Thursday, July 24, 2008

Augusta BOS meeting ... fireworks between supervisors

Wednesday night's Augusta County Board of Supervisors meeting had a moment when there was an exchange of terse words between Chairman David Beyeler and Vice Chairman Tracy Pyles. The firewords were not unexpected but this particular heated exchange was not where the fireworks had been expected to come from.

Pastures District Supervisor Tracy Pyles, who had questioned the budget for a proposed road plan in a development hoping to locate in Fishersville, mentioned several times that he was not allowed to speak at Monday's staff briefing. He reiterated it throughout his presentation and, when he finished his presentation, Mr. Beyeler, with voice shaking, informed him that there was something introduced about the development a month earlier that Mr. Pyles had missed, and when supervisors went to "view" the project Mr. Pyles was not there, and he testily said, "I don't want to hear it." Mr. Pyles and Mr. Beyeler then went back and forth with Mr. Pyles adding that he was not allowed to speak, and his fellow Board of Supervisor members did not speak up for him ... they did not stand up for his right to speak. Whew! It was refreshingly not boring!

But before all that occurred, Mr. Pyles accused the other board members of trying to rush the project, saying it was on a fast track when it was presented with only two days notice and no time to look over the multiple-paged proposal, study facts and figures, or delve into costs. He said there was no opportunity to vet the numbers with outside sources because they had been accepted by the other members of the Board of Supervisors, and argued there were steps to go through before spending the taxpayers' money ... qualifications that must be accounted for.

This is not the first time Mr. Pyles has rocked the boat. As reported by Bob Stuart in the Waynesboro News Virginian:

... supervisors overwhelmingly agreed that the road, a half-mile portion of Route 636, was needed.

The road would serve as an eventual connector between U.S. 250 and Augusta Medical Center.

Supervisors also agreed that Crescent’s 420-unit project of townhouses, duplexes, single-family homes and apartments was being put in the right place.

The development will be located in Fishersville directly across the entrance from Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center, the Augusta County Schools offices and three Augusta County schools.
The proposal was tabled at Mr. Pyles' request on Monday because of the lack of notice in order to investigate. He expressed a frustrated feeling of being made to feel guilty by his fellow supervisors because he was asking questions and digging into figures.

That digging into figures was what caused him to find the $100,000 mistake in the figures presented by the contractor, figures that had been across the desks of the county manager Pat Coffield, the commissioner of revenue Jean Shrewsbury, the county attorney, and VDOT, according to Supervisor Wendell Coleman. The developer admitted the mistake and said it was an honest oversight.

Mr. Pyles, whom I have called "Mr. Numbers" for years because of his ability to take a spread sheet and make it quiver at the very thought of his prying eyes canvassing the page, then launched into his findings.

Traffic impact studies, the Fishersville Small Area Plan, the Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2007, and other tools were used in his research. School overcrowding, street overuse, lack of traffic light at Rt. 250 entrance, more traffic for the overburdened Rt. 608 interstate bridge, fire and rescue buildup. When, he asked, were they planning to do these necessary items of business ... or was they going to be dumped on the back burner like so many other projects that are waiting to be done?

The one item that stood out the most to me, for some reason, was seeding of grass which was in the contract for something like $6,000 an acre but when the figures were scrutinized it ended up costing $11,000 per acre. Mr. Pyles dryly remarked that instead of the projected $78,000 cost, he and his sons could do it for $50,000.

The rebuttal to Mr. Pyles' accusations and questions came from Wayne Supervisor Wendell Coleman who responded on most levels in a sufficient way. The project is in Mr. Coleman's district. The deal was already in the bag ... Mr. Pyles was going up against the other six supervisors on this one. However, they had worked with the developer for a deal that they felt was best suited to the county's favor. Mr. Coleman said the county is in a habit of building everything when it's already too late ... classroom trailers populate school grounds before additions are finally added to the building ... traffic backs up at congested intersections before we finally build the roads to alleviate the backup. This road, he stressed, was a proactive measure that was a win-win situation for the citizens of Augusta County.

A humorous part came when Mr. Coleman was explaining how the contract was set up and how they had redone the numbers to remove the $100,000 mistake ... and then Mr. Pyles asked if it said the county would pay only for contractors' invoices, and Mr. Coleman responded ... and they actually almost started renegotiating the contract as they went back and forth! I found it hilarious to watch.

Tracy Pyles is my supervisor and we have certainly had our differences during the past year. I was particularly distressed when his claws came out during a debate between himself and the Republican candidate running against him last fall ... I felt he unfairly took some cheap shots that were not necessary from an old warhorse like himself. It was not dignified for the incumbent to say some of the things he said.

However, he is fiscally conservative, and I am always amused when he goes up against the rest of the board. He stands alone, one stubborn Democrat, determined that even when he is facing odds that are not in his favor, he is going to speak up for what he thinks is right. That's what we saw at Wednesday's meeting.

The vote was, predictably, 6-1 with Tracy being the only one voting against the project.

1 comment:

Spank That Donkey said...

He's a grand stander. Does he scrutinize and make spreadsheets quiver when the projects going into his district?

Remember his comments to Travis Smithdeal during the candidate's forum in regards to the resque squad?