Supervisors spar over appointments

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK — A rift between new and veteran Shenandoah County supervisors grew wider Tuesday.

The Board of Supervisors voted 4-2 at its meeting to appoint former District 5 Supervisor Dennis Morris to the Northwestern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission. Supervisors also voted 4-2 to appoint Morris to serve on the Social Services Board.

District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey sought to move the motion for the appointments to the board’s closed session for further discussion. District 5 Supervisor Marsha Shruntz, who unseated Morris in the November election, seconded Bailey’s motion. However, their motion failed by a 4-2 vote.

Also at the meeting, the board voted 5-1 to approve a list of committee assignments for supervisors and drafted by Chairman David Ferguson, with Bailey as the sole opposition.

Before the vote, Bailey asked that Ferguson not appoint her to the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission this year because of time constraints. Bailey, also assigned to the community policy and management team, asked Ferguson if he took into consideration her request, which she sent him prior to the meeting.

“No, because I feel like I am putting [you] on two, very responsible committees,” Ferguson said.

Bailey asked Ferguson to switch her to the library board of trustees. Ferguson responded by saying he would exercise his right as chairman to make committee appointments and asked Bailey “to respect that decision and work with me on this.”

During the discussion about Morris’ appointments, Bailey and Shruntz said earlier they had received calls and emails from constituents indicating that they didn’t want the board to re-appoint the former supervisor to the regional commission. Vice Chairman Conrad Helsley said he had no problem talking about the issue in open session and defended the decision to appoint Morris to the commission.

Shruntz noted that the board had not considered Morris’ appointments at a previous meeting and thus shouldn’t fall under old business.

“This appears to be an attempt to stifle any public discussion of the appointments,” Shruntz said. “My constituents do not want him on these committees.”

Bailey concurred.

“I’ve heard and received comments as well that they do not want him on these boards and we do have names that we would like to talk about putting in his place,” Bailey said.

Helsley accused Bailey of continuing her “political campaigning,” a claim she refuted.

“This is about who’s best for the job and are we saying that only Dennis Morris is best for the job,” Bailey said. “I have people who would like to be considered for this job.”

Helsley argued that Morris has the experience, having served on both boards.

“You don’t have to go in and retrain anybody,” Helsley said.

In response to a question from Ferguson, County Attorney J. Jay Litten said the board can discuss a candidate’s qualifications for appointment in closed session.

“There are no legal boundaries which prevent you from talking about it in open session,” Litten said. “But propriety sometimes dictates that some things are best said behind closed doors, I guess. That’s ultimately your call.”

County Administrator Mary Beth Price explained that the appointments originally had been included as consent agenda items on the board’s December meeting that was canceled due to inclement weather. The appointments were moved from the consent agenda to “old business” on the board’s Tuesday agenda. As part of the Tuesday meetings’ consent agenda supervisors made six appointments that did not evoke discussion.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com