‘I don’t want to have regrets later if our community changes for the worse and I didn’t do anything about it’
Harris Hollow resident Keir Whitson, a former vice chairman of the Rappahannock Water and Sewer Authority, has announced he will seek the Hampton District Board of Supervisors seat being vacated by John Lesinski, who Whitson had previously challenged in the 2015 election.
After one term in office, Lesinski decided last month not to seek reelection.
“My starting premise for entering this race is an optimistic one: Rappahannock County is a one-of-a-kind place and remarkable in many ways,” Whitson said Monday. “At the same time, we cannot take this for granted or be complacent. We must protect our county vigilantly through careful planning and good government, and be smart about adapting to change and anticipating threats to what we already have. I am excited about the possibility of serving the people of Rappahannock County and the residents of the Hampton District. I will be ready to get to work if elected.”
A married father of two children who moved to Rappahannock County in 2003 and works as a senior advisor to White & Case LLP, Whitson provided the following principles and objectives for running and serving on the BOS:
— Efficient, effective, organized, forward-thinking, and drama-free local government.
— A thriving county seat and vital outlying villages in which commercial activity is focused and that serve the basic needs of county residents.
— A strong fire and rescue system that is equipped to adapt to and function in a period of declining volunteerism.
— County facilities — including two wastewater treatment plants, a water supply system in the town of Washington, and county and school buildings — that are well-maintained and managed properly and cost effectively.
— An agricultural sector that is supported adequately and promoted creatively, particularly with respect to the niche marketing of Rappahannock County-origin goods.
— A long-term plan for tourism that maximizes tax revenue for the county and takes full advantage of its position as a primary gateway to the Shenandoah National Park.
Lesinski in 2015 was the top vote-getter — 294 votes — in a crowded field seeking the seat of the retiring Supervisor Bryant Lee. Whitson finished just 29 ballots behind Lesinski, with 265 votes. Finishing a distant third and fourth were realtor and farmer J. Newbill “Jay” Miller Jr., and last-minute write-in candidate Roger Cordani respectively.
Asked in a telephone interview why he’s decided to run again for the BOS seat, Whitson explained: “I count my lucky stars every day to be living where we live. And I can enjoy Rappahannock and do nothing in my community, but if I did nothing and in ten years we start to lose the county from a land-use perspective I would be upset . . . I don’t want to have regrets later if our community changes for the worse and I didn’t do anything about it.”
Working to preserve the county’s rural landscape and viewsheds, while at the same time increasing tax revenue, Whitson said he aims to focus more on tourism.
“[Tourism] doesn’t do much to dismiss our quality of life,” he argued. “Look at Sperryville. Has [its recent growth in the hospitality sector] had an adverse effect on any of us? Absolutely not. You bring in revenue with very little downside. Let’s get it right. It’s crazy not to maximize on the tax revenue potential.”
Whitson also wants to tap into the 1.2 million people who flock to Shenandoah National Park every year, many passing through the Thornton Gap entrance. In fact, Whitson says he first came to Rappahannock County in the late 1990s through his love for native brook trout fishing in Shenandoah Park, which led him and his wife to purchase their Harris Hollow home.
As for his unsuccessful 2015 candidacy, Whitson called it “one of the great life experiences I will never forget. The county afterwards felt different to me, looked different to me. It truly was inspiring going out and talking to the people. I get emotional just talking about it. I met people who are not seen in the paper every week, or at fundraising events, people who have lived here forever and love our county for what it is. To do it again I really can’t wait.”
From a governing standpoint, he spoke of working “every day” on behalf of constituents. “It’s more than just showing up for meetings. It’s what you do between the meetings.”
According to his office website, Whitson has nearly 20 years of technical experience in the antidumping and countervailing duty legal field, specializing in antidumping proceedings involving “non market economy” countries, including China and Vietnam. Holding a Master’s degree in China studies, he is conversationally proficient in Mandarin Chinese.
Supervisor Lesinski explained in not seeking reelection: “I have chosen to focus my future energies on volunteer opportunities in Rappahannock County and on my board appointed positions with the Commonwealth of Virginia . . . It has been my honor to serve Rappahannock County as an elected official on the Board of Education and the Board of Supervisors over the past eight years and I look forward to finishing out my term for the remainder of 2019.”
In a phone interview with this newspaper’s Patty Hardee, Lesinski added that serving on the BOS “has been rewarding to a degree. I love the constituent services piece of it and I’m very much enjoying trying to find broadband solutions for the county.”
But he said the level of contentiousness is difficult: “The more frustrating aspects are pretty obvious to anybody that attends our meetings or watches [the meeting videos] on YouTube.”
“I didn’t [become a supervisor] with the expectation that it would be this contentious and it’s been frustrating that the tools available to manage that contentiousness have just not been used to the full extent.”
Another frustration has been the series of lawsuits naming Lesinski personally or as a member of the board, although Lesinski said the contentious BOS meetings and litigation were not the reasons for his decision.
“I just really feel like I can be of more service to the county and the community by pursuing volunteer efforts of my own choosing,” he said.