Preserving the Status Quo

Didn’t the Town of Louisa fire Sheriff Fortune?

How interesting is it that a former Town Chief of Police, living in Culpeper, claims that his experience working with Fortune and his department was so great!

Let’s tell the real truth about the experience of a well known, hardworking local contractor and the Sheriff. Someone he has known for more than 25 years as a trusted friend. This contractor called Sheriff Fortune and asked to meet with him in his office “without the media or anyone else.” The contractor arrived at the appointed meeting time, sat down with the Sheriff only to be led into Donnie Lowe’s office by Sheriff Fortune and seated in front of Lowe.

Lowe proceeded to tell the contractor that he should resign, that he had arranged for him to do so that same morning when his friend from the local news station arrived shortly so that he could resign live on camera on the news. Shocked and disgusted by this treatment by his so-called friend, Sheriff Fortune, the obviously planned ambush and the plan to record his live resignation on TV, the contractor stated that he would not resign and immediately left the premises.

Donnie Lowe has never been a constitutionally elected representative in Louisa County, so why would he think it appropriate to instruct any other constitutionally elected representative to resign? Why would Sheriff Fortune, who claims to be in charge and actually running the Sheriff Department, allow such a stunt?

Then there is the treatment of anyone feared to be disloyal in this department??? They certainly aren’t favored for overtime, bonuses or promotions and are often terminated, which in Virginia does not require any cause or reason to be given.

Is this how a trusted, reliable professional, accountable person does business or treats a friend? This is a clear example of “business as usual in the Sheriff’s Office. They condone this type of activity and will certainly continue such shenanigans.

If or when you might find yourself facing similar difficulties, do you think that you could or should rely upon any of these people in this administration? Who are your “real friends”? If you don’t know, you will surely find out, but it might be too late if you don’t make a change?

Gloria Pope

Slanting the Issues

How ironic is it that the Central Virginian (hereafter referred to as the “CV”) write an article entitled “Targeting the Issues in the race for County Sheriff” last August showing photos of Sheriff Fortune and Mike Silberman, the two candidates actually running for this constitutional office, but it begins and ends with comments by Major Lowe and not a single comment or discussion with Fortune.

Once again, who is actually running the Sheriff’s Office –  Fortune or Lowe???

But let’s address Lowe’s strange and contradictory insinuation, which starts with the claim that Lowe was instrumental in getting Silberman a job in Orange by helping him concoct a story concerning his resignation, instructing  him to obtain an application and then, making a call to the former superintendent  of the jail on his behalf.

Now keep in mind that we reside in an “employment at-will employer state” which means that an employer does not need any cause to terminate an employee and the only basis to refute most terminations is discrimination of some kind.

Unless you can document and prove concrete evidence of discrimination, you won’t be successful anyway in fighting most terminations in this state.  Furthermore, it is quite expensive to sue any employer, which few can do without a job.

But no one is affirmatively asserting that Silberman was terminated, however, Lowe is stating that he cannot be rehired by LCSO.  If that is the case, then why was Lowe directly instrumental in helping Silberman obtain additional employment, assuming he is an honest, ethical manager with good judgment?

Then we have the CV claiming that Silberman has failed to release his Louisa County Sheriff’s Office personnel files to them, which is problematic because the integrity of these files are questionable at best under the care and control of Donnie Lowe’s wife who is and has been the LCSO’s Record Keeper.

This is one of the primary problems of nepotism —maintaining integrity and impartiality.  Ms. Lowe has a vested interest in maintaining the “status quo” and as the sole keeper of these records any records that may be supplied are thoroughly and unequivocally compromised.

It is a ridiculous assertion that it is less expensive to park police vehicles within the county after shifts as opposed to having officers take their vehicles home —  I would challenge Lowe’s claim on those numbers.

Since he cites no official study or research, is apparently is unaware of any and because no one is monitoring or controlling the monthly gas usage of officers residing inside or outside of the county, he is making unproven claims, as we pick up that tab.  Furthermore, many other jurisdictions do not allow their officers to take their vehicles home and have not had any terroristic threats or emergency incidents that cause them to be operating at any disadvantage in their response times.

This major expense to Louisa taxpayers needs to be re-evaluated.

What volunteers do we have using these water patrol vehicles and equipment?  Are they properly trained and accountable for this equipment?  Who is monitoring their actions and their use of our equipment?  Or are these people just enjoying their time on the lake all summer?

I am just saying it is well past time for a change in the Sheriff’s Office.

Gloria Pope

Louisa Sheriff’s Department, Time for a Change

Our community has given its unwavering support to the Sheriff’s Department, but how many more Ray Arnette’s with awesome talents and skills have been overlooked by this department to date?

The record is dismal at best.  Even when we have hired African American’s in the Sheriff’s Office, they are not mentored, valued, promoted or allowed to grow, so they leave for better opportunities elsewhere.  Fluvanna’s former Sheriff, Ryant L. Washington, another outstanding African American leading a rural county, had a twenty-five percent minority staff which was comparable to the ratio of African Americans living there.

While Louisa lingered somewhere around less than 1 percent with approximately a twenty percent African American population and an African American Sheriff in office the past 16 years.  Looks like we have a lot of catching up to do, beginning with a change in the leadership at the top and by committing to significantly improving those numbers to keep pace with our demographics.

Most Louisa residents seem to overlook prospective candidates’ future plans and proposals for change and their outstanding qualifications, opting instead for the familiar, comfortable, albeit stagnant “status quo.”  We can fail to address these issues this year, but we will certainly be paying the price next year.

The hefty Sheriff and law enforcement budget in all probability will cause our taxes to increase due the loss of the federal subsidy for housing our inmates in the Orange Jail, the uncontrolled, skyrocketing overtime and the overall mismanagement of vehicles and equipment.

If we are going to be prepared to address the new challenges facing our community, we must explore new energy, improved budget initiatives, innovative community policing, and the latest training and technology, instead of wasting money amassing a cache of automatic weapons (grossly unnecessary firepower in this county) and paying excessive overtime, for   full-time and part-time workers.

In spite of the usual threats and fears perpetuated by the current Sheriff’s spokesman and Asst. Commonwealth Attorney [akin to the colored alerts launched by the Bush administration following 9/11], I haven’t seen any gangsters or terrorists armed with the latest high tech weaponry warranting any such responsive firepower from our local law enforcement personnel.

Gloria Pope

In Defense of Mike Silberman

Recent articles and editorials in The Central Virginian (CV) have been written to make Mike Silberman appear to be less than honest. Mike is running as an independent for Sheriff against the incumbent, Ashland Fortune.

Mike sought the Louisa Republican Committee’s nomination at a meeting in April. I attended that meeting. The majority of the attendees were members of the Louisa County Sheriff’s Department commanded by Major Donnie Lowe. What was supposed to be each individual’s presentation of their platform turned out to be a direct attack by Donnie Lowe on Mike.

To my surprise, the Committee did not restrict voting to its members but allowed all attendees to vote. Mike was blackballed by members of the Sheriff’s department and consequently did not receive the nomination.

At that meeting Lowe said Mike was fired, yet he saw fit to give him a good recommendation to CV Regional Jail. Mike said he resigned. I have seen his paperwork. Whose integrity should be questioned in these instances?

I once had an employee who did not perform satisfactorily. Despite urging from others to give her a good recommendation to get rid of her, I refused to do so. I did not want to lie.

A recent editorial by another Deputy said he was addressing negative comments from Mike regarding the Marine unit. This dealt with equipment being stored at deputies’ homes. I know for a fact that the patrol boat used to be stored at deputies’ homes and have pictures to prove it as one of those deputies was my neighbor. I have no idea when or why that policy changed.

Mike did not discredit the Marine unit or make negative comments about its purpose or usefulness. By the way, the editorial said the Marine units were funded by Homeland Security. At a recent Democratic Committee meeting, Fortune said that they had received no funds from Homeland Security.

Does Fortune really know what goes on in his organization or is he just a figurehead?

Members of the Sheriff’s Department serve at the pleasure of the Sheriff. The Sheriff does not have to have a reason to dismiss you. Therefore, it does not surprise me that Lowe or others from the Sheriff’s Department would attack Mike.   No less than four members of Lowe’s family are directly employed by the Sheriff’s Department and collectively rake in well over $200K per year. Could this be the reason for the continued attacks on Mike?

Since Mike declared his intention to run, there has been a concerted effort to discredit him and to get Fortune’s name and face in the CV—not with political ads but with free publicity about what a wonderful job he is doing. Heretofore, anything coming out of the Sheriff’s office came from the Sheriff’s “spokesman”, Donnie Lowe, and Fortune’s involvement was never mentioned. My how things change when there’s an election coming up.

Deanna Nicosa

Why have they forgotten our teachers

If our kids are our priority and their education is so important to us as a society, why are our teachers always so poorly compensated? We pay school administrators and company executives exceptionally well, so why don’t we pay those individuals directly impacting our children’s lives every day and their education?

Louisa has a spanking brand new state-of-the-art high school and elementary school, now all we need to do the complete the excellent education being provided to our children is to properly compensate our teachers. Virginia is the ninth wealthiest state, but pays its average teacher $7,000 below the national average.

Why? Is it because the majority of our teachers have always been women and historically there has never been adequate pay for women teachers. Women throughout this country have never enjoyed equal pay and this country has always placed a lower value on their services, but it is high time to make a change for all teachers in Louisa County if we really want to create a reality that values its teachers as much as it values its physical structures, after all teachers are and should be “the most valued ingredient in the process of education.

Louisa has great, award winning teachers at every level. The high school teachers have struggled and triumphed through an earthquake, given many, many hours of their own time, energy and resourcefulness camping out in trailers for three years and, finally, prepared for and successfully transitioned into the new facility this year. No additional compensation was awarded to any of our teachers for their efforts and their commitment to continuing to provide a quality education for our children throughout any of these unforeseen events. Why should we even be having his discussion if our childrens’ quality education is really the priority we want it to be? Why aren’t teachers’ salaries always our number one priority?

The CEOs in America make salaries about 900 to 1 compared to the majority of their workers, when the workers perform all of the work that makes the profit for the company. Not only should teachers be paid fairly and adequately demonstrating that we truly value our teachers, but outstanding teachers should be handsomely rewarded, reflecting the high esteem that we hold teachers in our society.

The county treasurer, clerk of court and other county elected officials are very well paid in their positions, but since we pay our great teachers so much less, do we value these public officials more than our children? There must be a fair compensation to teachers, not just for county officials and school administrators when teachers work much harder.

If this is important to you, then you need to petition your Louisa School Board representatives and the Board of Supervisors to seriously address adequate compensation for Louisa County teachers as their number one priority as we strive to create and maintain an excellent, admirable and notable education system in this County?

Karen Pontius

The Board of Supervisors is the problem

Since most of the commentaries appearing in BlueLouisa were originally intended for publication in the Central Virginian there are limits to what they can cover. While on the flip side of the coin, Gloria Pope’s detailed commentary about the Sheriff’ race probably contains more information than most readers can readily process.

That said, it’s worth repeating several of her points; shortly after asking for the Boards help with a quarter of million dollar shortfall, Sheriff Fortune chose to give himself a $10K raise, convinced that the Board of Supervisors has no say in the matter.

A strange turn of circumstances, especially since only the Board can approve increases beyond the state mandated minimum for constitutionally elected officers. What’s really driving his decision, along the Boards refusal to seek further legal clarification on this matter is anyone’s guess?

One possibility that Gloria touched upon earlier is how accustomed the Board has become to taking the path of least resistance. Convinced that there’s no need to monitor his or any other County agencies budget as long as “supplemental funding” is available and they can continue to “find money in the budget.”

All the while, refusing to acknowledge just how much leaner this year’s budget is.

Perhaps Fortune was reading his tea leaves last year and saw this budget crunch coming and decided to slip himself a raise, thinking the Board wouldn’t notice it buried deep in their annual December “supplemental” funding request for unexpected budget overruns … I mean overtime costs.

No raise – no problem; shortly after his request was turned down by the board, he gave himself a $10,000 raise. While it is a relatively small amount compared to the $250-300K that is spent in overtime every year, both are products of a “we don’t need no stinking rules” mentality.

And it will cost the county more over the years as the federal funds that the Central Virginia Regional Jail was getting for housing federal prisoners dwindles down to virtually noting. It was this money which allowed all 5 counties participating in the Jail to their inmates for virtually nothing over the years.

Louisa County had been getting a particularly sweet deal out of this arrangement, since they were housing a far greater percentage of inmates for than all the other counties. And they are now responsible for ~ 40% of the inmates in the Central Virginia Regional Jail.

Now that this “sweet arrangement” has changed each of the counties participating in the jail will have to kick in funding proportional to their percentage of inmates being housed at the jail. Faced with increases ranging from half a million dollars to 1.5 million the 5 counties managed to pull off a unique version of kick the can down the road.

In what appears to of been a coordinated 5 county rebellion where members of the jail board, including recent additions; Louisa’s county administrator, Christian Goodwin, and Louisa district supervisor Troy Wade  voted to force the Jail to spend the last of their fiscal reserves, effectively sparing the the 5 counties the inconvenience of having the pay their full costs for housing inmates at the regional jail.  At least for this fiscal year.

And this kick the can down to the next fiscal year appears to have become a one size fits all strategy for dealing with other kinds of financial issues, particularly in Louisa County.

Like the Louisa County Board of Supervisors recent decision not to allocated any funding for the Industrial Development Authority (IDA), until they have burnt through all their reserves. Their decision not to fund the IDA so early in the fiscal year is another indication that this years 4% tax increase was not enough, and that digging into “supplemental funding” will likely become a way of life for many county agencies.

Should Fortune be re-elected for another term, expect more of these unanticipated expenses to find their way into the counties budget. And for voters in this election, the choices are; to maintain an increasingly costly status quo, or to change things.

The best chance to change the board’s dysfunctional behavior lies in the hands of the Jackson District voters.  Assuming they elect James Smith as their Supervisor, it might be enough to keep the Board from being a rubber stamped body.

Even then, the Board is not likely to change much, or be honest about what they are doing with your money. That probably won’t happen until 2017, when the Board’s two most petrified pieces of wood come up for re-election.

So, if you finally gotten tired of watching fossils like the Sheriff waste hundreds of thousands of dollars year in and year out, then it’s long past time to remove him from office and elect Mike Silberman.

Jon Taylor

SHERIFF CAN PAY HIMSELF WHATEVER HE WANTS

Did you know that your Sheriff can pay himself whatever he chooses and neither you nor your Board of Supervisors has any control over his salary or so I am being told?

There is a state mandated minimum salary designated for all constitutionally elected officers, but as I read the state law, the local governing authority is supposed to have control over the maximum salary. However, here in Louisa the Sheriff can change and or cut out of his own budget whatever he chooses to pay himself more money whenever he decides to do so.

I daresay we all wish we had jobs where we could pay ourselves whatever we want and we would certainly fight to the death to keep that job (or keep it until death). Why did the Sheriff make a request for a $10,000 pay increase to the Board in 2014, be denied the increase and then give himself that same $10,000 increase the following year without any Board approval. Nevermind, that this request followed a previous request for an additional $250,000 budget overrun which was approved by the Board. So what services and benefits to the public get cut out of a budget that the Sheriff get to cut whatever he wants?

Let’s not forget that the subsidy that the County has been getting for the Louisa inmates being housed in the Orange Regional Jail will expire this year and those funds must be replaced. With the Sheriff giving himself salary increases at will, we taxpayers will now have to fill that void?

Shouldn’t the Sheriff have anticipated that this subsidy was going to expire and shouldn’t he have been preparing for it by saving money not designated or used in his budget, instead of giving himself a raise? Louisa taxpayers have already paid for his $250,000 budget overrun a couple of years ago, are we now expected to continue subsidizing his poor budget management by having our taxes increased.

Why has the Sheriff come back to the Board requesting additional funds to pay his “out of control overtime,” when he can always find money to pay himself more money?

Why does the Board of Supervisors have budget approval over the Sheriff’s budget, if the Sheriff can manipulate his budget however he chooses to be able to give himself salary increases without the Board’s approval? Does the Board, then, really have any control over the Sheriff’s budget or any of these agency budgets? Not really!

Louisa taxpayers don’t complain when your taxes are increased this coming year by unapproved, at-will Sheriff salary increases, out of control overtime and the free manipulation of the Sheriff’s budget by the Sheriff. What other county agencies get to manipulate their budget however they want to or does everyone get to do whatever they want as long as they can “find money in their budgets”?

Gloria Pope

Secret Salary, Secret Santa

If our tax dollars are paying Louisa County salaries, then why aren’t salary ranges for all jobs in Louisa County included on all posted/advertised job descriptions? Shouldn’t an applicant know the salary range of a job to which they are applying? More importantly shouldn’t county taxpayers know what they are paying for, when the federal and state governments include salary ranges on job descriptions for all of their positions? Why are Louisa county salaries such a secret?

Is it because we taxpayers are the “Secret Santa’s” who pay county employees salaries of which we are completely unaware? If you purchase the services of any employee, as the employer, shouldn’t you know how much you are paying? Aren’t our tax dollars funding those salaries?

Many of these jobs (like your constitutionally elected officers) are paying over $100 thousand dollars a year at a minimum – (did you know that)! Well, what are the qualifications for being a constitutionally elected officer, degrees, diplomas, previous experience – who knows and how can taxpayers be certain of that information?

Anyone can guess because no one really knows, except those insiders in County Administration and on the Board of Supervisors (sometimes), but taxpayers really have no way of verifying such information. With family and friends the hiring norm, few even questions are ever asked, unless It is an “outsider applicant.”

To add insult to injury, when a Louisa taxpayer requests information on what “WE ARE PAYING FOR ANY POSITIONS,” even the highest paying jobs in the county, they are informed that, not only must they make an FOIA request, but that they will be charged an unknown, undocumented fee for that service performed by the same Louisa county employees whose salary their tax dollars are already paying every day.

In this particular instance, the fee was $50.00. Why should Louisa taxpayers be charged any money whatsoever for requesting this type of “public information,” which should not have to be obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request anyway?   If this type of information is free of charge in federal and state government job postings, why do Louisa County taxpayers have to pay for this “secret salary information”?

We have no problem posting a list of delinquent taxpayers in the newspaper and probably on the Louisa County website, but never list the salary range for positions paid with our tax dollars which somehow seems contradictory when they both involve our tax dollars.

I suggest that Louisa taxpayers start petitioning their Board of Supervisor representatives to require that ALL COUNTY JOBS, even those funded by grants, be posted by the County with a salary range for each position included. Do you think as a Louisa County taxpayer that you should be entitled to know this information “without” having to pay “more money” for it?

Gloria Pope