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Did The Pittsylvania County Board Of Supervisors Just Take A Turn For The Worse?

The past two years have seen chaos at many of the meetings of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors to the point where locals started to call it a “clown show” last year. Westover Supervisor Ron Scearce even showed up at a meeting wearing a clown shirt last October, to mock the public, and this month went so far as to smear an out of town developer in a Facebook post, who tried to build a Luxury RV park resort in his district, got his plan rejected by the board last year, and now is working to build it in the city of Danville. In November, when the developer came to the board, Mr. Scearce tried to insinuate that there was something sinister about him having multiple LLC’s for his businesses. Never mind that is a normal practice for real estate developers to have an LLC for each of their properties. While it is understandable that residents on the heavily populated Vandola Road would not want the Luxury RV Park Resort in their neighborhood, there was no reason for Mr. Scearce to carry on the way he did about it and to continue his smears against the developer months after the county rejected putting the RV Park there, further dragging down the whole county as one of its elected Supervisors.

Is he really that ignorant of how the business world works or just doesn’t care how he makes the area to look?

The population in the county has dropped by 1,135 in the past two years. The county has lost 3,005 people in the past ten years, so a drop of over 1,100 in two years is an acceleration in that trend. According to a survey of residents in Danville and Pittsylvania County done in 2022, people are optimistic about things in the area that will help it grow in the next few years, such as the coming casino and the new restaurants and businesses that may come with it, and see the county as “beautiful” and the city of Danville as “improving,” but, when it comes to the county, residents there also see it as “backward” and “stagnate.”

A full 63% of people said, in the survey, that they actually warn people away from coming to Pittsylvania County. That is the legacy of Chairman Bob Warren, his self-proclaimed “team members,” and the former country administrator that worked for them, and the bullying tactics they displayed last year against other board members, civic organizations, and even individual public citizens, with Ron Scearce’s Facebook page. At one time last year, the Scearce brothers tried to create a panic over the accounting of local nonprofit agencies on Facebook, with zero evidence, which they believe did not support their friends in the 2021 elections, going so far as to argue for IRS investigations into them.

While the population of the county dropped in the past ten years, the number of solar panels in the county have multiplied at an exponential rate, so you can give the Warren team credit for that, with zoning changes they did in 2020. However, solar panels don’t vote, and the voters showed that they wanted big changes in how, and who, was running the county back in 2021, with a firm rejection of Warren team members that were up on the ballot in that year’s election. Supervisor Vic Ingram led that 2021 campaign and became Chairman of the Board with a 4-3 voting block majority in January of 2022. The county has one of the biggest mega parks in the entire east coast, ready for a business to come to it, if we can just get rid of the clown show first.

Tourism and future manufacturing jobs are now the key to growing the area’s economy. But when Danville officials and Delegate Danny Marshall prepared the way for the coming casino back in 2019, when Bob Warren was Chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Pittslvania County, Warren and his team members did nothing in cooperation with them. Warren team member Supervisor Joe Davis opposed the casino and Ron Scearce went on WSET, spreading fear about it, claiming that even if it was approved, he doubted “whether Caesars will be able to hold up their end of the bargain when promising the creation of hundreds of new jobs.” Drive by the site today and you can see it under construction now and Caesars has been running training programs to soon employee over 400 people at the temporary casino tent and at least 1,300 when the main casino is built. As far as Joe Davis goes, he lost in a landslide election in 2021, failing to get even 40% of the vote.

When an initiative came to the county board, during a work session, to employ a Director of Tourism and Historical Artifacts in October of 2021, Mr. Scearce spoke in opposition to it on the basis that he was against it, seemingly because it was Vic Ingram’s proposal. He then voted against it being added as an item for discussion to even consider at that work session along with Mr. Warren, Joe Davis, and Dr. Miller. Vic Ingram could only get the support of Supervisor Ben Farmer on that vote. Eventually, Lisa Meriwether was hired, in conjunction with the city of Danville, to be a tourism director for the area, and she is doing a great job, but it took time for the county to get moving. While multiple surrounding counties of the Bristol casino are getting millions in tax revenue from that casino, Pittsylvania County is going to get zero, even though it is the sole county that envelopes the entire city of Danville.

Last week Senator Tim Kaine held a roundtable at the Berry Hill Mega Park. He said that, in the past, tax incentives were the key to attracting industry, but now the most important thing they are looking for is a well trained workforce. Programs such as the Accelerated Training In Defense Manufacturing partnership going on at the IALR are doing that, but you still need people to move into the area for both the tourism industry to be staffed with enough people that it can flourish and for anything to ever be able to succeed at the Megapark. Leaders that demoralize the community do not make the area inviting to outsiders, instead they make it look like a backwards joke.

People choose where they want to live.

Every one living in the area has seen the impact of the county’s population decline, whether they are trying to go to the emergency room at the understaffed hospital, a small business owner finding it hard to find help, or someone who just goes out to eat at a restaurant and wonders why it has to be closed an extra day during the week. The other week the Danville newspaper interviewed the owner of Ciros and he said , “We still can’t find people to work. We call, they show up and say they don’t want to work.” When there is a labor shortage people know they can easily quit one job for another, and when they do this it can cause a business to suddenly close for the day. I guess the business owners can mark them in their ledgers as Scearce/Warren holidays, as we are way past Covid shutdowns now. Yes, there are multiple factors at play in staffing issues, but when over 1,100 people vanish from the county in two years it has an impact. It is the younger groups of people who are disappearing in the census, making the potential work force from the county smaller in size, but we have more solar farm panels.

(Some of the endless solar panels visible on Climax Road outside Chatham, Virginia)

Thankfully, the chaos on the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors, though, reached a peak last October. The board got deadlocked into two 3-3 voting blocs after the resignation of board member Jesse Barksdale last year. After back and forth bickering, and a meeting in which Supervisor Bob Warren and his block actually shut down the public from speaking at a meeting, a judge had to step in and make the decision to appoint Robert Tucker as an interim board member. Tucker got sworn in and spoke to what many people wanted, and that is a calm and professional board that works for the good of the community and not merely for their own little good old boys club, saying that he will “always put people ahead of politics.”

As 2022 came to a close, and the New Year began, as a swing vote, Tucker fashioned a deal to make Darrell Dalton Chairman and Dudley Vice-Chairman, displacing Vic Ingram as the former Chair in the process. Both Dudley and Dalton had been in opposite voting blocs, with Dudley being a Warren team member. There was talk of “unity” after that board reorganization meeting and for the past few months things have indeed been more calm on the board than they have in the past, that is except for a failed frivolous lawsuit on the part of Ron Scearce’s brother Jim Scearce against Vic Ingram.

After that lawsuit was thrown out of court the first time, he made a slight change to it and filed it with the court again, to get the same result. This type of stuff was nothing new, though, because at a BOS meeting in April of 2022, Jim Scearce made baseless accusations against Commissioner of Revenue Robin Goard, claiming that he was going to launch a recall petition against her. I don’t know why, but she somehow had made herself an enemy of the Warren team, like the nonprofit agencies and Ingram had. The Scearce bullying and fear campaign against the Commissioner of Revenue failed, just as the others did.

That’s the type of stuff that makes people say that the county looks “backwards.”

For the most part, though, the meetings have been smooth going affairs this year, that is up until last week, and that was no fault of Chairman Dalton.

The April BOS Meeting Goes Sideways After Robert Tucker Joins The Warren Team In Some Political Theater

Kell Stone spoke during the Hearing of the Citizens portion of last week’s BOS meeting. Mr. Stone is running for the Bannister Board of Supervisors seat, along with Kathy Ramsey and Interim Supervisor Robert Tucker. Stone made a point of how people have come to the board and attacked individual board members even though it is stated that is not allowed by the policy read at the beginning of each Hearing of the Citizens. These have mostly been individual Scearce family members that have been doing this for over a year now. Stone made a common sense plea for more professional behavior at the board meetings.

Well, that plea fell on death ears, as after that everything soon went sideways over the simple routine appointment of a person to serve on the Northeast Quadrant of the Fire and Rescue Commission, which was created to provide recommendations and oversee strategic planning for all fire and emergency medical services provided in Pittsylvania County, including those carried out by Public Safety and private Fire and Rescue Agencies throughout the county. There are thirteen members of this commission. According to the by-laws of the commission, each member of the BOS chooses one person from their district with significant fire and rescue experience. The county is then divided up into four quadrants, from which the private agencies each recommend to the BOS for approval a member with “significant business experience.” The BOS also has one member on the commission, who is a non-voting member, and the Chairman of the Fire and Rescue Association sits on it too, but only has a vote if there is a tie.

All of this is important for what transpired 44 minutes into the meeting.

John Brown had been serving as a member of the commission as the business representative serving the Northeast Quadrant, while Coleman Mayhew has served as the Supervisor’s representative for William Dudley of the Staunton River District.

Both Mr. Brown and Mr. Mayhew’s term had expired on the commission and Mr. Mayhew no longer was in the Staunton River District due to redistricting, leaving his seat empty. Both of them submitted their forms to be reappointed to the board. Director Chris Key polled the fire chiefs of the Northeast Quadrant several weeks ago on who they wanted for that spot and the first vote was a tie. On a second vote they voted 3-0-1 for Mr. Brown, with one person saying they had no opinion.

At the meeting, Supervisor Vic Ingram put in a motion to reappoint both men.

Supervisor Robert Tucker then sighed, made a face, and said that this would “set a dangerous precedent” and “personally” it made him very uncomfortable. He said Ingram’s motion meant “changing the rules.”

Ingram then argued that he was not trying to change the rules.

You can read the bylaws for yourself with this link.

Here is the section on membership composition.

Ingram argued that if they were to appoint Mayhew for the Northeast Quadrant that they would in effect remove Brown and were in effect trying to give Dudley two appointments when he should have one.

Ingram was correct on that point.

He then argued that Mayhew did not have “significant business experience,” so he shouldn’t be the Northeast Quadrant representative.

He said he was trying to put in a motion to get him reappointed for the Staunton River District “as a compromise.”

Tucker ignored Ingram’s first argument about giving Dudley two appointments, and acted as if he took offense at Ingram talking to him about the rules and said that he believed Mayhew had the required business experience and argued that if they appointed both men that would be “changing the rules.”

I’ll grant that Tucker may be right about Mayhew’s business experience, I don’t want to dispute that, and trying to get Mayhew reappointed for the Staunton River District after redistricting is a bit irregular, but Ingram was correct that they were in effect no longer following the bylaws and giving Dudley an extra appointment.

Supervisor Bob Warren then read from the bylaws section 4.1 and then said he agreed with Mr. Tucker!

But his calm way of reading the bylaws created a convincing performance that could easily fool people (I often get fooled when Warren talks until I look at things in more detail later).

Warren then said he would do like he “always had done for eight years now” by voting for the person the Supervisors whose district the Quadrant occupies wants. In reality, just last year, the fire chiefs of the various quadrants voted up the name to the Supervisors for their approval first and they went with that in every case.

In other words, Mr. Warren pretended to be a stickler for the bylaws when he read them, to give the impression that he took them seriously, saying that he didn’t think they should “bend or break the rules,” but then said he would vote for who Dudley and Tucker wanted anyway. Warren then made the argument that it is the prerogative of the board of supervisors to choose who serves on the boards and not the people or groups that the various boards oversee, and therefore it is up to him who he votes for.

That argument sounds sensible, but is flawed, because while it is correct that it is up to the BOS members to make these decisions, the bylaws are there in order to regulate how such decisions are made.

Otherwise, why even have them?

Supervisor Chesher spoke and said that it is “sad” to see how things have gotten to this point where simply appointing people to a commission has to be a point of contention and worried that “people are going to decide not to run, because no one will want to “when things are like this and “it shouldn’t be like this.” The situation could have been different if Tucker, Dudley, Warren, or Scearce had worked with the others before this meeting to resolve the issue, but they ignored Ingram’s email weeks ago when he asked Tim Dudley what he wanted to do. So, the April meeting took a turn for the worse, because they decided to engage in political fights instead of working together.

Dudley then put in a motion to put Coleman Mayhew in for the Northeast Quadrant and Tucker seconded it.

The motion passed with Ingram and Dalton voting no.

As of this writing there is actually still no one living in the Staunton River District serving on the commission for that area!

I guess Dudley decided it would be best to appoint someone else next month for that membership spot too, because if he did it last week it would have been too obvious that he was indeed setting things up to pick two spots on the board.

Yes, it is all a very confusing mess that they made!

To summarize this – Ingram put in a motion. Mr. Tucker said it was “dangerous” and would be “changing the rules.” They argued. Warren stepped in talking about the bylaws. And then Warren team member Dudley put in a motion that went against the bylaws outlining the procedure of how the Northeast Quadrant representative is to be chosen, as they ignored the recommendations of the fire and rescue agencies on who they wanted, and Tucker seconded it. If they went by the bylaws the correct thing to do would have been for them to reject Brown before the meeting and then to tell the Fire and Rescue members to put up another candidate, but it looks like all they were doing was aiming to create an issue to fight over with Ingram at this meeting.

We Have Seen These Tactics Before

We saw this sort of sophistry last year in October with Mr. Warren during a vote of the fire and rescue budget and also when his team voted down the public from speaking about the Bannister interim position. Warren had his own man that he wanted and caused weeks of chaos to try to get him on the board.

In fact, if you think about that meeting, Mr. Tucker played the same role last Tuesday that Mr. Dudley did back then. Last year, Dudley put in the motion to shut down the public and then Mr. Warren did a performance reading from the state code, claiming that it was the right thing to do, but if you read the state code yourself you found his reasoning to be nonsensical.

Warren acts like a conservative stickler for the rules, but when he does these performances he just interprets them the way he sees fit to do whatever he wants.

Last week, it was Tucker who preceded Warren, by arguing with Vic Ingram, and then Warren stepping in to read from the bylaws, performing like the authority figure on the board, and then applying his jumbled reasoning to back up Tucker.

Both were clearly carefully choreographed performances planned out ahead of time for political reasons.

Beyond simple positioning for the election, I also think there is a bigger political purpose to these tactics and that is to confuse the public by finding any issue possible to argue with people in order to make it hard for the public to understand what is going on in the hopes that they will get upset, stop paying attention, stop voting, and really have no idea what is happening in the county, so that low voter turnout could bring them victory. That is the key to Warren team members winning their races in November.

There is a method to the clown show – it’s all about distracting and demoralizing people.

But the problem is the tactics damage the county, and the whole region, in so many ways.

Mr. Cubas, for one, could have gone to another section of the county to develop his RV Park, but instead he ended up going to the city of Danville, which is expected to get $1.3 million in tax revenue from it.

Instead of reading about deals like that in the newspapers, this week Pittsylvania County businesses are getting notices in the mail about a sales tax increase.

When a county population drops the quality of services decline and taxes have to go up one way or another.

In the end, the only thing that will turn the county around is to get all of the Warren members voted off the board this Fall.

It can happen, because every single Warren member seat is up for election and all can easily be lost by them if more good people just step up and run to serve in their place.

Yes, no doubt the Scearce family will do what they do for the Warren team, but that’s because they are scared they are going to lose.

The clown show needs to be put to an end once and for all.

This year six out of seven of the Supervisors seats will be on the ballot in November.

Chesher expressed worries that people now won’t want to even serve due to the mess being created.

Good people interested should not be deterred from running for one of these Supervisor seats, because the odds are the Warren members will lose in November, and once they are thrown out the whole crazy clown show atmosphere will be gone. It’s actually a great opportunity for people to do something positive for the county.

And you don’t have to run for office to make a difference.

You can talk to people about what is happening or work to support a candidate.

On May 12 there is going to be an important Republican mass meeting in Chatham for people to choose who they want to get the Republican nomination. Jarrett Stone, Jennifer Wyatt, and Angie Harris are all vying for the Republican nomination in the Clerk of Court Race, while Ken Bowman and Frank Fox are doing so for the Chatham-Blairs Supervisor seat. Meanwhile, Murray Whittle is going against Ron Scearce for the Republican nomination for the Westover Supervisor seat. I am supporting Jarrett Stone and Murray Whittle.

Unfortunately, at the last BOS meeting Supervisors Ron Scearce and Timothy Chesher both announced that cancer has returned to both of them. Both are optimistic, and people are praying for them, but Supervisor Chesher also announced that on Friday he was resigning from the board. An interim Supervisor will have to be chosen soon to replace him through November. That is why the Dan River District seat is now also up for election this year.

If you want to go and vote at the Republican county mass meeting I did a post about the details you can find here.

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