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Tracy Pyles: Augusta County leaders need to shut up and take their medicine

Chris Graham
tracy pyles
Tracy Pyles

The cancer that seems to exist in the moral fiber of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors has apparently metastasized into similar parts of the County Administrator and the County Attorney. Together this pair receive upwards of $400,000 in annual compensation. That seems a good plenty for even good information. But way overpriced for wrong and withheld guidance.

Each of these well-paid executives would have had a hand in the denial of a Freedom of Information request, and an ill-advised Closed Session notice. Yet each of these actions were judicially found to be in violation of the Code of Virginia.

The County Administrator’s #1 responsibility, as shown in this year’s budget is: “Complete BOS agendas and minutes.” As for the County Attorney, 89 percent of last year’s work involved legal opinions and FOIA reviews.

So, if an Agenda is wrongly prepared as noted by the judge, and similarly a Freedom of Information request wrongly denied, who’s to blame?

Where were the professionals? One supposes cowering on the sidelines while enjoying their compensations without the messiness of responsibility.

These past missteps weren’t a direct hit on revenues. Insurance coverage and existing staff salaries kept the treasury untapped for this concluded judicial case.

Not so for the planned appeal. The county attorney has said he will not be defending this case. Outside counsel is to be hired at a cost of a likely $250 per hour, for an unknown number of hours. He further revealed that this case does not qualify for reimbursement from our legal liability insurance policy.

So, who is to pay, and for whose benefit? Understanding how this latest embarrassment began may give guidance as to whom should pay the coming legal costs.

The resignation of a fellow Board member had ignited what in retrospect appears to have been an epic Board hissy fit. Inquiring minds wanted details, who did what to whom? As there was no legitimate cause to convene (gossip gathering is not a permitted exemption for secrecy) they justified their Closed Session with an impermissible vagueness.

Unbeknownst to all but one, their prattle was being recorded. Once aware their true speech and nastiness might be revealed, the Supervisors demanded the audio be turned over to them. The Board then took possession of what must be a damaging portrayal of our betters.

But in taking ownership of the conversations, they brought a private discussion into the public domain. It was this new status that generated the Freedom of Information request.

Two news organizations, AFP and Breaking Through Media, when denied access to public information, took the Supervisors to Court. They won. The judge determined the Supervisors had illegally convened a secret meeting, negating any rationale for denying the FOIA request.

Supervisor Gerald Garber, in advocating for an appeal, was alarmed when concern for the cost was mentioned. His self-serving overreaction was his usual elegance: “And this is what this kind of crap is costing you.”

My first thought was the Shakespeare line, “Me thinks the lady doth protest too much.” But on reflection, I decided this good ‘ol boy would better appreciate the country wisdom of “he who smelt it, dealt it.”

Whatever they were doing under the cover of County work, it surely had nothing to do with the public good. If our County insurance carrier finds this gratuitous expenditure outside the norm, we are likewise relieved of responsibility.

This appeal is likely not based on a good faith expectation of reversal. Instead, the hope is that the deep pockets of Augusta County taxpayers will intimidate the news organizations into folding.

The Supervisors are not waging this fight for the people. Rather this appeal has public funds being expended against the public interest. Those being told “no” by the court have personal concerns, brought on themselves by a smallness of character.

Leave the Augusta taxpayer out of this. The sniveling Supervisors need to fund this personally or shut up and take their medicine.

Tracy Pyles is a former chairman of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors.

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].