By Sally Voth -- email@example.com
WOODSTOCK - Boy Scouts working on a citizenship badge got a lesson in political fallout after speaking out during a Board of Supervisors' public hearing on the proposed fiscal 2013 budget last week.
Stuart Williams, the scout executive and CEO of the Boy Scouts of America's Shenandoah Area Council, came to the Board of Supervisors' Tuesday meeting to apologize on the youngsters' behalf.
Hundreds of people turned out to the April 17 public hearing at Peter Muhlenberg Middle School. There, many people encouraged the supervisors to fully fund the School Board's budget request, while others exhorted them to back out of the RSW Regional Jail project.
Wearing his Boy Scout uniform, Jacob French addressed the panel.
"If it takes a 12-year-old kid to come up here and tell you we don't need a new jail and we need better education, then that's pretty sad. Here I am, an A, B student in my school, and I have to come up to," he said, pausing to count aloud, "nine people just to say we don't need this new jail. Bye."
Williams, who oversees the Boy Scouts in nine counties in Virginia and West Virginia, said he'd received complaints about two young men who spoke out at the hearing while wearing Boy Scout uniforms. He said the Boy Scout unit was working on a Citizenship in the Community merit badge.
According to the Boy Scouts of America's webpage, among the requirements of obtaining the badge are attending a court session, a city or town council meeting or a school board meeting, and then picking an issue that caused debate and telling the scout counselor why the badge candidate agrees with one side.
French and another scout in uniform spoke up toward the end of the public hearing, Williams said.
"Unfortunately, their mannerisms were disrespectful, and I'm here to apologize for that and discuss that a little bit further," he said.
It's never the BSA's policy for a scout to show up in uniform and take a stance at a meeting, Williams said. He said it's a direct violation to use the uniform to try to wield influence, he said.
"These two young men in their speech and mannerisms did act like teenagers," Williams said.
He said he apologized that the boys gave the impression they were speaking on behalf of the Boy Scouts.
"They did not mean in any shape or form to offend any of you or any elected official," Williams said.
He thanked the supervisors for allowing the students to attend the hearing and to speak up, "even though they made a mistake along the way." Williams said the boys are future voters learning how politics work and how to conduct themselves.
"On behalf of the board, I totally accept the apology..." Supervisors Chairman Conrad Helsley said.
"All of us were teenagers at one time, I'm sure none of us made mistakes along that way," he joked.
After appearing before the Board of Supervisors, Williams said the council had gotten a "couple of complaints" about the boys' behavior, and some people at the hearing thought they were trying to use their uniforms as leverage.
"Teenagers are going to act like teenagers...we want the Boy Scouts to be seen as a leadership role and as a service to the community, not as a political statement," he said.
Williams said the unit wrote letters to the supervisors as a follow up to the meeting, and in their letters, French and the other boy apologized if they came across as disrespectful.
"This is a good example of how Boy Scouts are not just an outdoor skills group, but an organization that is teaching leadership and citizenship among our youth for a better nation," Williams said.
Helsley said after Tuesday's meeting that he was contacted by Williams over the weekend and asked if he could come to the board meeting.
"I think [the boys] sort of made a derogatory comment about us," Helsley said. "It was a shock when I got the call [from Williams]. I think his problem was had they come in here [out of uniform], they would've been OK."