Harris Hollow resident George Sonnett again charges three members of the BOS and Goff with COIA violations. The suits are working their way through the courts. The first Bragg case is heading to trial, although a date has not yet been set.

Election of officers

The unpleasantness began not even four minutes into the meeting with the election of the BOS officers, part of the organizational meeting conducted in the first meeting of every year.

Parrish nominated Chair Roger Welch to continue as chairman. But Frazier — long a critic of Welch — compared the nomination to the meaning of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

“I’m not going to be able to support this gentleman,” Frazier said. “We need to do something different.”

Parrish objected.

“I think this is [Welch’s] last year. I don’t think he intends to run again,” Parrish said. “It would be illogical to remove [Welch] from the Board at this point.”

Frazier began challenging and interrupting Parrish, asking why Parrish thought Welch qualified. Parrish tried to deflect Frazier’s attack while the rest of the supervisors sat stone-faced.

After several minutes of Frazier’s confrontation of Parrish, Lesinski called for a vote. Welch was reelected by a four to one roll call vote, Frazier answering only “present.”

Next, in a surprise twist, Piedmont supervisor Christine Smith was elected Vice Chair. Frazier originally nominated Smith, but no one seconded her nomination. Parrish was then nominated to continue as Vice Chair, and Frazier again complained, saying, “We need something different.”

Parrish was reelected in a three to two vote, Frazier voting “present” and Smith, “nay.”

Parrish, who was subjected to a great deal of criticism last year over his support of the once-proposed 1.2 mile School Connector Trail, then declined his election as Vice Chair.

“I don’t think I am willing to serve as Vice Chair if it’s not unanimous for the Board,” Parrish said. “I decline the Vice Chairmanship and second the nomination of Ms. Smith.”

She was elected four to one, with Lesinski voting “present.”

Other Board business

Board members and others were elected to various boards and commissions, as follows:

  • Welch as the Board representative on the Rappahannock-Rapidan Regional Commission.
  • Smith as Board rep on the Planning Commission and the Rappahannock County Recreational Facilities Authority (RCRFA).
  • Wakefield district resident Steph Ridder was elected to the RCRFA.
  • Board of Zoning Appeals member Chris Bird as the BZA rep on the Planning Commission.
  • Lesinski as Board rep on the Rappahannock River Basin Commission, Parrish as alternate; and the Rappahannock County Community Policy and Management Team.
  • Frazier and Smith as Board reps to the Public Safety Committee.
  • Frazier as Board rep to the Fire Levy Board.
  • Parrish as Board rep on the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren Regional Jail Authority Board.
  • Wakefield resident Jason Brady was elected to the Agricultural & Forestal District Advisory Committee.

The BOS heard reports from the county’s auditing firm Robinson Farmer Fox Associates, and about the county’s Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan. Mark Nesbit from VDOT reported on current and planned road maintenance in the county.

An unedited video of the supervisors 2 p.m. session on Monday, January 7 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.

About Patty Hardee 270 Articles
Writer, consultant, actor, director, recovering stand-up comic, Patty covers the county’s courts and other topics of interest for Rappahannock News. She lives with her grape-growing husband Bill Freitag in Flint Hill.