Helsley, Walker chosen to lead board

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County leaders rang in the New Year on Monday by reaching a compromise – after about an hour of debates.

The Board of Supervisors voted 6-0 to elect District 6 Supervisor Conrad Helsley as its chairman and District 3 Supervisor Richard Walker as vice chairman. The action taken during the board’s organizational meeting came after a series of motions to elect other members to the leadership posts failed by tie votes.

The board also made a change some members viewed as a compromise – allowing the chairman and vice chairman to share more of the leadership responsibilities.

Helsley, who served as vice chairman last year, conducted the meeting. District 1 Supervisor John R. “Dick” Neese” nominated Helsley to serve as chairman. District 2 Supervisor Steve Baker seconded Neese’s motion. Then District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey nominated Walker as chairman, seconded by District 5 Supervisor Marsha Shruntz.

Neese said Helsley as chairman was a logical step. Baker cited Helsley’s experience on the board as a reason he supported the member as chairman. Bailey said she nominated Walker because the board needed someone new in the chairman’s seat who will keep all members informed. Shruntz said Walker has comparable experience.

Baker, Helsley and Neese voted for Helsley while Bailey, Shruntz and Walker voted for Walker. The action failed by the tie vote. As a result, Helsley asked for County Attorney Jason Ham to provide his advice on how to move forward. Helsley would continue to lead the board until they choose a successor.

Walker then made a motion to suspend the board’s rules to “redefine the roles of the chairman and vice chairman.” Bailey seconded the motion. Ham said the motion should be more specific. Walker said suspending the rules would allow the board to take a different approach to electing its leadership as well as how members are appointed to committees. Ham commented that the board appoints members to committees but Bailey noted that, for the past two years, the chairman made those appointments. County Administrator Mary T. Price concurred with Bailey and added that the board then votes to approve the list of appointments.

Some board members in the past have felt left out, Walker said.

“That can’t occur moving forward and I think the best way to do that is to define a chairman and vice chairman as one ticket, two people running together, who will have to communicate and confer on both the committee assignments and the agenda items, and I think it’s only through that communication that this board will be able to enhance discussion,” Walker said.

The supervisor went on to say that he saw the board as divided between the “incumbents” and the “independents,” though Helsley reminded Walker later that he had won re-election as an independent for this term. Walker said he thought the idea of working together would start with two people, one from each faction.

Neese chimed in and said the board is a “we board,” not an “I board” or a “you board.”

“We have to work together,” Neese said.

“That’s what Marsha and I asked to be done in 2014 when we were elected and what did we get?” Bailey said.

When Helsley commented that any two members could put items on the board’s meeting agendas, Bailey recalled that she and Shruntz would try to do so only to see the other four supervisors thwart their efforts.

Supervisors agreed to continue its practice of voting on the list of appointments as recommended by the chairman and vice chairman. Neese said in years past supervisors could make requests for appointments. Bailey, who refused to serve on any of the committees to which she was appointed by then Chairman David Ferguson for 2014 and 2015, said in those years some supervisors’ suggestions were not met.

“We got a new year and we’re going to try to things differently than they’ve been done before and I think everyone’s in agreement that that’s exactly it,” Ham said.

Eventually the board voted 4-2 on a motion to suspend its rules to allow the election of a chairman and vice chairman in one action. Baker voted against the motion. Helsley took a long time before making his vote.

“I hope that we’re not going to move in the direction, like Mr. Neese said, of we against they,” Helsley said. “I truly want to have some communication here. I look at it as the campaign is over, now let’s govern and I think that’s what we need to do and I’m willing to work with everyone but I also think we need some trust.”

Bailey reminded board members that they already had discussed the motion. Helsley then voted in favor of the motion.

Bailey made a motion, seconded by Shruntz, to elect Walker as chairman and Neese as vice chairman. Neese said it would be tough for a newly elected board member to take the chairmanship right away. At Bailey’s request, Walker said he’s had experience serving on volunteer boards and committees in the county. Helsley said it takes time for a new member to learn the ropes. Bailey, Shruntz and Walker voted for the motion. Baker, Neese and Helsley voted against the motion.

Baker made a motion, seconded by Neese, to elect Helsley and Neese as chairman and vice chairman, respectively. The motion failed. A motion by Neese and seconded by Baker to elect Helsley as chairman and Baker as vice chairman also failed. Bailey then suggested that the board elect Neese, an experienced member, as chairman and Walker as co-chairman. Neese, Baker and Helsley voted against this motion.

The board went into recess for a few minutes, at Ham’s recommendation, returned and voted 6-0 on a motion to appoint Helsley and Walker as chairman and vice chairman, respectively.

The board plans to discuss committee appointments at its work session Thursday afternoon. Supervisors are expected to take action to approve the appointments at the board’s meeting next Tuesday.

Also at the organizational session, the board approved its meeting schedule and its holiday calendar for 2016.

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