New supes jockeying for position

Published 1:50 pm Wednesday, January 6, 2016

By Diana McFarland

News editor

The year started out with some jockeying for position and a partially failed attempt at additional agenda items Monday as the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors held its organizational meeting for 2016.

The new Board also declined to change acting County Administrator Don Robertson’s title to “interim administrator” following a closed-door session. 

Carrsville District Supervisor Rex Alphin was easily voted in for a second term as chairman, but when it came to the vice chairmanship, opinions diverged.{mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

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There was a motion to suspend the traditional rotation for chairman and vice chairman for this year and resume it in 2017. Newport District Supervisor William McCarty nominated Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree for the vice chair job and Alphin nominated Hardy District Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson.

Jefferson accused the new supervisors of talking “behind closed doors” about an arrangement that, if enacted, would shut him out of the vice chairmanship if he was not re-elected next year.

“We need to keep to the rotation we’ve had the past 20 years,” he said.

If adhered to, the traditional rotation would have had the Windsor District supervisor move into the chairmanship role, and the Hardy District supervisor as vice chairman.

However, former Windsor Supervisor and vice chairman Dee Dee Darden was defeated in the election and newcomer Acree has taken her seat.

If the Board has Alphin again as chairman and the Windsor supervisor as vice chair this year, Jefferson argued that he would not have a chance to serve in that capacity.

Also, Acree lacks experience, Jefferson said.

“I should be afforded the same opportunity as any other board member,” he said.

Alphin pointed out that the rotation was a tradition and not a policy.

In the end, Jefferson was elected vice chairman with a 3-2 vote.

Voting against Jefferson as vice chairman was Newport District Supervisor William McCarty and Smithfield District Supervisor Dick Grice.

Grice then wanted to change the bylaws, which were up for adoption Monday. Grice wanted to move citizen’s comments to come before the consent agenda during regular meetings.

Alphin said he realized changes needed to be made, but perhaps doing them “piecemeal” was not the solution. Jefferson agreed and suggested that a committee be formed to review the bylaws as a whole and present the entire board with a list of recommended changes.

McCarty thought it was a good idea to make that change.

“It sends a positive message to our citizens that we’re more interested in hearing their voices before our own,” he said.

County Attorney Mark Popovich said the agenda could be rearranged at the January meeting, leaving time to go over the bylaws as a whole.

Grice backed away from that change and made a motion to put Alphin and McCarty on a committee to review the bylaws. Jefferson objected and said he wanted to serve on the committee with McCarty. Alphin said he didn’t mind handing over that duty, so it was agreed that McCarty and Jefferson would review the bylaws as a whole.

Grice was successful in getting citizen comments added to Monday’s agenda.

Smithfield resident Herb DeGroft opined that the Board can change its agenda at any time, save public hearings and other legal business. He said many residents have been frustrated with citizen comments coming after the consent agenda because it includes items people might want to speak on.

Carrollton resident Fred Mitchell asked the Board to consider lengthening the time a resident can comment from three to five minutes.

He said it was embarrassing to watch a Smithfield or Windsor official, who represent the population of an entire town, banished from the podium.  

“It’s an embarrassment to ask them to step down after being timed by the county attorney,” he said.

Grice also wanted several additional items added to Monday’s agenda, including a discussion on the barrier fence separating the residents from the board dais, an audit of the county’s budget, changes to convenience center hours and a 90-day freeze on hiring.

Alphin said those items were more suitable for the regular January meeting.

During a phone interview last week, Grice said there was some question as to how the county administration had been able to whittle a $7 million deficit to nothing in just two years.

Grice also asked for a closed session about a “pressing personnel issue” — namely whether or not to make acting County Administrator Don Robertson into an interim county administrator.

Popovich explained that acting essentially means sitting in the chair while interim is understood to be of a longer duration.

After a lengthy closed session meeting, the Board did not take action. Acree said the issue — would hopefully be discussed, as much as legally possible — in public session at the Jan. 22 meeting.

Robertson is serving as acting county administrator after former County Administrator Anne Seward abruptly resigned after the election of Grice, McCarty and Acree. Her tenure officially ended Dec. 31. {/mprestriction}