Blogger Cliff Garstang got my attention with his interview with Tracy Pyles, and an extensive one at that, that appeared on his Cobalt6 website on Thursday. One thing was noticeably missing in the 1,772-word lovefest, though – even a single mention of the word reassessment.
Which would be fine, I suppose, if the interviewer wasn’t the Cliff Garstang who has been quite critical at times of the job that Pyles did on the assessment controversy in Augusta County earlier this year as the one-man gang on the Board of Supervisors railing on behalf of taxpayers who felt their property assessments were not conducted correctly.
As recently as last week, for example, Garstang, without referring to Pyles by name, called out the Pastures District supervisor (and only elected Democrat on the Board) in the guise of criticizing “(o)thers who opposed the reassessments” that “demanded that the Board of Supervisors ignore the law because people were suffering under a tax burden that was too high.”
“Two problems with that argument,” Garstang wrote. “First, no one can just ignore the law, and it doesn’t matter that penalties might have been slight for doing so (although there were differing opinions as to what those penalites might be). Anyone who advocated breaking the law does not deserve to be in a position of public trust. And second, higher assessments were never automatically going to equal higher taxes. The law specifies that local governments must follow tax hike procedures if reassessments would result in increased revenue of more than 1%. So it was not just expected, but a virtual certainty that tax rates in the County would go down as a result of the higher assessments. And down they went, from 58 cents to 48 cents, a decrease of more than 17% that will actually lower revenues to the county.”
You’d think with this issue still so fresh in his mind that Garstang would have perhaps asked a question of Pyles about his stance on the assessment controversy, maybe given Pyles a chance to defend what he had done in the winter months on the issue, given again that he has been among his most vocal public critics.
The closest Garstang got to anything uncomfortable was this slow-pitch softball: “At the moment, you’re the only Democrat on the BOS. What’s that like for you? I know there have been some contentious moments on the Board, but how has your working relationship with the other members been generally? Some of the BOS members call themselves independents. And are political parties really relevant on the County level?”
Pyles’ answer, tellingly, included what I have been led to believe is a veiled jab at another local Democratic blogger, Tom Long, the chairman of the Augusta County Democratic Committee and the author of the Coarse Cracked Corn blog. “I do believe that people ought to be honest about themselves,” Pyles responded. “If you chose to run as an independent I hope you are one and not a Democrat afraid to run as one. I know there are some who generally never vote for the other team but I think it shows too little understanding of the people of Augusta County if you think you cannot win because of a party label. The people are smarter than that but if you want them to cross over you have to be better. ‘If you can’t run with big dogs, stay on the porch.'”
The backstory to the jab – Long in 1997 ran for a seat on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors as an independent. I’m told that this has been a source of friction between Pyles and Long, with the friction coming almost entirely from the Pyles side of that ledger.
Garstang didn’t follow up on that, but I’m assuming this was an e-mail interview, based on the depth of the answers from Pyles, so it’s fair to cut the interviewer some slack here.
I’m less inclined to cut any slack on the substance of the interview, or lack thereof, again considering the strong difference of opinion between Garstang and Pyles on the assessment issue.
The limitations of the medium that is the e-mail interview notwithstanding, I would expect Garstang to give his interview subject an opportunity to confront one of his critics head on even at the risk of the exchange becoming heated or even abbreviated as a result.
Without any exchange between the two on the assessment issue, the interview fell flat. It was “Frost/Nixon” with Nixon never once being asked about Watergate.
– Story by Chris Graham