Supervisor responds to surprise chairman vote

WOODSTOCK – A Shenandoah County supervisor says he expects a legal challenge to his loss of the board chairmanship in a surprise vote.

The Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 on Thursday to elect Richard Walker as chairman and Conrad Helsley as vice chairman. Supervisors acted during a joint meeting with the School Board on the fiscal 2018 budget. The vote came after the School Board adjourned its portion of the meeting.

Reached by phone Friday, Helsley said he expects the county attorney to ask a judge if the board’s vote could hold up.

“I think there’s no option there,” Helsley said.

District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey, District 5 Supervisor Marsha Shruntz and Walker, who represents District 3, voted to elect the chairman and vice chairman. Supervisors John R. “Dick” Neese and Steven Baker voted against motions that led to election of the officers. Neese said he wanted to hear from County Attorney Jason Ham as to whether or not the board could take the action Bailey proposed. Bailey, who has disputed advice given by county attorneys and argued with Ham publicly at the board’s meeting Tuesday, contended that her research showed supervisors could act.

Should the judge agree with the attorney that the board could not vote at the meeting, the election of officers would be null and void, Helsley said.

Helsley recalled asking Ham several weeks ago for a legal opinion as to when the board could elect a chairman. Attorney-client privilege protects such opinions but the action taken Thursday drew that advice out in public, Helsley noted.

“He basically said it could only be at our scheduled regular board meeting or a specially called board meeting but could not be done, according to the code, at work sessions,” Helsley said. “Obviously, what we have when we have a regular board meeting we have a set agenda. We approve the agenda.

“When we have work sessions it’s a lot more informal like (Thursday) night and more conversation and you don’t have an approved agenda or anything like that,” Helsley added.

The supervisors held a work session at its regularly scheduled time Feb. 2, Helsley noted. Shruntz did not attend the work session. Helsley pointed out that the board did not try to elect officers at that time.

“If we had wanted to have done something, we could have done it at that meeting but I think that shows you the integrity of Mr. Baker and Mr. Neese and myself,” Helsley said. “We did not even bring it up because we had a legal opinion.

“But now Mr. Walker tells you that Cindy Bailey has done some research and that he has called a parliamentarian at JMU,” Helsley said. “A parliamentarian at JMU? I mean this is almost laughable as to what’s going on and what they tried to pull.”

When the board’s attorney provides legal counsel some members don’t like, they come up with their own interpretation, Helsley said.

“Now it will have to, I guess, go to court,” Helsley added. “Of course they’re always against spending taxpayers’ money but they must be OK with spending taxpayers’ money on this because that’s what’ll have to be done and then court will make a decision if Mr. Ham’s letter was correct or not correct in what he said.”

Helsley also rebutted Walker’s statement made Thursday after the meeting that the two supervisors reached a gentleman’s agreement to switch places on the board.

“We never had any agreement at any time other than it’s for the year 2016 and, just Tuesday, when Mr. Ham said what are you going to do in ’18 about the regional jail … both Walker and Bailey said we’ll worry about ’18 when we get to ’18,” Helsley recalled.

Why Walker and his allies would want to put the District 3 supervisor in the chairman seat remains uncertain. The chairman conducts meetings and plays a role in assigning supervisors to represent the board on various committees. Helsley said he and Walker worked together to draft the recent committee assignments list, which, for the first time, allows Bailey to represent the county on the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail Authority board at least for the latter half of the year.

The chairman usually creates the meeting agendas in concert with the county administrator, although any supervisor can seek to add or remove items through a majority vote. The chairman tends to receive more invitations to events from civic organizations or “cuts more ribbons” than other members, Helsley said.

“Generally, if there’s a business coming in, they want to see the chairman,” Helsley said. “But, I can tell you, the way we act, I don’t know that a business is gonna have any interest around here right now.”

The chairman, like other supervisors, has one vote, Helsley said.

“I just think that I can keep the county on a better even keel than some of the shenanigans that we go through … as what happened (Thursday) night,” Helsley added.

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