Facebook’s “Eye on Augusta County” is a useful contribution for the “People’s Right to Know.”

Reductions in local newspaper staffing has meant fewer eyes on the often boring, but nonetheless important, activities of government.

How a local government will take advantage of inattention was illustrated by Augusta’s clandestine $5 million vote initiating an unwanted, unwarranted, Courthouse boondoggle. It was not an agenda item. It came after the public meeting, after a closed session, before an emptied meeting room.

This is not how a government that believes it is rightly doing the people’s work will conduct itself. The secrecy was needed to insure “no going back” when the public would learn of the eventual $70 million price tag.

This construction, shoehorned into downtown Staunton and requiring millions for mitigations, is not what the people expected when refusing to spend a lesser $45 million. Out of touch? You bet.

“Eye on Augusta County” had two articles on Chairman Gerald Garber. One focused on his need to lead so many governmental activities paired with a telling of how very generous the government has been with the Garber farm. Then came the revelation that the Chairman’s business partner was to be the beneficiary of his Weyers Cave library plan.

As background please know that only 14% of Virginia farmers access subsidies. In reviewing outlays to all Augusta farmers we learn that Cave View Farm’s accumulated $906,000 in federal largess is an outlier not the standard locally. The take away is that though a farmer, Mr. Garber is not in the main stream of our principled, self-reliant, agricultural producers.

His many leadership positions can be attributed to how likeable he is. His low key, affable countenance is reassuring. To not personally like Gerald is to be a grump. But to not be aware of ulterior motives, is to be gullible.

In 2010 I proposed a county plan (largely now in place) to add paid EMTs in volunteer fire stations throughout Augusta County. Before setting up an informational meeting, with a Middle River District fire station, I asked Gerald if he had a problem with my doing so. He did not.

On the designated morning I was asked to remain alone in a meeting room ostensibly to allow the volunteers to review past news accounts of my proposal. When I had a question on where to set-up; I entered the room where the members had assembled. There were no firemen pouring over newspaper clippings but there was Supervisor Garber looking very sheepish.

It was how I found this Supervisor to conduct himself over and over again during the ensuing years: not forthright, but lurking in the background. The aforementioned secret Courthouse vote was consistent with how Mr. Garber likes to operate---in the shadows out of view.

Consider his actions during Wednesday’s Board meeting affirming his partner’s receipt of a County contract. The Chairman excused himself from the public discussion, while dramatically taking a seat in the shadows of the Boardroom. Really? Insulting our intelligence is not helpful. Just own up to helping a buddy and move on.

To appreciate Garber’s ability to get fellow leaders to surrender their skills in favor of his, consider another Chairmanship. The Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport is governed by an appointed Commission. It is comprised of single members from Harrisonburg, Rockingham, Waynesboro, Staunton and Augusta. Mr. Garber has been the County’s representative since 1990 and the SVRA Chairman since 1993.

While the SVRA is a nice airport; it has not become the airport of choice for the relative many. It has not progressed as effectively as say Charlottesville’s. Probably there are significant reasons but has Garber’s Chairmanship been so stellar as to never think a change of leadership after 10, 20, or 25 years is not worth trying?

Chairman Garber’s obvious sense that “I alone am worthy” for the airport is now being imposed on the County. In his last two years as Board Chair, the only significant actions were to impose two hurtful and unnecessary tax increases. In this third year he has signaled his intention to move forward with the Courthouse bamboozle.

Demanding two tax increases and proposing an expenditure requiring nearly a $1,000 of debt for every man, woman, and child in the County used to get you fired. Now you are made the permanent Chairman. (SMH)

Only two supervisors have shown any resistance to this one man’s tax and spend misguidance, Shull and Seaton. Added to “Eye on Augusta,” perhaps a revolt is born. Here’s hoping.

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. His column is published Saturdays. He can be reached at tcpylesjr@hotmail.com.

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