Orientation meeting preceded resignation

Published 1:43 pm Wednesday, December 2, 2015

By Diana McFarland

News editor

Isle of Wight County Administrator Anne Seward’s surprise resignation earlier this month came a day after a private meeting with the newly elected supervisors.

The private meeting, as described by Carrsville Supervisor Rex Alphin, came in the middle of a general orientation for the new supervisors.

In a first for Isle of Wight, the newly elected board members, along with Alphin and Hardy District Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson, met with Seward and county attorney Mark Popovich for an orientation. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

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The orientation was not advertised as a public meeting, but supervisors-elect Dick Grice and Joel Acree said prior to the meeting that it was OK if The Smithfield Times attended. Transparency and trust were two key concerns expressed by candidates who ran for Board of Supervisors seats this fall.

The first of two sessions was held for several hours behind closed doors Nov. 18 in the county administrator’s conference room.

The next orientation meeting is scheduled for an entire day on Dec. 16. The local “orientation” is in addition to the routine training that new supervisors receive through the Virginia Association of Counties. 

When The Smithfield Times reporter arrived, Seward said the meeting wasn’t intended to be public, but asked the new supervisors if it was O.K. if a reporter sat in on the meeting. They agreed it was fine.

Jefferson told the new board members that it takes two years to learn what’s going on in the county and advised them to “let staff do its job.”

Seward and Popovich went over the county government structure, the role of the Board of Supervisors, the chief administrative officer (county administrator) and the county attorney, as well as the various local and regional boards and commissions and how the Dillon Rule works in Virginia.

The session also included information on the Freedom of Information Act and the Conflict of Interest Act.

Seward said the three new board members could meet freely before Jan. 1 without members of the public or press present, but after that they can only meet or talk on the phone one-on-one and that included emails.

“Once you become an official board member on Jan. 1, what you may be accustomed to in the private world is now a no-no,” Popovich said.

Seward said she likes to meet one-on-one with each member of the Board of Supervisors and “some like it and some don’t.”

Grice brought up the issue of closed sessions and Popovich went over how those work, such as reasons for a closed session and what could be discussed.

However, if a supervisor went beyond the limits of the closed session issue, “the responsibility is to govern yourself,” Seward said.

After a short break, The Smithfield Times reporter was not allowed back in the room because Alphin said the meeting had become “private.”  Seward said that was allowed since there were technically only two sitting Board members present. In a phone conversation later, Grice said they had discussed a personnel issue and that he wasn’t at liberty to discuss that item.

After the personnel discussion, the directors of information technology, finance and human resources gave presentations on their departments, Grice said.

Grice said he took issue with not being invited or encouraged to ask staff questions after each presentation.

“There is no divergence from a scripted, controlled environment” during the briefings, Grice said, adding that after all the presentations were complete, he was able to get answers to his questions from Director of Information Technology Jason Gray. {/mprestriction}