Reorganization prompts heated exchange

In a 4 to 1 vote Tuesday, the Patrick County Board of Supervisors approved a motion for two of the county boards and their directors to report to the supervisors rather than the county administrator.

Karl Weiss, of the Blue Ridge District, prefaced the motion and said that currently, supervisors get information on the same topic from three different people in three distinct positions.

Tom Rose currently holds the position of county administrator. He once held dual positions of both county administrator and director of economic development.

Debbie Foley was appointed as director of the Economic Development Authority (EDA) in July, 2017.

Sandra Belcher is the director of tourism and works with the Tourism Advisory Council (TAC).

In the past, both directors reported to the county administrator.

Weiss made a motion to change the current chain of command, and have both directors and their boards report directly to the county.

Lock Boyce, board chairman and of the Mayo River District, expressed reluctance to change the organizational flow. He said that both positions should continue to report to Rose.

Weiss said the move was needed to improve communication and clarify responsibilities, including determining who is responsible for working with various other agencies.

“This in no way is to demean the county administrator,” Weiss said, adding Rose is the best county administrator in the state as far as he’s concerned.

Rather, Weiss said part of the reason for his motion was “people are going out on their own” and undertaking negotiations/projects, “without the knowledge” of either the economic development or tourism directors.

Information regarding funding for broadband projects also contributed to his decision to make the motion, according to Weiss.

He referenced the recent decision by the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission to approve nine funding requests for broadband expansion projects in southern and southwest Virginia. (See related story “Commission approves funds for expansion projects”)

With the nine projects recently approved, combined with similar projects already approved or underway, Weiss said there are a total of 14 projects to improve connectivity in southern and southwest Virginia.

None of the projects will benefit Patrick County because the county did not apply for expansion funds.

Weiss said he had understood that to be eligible for funding, the county would be required to provide a 50 percent match for funds received from the commission.

After speaking to someone from the commission, Weiss said he learned the broadband provider — in this case CenturyLink — would contribute the 50 percent match, not the locality.

Additionally, Weiss alleged a supervisor and a member of the county staff were “catering a deal” that neither the EDA, nor Foley, knew about in advance.

Foley “shouldn’t have (known about it) and neither should anyone else. I didn’t want it on the front page of the newspaper,” Boyce said.

“I didn’t want everyone running around, muddying the water. When people call me, they just want to talk to me. They don’t want to talk to you,” Boyce told Weiss.

Boyce repeatedly voiced his concern and displeasure on the motion.

Rickie Fulcher, vice chairman, and of the Peters Creek District, said supervisors hired both the EDA and tourism directors.

“To me, that’s something the board ought to oversee,” Fulcher said. He also noted supervisors appoint members to both the EDA and the TAC.

“I think that lends to allowing the committees to come to us as well,” Fulcher said.

Boyce said the boards could come to the supervisors anyway.

Weiss noted the EDA was created as a separate, independent entity.

Boyce said he thought economic development should be turned back over to the county administrator.

When the vote was taken, the motion was supported by Weiss and Fulcher, as well as Jane Scales Fulk, of the Dan River District; and Crystal Harris, of the Smith River District.

“I think this is a stupid idea,” Boyce said, again voicing his displeasure. “You’ll be sorry one day.”

“We don’t need a lecture,” Weiss said.

“You’re getting one,” Boyce said. “I pay a lot of taxes here.”

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