Who will wield the gavel?

Published 11:19 am Wednesday, November 15, 2017

To rotate or not is Board question

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Last year, Hardy District Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson was passed over for chairman of the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors as Carrsville Supervisor Rex Alphin was given the position for the third year in a row.

Last week, Jefferson soundly beat his challenger, Herb DeGroft with 66 percent of the vote. Will he now get a turn wielding the gavel? Jefferson said the issue did pop into his mind the day after the election.

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However, given the controversy that arose last year, Jefferson said he wants to give the issue some thought before saying whether or not he wants the position. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Jefferson thought the snub was due to his being the only African-American on the Board, and so did many members of the community. Fellow Board members Dick Grice, William McCarty, Joel Acree and Alphin insisted that was not the issue.

The reason given for keeping Alphin as chair was because he was so good at it.

For many years prior to 2016, the Board chairmanship and vice chairmanship were rotated regularly among each of the five members.

There were a few blips, like the year former Smithfield Supervisor Al Casteen was blocked from being vice chair for political reasons, but for the most part, the rotation was regular among the members, with vice chairs moving up to chair the next year.

After being passed over for vice chairman in 2011, Casteen was elected to the chairmanship the next year.

In 2016, the Board was flush with three new members, and the next up for chairman, if the traditional rotation was followed, was newly elected Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree.

The Board as a whole thought it might be good to abandon the traditional rotation, for one year only, because there were so many new and inexperienced members.

Also, Jefferson was concerned that if he wasn’t elected vice chair that year, he would not have the chance to lead the Board as the Hardy District representative if he didn’t seek another term.

Jefferson was elected vice chair, but Grice and McCarty voted against him.

In 2017, Alphin was elected chairman for the third time and McCarty was named vice chairman.

If the Board had adhered to the rotation, Jefferson would have been chairman.

And so, another organizational meeting, when the chairman and vice chairman are chosen, will arrive again in two months.

Smithfield Supervisor Dick Grice doesn’t see why the county has to stick to the traditional rotation schedule. There’s nothing in the bylaws that suggests a rotation, either, Grice said.

Acree wonders if it’s not time for the Windsor Supervisor to be chair, as that’s when the rotation was interrupted in the first place.

The last time a Windsor supervisor was chairman was in 2011 — the longest gap of time for any one district representative being chairman. Smithfield is next, with the last chairman being from that district in 2012.

Carrsville has dominated the chairmanship position, having held the post four of the past 10 years. Hardy’s last chairman, also the first woman, was in 2013 with JoAnn Hall. Newport’s last chairman was in 2014 with Buzz Bailey.

Grice has indicated he has no interest in being chairman. Newport District Supervisor William McCarty did not respond to a request for comment.  

At the October Board meeting, Grice suggested that the chairman be required to take the 18-month board member certification course, which is offered through the Virginia Association of Counties.

The supervisor’s certification course covers topics such as the Code of Virginia, budgeting, leadership, community planning, zoning and working across boundaries.

Grice doesn’t want to take the course, but Acree and McCarty are scheduled to receive their certificates at the next Virginia Association of Counties conference. 

Jefferson said that at age 64 he doesn’t plan to run for a third term, and along with staying busy with his business and other commitments, the course doesn’t seem to be a good use of his time.

It’s not that the course is widely pursued among supervisors in Virginia. Since 2005, just 45 supervisors from 30 counties have completed the course, according to VaCo. There are 95 counties in Virginia.

Isle of Wight Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson said it’s not a requirement and maybe one supervisor has taken it in the past 10 years beyond McCarty and Acree. Alphin did not take the course.

There is a two-day course for newly elected chairmen, however, and if any criteria is considered, that should be it, Robertson said. Alphin attended that course twice.

It appears that rotating chairmanships is a fairly common practice, and in some localities throughout the United States, disputes have arisen over who is or isn’t voted chairman outside a regular rotational schedule.

Reasons for sticking to a rotation is to keep the politics out of it, according to several news reports and meeting minutes in other localities, including Botetourt County. Others, like Nottoway County, see rotation as a way to give each voting district a chance to have its representative be chairman.

Grice believes the perception is that the chairmanship belongs to the senior member and that county residents “deserve the best.” For Grice, that means taking the 18-month course, although he fully supported — and would continue to support — Alphin without it.

He is also not sure that if being the most senior is a qualifying element for chairman or not.

With his reelection, Jefferson will be the most senior member of the Board, as he will begin a second term. Acree, McCarty and Grice are in the middle of their first terms. Newly elected Carrsville Supervisor Don Rosie will be the newest member of the Board next year.

Alphin decided not to run again and instead made an attempt to win the Republican primary for the 64th District seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. He lost that race to Emily Brewer, who went on to win the general election.

Rosie said he likes the idea of rotation, but being so new, wants to learn more before committing one way or another.

“I haven’t even been to an orientation yet,” said Rosie, two days after the election.

Acree said he would have to ask Jefferson if he wants the chairmanship and if so, he should be considered.

For Acree, the chairmanship should go to someone who really wants it.

Jefferson wants to think about it before committing one way or another.

“It’s better to be wanted than number one,” he said, adding that he doesn’t want to cause any more division.

“I don’t want to divide the county or the Board. I hope the Board does what’s right and I will keep serving the people,” he said.  {/mprestriction}