A fiscal year 2020 budget totaling $26,129,281 was adopted by the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors at its regular meeting Monday, while at the same time it tabled indefinitely by a 3-2 vote a Code of Conduct and Ethics proposed over a year ago.
In addition, by a 3-2 vote, the board chose not to re-appoint Planning Commission chair Gary Light — tasked with overseeing development of the county’s new Comprehensive Plan — for another four-year term. The BOS will advertise for candidates from the Stonewall-Hawthorne district.
Regarding the budget, during the afternoon public comment period several citizens spoke in favor of increasing the county schools funding by $75,000, earmarked for teacher salary increases and hiring a social worker to counsel students.
In addition, Hurley Smith, a member of the county’s Electoral Board, spoke in favor of raising the salaries of County Registrar Kim McKiernan’s salary and her assistant “based on performance.” The Electoral Board had originally asked for a significant market adjustment to McKiernan’s salary that would have brought her yearly wages to over $84,000 from her current pay of about $62,000.
Smith said McKiernan has not had a raise in seven years and deserved to be paid for “her outstanding service and value to the community.”
When all was said and done, the BOS in adopting the budget approved an additional $50,000 for the schools and raised McKiernan’s salary by 3 percent.
Meanwhile, county citizens hoping that a proposed Code of Conduct and Ethics would bring civil discourse to BOS meetings were disappointed by the board’s four-to-one vote to table the code indefinitely. The discourse around the topic was anything but civil, with Jackson Supervisor Ron Frazier interrupting the others to loudly proclaim that he wasn’t being respected.
The code was first proposed at the April 2018 BOS meeting by Hampton resident Al Regnery and Stephen Brooks of the Piedmont district. The two founded United Citizens of Rappahannock (UCOR), a nonprofit dedicated to promoting good government and civility among officials and citizens.
Since that time, the code language has been considered several times by the BOS Rules Committee, and the text has been massaged and wordsmithed by County Attorney Art Goff. A public hearing was held at the April 1, 2019 BOS meeting.
At Monday afternoon’s public comment period, former Washington mayor John Fox Sullivan challenged the BOS members to justify votes against adoption of the code.
Anyone who votes against the code, Sullivan said, “I want to know why.” He asked that anyone not in favor of the code declare, “I am against the code of conduct because….”
None of the naysayers adopted Sullivan’s language, but they did state their objections:
“What good is a code of conduct if we don’t respect our fellow members?” asked Frazier. He suggested that the code text could be a first draft for a county government employee handbook.
Stonewall-Hawthorne Supervisor Chris Parrish said he felt the code was a reworking of the state’s Conflict of Interest (COIA) and Freedom of Information Acts (FOIA).
“We don’t need to reword FOIA and COIA,” he said. In addition, “Several paragraphs are about good manners with no teeth to it. And [the code] probably won’t change anyone’s behavior.”
It was Parrish’s motion to table the document indefinitely. Piedmont supervisor Christine Smith reported that a county employee handbook was in the works and might be ready in July. She agreed that the BOS should table the code and work on the handbook.
Chair Roger Welch scolded the group. He voted in favor of the code.
“We’re not doing the county’s business, but we’re raising our voices,” Welch said. “I’m disappointed that this little piece of paper is too embarrassing to sign.”
Hampton supervisor John Lesinski also voted in favor of adoption.
“[The code] is aspirational, not punitive,” he said. “I don’t understand why everyone’s so afraid of this.”
Earlier this year, Smith requested that a standing item be placed on the agenda to afford time for information and discussion related to current litigation. The following status was reported to the BOS:
Marian Bragg v Board of Supervisors (Bragg I) — Finalizing discovery disputes. Placing matter on court docket to set a trial date (May 13, 2019).
Marian Bragg v Board of Supervisors (Bragg II) — Opposing counsel provided with potential dates for depositions but none have been scheduled (no change).
Tom Woolman v John Lesinski — Pretrial conference set for August 27, 2019. Trial date of September 25, 2019.
George Sonnett v Board of Supervisors — Judge Parker dismissed the case with prejudice.
James A. Grigsby v Nationwide Pentecostal Evangelistic Assn and Board of Supervisors —- Rule to show cause on May 13, 2019.
Jeremiah Atkins v Joseph Long et al. — General District Court, May 21, 2019 at 9:30 a.m.
It’s worth noting that all of the plaintiffs are represented by Rock Mills lawyer David Konick.
The BOS also considered or acted on these matters:
In a public hearing, VDOT’s Ben Davidson presented the agency’s Secondary Six Year Plan containing projects being considered from FY 2020 to FY 2025. The priority list, adopted in May 2018 includes paving sections of Turkey Ridge Road, South Poes Road, and Keyser Run Road. After significant citizen complaints, a section of Battle Run Road was removed from the list. The BOS voted unanimously to accept the plan as amended.
The BOS voted unanimously to appoint Theresa Rahe Sidrow of Jackson district to the Library Board to fill out the term of Stephen Slade, who recently resigned.
County Administrator Garrey Curry announced that updated county street maps are available for $1 purchase from his office, the Visitors Center, Building Inspections, and Treasurer’s Office.
An unedited video of the supervisors meeting on Monday, May 6 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.