Board make-up could set up showdowns

WOODSTOCK – Anti-tax advocates scored a minor victory in Shenandoah County on Tuesday when voters unseated one supervisor.

But voters chose to keep two incumbents, likely setting up showdowns between two factions on the Board of Supervisors. Also, without a seventh member to break a tie vote, many of these showdowns could kill motions, including those to raise or lower the tax rate, approve future budgets or even to accept land gifts.

District 2 Supervisor Steven A. Baker fended off challenger Michael N. Wakeman. Voters re-elected District 6 Supervisor Conrad A. Helsley to his fourth term in a four-way race despite a lack of support from the Republican Party. Helsley left the party before it selected S. John Massoud as its candidate in the spring. Massoud ran on a campaign that criticized Helsley and the board’s actions that resulted in tax increases.

But District 3 Supervisor David E. Ferguson, the Republican candidate seeking a fourth term, lost to independent challenger Richard R. Walker, a vocal critic of tax increases and the county’s involvement in the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail.

Allies of Supervisors Cindy Bailey and Marsha Shruntz tried to help challengers unseat all three incumbents in the election and replace them with like-minded leaders who would “hold the line” on spending and the tax rate. Bailey and Shruntz supported Wakeman’s campaign, returning the favor for the backing he gave to their election bids in 2013. In the past two years, Bailey and Shruntz voted against the proposed budgets either because the spending plan assumed a raise in the tax rate or an increase in spending. The two supervisors were outnumbered each time the board approved the budgets.

The new lineup faces its first test in early January when the board meets and votes to pick its chairman and vice chairman. Motions to pick the board’s leadership could fail if the two factions disagree.

The chairman also makes appointments to various committees. Bailey refused to accept her appointments for her first two years in office. The first year Bailey said she could not fulfill her committee assignments, made by Ferguson, and have enough time to focus on the creation of the budget. The following January Bailey declined to accept her committee assignments after requesting other alternatives. Bailey, a longtime critic of the regional jail project, has sought to serve on the RSW Regional Jail Authority Board. Helsley, a supporter of the project, has served on the board as the county’s representative for several years. Whether or not the change in the Board of Supervisors membership results in Bailey’s appointment to the regional jail board remains uncertain.

However, anti-tax advocates who also often criticize the School Board for its spending practices failed to elect like-minded people to the panel. Incumbents R.L. “Rick” Koontz Jr. and Sonya Williams Giersch won re-election, fending off challenges by vocal critics of the board for its spending priorities and an alleged lack of transparency. Newcomer Cyndy Walsh won the District 3 seat on the School Board. Walsh co-founded Parents Alliance for Strong Schools – an organization that supported increased spending for the county system.

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