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Augusta County supervisor raises issue with ‘Totally Unprofessional’ AFP column

Chris Graham
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The column from former Augusta County Board of Supervisors chair Tracy Pyles taking county leaders to task over budgets and taxes appears to have gotten under the skin of a current member of the Board.

Big surprise there, right?

“Your actions today: showing up for a business meeting with two members of our staff unannounced – ‘Rude’!!  Writing a media article and actually printing the names of those two members of our staff – ‘Totally Unprofessional’; but surprising coming from you – ‘Not At All’.  That’s why you have become nothing more than a ‘spec of dust’ in my rear view mirror.”

This was an email sent to Pyles from Beverley Manor Supervisor Butch Wells in response to Pyles’ column, We’ve met the enemy in Augusta County, and it is the county government,” published in AFP on Monday.

In the column, Pyles described a recent meeting with County Administrator Tim Fitzgerald and Finance Director Misty Cook in which the two top county officials “spent a great deal of time blaming the system, the supervisors, and the state for tax and spending problems.”

“Even after increasing the tax rates on meals, lodging, real estate, and personal property, and while adding a cigarette tax and now doubling it, they couldn’t fund law enforcement body cameras without a penny hit to real estate. This year an additional $12 million in taxes are required because, what the heck, the suckers are good for it,” Pyles wrote.

Addressing the claims from the Wells email, Pyles told me that the meeting that he described in the column was one that he’d been invited to attend, and that “of course there is nothing unprofessional in meeting with the county administrator.”

And, of course, Pyles is right there; there is not “unprofessional” in him meeting with the county administrator, or writing about it afterward.

Any of you reading this should be able to meet with the county administrator, the finance director, the assistant dogcatcher, and if you do, you don’t need their permission to write about it after.

This is still America, and there’s still a First Amendment, which prevents the government – the federal government, state governments, local governments – from telling you what you can and can’t write about, or talk about, or think.

Now I’ll address, as the editor, the pushback from Wells about the “printing the names of those two members of our staff”: is this another one of those secrets that county leaders want kept behind closed doors, like so much else from the current county administration?

The county government has run up thousands of dollars in legal bills trying to keep private a recording of a 2023 closed meeting in which it discussed the resignation of a member of the Board of Supervisors, and now it’s getting out that the residency status of another elected official was apparently also discussed in that closed session.

A retired circuit court judge originally ruled that the closed meeting had been held illegally, before, oddly, reversing himself after listening to the recording.

Wells, you may remember, inserted himself into the story of the closed meeting, and AFP’s attempt through litigation to get access to the recording of the meeting.

A day after a December hearing in the case in Augusta County Circuit Court, Wells tried to intimidate me into giving him the identity of the source of information that I had included in a Freedom of Information Act request related to the case.

In the course of that conversation, Wells claimed that he had “started a file,” on two occasions referring to the file as a “criminal” file, in reference to the 2023 resignation of former South River Supervisor Steven Morelli.

Wells later had to admit, through a county attorney, that the “file” that he had referenced in the phone call was a “mental” file; in other words, he had not actually started a “file,” “criminal” or otherwise.

To quote Wells’ email regarding the Pyles column: that episode in December, and then this one regarding the Pyles column, were both “‘Totally Unprofessional’; but surprising coming from Butch Wells – ‘Not At All’.”

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham 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].