Divided board hands chair post to Walker

Richard Walker

WOODSTOCK – A majority of Shenandoah County supervisors took advantage of the chairman’s absence from a meeting Thursday to give his post to another member.

The Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 on Thursday to elect District 3 Supervisor Richard Walker as chairman and District 6 Supervisor Conrad Helsley as vice chairman. Whether or not the election of the officers passes legal muster and remains in effect remained uncertain.

The action to reverse the members’ roles came at the end of a scheduled joint meeting with the School Board to discuss the division’s proposed fiscal 2018 budget. Supervisors who supported Walker’s ascent posed a few questions to the School Board and Superintendent Mark Johnston following his presentation.

Walker indicated after the meeting that the action might in fact be overturned.

School Board Chairwoman Karen Whetzel and colleagues voted to adjourn their meeting. Vice Chairman Walker, sitting in for Helsley who did not attend the meeting, asked his fellow supervisors if they wanted to bring any other matters before the board. Bailey first made a motion to add to the meeting agenda the nomination of a chairman. District 5 Supervisor Marsha Shruntz seconded Bailey’s motion.

Helsley and Walker have held on to their posts as chairman and vice chairman, respectively, from last year because the board so far has failed to pass a motion to elect officers. Walker quickly noted that County Attorney Jason Ham indicated in a letter that the session is not a regular meeting at which the board can act. In response, Bailey cited a notification posted on the county’s website that identified the session as a “joint meeting” and not a work session. The board can conduct business at a regular meeting, Bailey said.

County Administrator Mary T. Price interjected before the board voted.

“When this meeting was planned, it was for a specific purpose and that’s what we advertised so the public has no knowledge of this,” Price said. “We had to post notice and we did that and we posted notice on a joint meeting with the School Board, not about appointing a chairman to the Board of Supervisors.”

Bailey noted that the board’s rules allow members to add items to the meeting agenda with a majority vote.

Price reiterated her concerns.

“The public has no knowledge of this and are unable to speak to it,” Price said. “I just don’t think it’s a good practice.”

“Well, any other time that we’ve added anything to the … agenda it’s been the same thing and that argument wasn’t used,” Bailey said.

School Board member Richard Koontz Jr. tried to interject, commenting that his colleagues needed to conduct their scheduled meeting and public hearing on the proposed fiscal 2018 budget. Shruntz and Bailey tried to stop Koontz and pointed out that his board adjourned its meeting. Koontz continued to speak, telling supervisors if they needed to conduct a meeting they could do it elsewhere. Koontz said he would appreciate it if supervisors would give the School Board the courtesy to conduct its business.

Price asked if supervisors objected to her offer to contact the county attorney and, in the meantime, move its meeting to the back room. Neese said he thought the board should ask the attorney to clarify the rules. Shruntz told Price that the board had a quorum, a fact the administrator said she did not dispute. Bailey interjected, saying that the board “can discuss this at the next meeting.”

Bailey reminded Neese that the board had not elected the officers for the year. Neese said he wanted to hear from the attorney before voting and he made a motion to table Bailey’s request until then.

District 1 Supervisor John R. “Dick” Neese and District 2 Supervisor Steven Baker voted against the motion to add the matter to the agenda. Bailey, Shruntz and Walker voted in favor of the motion.

Bailey then made a motion to elect Walker as chairman and Helsley as vice chairman. Shruntz seconded the motion. Neese reiterated his opposition and desire to hear from the attorney.

After the meeting, Walker said that Bailey’s research of the state code showed that, in the presence of a quorum, the board can take action. Walker said he’s talking with a “parliamentarian” at James Madison University about the subject, pointing out that the board had not elected a chairman until Thursday night. The board had earlier unanimously elected Walker as vice chairman. Walker said that Robert’s Rules of Order dictates that the vice chairman takes over in the absence of the chairman. However, Ham has indicated that state code says that’s not the case and, rather, the chairman stays on in that position until replaced, Walker added.

Walker claimed he and Helsley reached a gentlemen’s agreement last year that they would switch roles on the board this year. Helsley reneged on that agreement, Walker said. Bailey brought the state code to his attention, Walker said.

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