Surry develops code of ethics

Published 9:00 pm Tuesday, February 11, 2020

By Frederic Lee

Staff writer

The new chairman of the Surry County Board of Supervisors has floated the idea of instituting a board-wide code of ethics, based on how he’s seen board members behave within the last year. 

While Chairman Robert Elliott declined to name names or specific instances, he pointed to conduct that occurred in 2019 — an election year — on the part of board members that gave him the idea for suggesting a code of ethics. 

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Previously, the Board of Supervisors were going to vote to adopt a code of ethics at their Feb. 6 meeting, but the item was tabled for the time being.

All five seats on the Board of Supervisors were up for a vote in 2019, and two new supervisors were elected to the board. Elliott, representing the Claremont District, came onto the board after Giron Wooden decided not to seek reelection and Timothy Calhoun, representing the Surry District, replaced longtime board member John Seward. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Prior to November, former Board of Supervisors Chairman Michael Drewry, who is now the vice chairman, arranged a public workshop with other board members, led by licensed social worker Dr. Jeremiah Williams. 

The workshop was centered around a self-help book called “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when Stakes Are High,” published by McGraw-Hill Education.

At the time, Drewry said that the aim of the workshop was to improve communication and unity between him and other board members, and came just weeks after Drewry’s performance as chairman was publicly criticized by former Surry District Supervisor John Seward. 

Elliott said he received the code of ethics received during a Board of Supervisors training session from former Smithfield Town Manager Peter Stevenson, and it includes rules such as “act in the public interest,” “comply with the law” and “support the maintenance of a positive and constructive workplace environment.”

The National Association of Counties advise counties to draft a code of ethics, if only to be able to defend their actions on the front page of a newspaper. 

“Upon entering into public office, many public officials quickly realize that a vast array of ethical dilemmas fall into a menacing “gray” area where the “right thing to do” is not easily apparent,” according to the NACo’s guide to a County Code of Ethics.

Topics typically covered include acceptance of gifts, conflicts in voting procedures and outside employment, among others. 

A quick Google search reveals that many Virginia Boards of Supervisors have adopted codes of ethics and they are easily accessible online. 

Isle of Wight County Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson that the county’s Board of Supervisors hadn’t instituted a code of ethics specifically, but had updated its bylaws several years ago for the purpose of maintaining respect between board members. Those bylaws are revised each year during the annual organizational meeting in January. {/mprestriction}