Thursday, March 25, 2010

Chesterfield County: The Leadership Vaccum

After last nights Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors Public Meeting I am absolutely convinced that what we are experiencing here in the County is a leadership vacuum.

County Government is suffering from a complete message or controlled public relations meltdown it has not seen in some forty years. Back then it was over the creation and expenses associated with having a Police Department versus maintaining a State supported Sheriff's department only. Today of course, we have both.

A large piece of the County budget (non-school) is allocated for Police, Fire, EMS but even those are under fire behind closed doors moving forward. The County is backing away from new Fire station construction for example.

It begs the this question. If you could make the case for the Station years ago based on real demand for safety and to ensure said safety in a timely manner to residents exactly what has changed?

I will tell you what. The politics.

Last night witnessed about 100 or so people sign in to speak before the Board. I personally got the stinking suspicion that the fix was in for most programs and some of these members were simply going through the motions. Yet, there was no real integrity before the audience to make the case in reality for what they have planned.

I have to admit that the case being made on behalf of Parks and Recreation was honorable. The face sweeping cuts to programs in large part because they are an easy target for these politicians. They do not want to actually be forced to examine what is truly at the heart of the problem facing the County budget and that is remarkably enough the size of the County payroll. You will not get a single elected official who views themselves as simply a "politician" first to speak the truth, but the fact is the County right now has a workforce that is larger than the 8 largest private (non-public sector) companies combined today.

County Government has a payroll of just under 12,000. That is even with not filling the so-called "unfilled positions" that the County always seems to be advertising. It is thought that the County will have to cut a mere 84 full-time jobs and 61 part-time moving forward, but you very rarely get a number out the Board. Its easier to place a target on things like historic sites or Rockwoods Nature Center than to put themselves in the cross hairs by looking to release employees, even when that exactly what is required.

We got a taste of things last night.

Daniel Gecker, Chairman of the Board has not been shy in articulating widely unpopular views and making such comments as;

"There have been significant reductions in Capital Improvements that the public doesn't see"-thank you blogger Chesterfield Taxpayer.

Really Mr. Gecker? Were you not the candidate pledging full "transparency"? How transparent has this budget process been? Why are things being hidden from the public? How can you state we are a First Choice Community when we have now gone five years since the County sought to post meetings, minutes and all governmental information online? Why is it we have only taking our public meetings online and on television? Why has not all the committee sessions and budgetary process as well as audits of County services and operations been brought to light? Why has the environmental studies (all) paid for by taxpayers for the Upper Swift Creek Plan not been fully disclosed to residents?

Here is a big question that we can never get a answer on and that is why is it that the Brandermill community seems to have such a stranglehold on the Swift Creek Reservoir. This body of water belongs to taxpayers not landowners who border it. Why have they been permitted to confine access to water owned by the County at large? How can the County permit them to control access points and determine who can and cannot enter the Reservoir via such area? Open it up; it belongs to all of us. Its our drinking water resource after all.

Parks and Recreation seem to be on the chopping blocks as ironic as it is as well as the Recycling Program. Its ironic because these are things that members like Marlene Durfee and Dan Gecker pledged to better leverage via their vision of smart growth and green space. Updating our parks was a key component a mere two years ago. I guess that was when they were sitting on the required funds and looking for a means in which to spend it as opposed to returning it to taxpayers. Now, the parks and programs centered around both the young and elderly are not as vital to these members as say government jobs. Jobs which require better than average salaries and higher benefit expenses than their private sector counterparts.

There was a question of "user fees" addressed last night by the public in a few questions and to be honest it makes the most sense in lean times by having people who wish to use programs actually have to pay for them.

I personally feel that it is perfectly acceptable to ask parents such as myself to help offset the expenses for athletic programs; either in the public school system or via Parks and Recreation. I have no problem with paying fees that support Night Basketball, Softball, etc for adults. I hardly expect the County to pick up that tab for me to play. Do they pay for our American Family or Gold's Gym membership? I think not. If there is enough demand for the program it will be funded accordingly through user fees and if not than the program disappears until there is such demand. That may seem harsh but that is the reality we face when we simply cannot afford the "wants" and can only provide for the "needs".

The Schools have a bigger cross to bear regarding funding. They have allowed the expenses per student ratio to rise year after year and we now are seeing a 57% rise in costs per pupil in the last 10 years. Another irony is the fact that while costs per pupil rose 57%, the actual budget to support the system grew 81% for the same period. What does that mean? Well, the School System was allocated/budgeted some 25% more than the rise in costs. Mind you enrollment rose about 15% since 2000. The County population rose to around 300,000 and to meet these numbers the County increased the number of schools by just over 10 percent and added about 20% more teachers in the period.

The Chesterfield Taxpayer has the cost per resident for the County Budget at 1,526 before taking into consideration the School System. Throw in the Schools and you add in about another 2,500 per resident. Of course the Board would rather see drastic cuts to the Schools over the General Fund and that is what is playing out right now.

There is a vacuum of leadership right now. No one is stepping up with solutions that are not firmly rooted in the preservation of government dominance. Programs are being examined first but not the government payroll. In fact the County seems bent on doing everything possible to preserve government jobs.


chesterfieldtaxpayer said...

Notice how that coalminer on the seal always seems to be taking a break? Just sayin'

TC Robinson said...

Excellent post, FoodForThought. There truly is an incredible lack of leadership among the current Board and I truly believe it is because every single one of them has begun a came to see who can cover their ass the best. All of them sense that 2011 will be very much like 2007. Incumbency won't mean squat and people will be looking for new, fresh faces to lead Chesterfield into the next decade. From a Republican standpoint, it's sad for us that probably the best Supervisor right now is Jim Holland, a Democrat. He truly seems to be the only one not worried about being re-elected and has proven to be anything but a politician. I'd love to see him made Chairman next January.

This game of politics can be seen very well in the battle over the property tax rate. At last months CCRC meeting, Supervisor Warren stood up and said that he didn't think now was the time to raise taxes. I turned to my friend sitting next to me and said "Don't they know that keeping the rate the same would amount to a TAX CUT, which we don't necessarily need right now, and that even raising the rate to $1.00 would STILL be a cut seeing as the revenue neutral number is $1.01?" She said something to me that I hadn't thought of...they don't care what the revenue neutral number is. They know that taxes will be the number one issue for most voters next year, and if they can say they kept the rate low and cut the "waste," they'll more than likely get re-elected. How sadly wrong they will be proven to be.

She also made a point about how most people didn't know or understand that raising the rate to the revenue neutral number would simply keep their taxes the same. She chalked this up to a lack of desire by the Board to truly explain all the options in a detailed manner. Again, spot on.

Speaking specifically about Marleen Durfee, some of you may remember me saying that I was considering a run against her in 2011. I may or may not put that on the backburner as I think I may have found a very good potential Republican nominee. How does this kind of person sound: 52 year old wife of ex-Chesterfield County Sergeant that was born and raised in Chesterfield. Has lived here her entire life and serves as Finance Director for a small distribution company in the county airport complex. Excellent understanding of financial matters. Was very active in the community with her kids. Breast Cancer survivor.

On another note, who do you guys like for Sam Nixon's seat? No one's name really jumps out on the GOP side.

Anonymous said...

Nixon's seat is certainly an opportunity given the special election nature of replacing him in the Assembly.

There is plenty of talk goin on right now locally about Tea Party candidates at the local level. There will likely be candidates in both Midlothian and Matoaca to challenge the incumbants. It will be interesting to see if the CCDC sits it out again in Midlothian. Everyone knows Gecker was there guy though he ran as an independent. He is basically the most liberal member of the Board and even wasted no chance to throw jabs at the former President in a local meeting regarding education.

Incumbants will be in trouble because they will be seen as the problem. The former officials will be given a pass given they will not be on the ballot. Given the climate one would think the members would step up and change the paradigm but they are not. The Board will let the School Board sink or swim with reduced funding.

Look to see who markets themselves as the "tax-cutter". That will be very telling. You have to wonder if we would be in this crisis if these members had simply left the rate alone after they came into office.

Anonymous said...

Brandermill and East West Properties always seem to have their own agenda. East West also developed Woodlake and Hampton Park. Hampton apppears to have fallen on hard times as far as home values are concerned.

Anonymous said...

Any party label will be a major liability to any BOS canidate in 2011.

Anonymous said...

Every candidate has a "label". If you recall both Gecker and Durfee ran under the "independent" label.

How did that work out for you?

Anonymous said...

"The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire." - Robert A. Heinlein,

Anonymous said...

The race for the 27th House seat vacated by Sam Nixon will be interesting. I may be out of the loop too much to know who might throw there hat in the ring.

Supervisor Jim Holland (D) lives in that district, so he could be a potential Dem to enter the race. However, he barely won his 2007 race and while the 27th is extremely similar to his Clover Hill district, it has an additional handful of strong GOP precincts. Anybody have other Dems to speculate about?

The GOP side could be even more unknown. Holland very narrowly beat out Kelly E. Miller (R) in 2007, but Miller passed away last year. What candidates will emerge from the GOP? Who from the school board or central committee live in that district? TC - does the 52 year old woman live in the 27th?

Who is currently on the school board from that area? Or maybe even somebody who hasn’t run for office before?

Should be fun to watch.

Anonymous said...

You are falling victim to the standard assumption that it must bea current politican that should seek the office in the 27th.

There wasa time when the Assembly was made up of farmers, merchant bankers, retailers and wholesalers and other small business owners. Now, you are governed in Richmond by LAWYERS!!! Thats right. Look at the numbers. Do you really have a balanced representation of Virginian professionals in Richmond to make balanced determinations on how society should function? I am afraid not.

TC Robinson said...

Anon - Unfortunately, she lives in the 66th. She has told me she would very much consider running for the GOP nod in Matoaca in 2011, but she is very apathetic towards politics and probably wouldn't go any higher than the local level. She has a 2 year old grandson that she very much wants to make Chesterfield better for.

Jim Holland would be a VERY formidable candidate if the Democrats could recruit him. I can't think of anyone else off the top of my head that might run. This could very will be a race of unknown vs. unknown.

On the GOP side, no one on the school board lives in the 27th, based on the research I've done. The highest name rec. Republican that lives in the 27th is Sheriff Proffitt, but everything I know about Dennis tells me he is perfectly happy where he is. County Treasurer Richard Cordle lives in the 27th, but I don't think he'd be willing to take the pay cut. Not living the district, I don't know the community and its leaders, but I think our best bet is to either look for someone in the education field or a recognized business leader.

JoeinBonAir said...

Again, you are looking in thw wrong places TC. You are talking about retreds that have brought us either shortfalls at the local level or even grater ones at the State level.

Why would you simply want to elevate someone simply based on Party and not ability.

Holland in fairness has been respectable but he has behaved more as an arbitor between the misguided in Gecker and the loon in Durfee. He has not really put forth any real solutions. His depth on the financial concerns of the County are better than any other Board member and that is staying alot given his short tenure.

We need to be looking outside. We need new blood. Blodd not maligned by special interest. I thought the Tea Party movement would bring us that, but instead it has been taken over by insiders from the establishment seeking to mirror it to the GOP apparatus. Thats too bad. It had promise as a real force in local politics but now it seems it will merely be a different head with the same voice unless independent Tea Party faithful take it upon themselves to run.

We have long called for Alter to step up for us. Rumor has it though he is pulling up roots from Midlothian??????????????

TC Robinson said...

Joe, not all people in elected office are as bad as you make them. Granted, there are a lot of "retreads" that we could do without, but there are just as many good ones. Take the Sheriff...I think he would make an excellent Delegate. He'd never do it, but the fact is he has done good things as Sheriff and previously as one of Clarence William's deputies.

I only mentioned those kinds of people first because I think it is best to look at the most experienced before you consider taking the risk of an unknown. I have no problem with an unknown, but if there is someone with a record already established, we should shoo them aside just because they might be "retreads."

Jonathan Scott said...

There is certainly a leadership problem. We were promised in 2006/07 a more open government with full transparancy but as the post reflects it has not transpired.

It is easier to be transparent when things are great and the economy is booming, but during times such as these what you find is people not forthcoming with information that would reflect badly on what actually happened with money when those times were great. Transparency would reflect that such revevnue was grossly misallocated and resources overfunded merely because the revenue was there.

If you look at the record you will find many Supervisors backpeddleling from commitments made during the first year of service. Take recycling for example. Such big advocates of the green agenda as Marlene Durfee in Matoaca and Dan Gecker in Midlothian endorsed such expansion of the program and many in the community sought to have it implemented once a month over twice as a means of reducing the expenses associated with the service now upwards of 2.5 million. We have gone from endorsing and being advocates on this issue to now backing off. These people in view on issues such as these are hypocrites. It demonstrates a full lack of integrity as well as forecasting insight regarding the budget as to understand the impacts of such programs not when started but say ten years down the line. As with anything else in government; it never gets cheaper nor ever gets more efficient regardless of what they tell you.

These people endorse the view that simpyl by throwing more money at a program will make it more efficient. It rarely works out that way, but by advocating for such fubnding it creates the "need mentality". In the private sector they get that resources may not be there if they do not exapnd or grow, but in government these programs rely on double dipping at the trough as long as the Supervisors can keep allowing funds to be increased within the budget process.

This is where transparency comes in. If we had it would would be appauled at what our money is being thrown at. I could find no less than a dozen or so such endeavors in the CIP last year that were not even remotely neccessary for the County to remained aligned with its vision. An example, do we really need to be upgrading government facilities and complexes like the court buildings or other government branches? Do we really need to grow the size of our government? Who benefits? Access to them would not be increased at all even with the million of funds allocated to expand it so whats the point? Is it so our government employees can work in rather posh offices?

Why is government now the largest employer in the County? Why is a locality with 300,000 people have the third largest employer in its government in the entire State? Where is the Supervisor being transparent about those facts? Where is the Supervisor being transparent about the fact that we have grown our budget disportionately to ourreal growth?

Where are those leaders?

Jody L. Wilcox said...

We definitely need new blood running in this next local and in the state elections and should avoid retreads at all costs. The major issue for the local GOP these next several years is the resurging patriot and tea party movement (which is very strong in Chesterfield) that can have the ability to split the votes. We need to elevate candidates that can rally both these “independent” group votes and the GOP together to make sure we can get leadership that will hold up responsible governing as there key “label.” We need candidates that are experienced enough in politics to know how the system works but not so entrenched in system that it is just more of the same old same old.

Jody L. Wilcox said...

IMHO We in Matoaca will have to carefully sift through all potential candidates for a Matoaca candidate (not just a name that can beat Durfee) to make sure we both have a great candidate for the district as well as a leader for the county.....the BOS job is not going to get any easier going forward from 2011....We need leaders from the populous to lead and be strong leaders.

Jonathan Scott said...

While I agree, we certainly must have leaders that will Lead from the front and be proactive within the confines of leadership and not simply the ones we have today that are merely reactionary to the current environment.

Are true leader, taking tinto account everything that was going on within the economy from a regional perspective would have seen the signs regarding the housing crisis. Instead of waiting for the fallout and then proposing drastic cuts to varyiong programs, a defined plan should have been orchestrated years ago to meet the impacts of the crisis. Instead we have seen costs of services per citizen increase, we have seen an even greater dependence on school trailers eventhough we have witness the budget for schools grow above and beyond the 15% student enrollment increase over the last ten years.

Our leaders need to understand that the results experienced within our school system and the necessity of raising the student/teacher ratio is a direct result of a misguided and commercial/developer friendly local government which mistakenly has convinced the public that growth will pay for itself. Instead, we have a Board and in particular Mr. Gecker who has endorsed (with some caveats) every major piece of zoning by developers. Gecker has simply carried on what he described as his predecessors developer ties even after he made campaign promises to bring the ratio of commercial/ citizen burden more in line to 60/40 from 80/20. he has proposed no such agenda to curb that ratio whatsoever. In fact Gecker even voted for a lower cash proffer rate increase than the increased level endorsed by Supervisor Holland and Durfee.

At a recent meeting, I witnessed Mr. Gecker completely dismiss the 12 million dollars that a four cents increase in the property tax rate dedicated to schools would have brought in. 12 million. Even at a time where we have witnessed shortfall after shortafll, rising unemployment, increased foreclosures throughout the County he snubs his nose at 12 million that would in realioty NOT have been a increase on anyone in relation to what taxes were paid last year on the same property. Its simply politics. Many of us are beginning to think that maybe Omar's characterization of Mr. Gecker may be closer to the truth than many of us had every considered.

Leaders make the case for action. Leaders make the call for action. Politicians do nothing but consult with interest and stick the finger in the air and see which way the wind is blowing.

If ever there was an example of "politics" right now its Chesterfield County.

I for one will hold Mr. Gecker accoutnable for his campaign pledge for "Planning Not Politics" in the upcoming months leading into the next cycle. He may be able to speak his way out as he his very good at placing the spin on others like the School Board, but the fact remains he has failed to deliver to Midlothian what he pledged to deliver.

In fact he has delivered quite the opposite. More of the same. Politics.

Jody L. Wilcox said...

Jon, I think we are in agreement on this one....I am a bit fearful of the "throw the bums out" over all mentality though and just urge all to be as careful selecting their new choices as they are in holding the current group accountable....we need effective leaders not just new leaders...

Anonymous said...

I think Supervisor Gecker basically dodged your whole line of questioning at the one meeting regarding "cooperation" between the Board, Schools, and Planning Commission. He completely passed the buck to schools regarding capacity and he left his part in the planning process completely out of his scope when addressing the growth of the County.

TC Robinson said...

I agree with Jody. I think that "throw the bums" mentality got us where we are today. There was such a desire for change that people took whoever was thrown at them without really getting to know the candidates. Hmm, that sounds awful familiar.

We must thoroughly vet our 2011 GOP candidates in order to ensure we get the best ones for the districts. If we don't, we'll be sounding the same call come 2015.

Andrea Epps said...

Hey there Alter.
Just FYI...
there is no public access to the reservoir because the county doesn't own it. They have an easement over it for the water. The three agreements that were signed in 1968 specifically prohibit public access.
It's privately owned by three (I think) entities and Brandermill is not one of them.
I wish it was, but sometimes common sense is lacking where it is needed the most:)

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