The Commonwealth Iconoclast

A site dedicated to covering issues relevant to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and nation at large, plus other interesting things too, as I see fit...

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

"Out to Lunch"

Prince Edward County "Out to Lunch" according to Town of Farmville!
Readers of the Iconoclast may recall the ongoing drama going on down in Prince Edward County, in the Heart of Virginia. Because I grew up in this small college community, and have family and friends that still live there today, I take an active interest in what goes on in the County. Also, the local paper of record, The Farmville Herald, has done a fairly good job of covering the recent controversial events that have taken place, but I feel that this blog can "fill in the gaps" where the local paper dares not to tread. (After all, isn't this what blogging is all about?)

Prince Edward County is a small rural county about 70 miles southwest of Richmond, Virginia. Prince Edward County includes the Town of Farmville and proudly boasts of being the home of both Hampden-Sydney College and Longwood University, two well respected institutions of higher learning. It is a nice little community and a good place to live. However, there are dark clouds building on the horizon for the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors and its indomitable leader Chairman William "Buckie" Fore.

In a way, those brewing dark clouds on the horizon are a reminder of dark chapters of past events and a glimmer of hope for the future.

This drama all started innocently enough this past fall when citizens began to urge the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors to reorganize the County Planning Commission. The problem appeared to be the result of a dysfunctional planning process and allegations that the Planning Commission was stagnant, mismanaged, unfairly organized and dominated by a Chairman and Vice Chairman who had unresolved ethics questions hanging over their heads. After a summer and fall of mistakes and embarrassing disclosures involving County planning officials, citizens were calling for change. (Note: Something can be legal in a technical sense, but still be unethical)

Perhaps the most significant development this fall were the questions concerning the organization of the Prince Edward County Planning Commission. In response, County officials were hard pressed to explain how the Planning Commission was organized. Eventually, it was revealed that the Planning Commission was loosely organized on the basis of a 40 year old County resolution that was obviously too vague and outdated to serve present circumstances. At least one member of the Planning Commission did not even know he was on the Planning Commission. Some districts and interests were over represented on the Planning Commission. The one district experiencing the most severe planning and zoning controversy was not represented at all.

Ok. So fix it!

To fix it was exactly what Supervisors Pattie Cooper-Jones, Sally Gilfillan and Lacy Ward planned to do: restructure the Planning Commission and get it back on track. One would have thought that this would have been a simple task and one that would likely help to restore citizen confidence in a process that was falling apart at the seams all summer and fall.

This, however, did not happen.

Instead, for reasons unknown at this time, the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors voted to approve a new policy that would make matters worse yet. The new policy would, in effect, remove over SIX THOUSAND citizens from eligibility to serve on the Prince Edward County Planning Commission. All of these citizens who were excluded from eligibility to serve on the County Planning Commission happened to live in the Town of Farmville, the undisputed center of development activity.

So far, Chairman William "Buckie" Fore and the four other Supervisors who passed the new policy have chosen not to explain their reasoning for this seemingly unfair and inappropriate new policy.

In an editorial piece on January 4th, The Farmville Herald bluntly criticized the Board questioning both the wisdom of the policy and its fairness to the citizens of the County. Given the Herald's, normally cheerful and polite style, this editorial position was an unusually blistering indictment of the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors.

If that were not bad enough, in response to a maelstrom of complaints, the Farmville Town Council took the stage to further condemn the Board's ill-advised new policy. That action occurred on January11th, when the Town Council voted unanimously to approve a resolution to urge the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors to "appoint representatives to serve on the County Planning Commission from each of the eight (8) voting districts, of which three (3) include the town of Farmville..." This resolution would effectively gut the very essence of the County's new policy.

While several Council members were critical of the new County policy, one Council member seemed to sum up the overall sentiments. Town Council member David Whitus was quoted as describing the County's policy decision as "clearly out to lunch." He went on to point out that while Americans are dying in Iraq for the principles of democracy, those same principles do not apply in Prince Edward County.

Ouch!

During the past several months citizens have filed formal grievances against both the Planning Commission Chairman and Vice Chairman alleging bias and appearances of conflict of interests. So far, Chairman Fore and four other Supervisors (Moore, B. Jones, Simpson, and McKay) have chosen not to hear citizen grievances. A recent report in the Herald seems to suggest that the Board of Supervisor's will accept as a standard of public accountability anything short of criminal charges. Ethical questions are of no interest to the Board of Supervisors so long as there are no criminal charges.

Ouch again!

With this as the backdrop, the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors continues to struggle to maintain control of an increasingly out of control situation. This is a classic case study in political science...albeit bad political science: Citizens complain; government fails to respond; citizens get increasingly disenchanted; the cycle repeats with ever increasing discontent until something breaks. As someone once said: "the natives are getting restless." We can probably predict where this story is going.

But in the broader sense, there may be a silver lining to this depressingly predictable story.

About 50 years ago, the then leaders of this same pleasant rural community experienced a similarly bad lapse of judgment when they decided to take the "principled position" of closing the public schools rather than to integrate. While it may have seemed "principled" at the time, this incredibly bad lapse of judgment eventually led to the famous U.S. Supreme Court decision now popularly known as "Brown vs. Board." Those who lived through those bad times would probably attest to the extreme unpleasantness of the situation back then. However, that case eventually led to a better, more enlightened and more civilized America.

Out to lunch? Yes. But we can always learn from our mistakes. The specific details are different but the issues of fundamental human rights are similar. Perhaps, the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors is preparing to make history again.

Maybe this is progress.

11 Comments:

  • At 1/18/2006 4:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I understand that the present chairman of the PC has been in the position for 20 years of something? That seems like a long time, easy for things to get stale when this happens.

    This might sound silly, but has anyone every considered getting the ACLU involved in this? The fact of the matter is that when it was pointed out to the County that Districts in Farmville didn't have representation on the County's PC, the Board did the exact opposite, and chose to dismiss the one lone rep. from the Town (I think I have this correct?) To me this just seems totally crooked.

     
  • At 1/18/2006 5:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    actually the aclu idea isn't bad, but the problem is if the BOS hasn't done anything illegal, well, at least that we know of. Highly unethical and back handed, yes, illegal? who knows?

     
  • At 1/19/2006 9:02 AM, Blogger Will Vaught said…

    I don't think the activity has to be illegal for the ACLU to get involved, from my understanding this "angle" and been considered, but the ACLU hasn't shown much interest. I'm sure their resources are limited, and they have to pick and choose which battles they want to figth, but this issue in PE wouldn't be a bad idea, I can think of some issues that the ACLU has chosen to "go after" that weren't nearly as noble.

     
  • At 1/19/2006 9:03 AM, Blogger Will Vaught said…

    After all if an activity was illegal, wouldn't the proper authorities get involved?

     
  • At 1/19/2006 10:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I am not sure if I want to laugh or cry. Certainly there is a difference between criminal misconduct and unethical behavior. But it does appear that my county leaders seem to be satisfied with the absolute lowest standard of accountability possible...any thing short of getting hauled off to jail is ok... and that is pathetic. Somebody, please tell these guys up at the courthouse how to spell "ethics" so that they can look it up in the dictionary!

     
  • At 1/19/2006 4:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Perhaps someone from the county would be so kind to offer a simple explaination of why they are excluding county taxpayers who live in Farmville from the planning commission. What is the problem with having them serve? Am I missing something here?

     
  • At 1/19/2006 7:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    jhj

     
  • At 1/20/2006 9:42 AM, Blogger James Young said…

    Interesting post, Will. I spent four years at Hampden-Sydney, and I must confess to blissful ignorance of most of the goings on in PEC. Too busy studying during the week and chasing skirts on the weekends, as I vaguely recall.

     
  • At 1/20/2006 8:52 PM, Blogger Will Vaught said…

    Fortunatley for you, as a college student, you probably didn't have to concern youself too much with the inner workings of PE local government. but for those fortunate enough (or unfortunate) to live in PE full time, this sort of behavior has been going on for years (and it is not atypical for small communties) but as the community grows, and more folks from other places start to move in (which has been happening for many years now), the more unaccepable this conduct becomes...i guess the party is over, or it will be soon.

     
  • At 1/20/2006 10:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Lots of local folks who have lived around here all their lives don't realize whats going on down at the courthouse. Its cronyism and favoritism for the good ol guys and gals at its worst. But more and more folks are getting kind of fed up with this mess.

     
  • At 1/24/2006 11:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Fact is, we (the Farmville citizens) are mad as hell. Where are these dumb ideas coming from anyway? Who is in charge of this fiasco of Prince Edward County leadership?

     

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