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Public hearing entreaty gets Boy Scout in hot water

By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.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."


Jacob French for Board of Supervisors!

I second the motion.

I also wonder why this is a 'story'? The Board of Supervisors don't look very crisp with their vote on an unnecessary jail that cost tax payers money we don't have. That's the story!

I would suggest Ms. Voth spend more time researching 'real' news and save the paper she works for a little money on ink!

Patriotic kids: Mature and in 'learning' mode
Adults: You know the answer!

Sounds to me like young Jacob hit the nail on the head.

Really?! Is this where we've come to? Conrad Helsley should not have accepted the apology, He should have said, "no need to apologize". Good gracious people if we want young people to speak out then we need to let them. Admittedly I wasn't there, but the quote I read did not seem disrespectful...just as forceful as a young person can be. I wonder if the BOS expects apologies from Mr. Prince or Mrs. Shruntz...after all they have expressed much harsher language.

Scouts are allowed to speak out. They were only doing what people SHOULD do at these meetings. If they're earning a merit badge then this should be encouraged. If only more adults would get off their butts and have a vocal opinion. I say good job to the young men and SHAME on the supervisors for being "offended" by a kid.

Considering all the taxes we are levying on the citizenry (local, state and federal) now are going to be affecting these young people more than all the rest of us I say young people speak up. You're the ones that will be enslaved by our debt. God bless you.

Kim, I don't agree with you 99% of the time, but I agree 100% with you on this one! What kind of country will we become if we teach our kids to put up and shut up in the face of 'authority'?

Way to go Jacob!! Keep speaking your mind.

When did the truth become desrespectful? These people are elected officials...meaning they work for us. Why should they be treated with an elevated level of respect? Maybe they should have more respect for the citizins who elected them. Sounds like the council members got schooled by a teenager in a boy scout uniform.

Wow!! I am still in shock that I agree with everything that Kim Bishop said regarding this matter when the majority of the time I disagree with what she says. (I had to look twice to make sure what name it was I was reading at the end of the post!) But this time I agree with her 100%! However, I am going a step further: yes, young people will be affected by future debt, but they also will be affected by any and all changes, besides those related to tax and debt, made at all levels of government which will impact their life in one way or another.

Educated citizens aware of what is going on in their government including at the local level, is not only better for we the people, but much healthier for our democracy. Young people should be encouraged to participate and speak out on all these issues.

I was at that meeting and did not find this young man to be disrespectful. Shame on Mr. Williams for the apology and shame on the Board of Supervisors for being offended.

Aahh, Mr. Williams. What a nit-picking society we live in today.

I believe that most of you are missing the point. It was not what the child had to say, it was the fact that he was disrespectful in the manner in which he said it. He was copying the disrespectful adults around him who believe the only way to make a point is to shout louder and be more sarcastic and nasty than the last person. That child did nothing to add to the conversation. Had he mentioned a specific threatened class or subject, that would have been different. He was responding to the frenzy and was cheered for treating adults without respect. Makes me wonder what our teachers have to put up with every day.
The Scouts should have been there to see how government works and even for them to be there on a contentious night is not the problem. The problem is that the lesson these Scouts learned is that you win approval when you stand up for something that someone else believes in and you imitate their manner if delivery
Thank you to the executive director who came before the board to apologize. I think the Scout should have come with him.

He addressed them as any teenager would, in their mannerisms and such. I'm sorry he isn't a slick, juiced in good ol' boy schooled in Roberts Rules of Order and parliamentary procedure which are so often used to stifle dissent.

Mr. French's comments were more cordial than many who would like to speak their mind but are too busy working a second job to pay for the Welfare Taj Mmahal and Carter's Courthouse to attend these hearings. I have 4 acres worth 80K in a flood plain. good job on the reassessment and even better on the tax hike.

Being in a BSA uniform is no different than me wearing a Washington Nationals jersey when I speak.

It shows that sadly, the culture of the offended has come home to ShenCo.

I don't know where Mr. French lives in ShenCo, but in 6 years he should be on the ballot.

Maybe the scoutmasters need to learn to not apologize for kids who are sharper than they are.


@Kim Bishop, your comment was spot on! Well said :)

I am not a resident of your community. I am a Scout leader in another small community and this story was brought to my attention by a friend. Here are my thoughts about what I have read:
1) The boy did not have to wear his uniform to the meeting. Once upon a time, Scouts were expected (and were proud to ) to wear the uniform to "important" events. Even to school (shudder). I love the story of the Cub Scout who was told he was going to attend his cousin's wedding and he should put on his best clothes. He puts on his Cub Scout Uniform.
The fact that he had on his Scout uniform has no bearing on this episode. If reported faithfully, he did not present himself as someone "officially" representing the BSA or his Troop. The fact that he asked to speak and the council welcomed his comments is one of the keys here.
2) As a citizen ( so I presume) of the town, I would think it is the boy's duty and right to make his opinion known to the folks that represent and decide on his behalf. I hope the council realizes that. If they viewed his comment as merely an annoyance, then we have more than one adult problem.
I wish I could more often do as the boy did on some of todays issues. Publicly declaring a "stand" is often not the choice people make. Grousing to your friends in the coffee shop is usually first. Maybe a letter to the editor (now email?). "Why doesn't somebody do something?" Well, this boy chose to take his opportunity and do something.
3) How is this Scout being disrespectful? He is in his best clothes, speaking his mind. He did not curse, he did not single out any one councilman, he did speak directly to the issue and even give some of his background and reference for his remarks.
He could've shown up in shiny shorts and a hoody. I would think , for a 12 year old, he did quite well.
4) Was a time when council meetings were the best entertainment in town. Folks made sure not to miss them. Now, it is a chore to attend them. Can't miss "Dancing with the Stars". This young Scout has a future in public works or (shudder) politics or any of many doin'-for-others activities.
5) The debate between incarcerate rather than educate is not new. But it is a hard choice, and needs more debate. For a 12 year old , however dressed , to see the necessity of improving the chances of training and educating, thereby making incarceration LESS necessary, is a good thing and should be encouraged.
6) I fear Scouter Williams overreacted to a non-event. In his desire to make sure everybody loves Scouting (his Scouting? not the boy's?), he has made it impossible for the boy to see the benefit of his Scouting. How has Scouter William's apology benefited Scouting ? Where is the courage, the passion, to support a good work? A public need?. I fear his comment is that of the beauracrat and not of the boy.
The encouragement to be "involved" is the message here. How to do this? By apologizing for wearing a uniform?
7) If an adult teacher or corrections officer had stood and spoke, whether in or out of "uniform", it is the message that needs hearing, not the dress of the speaker. Of course, it helps if the speaker is so dressed so as not to detract from the message being presented. I fail to see how the dress of this young man detracted from his message, that education is preferable to incarceration.

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