Category: Spotsylvania County

Good-bye to a Good Man

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By , March 12, 2013 7:44 pm

20130312-172643.jpgMarch 12, 2013 — A sad note today, as I write about Duval Dickinson, who passed away this weekend. I know the Dickinson family, and especially like talking to Duval’s son, Clay, who is smart and carried his Father’s joy for people and life. I took my lawn mowers to their shop every late winter for tune-ups, and they were always honest and fair and good.

Honest, fair and good. Those were the values that Duval and his wife instilled in their children. And that was Duval.

Duval was a Republican through and through. But, he wasn’t the kind of extremist, fear and hate, scorched-earth Republican that we see all too often these days.

He was the kind of Republican I grew up with in my family and friendships. To him, being fiscally responsible meant managing your budget in a balanced way by watching spending and yes, if it was called for, appropriate tax hikes and other ways to raise revenue. He believed in a limited role for government without demonizing it, and he believed in individual freedoms that government shouldn’t intrude upon. He was an old-line, true conservative in every way, who espoused the reasonable conservative philosophy we remember in Eisenhower, Buckley, Goldwater and yes, even Reagan, who raised taxes 11 times when it was necessary and didn’t pretend he was the Nation’s preacher by legislating right-wing social issues.

And that is why Duval fell out of favor with today’s new breed of Republicans. Today’s paper recounts the right-wing revolt led by Del. Mark Cole and others that ousted Duval from the Chairmanship of the Spotsylvania Republican Committee:

Dickinson chaired the Spotsylvania County Republican Committee for a decade, until religious conservatives disenchanted with the GOP leadership staged a coup. A major reason for their revolt was the old guard’s opposition to Christian right candidates such as Oliver North, who unsuccessfully sought a U.S. Senate seat in 1994, according to an article that appeared in The Free Lance–Star in 1999.

No, Duval was not one of this new breed. He was not one of them. He was reasonable – and honest, fair and good.

[Image via FLS.]

New Dawn Braying: GOP Promises, Rhetoric Meet Reality

By , March 4, 2013 10:26 am

reality-checkMarch 4, 2013 — Today’s Fredericksburg Freelance Star has a piece on Dawn Shelley, Republican on the Spotyslvania County School Board, asking the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors for more money in the upcoming budget.  Going further, she asked the public to “beg” for more money.  As we know, that Board is now run by a Republican majority that ran on the same ticket with Shelley…. This will be interesting to watch.

Shelley was responding to the budget proposed by Spotsylvania County Administrator Doug Barnes, who was given instructions by his Republican Board not to raise taxes.  In order to do that, Barnes’s proposed budget recommends a school budget $7 million less than what the School Board requested.

To make things more interesting, the Republican Board of Supervisors imposed categorical funding on the schools last year, which means that they have the authority to fund school programs they deem important and cut those they don’t.  According to a member of the School Board, this has reportedly outraged them – although you’d never know it because they have been extremely silent – because they have the Constitutional authority to manage those funds.  This can and will be debated – and has been in years past – but the fact of the matter is that most residents believe that the School Board is the elected body responsible for schools, including the management of their budget.  Like Supervisors, School Board members are elected by the people to manage our schools, and they can be held accountable.  Pretty simple proposition.

But, what makes the pleas by Shelley interesting is that in the 2011 elections, she sought, and received, the endorsement of the Spotsylvania Republican Committee.  In doing that, she ran on a ticket who ran on a platform and promise to cut taxes while fully funding education and strengthening public safety.  So, if they promised these things, especially the full funding of education, then why ask the public to “beg” for something they said they would do?

Again, elections matter.  Promises matter.  Honesty and integrity matter.  Will the people of Spotyslvania County remind Shelley and her Republican allies of their promises?  And if they break those promises, will the people hold them accountable?  Perhaps, but only if the people are reminded; but unfortunately, there is no real reporting in the local paper, and no real loyal opposition in the County keeping people informed.

To fill that vacuum, I created this blog, and it is my hope that through this, we can leverage our voices to keep facts alive and keep our elected officials honest.


Will Spotsylvania Voters Hold New Republican Majority Accountable?

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By , February 20, 2013 8:18 pm

accountability-groupFebruary 18, 2013 — In an op-ed in yesterday’s Fredericksburg Freelance Star, Alfred King, Spotsylvania Republican money man, perennial candidate and budget advisor, admitted that math, not ideology, is the driver behind budget making and praised former Spotsylvania County Board members for sound fiscal stewardship.

In his piece, King concluded that the current Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors, headed by the new Republican majority, has to decide between cutting services or raising taxes when formulating the County’s upcoming budget.  As a wise man once said, “No sh***, Sherlock…!”

Now, most rational people understand that this is pretty much always the case when formulating budgets.  But the new Republican majority, like their brethren at the state and federal levels, promised no new taxes!  That they would take this pledge is nothing new, but they also promised to fully fund education, strengthen public safety services, particularly fire and rescue, return to taxpayers the $9 million surplus built up by the previous Board AND cut taxes!  Alfred King, running for Commissioner of Revenue, was right there with them.

It will be interesting to see how they tap dance their way through this budget and hold onto their promise.  They spent a lot of time and money in 2011 lying about how the old Board and County Administrator mismanaged budgets and other services.  However, now that they are in charge of a growing County with a growing appetite for good schools and safe streets, they are finding out that governing is hard work and not something you can do with bumper sticker slogans and empty pledges.

I fully expect them to walk back their promises by blaming the old Board or announcing something unforseen that they just learned!  No matter what they do, it will be interesting to see if the people of Spotsylvania County – and the Spotsylvania Democratic Committee – hold the new Republican majority to the bold promises they made in 2011.

Spotsy GOP Board: Do as We Say, Not as We Do – Part 2

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By , February 12, 2013 12:19 pm

broken-promise_handshakeFeb. 12, 2013 — After a year in office, we know that the new Republican majority on the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors has broken campaign promises. They also promised to be more open and ethical than the previous Board. Looking at their actions, it looks like the Republicans have broken that promise, too.

In 2004, the previous Board adopted a Code of Ethics  ”to  assure public confidence in the integrity of local government and its effective and fair operation.” It has been endorsed and signed by Board members, top officials and appointees ever since.  Out of the 18 ethical tenets, these are perhaps the most important ones that govern the actions of Board members:

Act in the Public Interest
Recognizing that stewardship of the public interest must be their primary concern, members will work for the common good of the people of Spotsylvania County and not for any private or personal interest….

Comply with the Law
Members shall comply with the laws of the nation, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the County of Spotsylvania in the performance of their public duties. These laws include, but are not limited to: the United States and Virginia constitutions; the Code of the County of Spotsylvania; laws pertaining to conflicts of interest, election campaigns, financial disclosures, employer responsibilities, and open processes of government; and County ordinances and policies.

Conduct of Members
The professional and personal conduct of members must be above reproach and avoid even the appearance of impropriety….

Decisions Based on Merit
Members shall base their decisions on the merits and substance of the matter at hand, rather than on unrelated considerations.

Conflict of Interest
In order to assure their independence and impartiality on behalf of the common good, members shall not use their official positions to influence government decisions in which they have a material financial interest, or where they have an organizational responsibility or personal relationship that may give the appearance of a conflict of interest.

In accordance with the law, members shall disclose investments, interests in real property, sources of income, and gifts; and they shall abstain from participating in deliberations and decision-making where conflicts may exist.

Gifts and Favors
Members shall not take any special advantage of services or opportunities for personal gain, by virtue of their public office, which are not available to the public in general….

Policy Role of Members
The Board of Supervisors determines the policies of the County with the advice, information and analysis provided by the public, boards, commissions, and committees, and County staff. The Board of Supervisors delegates authority for the administration of the County to the County Administrator.

Members therefore shall not interfere with the administrative functions of the County or the professional duties of County staff; nor shall they impair the ability of staff to implement Board policy decisions.

Looking at these once again, I would say that the new Republican Spotsylvania Board has violated all of these ethical guidelines.  For instance, the proposed Route 3 bypass had been reviewed and advanced by state and regional government officials, experts and private sector partners for eight years. They invested hundreds of thousands of public-private dollars.  Studies showed that the road would alleviate congestion on hated Route 3 for 30 years, and its alignment was the least intrusive of other alternatives studied, perhaps impacting four or five properties. Granted, any property impact is problematic, but this alternative was better than others that would have destroyed hundred of homes, not to mention the historic  battlefield and the beautiful Rappahannock River.

But the new bypass might’ve impacted Supervisor David Ross’s property. Ross, a retired Marine and government employee who had never been involved in local affairs, ran for office for the sole purpose of killing the road project to save his property. He was subsequently elected, and two months later on the night of his first meeting, the first vote he made was to stop the project, and his Republican cohorts followed suit. With that one vote, Ross killed the road project, saved his property from being impacted and therefore, personally benefitted, and violated six, if not more, tenets in the Code of Ethics. Legally and according to the County’s Code of Ethics, Ross should have recused himself from voting, but he did not. No one, not even the County Attorney, said a thing.  Oh, he and his Republican colleagues, all of whom were backed by the Tea Party and like to brag about saving tax dollars, ended up wasting hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars.

It was bad enough that Ross and his Republican Board killed the badly needed road project and wasted tax dollars. They also forced the Commonwealth Transportation Board to take away the $14 million dedicated to the project and give it to a project in Stafford County. Moreover, Ross and his Republicans didn’t have an alternative plan to fix Route 3 traffic for the next 30 years. Their big idea was to get VDOT to synchronize the lights on Route 3, which made things better for a week – until someone “unsynchronized” them during Sunday church service at Life Point - but it’s not a 30-year solution.

In their ignorance and arrogance, Ross and his colleague, Tim McLaughlin, started bragging to people, as recently as a November HOA meeting in Lake Wilderness, that they had a plan to build the outer connector along the Route 20 corridor in Orange County. This came as news to property owners, preservationists and state and regional officials, who have never seen any real plans and would have to approve and fund the project. Of course, Ross and McLaughlin don’t have a plan, nor do they have any idea where the money would come from. They are finding out that they are no longer barking orders in the Marines; they are finding out that the pesky thing about being an elected official is that you have to govern….

Fast forward to the budget and tax vote in April.  At least two of the four Republican Board members – Heidig and McLaughlin – are substantial property owners.  Heidig owns the Lake Anna Winery, and McLaughlin owns over $3 million in commercial and residential properties, which he manages on the side in his real estate business.  During the tax deliberations, McLaughlin and Heidig led the charge to cut the property tax, directly benefitting themselves.  Furthermore, McLaughlin led the plan to cut the BPOL tax, which, again, directly benefitted his real estate business. Again, legally and according to their Code of Ethics, Heidig and McLaughlin should have recused themselves from voting. But, again, no one, not even the County Attorney, said a thing.

(As a side note, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that McLaughlin is ethically challenged. It was reported by LeavingMyMarc during the 2011 election that public documents indicated that McLaughlin committed voter fraud and dodged Virginia state taxes by claiming as his primary residence in Florida a house that he sold in 2005, while also claiming to live in Spotsylvania since 2002.)

God knows what these guys did over the summer months when no one was watching, but jumping to the fall, the Republican Majority came up with the plan to directly hire the deputy county administrator and other department heads. This move not only subverts the authority of the County Administrator, but it also violates another tenet in the Code of Ethics:

The Board of Supervisors delegates authority for the administration of the County to the County Administrator…. Members therefore shall not interfere with the administrative functions of the County….

Then, to add insult to injury and to commit more ethical violations, the Republicans worked with Republican State Delegate Mark Cole to hire him as the new deputy county administrator.  (As was noted in reports, Cole, a professed government-hater, was laid off from his government contracting job.) Cole and the Republican Majority had campaigned together in 2011, and exchanged campaign contributions. One would think that hiring Cole was and is an outright conflict of interest, not to mention the appearance of one, but they were allowed to vote and give Cole his new cushy job with a salary and benefits approximating $150-160,000 a year.

It is almost comical and very Spotsyltucky-esque that the government-hatin’ Republican Majority, who each now receive 2-3 government paychecks a month, would turn around and give a top government job to their friend and fellow government-hater, Del. Mark Cole, who is also on the government dole. But, as they say, we get the government we deserve, and Spotsylvania voters elected this bunch….

As I mentioned in a post last month, the ethical violations surrounding Cole’s hiring go beyond Spotsylvania. According to the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) Code of Ethics, the hiring and retention of Cole violates at least two of the tenets, possibly more: personal relationships, conflicting roles and participation in elections.  In any case, his hiring does violate common sense and our intelligence when he and the Board try to convince us that out of 104 candidates, Cole was the most qualified.

After a year in office, the new Republican Majority has broken promises and committed ethical violations that would sound alarms in most towns and counties. But, no one, not even the Freelance Star, or the Spotsylvania Democratic Committee, or the County Attorney, or the people of Spotsyltucky say a thing. And so it goes….

[Read: Spotsy GOP Board: Do as We Say, Not as We Do - Part 1]

Spotsy GOP Board Members: Do as We Say, Not as We Do!

By , February 5, 2013 12:47 pm

broken_promisesFebruary 5, 2013 — It’s been a year since Spotsylvania’s new GOP majority has taken over the reigns of government. They promised big things: refunds to taxpayers, new industries, new jobs, tax cuts, more money for schools and public safety, more transparency, higher ethical standards, the sun, moon and stars…. Actually, they didn’t promise those last three things, but they might as well have. Let’s see how they’ve done so far….

First, the four GOP amigos – Ann Heidig, Paul Trampe, David Ross and Tim McLaughlin – pride themselves as strong, Tea Party conservatives who complain that government is the problem, is too big, spends too much and must be wrestled to the ground and tied up so it can’t bother us anymore. Typical Tea Party stuff. What they don’t tell you is that ALL of them were (Heidig is a retired government employee), or still are government employees. Furthermore, as they brag about their plans to chop government spending, with their new government job on the Spotsylvania Board, they now receive two or three government paychecks – plus benefits and reimbursements! Sweet! Government has been berry, berry good to them….

Well, you say…we have lots of government employees around here, so it’s unfair for you to point that out. Okay, you’re right. I’ll turn a blind eye on their employment status and hypocrisy and just look at their record so far. Remember that refund they promised? Well, they spent it. Remember the jobs they promised? The county may get 10 full-time and 40 part-time, minimum-wage jobs with the proposed Dominion stock car racetrack in Thornburg. How about school funding? They held the funding and are now micromanaging the school budget, much to the dismay of the elected School Board. Public safety? After criticizing the last Board for its improvement plan, the new Board adopted it but delayed funding the full implementation of it. And so on… Lots of talk, promises, smoke and mirrors — and very little action.

One area in which they have succeeded is repeatedly violating the County’s Code of Ethics. More on that in my next blog post….

Cole has a dream: Squash King’s dream

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By , January 19, 2013 5:20 pm

Cole_DreamJanuary 19, 2013 — Today’s Freelance Star includes a story on the dual roles of that great multi-tasker, Virginia House Del./Spotsylvania County deputy administrator Mark Cole.  Among the many humorous items in the story is Cole’s assertion that he can handle both jobs by working days, nights and weekends to make sure he gets it all done.  I find that particularly amusing, because looking at Mark Cole,  one doesn’t get the sense that he has a huge metabolic rate or is burning a lot of calories, but I digress…..

More importantly, the story also once again raises the ethical violations surrounding Cole’s appointment pushed by the Spotsy Board’s new Republican majority, who either received from or gave campaign contributions to Cole.  In addition, according to to the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) Code of Ethics, the hiring and retention of Cole violates at least two of the tenets, possibly more.  In any case, his hiring does violate common sense and our intelligence when he and the Board try to convince us that out of 104 candidates, Cole was the most qualified.

All of this comes during the weekend when the Nation is honoring the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.  You might ask what that has to do with the unethical hiring of Cole?  This is the same Mark Cole, who continues to push for ways to keep people from voting.  Not just any people, mind you, but more specifically, African Americans, Latinos, college students and poor people – people who traditionally vote Democratic.  Last year, he supported legislation to keep these folks from voting, and when that didn’t work in the 2012 elections, he upped the ante and introduced legislation to make it even harder!

Of course, just as he tries to justify his hiring in Spotsy, Cole tries to justify his voter suppression initiatives.  But, they don’t wash.  Again, his violation of there civil rights and voting rights violates common sense and our intelligence.

Dr. King died fighting for civil rights and voting rights.  That’s why we honor him this weekend.   And as we honorDr. King and remember the moral and spiritual movement he led, today’s story reminds us that we live in a county that is led by people who vote for and hire a guy like Mark Cole, who is working hard to undo the great work of King.  As we reflect on the life and work of Dr. King, let us also think about what kind of community we want to create and want kind of people we want leading it.  We can do better than this.

The Two Faces of Mark

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By , January 7, 2013 7:00 pm

Two Face Mark ColeHappy New Year…especially to Mark Cole, who starts his new job this month as Spotsylvania County’s deputy administrator. I wish him much luck, for he will soon find himself frustrated with the inadeqacies of the General Assembly, where Mark Cole also starts his other job this month as Delegate.

Mark Cole, deputy county administrator…. Meet Mark Cole, member, House of Delegates (R-88). I don’t know what kind of administrator Mark Cole will make, but I do know what kind of Delegate he has been, and other than advancing a right wing social agenda, putting guns in bars and churches, and making laws that keep people from voting, Mark Cole has done nothing to help counties and local governments with managing their affairs, especially budget and transportation issues. Nothing.

Delegate Mark Cole knows how to say, “No!” very well, which seemingly appeals to the majority of people in the cushily-gerry-mandered 88th district, who keep sending him to Richmond. It will be interesting to see how that stingy, paternalistic attitude appeals to deputy administrator Mark Cole.

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