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, March 08, 2006



In recent news we learn that U.S. Attorneys are delivering a “gift” of $1 million dollars to the good citizens of Buchanan County, Virginia as a final chapter in the ongoing story of “Operation Big Coon Dog”.

This is indeed good news after a long and difficult three years since the Great Flash Flood of 2002 in Buchanan County left two dead and many homeless in the Hurley community of this rural Southwest Virginia County.

While the flood was certainly a major community tragedy, the scars left by the flood are perhaps more easily healed than the scars left by the betrayal of public trust by those Buchanan County officials who were duty bound to protect the public interest, but who instead, elected to cash in on the adversity of those citizens who they were sworn to serve.

We know that times of adversity often bring out the best of human nature and allow individuals to transcend their day-to-day limitations and to rise above all expectations to serve the greater good of their fellow men. Well… this just didn’t happen in Buchanan County. Indeed, the opposite happened. The great adversity that afflicted the citizens of Buchanan County in the Hurley community during the Great Flash Flood of 2002 brought out the worst of human nature… greed, betrayal of public trust and corruption... at least in the hallowed halls of the Buchanan County Courthouse.

Readers of the Iconoclast may recall that “Operation Big Coon Dog” is an ongoing federal public corruption case. Since its inception, this case has resulted in the indictment and conviction of sixteen individuals who saw the tragedy of their neighbors as nothing more than an opportunity to cash in for personal gain.

Of those 16 individuals who were indicted, one was the then current Chairman of the Buchanan County Board of Supervisors James Ralph “Pete” Stiltner Jr. and another was the former Chairman of the Buchanan County Board of Supervisors, Stuart Ray Blankenship. These two “gentlemen” served in the County’s highest office of responsibility and public trust! Instead of watching out for the public interests, these to fine gentlemen elected to sell their integrity and their offices for cash, trinkets, and coon dogs.

Also indicted was former Board of Supervisors member Calvin Leo Ward.

Joining these high elected officials were a number of County administrative officials including the County Road Inspector, the County Coal Road Engineer, and the County Emergency Services Coordinator, and a number of “businessmen” who reaped the profits of this widespread public corruption.

While this “gift” of $1 million dollars coming from seized assets is perhaps significant, it is little more than a symbolic gesture in comparison to Buchanan County’s annual operating budget currently at about $31 million. But this symbol is not so much about the money as it is about bringing closure to the citizens of Buchanan who were betrayed by their highest and most trusted political leadership at a time of enormous community tragedy.

The County could spend the money on repairing roads or on some other needed community project. But, from a practical perspective, a million dollars just doesn’t go very far these days. The money will be soon gone and there will be nothing left to evoke memories of this sad but significant chapter in Buchanan County’s history. The hard lessons learned may be forgotten. And that would be a tragedy.

Maybe, the current Buchanan Board of Supervisors should think long and hard about this gift and find a truly fitting use for the $1 million dollars. Some ideas that come to mind include the following.

Spend some of the money on voter education programs for the citizens of Buchanan County. This could include “Get out the vote” campaigns, a guest speaker program on citizen involvement and public integrity, and scholarships for students who seek to pursue careers in public service. Maybe this could help strengthen the leadership potential in Buchanan County and lead to more responsible County government in the future.

Perhaps they could spend some of the money to educate County officials on ethics and public integrity issues and the responsibilities of public officials to make these concepts rules to live by. Spend a few bucks to send these officials to school and training programs so that they know and understand the concept of public ethics.

For a very modest annual cost, they could establish an office and independent citizen commission to oversee the development of ethical standards for County officials, to hear complaints and to enforce those standards. Such a program, if taken seriously could help head off little problems before they get out of hand and could go a long way towards restoring public faith.

But these kinds of programs, while perhaps appropriate, are somewhat academic and limited in what they can accomplish in the long run. These programs will require time and considerable individual initiative to produce lasting results. Eventually the money will run out and these important concepts may again be forgotten opening the door again to the potential of new abuses. Maybe there is an easier way to guarantee for the long haul that no one in Buchanan County will ever forget “Operation Big Coon Dog” and the sacred responsibility that public officials have to protect the public trust.

To this end, perhaps they could spend some money for a big bronze statue of a “Coon Dog” to be placed in the Courthouse square to remind the citizens and whoever is currently occupying those positions of high public trust in the Courthouse of where they have been and where they never want to go again.

Everybody likes dogs. This would be a classic win-win solution. The big bronze “Coon Dog” would be enjoyed by little children who have occasion to visit the Courthouse square. The “Coon Dog” is an icon of the rural culture of Southwest Virginia and would conjure up in the minds of the old timers fond memories of so many pleasant days in the fields and woods. It would be a “tourist attraction” that could be the backdrop for family vacation pictures for those visiting beautiful Buchanan County. The big bronze “Coon Dog” could be many things to many different people!

But for those who would aspire to hold positions of public trust… for now and for the next three hundred years or so… the big bronze “Coon Dog” would be a constant reminder of their sacred responsibility to protect the public trust and to never forget what happened in the hallowed halls of the Buchanan County Courthouse in 2002.

Perhaps this would be money very well spent. Don’t you think?

Your ideas please?


  • At 3/08/2006 3:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    They might also want to have an Annual Golden Coon Dog award program, to be awarded inabsentia of course, to deserving corrupt public officials around the state.

    They could make it a great production like the Oscars, with different classes of awards, like most brazen, most greedy, most senseless corrupt behavior. This could really put Buchanan County on the map.

    I guess some of the awards will probably have to go to the the officials of the Town of Appalachia. But there are other contenders, I am sure.

  • At 3/08/2006 4:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Halarious! What a good idea.

  • At 3/09/2006 11:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Community "pride" prompts me to weigh in here. Buchanan does not have a monopoly on this kind of talent. Believe me, the competition for the Golden Coon Dog awards will brisk in other parts of the state.

  • At 3/09/2006 12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You got that right!

  • At 3/09/2006 7:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I hope that we don't start judging the people for these sorry excuses for community leaders. Yeah, I know, we put some of them in office in the first place. But, please, give us a break. Maybe most people are just a bit to trusting and these crooks took advantage of our good nature.

  • At 3/22/2006 11:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    There is nothing wrong with Buchanan County. Nothing. The land aint got no blame.

    Decent people is mostly what you going to find. Some of the big boys who want power got some problems.

    Thats everywhere.

  • At 6/14/2006 9:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I am related to Calvin Leo Ward. Nope - not bragging. Just a fact. When we were growing up my immediate family was the "white trash", ignorant and just not good enough for them. But now, well now.... We are the successful upstanding citizens in our communities. Nuff said.


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