Chris Graham: The County Quartet

Tracy Pyles is frequently criticized for not being able to play well with others. That’s a fair observation. Also fair would be the observation that Pyles thinks the current majority on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors is taking the county in the wrong direction, and playing nice isn’t going to get things moving in the right direction.

This is what the 2011 Board of Supervisor elections will come down to, in my view. Do you like the way things are going in county government? If so, you’ve got excellent candidates to choose from in the four contested races on the ballot on Tuesday, for starters in the race for Pyles’ Pastures District seat, where he is being challenged by Jim Warren, a well-spoken small businessman.

Jeremy Shifflett is the current chair of the board and running for re-election in the Beverley Manor District against David Karaffa, one of three challengers who have aligned with Pyles. The second of that group is Marshall Pattie, a James Madison University business professor running for the North River District seat against Larry Roller and Steve Morris. The other contested race pits Kurt Michael, an educator also aligned with Pyles, against School Board representative Jeff Moore in the Wayne District.

(The incumbent in North River, Larry Howdyshell, and the incumbent in the Wayne, Wendell Coleman, are not running for re-election this year.)

Ads run in the local media paid for and authorized by the local GOP committee will tell you that the proper vote choices in the races would be Warren, Shifflett, Roller and Moore. In going with recent history in local politics, though, the ’11 elections in the county are a lot more complicated than any party ad line could spell out for you.

Pyles has been elected four times in Pastures as a Democrat, and Pattie is a former Augusta County Democratic Committee chair. Their ticketmates, Michael and Karaffa, have histories on the other side of the aisle – Michael as a sometimes-controversial former Augusta County Republican Committee chair, and Karaffa as an activist in local Republican circles who made a bid for the 2009 20th House District GOP nomination.

The County Quartet, as I’m branding them, are staking their political fortunes to the groundswell of public disfavor with the handling of the most recent county reassessments, which pushed property values up significantly (and locked them in for four years) just after the real-estate market had begun to crater. The bad situation there was made worse, in their view, by the way the Board of Supervisors responded, with a move to cut the county property-tax rate nearly 20 percent, eroding county revenues at a time when, the Quartet says, the county stands to lose millions in state funding for education and other public services due to the faulty reassessments.

I’m in a minority of one among the local news-editor set in agreeing with the perspective on county policy advanced by Pyles and his group, which means I’m also in a minority of one wanting to see a change in leadership at the Government Center in Verona. I’m OK with that, because unlike the other news entities here locally, which have had to cut jobs and outsource operations to remain afloat, I’ve actually been able to grow my business and even create a few jobs in the past couple of years, and I see the Quartet pushing a similar agenda.

Let’s get county government running well first, with a stable source of government revenues, from local sources and from the state, and then let’s turn our attention to jobs. Not that long ago, we had the interest of a major auto manufacturer that wanted to locate here in the Valley. It’s hard to believe that we turned that opportunity down, and I don’t see a Pyles-led board doing so a second time. And in the meantime, we can give the county economic-development department more resources to market county locations, including the still-practically-empty industrial park in Verona.

The good news for county voters is that if you see things differently, if you like the way county government is being run, you’ve got some solid choices among candidates who can continue the status quo.

I really think Augusta County will be in good hands whatever happens on Nov. 8. I just happen to think it will be in better hands if Pyles, Karaffa, Pattie and Michael are victorious at the end of the day.

More from Chris at www.TheWorldAccordingToChrisGraham.com.


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