The two parts of the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors meeting on Monday could not have been more different. During the afternoon session, the courthouse was packed with citizens showing support for the county administrator in the wake of an incident involving “leaked” county emails and a clerical error.
In the evening, a joint session between the supervisors and the Planning Commission brought the county’s comprehensive plan one step closer to being adopted.
Here’s what you missed at Monday’s meeting.
Attendees at the afternoon session were apparently reacting to last week’s news that Board Chair Christine Smith had written an email to Curry requesting that an item regarding “performance, demotion, salaries and disciplining of employees for non-performance … of FOIA duties” be added to Monday’s closed session agenda.
In the email exchange obtained by this newspaper, Smith connected the agenda item to the “botched notice” of the planned joint meeting between the Board and the Planning Commission for which Curry took the blame. (The BOS and the Planning Commission had intended to hold a joint meeting in late October, but when the appropriate notice was not posted, Commission Chair David Konick called attention to the error and said the meeting had to be postponed.)
Supervisors Debbie Donehey, Chris Parrish and Keir Whitson were quick to admonish Smith in the Rappahannock News for her “shortsightedness.”
“Garrey deserves a raise, not a public chastisement,” Parrish said.
Newly appointed Board of Zoning Appeals member Steph Ridder was the first to speak as a private citizen and invoked a legal term called “harmless error” in Curry’s defense. “That’s when an error has no effect on the outcome of a case,” Ridder said.
“In this case, despite Mr. Curry’s mistake the Board of Supervisors had an opportunity to hear at length from Mr. Konick … and they will have another opportunity to hear from the entire Planning Commission tonight.”
Ridder added that Rappahannock County spent a long time searching for a county administrator and “we are fortunate to have found Mr. Curry.”
Library Board Trustee Judy DeSarno seconded Ridder’s support for the county CEO and recalled her first experience interacting with Curry as a judge for the Christmas parade in Washington. “In true Curry style,” DeSarno said, “he took a picture of every float and had a chart of criteria.”
DeSarno went on to praise Curry for being well-prepared and professional.
Interrupting the public comment period to address those in attendance, Smith said “I feel like there’s been some misinformation in the press.”
“The fact of the matter is when I asked for a closed session I specifically asked for a closed session not in regards to any individual officer in our government. I asked for a closed session in regards to nonperformance of FOIA duties by employees … It did not sit well with me that people misunderstood my intentions,” Smith said.
Still, a dozen Rappahannock residents praised Curry, noting his competence, professionalism, attention to detail and dedication to county government.
Yet others defended Chair Smith. “The articles that appeared in the local newspapers made us rethink what the news media and the reporters are all about,” said Yoko Barsky.
“The chairman of the board asked for a closed session to be added to the agenda to discuss personnel matters,” Barsky continued. “The details are to be discussed at the closed meeting among the supervisors, not with newspaper reporters.”
Near the end of the afternoon session, Supervisor Ron Frazier passed a written letter to his colleagues on the Board and, reading from it, said that “members of this Board attacked their colleague [which] encouraged other people to pile on.”
Frazier went so far as to call the affair a “white-collar lynching” and added that “almost everyone that got up and spoke with improper knowledge of what happened are also members of the local Democratic committee.”
One woman in attendance at the meeting, who asked not to be identified, told this newspaper that she was offended by Frazier’s lynching reference, calling it a very “divisive term.”
Frazier suggested that the effort to support Curry was “orchestrated by somebody … it was partisan.”
Back-to-school success story
In her Superintendent’s Report, Dr. Shannon Grimsley told supervisors that Rappahannock County Public Schools were listed as “Back-to-School Success Stories” by the U.S. Department of Education.
“I am happy to report that our second case of COVID was well contained by following our strict reopening mitigation procedures and working with [the Virginia Department of Health], and the quarantine period expired last Friday with no additional cases reported,” Grimsley said.
Dr. Grimsley also mentioned that the Virginia High School League has released updated guidance for the beginning of the sports season in December. Athletics Director Courtney Atkins will provide more details at next week’s School Board meeting.
County addresses Fire & EMS struggles
During public comment, Sperryville Rescue Chief Todd Summers addressed the Board regarding EMS and fire response. “It’s easy to say we’re at the end of our ropes,” Summers said. “It’s been a very stressful period. We lost a lot of people due to COVID risk so we’re operating with … a skeleton crew and the pressure is getting to be unbearable.”
Summers advocated for short-term, medium-term, and long-term solutions, such as paid staff, to ease the pressure.
The Board voted unanimously to update the County Code to more easily enable fire levy funds to be used to pay emergency medical and firefighting personnel.
The Board plans to hold a public hearing on the potential for a Broadband Authority which would have the ability to spend funds on broadband initiatives such as the project suggested by Piedmont Broadband at the BOS’s September work session. The Board itself cannot solicit broadband services and must create a public body to do so on its behalf. Notice of the public hearing will be published in this newspaper.
‘One hundred signatures’
In the evening session which was held jointly with the Planning Commission, the BOS adopted the proposed “errata” amendments to the Comprehensive Plan.
In spite of Frazier’s best efforts to adopt the Comprehensive Plan as-is, the supervisors continued to debate the significance and purpose of the village maps. Donehey advocated for adopting the plan with no maps at all and suggested that the maps be revisited later, a sentiment which Parrish seemed to share.
“We need to make it clearer what the plan is for future development,” Donehey said.
“If we don’t have the maps, what do we have?” Chair Smith asked. “We want to know where the countryside is and where the villages are.”
Hampton Supervisor Keir Whitson raised the most questions about the plan, from doubts about its legibility to the average reader to concerns about the maps and the ability for the proposed Broadband Authority to move forward with procurement
Planning Commission member Mary Katherine Ishee also pointed out that a petition opposing the Sperryville map has garnered almost 100 signatures from residents of that village. “I also want to clear up a couple of misperceptions,” Ishee said.
“The Virginia Code does not require that we have future land use maps. It requires that we have a future land use plan, but these maps are optional … not does Virginia law require that we incentivize development. We do not have to encourage growth, we only have to plan to accommodate growth should it occur.”
“The actual language,” Ishee continued, “doesn’t in any way indicate that there is going to be protection of the land outside these areas, it just implies that there would be encouraging [of] new growth … within these boundaries.”
The Board of Supervisors scheduled a work session to make headway on edits to the Comprehensive Plan for Monday, Nov. 16, at 6 p.m.