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...

Friday, February 03, 2006

Will Navel-Gazing by the Campfire Save the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors?

This morning, a friend down in Prince Edward County sent me an email urging me to check out the latest goings on with county government.

As readers of the Iconoclast may recall, Prince Edward County government has been struggling for most of this past year in a morass of governmental dysfunction, unresolved ethics questions, and an increasingly unsympathetic general public. We have covered some of these matters in the Iconoclast since this past fall.

It seems that some members of the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors are recognizing the need to change the course of the County and to restore the credibility of County government. This recognition seems to be the basic motive behind the Board’s present retreat.

This term “retreat” conjures up visions of a bunch of kids going out in the woods to find themselves and to figure out who they are and what they want to be when they grow up, all the while singing Kumbaya and toasting marshmallows over the campfire and all that other good stuff.

Alas, were it only that simple. These days, the term “retreat” means so much more particularly as it applies to certain management techniques to address organizational needs and problems.

In this sense, the term “retreat” is often applied to structured get-togethers of people in more casual venues to engage in some form of navel-gazing exercise. Almost any group of people can go on retreat including people from businesses, fraternal organizations, religious groups, political organizations, and governmental organizations. The term “retreat” in this sense comes from the basic idea of getting away from the day-to-day pressures of doing what ever you normally do so that you can clear your head, relax, and be receptive to the give and take of important discussion.

From my perspective, this idea of getting away from day-to-day pressures to discuss really important basic questions certainly has some merit. However, those who have been through some of these retreat exercises have suggested that the results vary dramatically depending largely on the motivations of the participants. Poorly motivated participants produce poor results; highly motivated participants produce better results.

The worst examples are just flimsy excuses to get out of the office, away from the day-to-day routine and to knock back a few cold ones on the on the company’s dime. The best examples, and there are some, seem to be the ones where the retreat participants recognize the fundamental limitations of the retreat concept but nonetheless seize the opportunity focus on and address core issues. Most recognize that a few hours or even a few days of retreat will never solve all of the problems. But sometimes a retreat venue may provide an epiphany, that rare opportunity to see things clearly and to boldly start in a new direction.

However, from the news coverage of the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors retreat, it seems that the participants are so far still dancing around the most obvious core issue that has been hanging like a dark cloud over the Prince Edward County Courthouse for most of the past year. The problem seems pretty obvious: There are a growing number of citizens of the Prince Edward County who simply don’t trust the Board of Supervisors or the county government.

During the past six months, a whole constellation of problems have been reported in The Farmville Herald, The Crewe Burkeville Journal, and in scores of emails to the Iconoclast from citizens who range from mildly concerned to flat out irate. These reports paint a not so pretty picture of lost faith in the competency and integrity of the County government, lack of fair representation in the decision making process, and the lack of accountability from County officials.

It is indeed a good thing to have a mission statement. However, the Board of Supervisors must come to grips with the reality they face. They can have a fancy mission statement and talk about leadership and vision until they are blue in the face but it won’t matter a whit! A mission statement is not worth the paper it is written on unless and until basic problems are addressed. For example, I can imagine that the Titanic had a mission statement of a sort touting the attributes of that glorious ocean liner…big, fast and…unsinkable. We all know how that story ended.

While “navel-gazing” on retreat may be entertaining, let us hope that the good members of the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors will get around to addressing real problems before they run out of marshmallows and the campfire burns down too low.

But lest we forget, this is not about kids out playing in the woods. These are big people and their actions and inactions have consequences . Let us hope that the retreat works.



  • At 2/03/2006 6:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Good analysis, and yes a nice little retreat doesn't mean jack until some basic questions are answered. Too bad Chairman Fore doesn't like talking about real issues facing the County, as opposed to this little dog-and- pony show.

  • At 2/03/2006 8:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    If a retreat is something like group therapy, then I want to earmark my Prince Edward tax dollars to have the heads of some of those Supervisors examined.

  • At 2/05/2006 11:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    At least the PE taxpayers didn't have to foot the bill for their BOS to "retreat" to Hawaii like Rockingham.
    Interesting that now that the election year is done Del Lohr talks about what a waste of money it was and Dist. 1 sup Cuevas is blaming Dist. 4 sup Kyger for insisting everyone go. If Quevas felt that way, why did he go? And why didn't Lohr say anything before November?

  • At 2/05/2006 1:37 PM, Blogger Will Vaught said…

    I think the comparing PE's Retreat is Rockingham's Hawaii trip is of interest, but it's really an "apples to oranges" scenerio, but a good point nevertheless..

    I would tend to view Rockingham's decision to go to the NACO (Nationa Association of Counties) potentially a bad decision because it's in such an exotic destination, anyone who dares to attend will be subject to criticsm. Even if the Supervisors do go every year - as I believe si the case. Had then conference been in Chicago, not a mention of it, but Hawaii...Regardless in Rockingham were talking about one single dicision - regardless of what you might think of individual decision of Rockingham's BOS, I tend to believe they operate in a fair, responsive, and ehtical matter..would you not agree...

    whereras these above mentioned qualties don't apply to all of the members of PE's BOS.. Sure their retreat might only be a couple of grand for a faciltator, and it might actaully do some good. but the fundemental problem in PE is that certain members of the County's BOS do not operate in a fair, responsible, and ethical matter..if they ever do operate in this way, then they too should go to hawaii...fair enough?

  • At 2/05/2006 3:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Regarding Anon 11:31 AM comment, about the taxpayers paying for expensive trips to Hawaii, I am not sure we in Prince Edward County would really know. The problem with these County bosses is that they are sneeky and they vote for themselves nice little perks with some regularity, all at the tax payers expense. Believe me, if it isn't Hawaii, it is Hot Springs or some other all expense paid trip care of us tax payers. What do we get for it? Beats me! Most of the time, the public never knows they went or what they were doing. It sure isn't accountability.

  • At 2/05/2006 6:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    If anyone really wants to know where their local government officials are traveling to, it is easy to find out. Just ask to see the travel records for those officials. They are required by law to let you see them. These records will tell you where they are going but it is harder to figure out what they are actually doing. And that is where the problem sometimes lies.

    To be fair, and speaking as someone on the inside, it should made clear that public officials do occasionally have to travel on official public business. Sometimes we go nice places but that is not necessairly our fault. We go where we need to go to get the job done.

    Yes, there are abuses. I have seen them myself. But these abuses happen because the people who should be watching, namely the elected officials and the top administrators, are not doing their jobs. Sometimes they are the worst offenders.

    Keep up the good work Will. I hope that you will remain fair and balanced in your reporting.

  • At 2/05/2006 10:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Can't speak to PE, but let's look at the other locality being discussed here...
    On the school board, Myers has a brother who just got passed a rezoning for new development... in the eastern part of the county... His brother also owns a Chevrolet dealership there. THe Myers on the school board owns a Ford dealership. Does anyone think for one moment that these two fellows haven't considered that 2500 new residents will at some point be looking for new cars? On the Elkton town council we have someone who will benefit greatly from the construction of 2500 new homes... Hint: McDaniel... We have Mr. Cuevas of the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors, who's company-Riddleberger, benefits from new school construction... which will be forced by the new development, and Kyger from District IV, who has enjoyed overwhelming support from developers, as has Ahrend from District II.
    All three of these pristine gentlemen have openly supported Ken Patterson of the development hall of fame in his efforts to overthrow Dee Floyd of district III. Floyd voted against the Myers' development plans so where do you think that puts him in their eyes? And Steven Sisson was on the planning commission "representing" the east side when all of this was being "set in stone".................

    How coincidental...........

    Can you say "done deal"????

    How are honest people in this area supposed to deal with such a good old boy's network???

  • At 2/05/2006 11:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Done deal... Dunn deal... it is all the same thing. It is good to have friends in high places.

  • At 2/06/2006 1:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    To be fair, readers should be reminded that we have a few Supervisors down here in PEC who are honest and who are trying fix some of the problems. Unfortunately, we have a few people on the Board who should be ashamed of their behavior. Maybe the retreat will help.

  • At 2/13/2006 4:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Wishful thinking maybe. Of those five Supervisors who seem to be caught like deer in the headlights, I wonder who of them will finally show the initiative to question what the hell is going on down at the courthouse.


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