Lessons gleaned from Gloucester, revisited

Story by Chris Graham

I wrote several weeks ago about the ongoing controversy in Gloucester County down in the Tidewater area that had some compare-and-contrast points with what we’re seeing here in Waynesboro – with a political majority change on the local governing body and behind-the-scenes maneuvering leading to the ouster of the top administrator being the chief similarities.

One key difference – nobody up this way has been indicted.

According to The Daily Press in Newport News, four members of the Gloucester County Board of Supervisors – Teresa Altemus, Michelle Ressler, Bobby Crewe and Gregory Woodard – were each indicted on Tuesday on individual counts of conducting county business in secret, unlawful warrantless search and computer trespass. Crewe and Ressler each face additional counts of coercing and intimidating a county employee, and Gloucester Sherrif Steve Gentry faces one count of unlawful warrantless search. A Gloucester developer, George Woodhouse, was indicted on 10 counts in connection with allegedly forged county documents.

The indictments were handed down by a special grand jury that had been empaneled in March to look into allegations of impropriety that surfaced following the abrupt dismissal of long-time county administrator Bill Whitley and county attorney Danny Stuck the night of Jan. 2-3. The grand jury found that what had happened that night had been in the works since the summer of 2007, when Altemus told the man who briefly succeeded Whitley as county administrator, Lacy Smith, that she and her political allies were running candidates to try to win a majority on the board of supervisors. The group won its majority on Nov. 6, and on Nov. 27, according to Smith’s testimony to the grand jury, his hiring as interim county administrator to replace Whitley was a done deal.

The board voted 5-2 at its Jan. 2-3 meeting to dismiss Whitley and 4-3 to dismiss Stuck, and in the early-morning hours Altemus enlisted the aid of the sheriff and the county technology director to enter the offices of Whitley and Stuck to take their computers.

The charges against Crewe and Ressler for coercing and intimidating a county employee are related to a closed-door Jan. 8 meeting between the supervisors and now-former county planning director Jay Scudder. The meeting was called to discuss disagreements between Scudder and Woodhouse over issues involving two Woodhouse subdivisions in Gloucester. Scudder told the grand jury that he felt intimidated and pressured by Ressler and Crewe, both of whom have significant business and personal ties to Woodhouse. He refused to capitulate to their demands that he act in favor of Woodhouse, and the next day was called on the carpet by Smith, a retired Army colonel who according to the grand-jury report repeatedly asked Scudder in a meeting, “Son, is this the hill you want to die on?” and demanded his resignation.

The charges, all misdemeanors, would not themselves disqualify any of the supervisors from remaining in office if they were to be convicted. But the nature of the charges, involving common-law malfeasance, could support a petition for their removal from office, Gloucester Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Hicks said.

augusta free press news