Well, are you shocked that Bob Warren, Ron Scearce, and Tim Dudley boycotted a Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors meeting last week to discuss the candidates who have applied to fill Jesse Barksdale’s seat in the Bannister District? Maybe this is a good thing, though, because now the candidates will present themselves in a public hearing to the board on Wednesday and Bannister citizens will also be able to speak on what they think is best for them. Since the resignation of Jesse Barksdale from this seat you could say things have gotten a bit more chaotic in county politics. That’s certainly the way it looked at the last Board of Supervisors meeting in September, which was the first one without him. Barksdale didn’t leave due to any disagreements he may have had with the other supervisors, but instead due to private personal reasons after coming back into office this January, along with two other candidates in what were landslide elections.
Barksdale brought a lot of experience and gravitas to the board that may be impossible to replace. He is the rare politician in which I have never heard a single person say a negative thing about him, well except former county administrator David Smitherman, and Ron Scearce of the Westover District, who called him evil in a January Facebook post, but I don’t take the things they say about people seriously. Barksdale served on multiple boards in the community, including as a member of the Board of Trustees for Averett University and on the Foundation Board of the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR).
Barksdale’s resignation set up a situation where someone must be chosen to serve his seat for an interim period until next year’s November election. The county asked for people in the Bannister district to apply for consideration. The supervisors are to go through the pool of applications to pick someone, but if they can’t agree the decision will be forced to go to a judge in Chatham who would have to make the unenviable choice of having to decide who is going to serve on the Board of Supervisors to represent the people who live in their district for them. I hope this doesn’t happen, but I fear it will, because last week in a Facebook post Scearce said that he wants “no fresh faces” on the seat and wants someone with “political leadership experience.” That suggests that they already know who they want and their boycott last week was a bit of playacting. I’m sure the judge does not want to be forced to make such a decision, but that’s the way the laws work if they do this to them.
Here is why people are talking about what is happening. Last year brought landslide election results, which the Chatham Star-Tribune described as a “yearning for serious change.” The board is made up of seven members and three of its seats were up for election last year, with new members taking each one. When the new board came in this January to reorganize, they voted to fire the previous county administrator and elected a new chairman, Vic Ingram of the Tunstall District, to replace Bob Warren of the Blairs District. Up to that point, Warren had been running the county with a block of three other people to dominate the board with a 5-2 majority. He created what political scientists call a “political machine.”
Political machines aren’t everywhere. There isn’t one in Danville and that is why the politics there are not crazy in comparison. City council people in the city treat their constituents with respect and do a good job keeping any disagreements they have with each other out of the public eye and are able to resolve them. Machines, though, operate on close knit control, like they are a small clique to the detriment of the community they are supposed to serve. They don’t play well with others.
Last year, Warren’s colleagues called themselves a “team,” so that’s what I call them, but two of them lost last year and in the other seat, where the incumbent chose not to run, the Warren backed candidate lost too. They only got 33-42% of the vote in their respective districts, with Jesse Barksdale beating Warren Team member Charles Miller by the biggest margin.
The voters wanted changed, but with only three seats up last year, they got it with a very slim one vote majority on the board with Jesse Barksdale. Now, with Barksdale resigning his seat, the Warren Team is making a play to win back their previous domination of the board by maneuvering to get the judge in a position where they could approve a former team member. In other words, it looks like what Bob Warren is maneuvering for is for the judge to basically overturn last year’s election results for him. He doesn’t care if this would demoralize 60% of the people who voted in Pittsylvania County last year and make the area look like an embarrassment. That might sound harsh, but I’ll tell you why I think that in a moment.
You may live in Danville and not be following the county politics closely.
First you have to realize, that despite all of this, really, there is a lot of things happening in the county for everyone to be excited about. After more than a decade of population loss in the county, the region is now set for growth in the coming years, thanks to various economic growth initiatives new companies are coming. The Caesars Virginia casino, set to open in 2024, will bring tourists from all over to the area and new jobs, while the Southern Virginia Megasite at Berry Hill came in second for a Hyundai Plant that would have employed up to 8,000 people. It ended up going to Georgia to be closer to several of its major plant suppliers, but the fact that the 3,500 acre industrial park came that close to such a large employer and that it is the largest such park in the state of Virginia suggests that it is only a matter of time before it lands a major employer. Last week, Governor Youngkin spoke at the IALR as part of an economic development announcement. The Secretary of the Navy, Carlos Del Toro, and Matt Sermon, the executive director of the submarines PEO, also spoke. From 800-1000 people a year are going to be trained there for defense jobs by the end of 2024 in the ADTM program. It is easy to imagine defense contractors popping up in the area to take advantage of that workforce.
People are optimistic about the future. Last month, the Danville Office of Economic Development and Tourism released its comprehensive survey results from 2,072 respondents in the city of Danville and Pittsylvania County. When asked to describe Danville some of the most common answers were “growing,” “improving,” and “boring.” When it came to the county they said “beautiful,” “peaceful,” and “home.” People expressed an interest in future restaurants and businesses that may come after the casino opens.
However, the survey found one problem. People also described Pittsylvania County as “stagnant,” “backward,” and “depressed.” When asked to give a number from 1 to 5 of how proud they are of the county, with 5 being the most proud, 25% of the respondents gave a number of 1 or 2. Based on all of their answers, the survey classified 63% of county respondents as “detractors” of the area who are “are less satisfied citizens or consumers who may discourage others from visiting the region.”
Only 16% were “promoters.”
The definition of a “detractor” is someone who disparages something. Why would so many people be doing this? Maybe what they are really doing is warning people of problems they see for the county. That is what it sounds to me when they are saying the place is “backward,” which is a legacy of the past and recent history. Time will fix this. But new jobs alone may not be enough. People who may one day come to work in the mega park don’t have to move to Pittsylvania County to work there. They can just as well live in Rockingham or Henry County instead if things remain “backward” here or get worse.
I’d contend that this is a problem mainly due to the legacy of the Warren Team’s rule. I have heard people call them when they were running everything the “good ole boys club,” to now “the old guard.” When people complain about the county being “backward” I think this the type of thing people are saying that they want to leave behind.
With a political machine there tends to be a boss over associates who then bully people who are not members of their group if they do not do exactly what they say, while machine friends get rewarded. Everyone in between is ignored, so many get intimidated into silence. So, this year, in the Westover District the only person Ron Scearce could find to appoint to the Department of Services Board was his brother, Jim Scearce, out of thousands of people living in his district. Some say this is nepotism, but his brother is the only other person in this district that has served the Warren Team as a relentless attack dog for it.
The result is what has been embarrassing behavior at many county Board of Supervisors meetings and even chaos, making the county look bad. We have seen for instance, this year, baseless attacks against people, such as the Commissioner of Revenue, by Jim Scearce, and constant vilification of Chairman Ingram on Facebook by Ron Scearce and close to half a dozen fake social media accounts, which seem to be all run by Jim Scearce, as he hasn’t had one of his own, until a few days ago. In reality, though, the current chaos really began, and was worse even, in the final months of the Warren Team’s rule, before the last election, as they desperately tried to work to get the results to go in their favor.
The Warren Team campaigns on fear to get support. In 2020, during the voting campaign in Danville for or against the Caesar’s casino, Ronald Scearce told WSET that the casino “scares me” and according to the reporting, questioned “whether Caesars will be able to hold up their end of the bargain when promising the creation of hundreds of new jobs.” Such statements helped spread rumors at the time that the casino wouldn’t even be built even if it were passed. Well, the casino will have well over 1,000 jobs and if you drive by the site now you can see the construction start, as the foundation for the hotel is prepared. Even though a report said that the casino would lower the area unemployment rate by a percent, having a positive impact in the county, the other Warren Team members expressed more worries over it than anything else, doing nothing to support it, making it sound like it would generate a crime wave. The Warren Team is bad for tourism and bad for business.
In order to try to get everyone to forget all of this, Bob Warren used the last Board of Supervisors meeting to present himself as the defender of taxpayers in Pittsylvania County, making the claim that he is above politics. To do it he attacked the volunteer fire and rescue nonprofit agencies, which generated a lot of anger and even some demoralization in the county to say the least. It’s important to take a look at what he said in detail and understand the logic of his tactics, because I fear he will do them again and again if he gets his way and becomes Chairman of the Board of Supervisors again, no matter the damage they cause to the area. It was a performance designed in the hopes that everyone would believe in this new version of himself he presented, like a pitch for why he deserved to be Chairman again.
It was pure politics.
Mr. Warren gave a speech in opposition to a vote to a budget amendment to increase funding for the fire and rescue EMS calls from $15 to $25 per call and an overall funding matrix from $77,500 to $97,000. There are 21 volunteer fire departments across the county, which get assistance from the county government, but are funded primarily through private donations. The county funding in this amendment, which would have come from carry over funds without extra cost to taxpayers, would have given them an extra $6,000 each. There are over 1,000 volunteers in the county.
You can see his ten minute speech at the 2:34 minute mark of this video.
Bob Warren said he is looking out for taxpayers and that fire and rescue agencies are a special interest like many others, such as the sheriff’s department. Then around the 2:38 mark he made the claim that he has been threatened politically “in this very room” over funding and he “is not going to put up with this anymore,” casting himself as a victim. He says this has been terrible, and pointing to fire and rescue volunteers in the audience, said “we need good people to run in this county and serve in this county just like you all serve. This is not an easy job by any person sitting on this board. And for anyone to be making threats like that is just ridiculous.”
Bob Warren has a natural charisma to him that makes you want to like him. He’s very slick, if you didn’t know anything you would think he makes sense. For instance, he pulled one great trick. He said that he had a problem that not all of the individual fire and rescue agencies had signed the service agreement with the county and that was one reason they shouldn’t get the money. But the reason why is that they have been waiting to see the specific amount of funds listed that the county was going to allocate to each of them before signing it(you can see this talked about at the August fire and rescue meeting after the 38 minute mark with this link). Few, listening to his speech at home, knew that Warren played a catch-22 on them.
What is worse is that the idea that Warren is some non-political guy always looking after taxpayers is hard to believe, because just before this vote he voted yes to waive a landfill tipping fee of $164,000 for Hurt Partners LLC (a Charlotte based company owned by Will Dillinger) associated with a cleanup of non-hazardous construction fee, with barely a comment. Also, this past December, in Warren’s last meeting as Chairman of the Board, he gave former County Administrator David Smitherman a $9,437 bonus for a supposed job well done, and a severance pay boost. He was fired within weeks and walked away with all of that taxpayer money that Warren gifted to him like a machine boss.
I have either gone to or watched every BOS meeting this year and do not remember the incident Bob Warren described, in his speech, of someone threatening him out of office over how he votes on fire and rescue funding; this was the first vote over funding that was argued over all year. Maybe it happened and I just don’t remember, but either way it appears to me that Warren voted against the extra $21,500, because he knew that it would cause a lot of anger among the volunteers and get them to come out to the meeting and complain, so that he could attack them on video. I say that, because if the issue was merely taxpayer money, then Warren wouldn’t have gone out of his way to make a show about the politics of the vote. Why do that in public? He doesn’t do that every time he has an issue with a budget item. But this behavior actually wasn’t anything new. It was part of a nasty political game the Warren Team has been playing all year, to the embarrassment of the county.
Warren Team Bullying And Even IRS Threats Against The Community
If all you saw was Bob Warren’s speech, you wouldn’t know that Warren Team members Ron and Jim Scearce had been waging a smear campaign, full of misinformation, against the fire and agencies for months, at times even trying to provoke individual fire chiefs into arguing with them, while Bob Warren has sat on the sidelines saying nothing, trying to let fear grow no matter what damage it could do to the community. Luckily it did little, as the fear campaign fizzled out months ago due to lack of credibility. This year, the attacks, up to now, have seemed to be ones of simple anger and retribution over last year’s election results.
Back in October, at the last Fire and Rescue Commission meeting, before the 2021 election, Ronald Scearce told the members of the commission that they needed to vote for his fellow Warren Team candidates in the election. Commission member Bert Sellers disagreed with that, saying that he didn’t think it was appropriate for the commission meetings to be used for electioneering. You can see a video of that discussion in this Facebook post, about six minutes into the video. It was the last meeting before election day.
If you didn’t watch the other videos or just skimmed them, you need to make sure you jump to the six minute mark in this video to watch it, because it is almost unbelievable behavior on the part of Scearce. Bert Sellers is a well-respected and well known business person in the community, owning and operating the Sellers Brothers construction company. His son is Peyton Sellers, the race car driver.
He was right in saying that it was inappropriate to be told who to vote for at a fire commission meeting.
Sellers went so far as to say that “he doesn’t respect” what Scearce said. At end of 2021, Bob Warren took Bert Sellers off of the fire and rescue commission. Although it is safe to assume that Scearce was informed of this move, as it seemed to be an act of retribution, Sellers was not even told that he would be removed from the commission, much less why, and neither was any other member of the commission. Nor were they asked for feedback about the person he replaced Sellers with.
This is classic machine politics.
Step back for a second. You have to remember that Pittyslvania County has “21 volunteer fire departments and 12 volunteer EMS stations spread throughout the county.” About 1,000 volunteers serve these stations full time and part time without pay 24 hours a day every day of the year. Everyone in the county knows a volunteer, if they aren’t one themselves, or are a donor to a non-profit agency. It’s pretty bizarre for volunteer fire and rescue agencies to become a big political topic anywhere. In fact, I can’t think of this happening anywhere else in the country. People in neighboring counties have seen this and asked people living here what in the world is going on.
After the new board came in, Ron Scearce and his brother began a political fear campaign against them and tried to bully even just citizens that were critical of them. In January, Mr. Scearce began to get active on Facebook calling people who did not vote for his former team members as “minions,” called people who reply to his posts with critical questions as “stupid,” and put up a post mocking a citizen as a hypocrite for posting pictures of their vacation trip on Facebook and claiming that she attacked his family. When someone asked where it is she made these attacks he did not reply, because he probably made it up. All she had did is call him out for “writing ugly things and callings others by names” in a newspaper column.
She was right.
At the January board of supervisors meeting, Scearce and Warren voted against a resolution, which passed, to drop annual audits for two randomly chosen Volunteer Fire and Rescue Agencies paid for at county expense. These audits were approved in 2020 and only two agencies did them last year and it turned into a huge hassle, representing an extra five to six thousand dollars in expenses each. The fact is that the agencies already file a 990s tax form with the IRS every year in order to maintain their nonprofit 501c3 status. These comprehensive forms are publicly accessible by anyone in several databases on the internet. The forms contain expenses, revenue, and leadership information and the IRS randomly audits them every year, just like they do every single taxpayer. So a county taxpayer paid audit is in one sense a redundant waste of money.
After this meeting, on January 21, Scearce claimed in a Facebook post that the volunteer fire and rescue community has a “lack of integrity” and that they are “starting to give me some misgivings on what is actually going on.” In a comment in this post he also implied that they were “trying to hide something.”
He gave no rational basis for his accusations. The thing is all of the agencies are autonomous from each other, with each being overseen by their own board of directors, made up of leaders in the community, providing both oversight and assistance to them. Many of the treasurers of these boards are among the most well-known accountants in Danville and there are even past and current elected officials serving on them too, one of whom has won every single race he has won in the county by a landslide. Many of the area’s best known business people, such as Bert Sellers, also are on them. These people are county household names and everyone who lives here knows at least some of them. So, when Scearce made these sort of remarks it all seemed like madness.
Even after the attacks fizzled out, The Scearce brothers continued to post their attacks on Facebook, with a pattern in which Ronald Scearce would make a Facebook post and then fake Facebook accounts, likely controlled by his brother, made comments in support. I’m not going to go through all of them, as this article is already long enough at this point, and the posts and accusations they make against people are endless, so I will just point to a recent one as an example.
In a August 16, 2022, Facebook post Ron Scearce said he did an “investigation” into the IRS reporting of the county Fire & Rescue agencies and wrote, “you can do your own research to get an idea of why I am so upset that almost every accountability measure has been discontinued due to the actions of the current board leadership. A few points of interest, only 4 departments are current in their yearly IRS reporting and only 6 agencies have had to deal with shortfalls in the latest reporting on record. Why only 4 agencies are current could be a multitude of reasons, IRS website issues or non-compliance probably the biggest.”
He said this upset him and one of his real life supporters and several fake Facebook accounts chimed in to try to create a panic atmosphere.
For instance there are these two comments:
People believe that both Thornton and Gritt are accounts controlled by Jim Scearce. I believe it, and when I asked Gritt once if he was Jim Scearce he didn’t deny it. Instead he said he was a “chimera” of several people, including David Smitherman. I doubt the latter, though, as you would think Smitherman has moved on to other things. On the intro for the Hank Gritt user page it says it is a “Dangerous hacker and alt account of Ronald&Jim Scearce” and other Warren Team member friends. “Cole Thorton” has at times leaked out information that the general public would have no way of knowing. In many of his posts he praises Jim Scearce.
I went and did my own “investigation” and found in a matter of minutes that if you file an extension then the 2021 IRS real deadline isn’t until this Fall. It is not a crime to file a tax extension. Also, after the 990s returns are filed, the IRS typically does not update its publicly available database for another 6-18 months. ““Posting Form 990 images is an ongoing process. In most instances, the time between filing Form 990s and posting them on GuideStar is 5-7 months. However, the total lag time between the end of an organization’s fiscal year and the point when its IRS filing is publicly available can be anywhere from 12 to 18 months,” explains one major database website for nonprofit tax forms.
What is more, if you contact the fire and rescue agencies they will let you look at their 990s forms right now, so you don’t have to wait until the IRS and various non-profit databases are updated.
Calling for an IRS audit on private non-profit organizations for reasons like this, full of thousands of individual donors in the county, is pretty disgusting.
But these are the type of comments and hysteria Ron and Jim Scearce have tried to format for months, while Bob Warren has sat and said nothing. The social media attacks they post on people are endless and nonstop and make the county look bad.
Last year, Bob Warren wrote a diatribe against the Chatham Star-Tribune when they reported on things he did not want reported. The Warren Team has attacked civic institutions and civil society, stooping so low as to try to bully individual citizens on social media who do not agree with them, making Pittsylvania County look like it’s something akin to a tiny third world country, making people outside the county wonder what is wrong here.
A FLOATED FAILED PLAN TO SOAK THE COUNTY WITH TAXES
Ron Scearce made an interesting comment in this August post of his. He also said that “my goal has been to find the funding to fully subsidize the operational costs of these agencies over the 6.5 years I have been on the Board of Supervisors (BOS).” In reply to a comment he also wrote, “I am still committed to getting to a point where the county funds 100 percent of our F & R agency’s operational costs. That goal has been severely hampered by the firing of the best county administrator in the state, who had been striving to reach that goal as well.”
Right now the bulk of the operating expenses for these private agencies is from private donations. They are non-profit organizations. The budget for the Pittsylvania County government is $211,321,000 for 2021. About $1.8 million of that is going to assist private fire and rescue agencies and $1.4 million of it is going to Pittsylvania County public safety, which does about 20% of the safety calls in the county while the private agencies do 80%. Both are needed to work together. However, it would take over $20 million for the county to fully fund fire and rescue.
It would bust the county budget.
Last year, in May, former county administrator David Smitherman proposed to do just this with a new “fire tax” at a fire and rescue commission meeting. Back then he spoke of a four year “goal” to increase the county funding of the volunteer fire departments “tremendously, multifold” as a plan he expected to “be developing over the next nine months” ahead of this year’s 2022 spring finance budget.
Of course, such a massive tax increase would be difficult to pass ahead of Warren Team member elections. It looks like something he hoped to phase in this year and then increase annually to get to his goal at some point after the 2024 election. Such a move would demolish the non-profit agencies and place a massive tax burden on county tax payers if it happened, because once large new taxes are levied, as a fire tax, businesses would be unlikely to donate as they do now. I would think that individuals and companies would rather donate to a non-profit with gratitude, and get their income level lowered on their tax forms, than be milked at no choice by their county government. Non-profit fire and rescue agencies also contribute to lowering the overall cost of fire and rescue operations in the county, since they are unpaid volunteers, so there is no telling what the true total cost of having the county government run all of it would actually be. The election results derailed any such plan, but Bob Warren spoke in favor of a fire tax at the November BOS work session last year and would likely eventually bring it up again if he became Chairman of the BOS.
Bob Warren launched an attack against one of the fire agencies last year, labeling it as “unethical” at the June, 2021 fire and rescue agency. This may have been an attempt to try to lower public confidence in the private fire and rescue agencies to try to get the public to accept a fire tax. The issue died down, and so did the Warren Team attacks against them, until after their failed 2021 election results.
What Is The Warren Team’s Strategy?
Since the new board came in, this past January, the Warren Team attacks against the fire and rescue agencies increased and simply seem to be of retribution. They may also have calculated that they are at high risk of losing in another landslide next year and figured that the only possible way they can win is with some wild Hail Mary pass in which they try to turn the entire community against the non-profit fire and rescue agencies, while holding themselves up as some sort of nonpolitical foils to them. That relies, though, on people being totally ignorant of what has been going on.
The second part of their strategy has been obviously to try to block anything the new board members have tried to do and then blame Chairman Vic Ingram for their own obstructions. The county, for instance, has been stuck without a full time county administrator. One person who was interested had their name leaked out and so did a second one, to stymie the process. When Brenda Bowman was Chairman of the BOS she introduced a code of ethics. When Warren became chairman he took it out and no one noticed it. When the new board came in they voted to put it back in, but all of the Warren Team members all voted against doing so.
What is clear is that they have simply engaged in nonstop smears and disinformation since the election to try to force people to respond all the time to them, and maybe even get angry in the hopes that people who don’t know the full backstory can’t tell who is right or wrong and that it will just look like equal mudslinging from both sides – then maybe they can win next year or somehow something will happen where they can come out on top, but the problem is the Warren Team’s popularity is no better now than it was a year ago. Their behavior has demonstrated that they won’t stop dragging the county down until they are voted completely out of office. It may be impossible to truly replace Jesse Barksdale, as the type of gravitas he had is something one has to grow into, but I would hope that whoever takes his place for the interim has no conflicts of interest and believes that a code of ethics is important and worth living up to.
The Warren Team has turned the county BOS meetings into a carnival atmosphere and have made the county look like an embarrassment on social media. Backwards is an apt description for the impression they have created for it. If Warren were ever to become Chairman again he would simply turn both Danville and Pittsylvania County, since they are so closely linked together, into the joke of Virginia.
Hopefully, that never happens again.
Voters last year proved that they had enough.
Every single business morning I send out an email with the top regional headlines of the day.
You can get this news digest for free by clicking here.