Year in Review: County board saw stalemates, change in 2017

Dick Neese

Shenandoah County voters changed the Board of Supervisors membership in November, capping off a year of stalemates and debates over spending.

The election saw District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey giving up her seat to newcomer and local business owner Karl Roulston. District 5 Supervisor Marsha Shruntz lost her re-election bid to Dennis Morris, a former board member who she defeated four years ago. Bailey and Shruntz ran on their mutual stance against raising taxes and, in the past two years, found an ally in District 3 Supervisor Richard Walker.

Only District 1 Supervisor John R. “Dick” Neese held on to his seat as he ran for election to a fifth term. Neese fended off a challenge by Karen Kwiatkowski, the candidate picked by the Republican Party after Neese decided to run as an independent.

The election results came after months of numerous tie votes cast for various motions and proposals, most of which involved spending county funds or setting tax rates. The board did not pass a fiscal 2018 budget without Chairman Conrad Helsley siding with Bailey, Shruntz and Walker. The budget restricted spending by the county and did not provide funds the School Board sought for increasing employee salaries.

The tendency of the board to reach stalemates rather than compromises showed up even as members tried to select its officers. Helsley and Walker entered the year as chairman and vice chairman. An attempt to at least reverse the roles failed. A few months later at a board meeting Bailey and Shruntz took advantage of Helsley’s absence and tried to put Walker into the chairman’s position. The 3-2 vote, with Neese and District 2 Supervisor Steve Baker dissenting, put Walker in the chairman seat. However, a legal challenge sought to nullify the action. Walker then indicated he would not get in the way but maintained that Helsley only served as acting chairman given the lack of a board vote on the election of its officers.

Karl Roulston

The year also saw the introduction of a political action committee formed at least in the beginning as a push for the county to create a tie-breaker for the Board of Supervisors – either a seventh member or someone who would act only in the event of a 3-3 vote. The organization changed its focus as the election season progressed to supporting individual candidates running in the local contests.

The year for Shenandoah County also saw members of the Industrial Development Authority ask for help to achieve its goal of boosting the local economy. The IDA sought a deal with the supervisors to fund a full-time employee with a focus on economic development. That request met with opposition from three supervisors who wanted the IDA to pay for the position on its own. By the end of the summer, the request had all but fallen by the way side, the director of the Office of Community Development resigned and the county shifted the role of economic development to the tourism director.

Supervisors spent the better part of the year discussing plans for a new Sheriff’s Office headquarters located on property in the north end of Woodstock near the government center. Sheriff Timothy Carter has said he anticipates using proceeds from joint operations with federal law enforcement agencies to cover the cost of the facility. The board generally showed support for the project as the consulting firm hired to design the facility updated members on the work and changes made to lower the cost.

Dennis Morris