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Augusta County leaders looking like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight

Chris Graham
Augusta County
(© Rex Wholster – stock.adobe.com)

The Augusta County Board of Supervisors is acknowledging that it got the dates wrong on its resolution censuring Wayne District Supervisor Scott Seaton.

The solution: the board wants Seaton to turn over the recordings of its closed sessions that are at the heart of the censure resolution.

Seaton’s response: make me.

“If it’s required, yes. But I’m not sharing with anybody, I’m not sharing them with just anybody. Only if it’s required by a judge,” a defiant Seaton said at the end of a contentious, to say the least, Board of Supervisors meeting on Wednesday night.

So much happened that it’s hard to know what to highlight.

There was the lengthy debate on the censure resolution, then a second, and more lengthy, back-and-forth on Carolyn Bragg, who was appointed to fill the unexpired term of South River Supervisor Steven Morelli earlier this year, which put her role as chair of the Augusta County Planning Commission into question, given that the commission’s by-laws say a sitting Board of Supervisors member can’t be the chair or vice chair.

There was more on the illegal animal shelter fees that county leaders are still dragging their feet on in terms of addressing.

Oh, and former Board of Supervisors chair Tracy Pyles was escorted out of the meeting by sheriff’s deputies after running afoul of the three-minute time limit imposed on comments from members of the public.

Ironically, Pyles was using his public-comment time to castigate the board for imposing the time limits.

“Prior to you overregulated farmers, overburdened taxpayers and angry neighbors and worried parents could come before their chosen leaders and speak their piece. No more. Limiting speech to three minutes is to impose a law that hampers their freedom of speech and redressing of grievances that the board should …”

This is where Pyles was cut off by the board’s current chair, Michael Shull.

“No, I’m not gonna stop. You’ll have to drag me out, sir. You’ll have to drag me out of here,” Pyles said. “Doing all this, it’s capricious, arbitrary, and it’s actionable. Yeah, I’m speaking for a group, people that believe in the Constitution.

“I want to talk about … you have gotten out of line,” Pyles said, as he was being escorted out by the deputies. “You got to have the police escort me for trying to have free speech, to petition the government for redress of grievances.”

As Shull tried to make the point to Pyles, as he was being led away, that “all levels of government have time limits on the amount of speaking that they have,” Pyles reminded Shull that when he was chair, there were times when public speakers would call him out, “and I said thank you for coming.”

“That’s the way we used to do it. We let people speak,” Pyles said. “You need to change your mind. This is not your government. We don’t answer to you. You’re supposed to answer to us.”

Seaton is pushing a similar point at his fellow board members, who voted 6-1 last month to censure him after he revealed that he had been recording the board’s closed sessions for the past two years, saying that he did so as a way of keeping notes on the board’s discussions.

At least that’s what we think that was the basis of the censure vote. After Seaton pressed board members for clarification on what he was being censured for, Shull seemed to offer a different reason for the censure.

“I think you admitted to a few things, like you admitted going into the press leaking out about personnel,” Shull said.

Seaton vehemently denied leaking information to the local media.

“I didn’t admit to any of that,” Seaton said. “There was nothing that I said that said I talked to anybody about stuff that was behind the closed doors there. So, did you find anybody that I talked to? Did you find anybody? I mean, that’s the real thing. Do you have any evidence that I talked to anybody?”

Shull doubled down on his stance that Seaton had admitted to leaking information from closed sessions to the media; Seaton, in turn, doubled down on his assertion that he has admitted to no such thing.

“You have 77,000 people here. Now you’ve had a good portion of them who’ve heard about my censure. Has anybody come forward to you and said that I said anything to them about the closed meetings? Now that it’s out in the public? Has anybody come to you?” Seaton said.

After several minutes of back-and-forth, Shull threw out another accusation.

“I don’t know if recording was the only thing. Was there transmitting our conversations electronically?” Shull said.

Seaton denied that new line of accusation as well.

“I haven’t shared them with anybody. Nobody has seen them. I haven’t shared them with anybody,” Seaton said, adding that he has maintained the digital copies of the recordings.

“I’m required to keep them. Because once you create a government document, you can’t get rid of it. So, I’m required to keep them. They’re on my phone. They’re secure. They’re under, you know, my secure password,” Seaton said.

And that’s where they’ll remain, absent a judge’s order for Seaton to turn them over.

“If a judge says it’s required, I’ll be glad to give them up,” he said.

The board was set to vote on an amended resolution of censure to correct the dates of the closed meetings that it claims were leaked from the resolution that passed last month, but ended up having to table the new resolution amidst confusion over whether it was clear that the new resolution itself had the dates right.

If you’re confused about what is going on in county government, one thing is clear: so are they.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham, the king of "fringe media," is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].