Chairman Fore's Train in Vain
Trouble continues to brew in the Heart of Virginia as the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors continues on a course that seems destine to produce a political train wreck. At the controls of one of those locomotives “headed for glory” is Chairman William “Buckie” Fore of the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors. For now, everything in the way is mercilessly swept away underneath the iron wheels of the speeding train. But, somewhere down the tracks, there is a fast moving freight train on a collision course with Chairman Buckie and his runaway train.
The problem, it seems, is rooted in growing division on the Board of Supervisors involving two opposing factions, one including a minority of three Supervisors (Pattie Cooper-Jones, Sally Gilfillan, and Lacy Ward) in pursuit of fundamental reforms in County government facing a majority of five Supervisors (William "Buckie" Fore, Bobby Jones, Charles McKay, James Moore and Howard Simpson,), led by Chairman Buckie, which continues to charge ahead with an agenda of sorts that seems focused on maintaining absolute control and the status quo.
The faction seeking reform of County government has become increasingly concerned and vocal in its views that citizens of Prince Edward County are not getting the quality of County government they are entitled to and that County government has become unaccountable to those citizens it is supposed to be serving. These three Supervisors are demanding a lot more accountability than the Courthouse bosses are accustomed to providing.
On the other hand, the majority faction led by the indomitable Chairman Buckie, is determined to maintain control and to resist any threat to the status quo.
Discontent with Prince Edward County government started to boil over this past summer and fall with week after week of local news headlines, op/ed pieces, and numerous letters to the editor railing against Prince Edward County’s mishandling of local planning, development policy and zoning issues (The Farmville Herald and The Crewe Burkeville Journal).
The firestorm of discontent was sparked back in September when the Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of a controversial $50 million dollar townhouse development after a brief public hearing where citizens objected to the project and in spite of the revelation that County planning personnel had not lifted a finger to perform the expected project impact assessments that are normally considered a good idea before major land use decisions are made. Citizens who attended the meeting were aghast at witnessing such an arbitrary and capricious exercise of official power.
While zoning controversies are not uncommon, such controversies are normally handled with aplomb by professional technical personnel and elected officials who make sure to follow carefully designed procedures, document their facts and findings, and justify their actions. None of this happened in Prince Edward County this summer and the consequences of these failures was an immediate crisis of confidence in the leadership of Prince Edward County government.
Lacking plausible justification for the questionable Planning Commission zoning vote, speculation surfaced that key County officials were turning their backs to the public interests and were inappropriately “rubber stamping” lucrative zoning deals for favored developers, land speculators and realtors.
In October, citizens filed a formal grievance against Planning Commission Chairman William Porterfield alleging a lack of impartiality, bias in favor of developers, and undue influence on other members of the Planning Commission.
Worse yet, was the discovery in early December that the most vocal champion on the Planning Commission in favor of the controversial $50 million dollar townhouse zoning request was Vice Chairman Samuel Coleman who coincidentally happened to be the father of one of the consultants who represented the developer’s zoning request before the Planning Commission. It seems, the Vice Chairman forgot to declare his relationship until he was outed by citizens.
County records indicate that both Planning Commission Chairman William Porterfield and Vice Chairman Samuel Coleman have held their leadership positions and have wielded almost unquestioned authority on planning and zoning matters in Prince Edward County for nearly two decades. To be fair, it should be noted that citizens have not accused these two long serving County officials of having direct financial interests in the questionable zoning deal. Citizens are, however, raising legitimate questions and are challenging the motives for public policy decisions.
In response to these grievances, Chairman Buckie has made it abundantly clear that he personally does not put much stock in a few disgruntled citizens complaining about alleged improper motives of County officials. Thus, both citizen grievances, the first one against Chairman William Porterfield filed in October and the second against Vice Chairman Samuel Coleman filed in December of 2005, remain unaddressed and unresolved. This action, or more acurately inaction, has got citizens openly asking the question: "Can he do that?" The short answer is: "Chairman Buckie can do whatever he wants."
Adding insult to injury, the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors, again led by Chairman Buckie, adopted a new policy on December 13th effectively banning citizens of Prince Edward County who live within the Town of Farmville from ever serving on the Prince Edward County Planning Commission. Mind you, these "banned" citizens are actually county citizens, tax payers and voters. This new policy came about after three months of evasive maneuvers designed to avoid having to accommodate Supervisor Gilfillan’s request for fair representation on the Planning Commission.
As it stands today, Chairman Buckie is in firm control of the situation. The dysfunctional County Planning Commission seems to be now safe from any outside attempts to reform it. Citizen grievances against the Planning Commission Chairman and Vice Chairman have been nullified by imperial decree. But most importantly, citizens from the Town of Farmville who might ask too many questions and upset the delicate balance between County bosses and their friends in real estate development are officially banned by County policy from ever serving on the Prince Edward County Planning Commission.
Chairman Buckie has his hand firmly on the throttle. So far as he knows, the tracks are clear and that light at the end of the tunnel is a signal to pour on the coals for of four more years of unquestioned political dominance in Prince Edward County.
Will Chairman Buckie recognize the warnings of danger before it is too late? Or is it already too late?
Train wrecks always bring out the voyeuristic instincts in people. Unless Chairman Buckie slaps on the brakes pretty soon or otherwise changes tracks, the situation in Prince Edward County promises to be one heck of a political train wreck.
Go Buckie go!!!