It is hard to describe how dysfunctional the Staunton City Council appears to those who believe in professional, ethical, government rather than “shoot from the hip” amateurism.
But how can any objective view of that council not conclude Mayor Andrea Oakes, and her enabling first termers, are more petty than productive, more destructive than helpful.
Oakes seems incapable of learning. One of her first efforts was to meet with Augusta County Chairman Gerald Garber and give her blessing to bulldozing historic buildings for Augusta Courthouse construction.
When the county had earlier sought this same allowance, then Mayor Carolyn Dull made clear this was something she was entrusted to protect not facilitate. This better reading of the people’s wishes was proven when voters took to the streets in protest of Oakes’ plan to forfeit historic properties.
The blessing was rescinded but not before Augusta taxpayers had been relieved of about $100,000 for options on buildings it could not now use.
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Then there was the issue concerning unequal treatment of a council member. A court case ensued. Oakes was found to have not lived up to her responsibilities. Lawyers benefitted, Staunton’s good name not so much.
The city attorney then chose to exit. The leaving was clearly prompted by a hostile atmosphere replacing the collegial energy long associated with the council.
Near the end of last year, Oakes and Garber met again concerning the future of the courthouse. And once more a tone-deaf agreement was birthed.
This time the county would give away $1 million of tax purchased properties to Staunton. In exchange the city would provide council support for county proposed legislation allowing it to build a Verona courthouse.
They dispatched staffs to work out the details for a Memorandum of Understanding.
At its only December meeting, the Augusta Board of Supervisors commended the Staunton Council for its co-operation in devising this agreement. Supervisor, and former Staunton police chief, “Butch” Wells spoke directly to the public saying the memorandum was done with the full cooperation of the city. Supervisor Scott Seaton profusely thanked the city for this breakthrough agreement.
Whoops — a vote never came. Augusta once again was left with an empty promise from Staunton.
The county further noted this to be a one-time offer. Agree to it by the time of the General Assembly convening or it was rescinded. The General Assembly has begun, and Staunton Council is now fighting over an offer that does not exist.
And it is a bloody mess. As is their right, three members of council requested a special called meeting. The sole topic was the “Memorandum of Understanding” that Oakes had initiated.
Instead of attending, as is her duty as mayor, she stayed home.
Then in the great tradition of blame shifting, Oakes had her highest and best employee terminated.
Steven Rosenberg is as good a public servant as I have ever worked with. He was once Augusta County’s attorney. No one ever worked harder. He invested long hours of study to ensure his work was unassailable. His advice always legally correct, though not always what the Board may have wanted to hear.
It is likely his allegiance to simply doing his work honestly, not obsequiously, that cost him his job. It will be a costly loss to Staunton. There is the cost in severing their ties and the cost in the loss of his knowledge and experience.
In every school room, in every schoolhouse, in Staunton there reside aspirational quotes. They may vary but all speak to the goal of the children growing into responsible, caring, adults.
One in Staunton High School that caught my eye was this: “Do what’s right. Do your best. Treat others the way you want to be treated.”
Council could benefit from a school field trip.
Tracy Pyles, a former chairman and member of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors who lives in Augusta County, is a columnist for The News Virginian.