Payback is sweet, some say. It also seems to be inevitable when there is a changing of the guard in government, especially in Loudoun County.
This year, when the Loudoun County switched from a majority of Democrats to all Republicans, the question wasn’t whether there would be payback, but rather who the first victims would be.
The answer, so far, includes (EDC) member Stephen Mackey and the volunteers whom the county had authorized to collect illegal roadside signs.
Less obvious victims are the supervisors themselves.
Blue Ridge Supervisor Janet Clarke yielded to the payback impulse at her very first Board meeting when she tried to block Mackey’s reappointment to the EDC. It seems that she had some bad feelings about Mackey dating back to her time on the Purcellville Town Council.
But she succeeded only in shooting herself in the foot. It turned out that Mackey had a year remaining on his term. Thanks to what Mackey described as a “clerical error,” according to Leesburg Today, his name was mistakenly included in the list of EDC members who were up for reappointment. In the end, Clarke was the one who was wounded, and Mackey lives on to serve another year on the EDC.
At its next meeting, facing so many weighty issues that it must hardly know where to start, the Board chose to take up the matter of illegal roadside signs.
during the last election season, when I pointed out that the vast majority of illegal election signs that I had seen – they were either too large or were located in the public right of way – were signs supporting Republican candidates.
Since Republicans won nearly every election in Loudoun County, one might think they would be satisfied with the system that was in place. But it apparently irked the board members that a bunch of environmental do-gooders who place a value on safe and scenic byways had collected and disposed of more than 50,000 illegal signs last year.
So the board voted to kill the county program that trained and authorized volunteers to collect the signs. They said they were concerned about the safety of the volunteers, and the possibility that the county would be held liable if a volunteer were involved in an accident. They also expressed indignation that some signs on private property had allegedly been removed.
Normally I try to avoid questioning the motives of elected officials. After all, no one can really know what is in the mind of another.
But I have also seen enough board meetings to be able to recognize payback when I see it, especially given the timing of this decision so early in the board’s team. To believe otherwise in this case would be naïve. After all this was a program that empowered more than 80 volunteers to remove more than 50,000 illegal signs at very little cost to the county.
Sterling District Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio revealed at least some of the motivation behind the board’s action when he referred to the volunteers as “sign Nazi’s” who were conducting a “reign of terror.” Leesburg District Supervisor Ken Reid referred to the volunteers as “vigilantes.”
Delgaudio also berated the staff member in charge of supervising the program and urged his colleagues on the board to “hang him high.” The staff member’s “crime,” of course, was doing his job, carrying out the directive of the previous Board of Supervisors, and enforcing Virginia law.
Broad Run Supervisor Shawn Williams was the only board member to oppose killing the volunteer program. In his e-newsletter to constituents, Williams said that he “respectfully disagreed” with his colleagues on that matter.
“I am proud that our Loudoun roads are not cluttered with signs like many roads in Fairfax,” Williams said in his newsletter. “The volunteers in this sign group were providing a public service and the program cost almost nothing.”
Political payback is by no means limited to the Board of Supervisors. Last week I wrote about Sheriff Mike Chapman’s . In the absence of an official explanation, that decision, too, smacked of political payback.
The temptation for newly elected officials to exact payback must be very strong. But it is often said that we only get one chance to make a first impression. Again this year, some Loudoun officials have chosen to take actions that make themselves appear petty, small minded and vindictive.
I hope they get it out of their system quickly, and get down to the business of tackling serious issues.