Chesterfield County, Inc.

In a ritual of county politics, seventeen self-promoting candidates to fill the recently vacant Midlothian district seat on Chesterfield County’s board of supervisors, each gave a five-minute plea to the remaining four supervisors last night in front of a “crowd” of about 65 county residents. That 65 includes the 17, however supervisor Dickie King lauded the large turnout – I suppose in a county with a population approaching 300,000, Mr. King may see this as genuine civic interest.

The board is now exclusively Republican as the sole Democrat on the board, Ed Barber, left in the wake of an embarrassing sex scandal.

For me, a neophyte in the politics of good ole boys, the night was an interesting but confusing drama. And I only relate it in this blog, as I’m not sure even Conaway Haskins ( will take the time to chronicle what may be in actuality a non-event.

I admit I am a bit perplexed as to the process – as it seems that candidates are only to fill a 90-day position (it will be filled for a year with an election in November – and for only a year, as a scheduled election for the entire board will occur a year later). But perplexed that the candidates submit resumes, have to pass a state and federal criminal check, be fingerprinted, and supply a disclosure form. Seems to me a cholesterol count, grade point average, and an IQ test would be equally or more relevant, but then what do I know about politics.

In a computer randomized system that produced a set of envelopes from which the ultimate random lineup was drawn – I’m not making this up – each aspirant is called in turn before the board and given five minutes to make their case. Amazingly, within a group of 17, there was little diversity, few ideas, and just a general sucking up to the four supervisors with a claim that they were each from the same mold as the current supervisors, thought like them, had their same values – pick me, pick me, I won’t rock the boat. And the mantra of overcrowded schools, congested roads, and rampant development.

A few were young, idealistic, community involved – but hardly stand a chance. A few were young women who claimed that they could handle work, raising a family, and taking on the role of county supervisor at the same time. Even Republican Patty Carpenter, who was rumored to have an early lead, as she was to be showcased prior to a run for school board – well, she gave a disappointing performance and was easily outclassed by almost everyone. Another young woman (Marge Davis) cited unconvincingly her skills coping with irate people – fortunately she didn’t run into me after the meeting.

One after another they pleaded their cases – an aggressive and confident Don Sowder seemed to intimidate the supervisors as he did me, Jack Korvis reeled off his seven steps to growth (hey Jack – this is only a three month appointment), and Robert Hodges droned on about his extensive business acumen. About this time I was becoming empathetic with the board and happy that I only experience politics from the sidelines.

Surprisingly there was a good showing of Democrats in a county that is two thirds Republican – Leonard Ziegler, one of the few who made a strong environmental pitch, and Wendy Austin gave a cogent and intelligent performance carefully avoiding her role with the Chesterfield County Democratic Committee.

And with the tedium of 17 public interviews over – a ten-minute break was called, to be followed by a 15 minute questioning of each of the applicants – we won’t get out of here until 2AM. But predictably, with the break over, the meeting was quickly adjourned after only perfunctory comments by each of the four board members each of whom roundly congratulated the number and quality of Midlothian citizens so eager to offer themselves for public service.

I guess now begins the back room dealing – or as several in the audience suggested, the decision-making was actually held before the meeting. As apparently our sunshine law, our freedom of information act, that requires that deliberations be made in the light of public space, has found a loophole that allows closed meetings for some limited situations -- namely employment type personnel stuff, which the county attorney found gave cover to closed door consideration for filling an elected position. Even if that were legal – would it be illegal to do this in public? Would the common good and Jeffersonian democracy be best served by doing this in public? – humm, how politically na├»ve I am.

So we wait with baited breath until next Wednesday when the board of four will vote as each of the 17 names are brought forward, and once a candidate has three votes he/she wins. The combinations and permutations boggle the mind. But somehow, despite the combinational probability, I’d guess that on the first round, amazingly, someone will find they have all the three votes needed – voila. Will it be Bob Olsen or more likely Will Shewmake, who addressed the board, with the familiarity of addressing old friends – which they apparently are?

Or will the board do the right thing – will they choose a candidate who has pre-agreed that he/she will not run in November, but will only provide the interim service until the voters can nominate and elect a new supervisor? Will they put in a Republican friend who will arguably have a leg up in the November running? Or will they pick someone who does not seek the November election – who is humbly offering to serve his community in a fair and civil manner until the voters can decide – someone like Charles O’Keeffe?

I can hardly wait until next Wednesday.


Bob OLSEN said…
Saw your Blog through another, Yes I am well known to the board or rather Infamous with the Board. I rarely agree with them, and held their feet to the fire many times. My main point in running for the nomination was to change the agenda. I thought if I could embarrass them enough by pointing out the way they normally appointed seats and make the point that it should be the voters and not the board who as the TD said should not be "King makers" I believed I accomplished that since one of the deciding factor to the board was were you going to run in November? I new i would never get the nomination, I know where too many skelton's are buried, and refuse to be muzzled by politicians.

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