CHATHAM – The Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors might update the bylaws that govern their actions as elected officials – including removing the standards of conduct.
Those standards of conduct, which were added to the bylaws in January 2013, are like the golden rule for governing, stating that as public officials, they should be independent, impartial and fair, and should conduct public business openly and in an atmosphere of respect and civility.
“We have to have something like this,” Banister District Supervisor Jessie Barksdale said during the first meeting on the subject. “We can’t just do whatever or say whatever we want to each other or to the employees.”
The supervisors have several possibilities to chose from:
- they can leave the section as is, reducing it to only the preamble, which would make it less specific regarding conduct
- recreate it as a separate policy, which would remove it from the board’s bylaws
- or remove it entirely.
The reason removal is on the table is because the policy, while thought of by some supervisors as good to have, was rendered unenforceable last year.
The enforcement policy was added in July 2013 in a 4-3 vote after the late Marshall Ecker and Coy Harville’s discussion of a ladder truck for Ringgold Fire & Rescue during a board meeting devolved into a public yelling match.
The policy included a system to report board members for poor conduct, and it would be investigated by a committee made up of board members and county residents.
The penalties could have come in the form of sanctions or fines for members whose behavior does not adhere to the policy. However, Pittsylvania County Attorney Vaden Hunt said he was not aware of a time when the policy had been used in Pittsylvania County.
The standards asked board members to sign a Model of Excellence, which stated that they had read and understood the policy. This is similar to what the Virginia Constitution allows for the Virginia House and Senate, though their policy also allows expulsion of members with a two-thirds majority.
Hunt, during a Monday Legislative Committee meeting, said courts have stated that board members can be removed only at the ballot box, so the expulsion penalty would not apply to the board.
Former Chatham-Blairs supervisor Brenda Bowman was the lead supervisor on creating the policy in 2013 after learning about them during a Virginia Association of Counties conference. With Hunt’s help, they created a document that would work for Pittsylvania County.
“If the citizens or anyone had a problem with [my behavior] they should be able to voice their opinion about it,” Bowman said emphatically in a phone conversation.
Callands-Gretna District Supervisor Jerry Hagerman voted against the bylaws in June 2016 when they voted to remove the penalties that were in place, calling the policy unenforceable.
“It’s supposed to be self-enforced anyway,” Bowman said upon learning that the penalties had been removed last year. “It wasn’t just for the board of supervisors. It was for other boards that we make appointments to.”
Dan River District Supervisor Joe Davis suggested adopting something like the policy that the General Assembly uses, in order to take it out of the board’s hands and keep the policy both updated and neutral – subcommittees that considers any requests for an advisory opinion or charges dealing with the conduct of any member of the House.
“I don’t really have a huge desire to remove (the standards),” and Westover District Supervisor and Chairman of the Legislative Committee Ron Scearce said in a phone conversation. “They’re good to have on the books, but there’s no way to enforce them. There’s a whole litany of Virginia statutes that cover our conduct. I’m kind of torn between whether or not we truly need them.”
Hunt has asked supervisors to email him their feedback on the suggested changes for further discussion and a vote by the full board.
Ceillie Simkiss reports for the Danville Register & Bee. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (434) 791-7981.