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Get out the vote / May 08, 2014
Errata from all over:

We sure do have a complicated relationship with democracy in this country, don’t we? Forget all the nonsense that transpires at the federal level — let’s keep this local. People may or may not know that South Boston held an election on Tuesday. If the news passed by unnoticed, don’t worry: Three Council incumbents were running for three open seats, with no one else having indicated a desire to serve, so saying the interest level was low overstates the matter by quite a lot. There wasn’t much — strike that, any — reason to trudge down to the polls. The precinct where I vote is a short walk from my place of work, and no, I didn’t even bother to turn out. This, despite the fact that (practically) always voting in elections is actually something of a point of pride with me.

So then, nothing at stake, no reason to stay awake. Still: Is it really true that no one, um, cares? Town elections by their nature draw much less interest than balloting at the state or federal level, but it would help if South Boston would take a cue from the Town of Halifax and move its municipal races to the general election date in November. That way, at least more people might participate in the vote. By contrast, these May elections stick in the mind about as well as a dandelion in a windstorm. Plus, just to point out the obvious, it would save a few bucks if we could consolidate the work hours of our friendly neighborhood poll workers in a single election day rather than two or three.

On a somewhat related subject: Members of the Halifax County Board of Supervisors spent a lovely Monday evening heaping abuse on Commissioner of Revenue Brenda Powell and (to a much lesser degree) Treasurer Linda Foster. The problem? The county’s tax bills aren’t out in the mail yet. Oops. This contretemps at the county seat offers an opportunity for me to mount my high hobbyhorse and ask again: Why do Virginia counties have separate positions of Commissioner of Revenue and Treasurer? And why should these be elective offices?

Oh, right: The constitutional office structure of local government is a vestige of Virginia’s rule by the Byrd Machine, which prided itself on fealty to pay-as-you-go fiscal conservatism except when it came to doling out patronage jobs and maintaining its hold on political power. Alas, the good old days of courthouse-packing may be gone, but the rotten structures remain. This issue has nothing especially to do with the performance in office by the good Mmes. Powell and Foster. Others will have their own views about that — just ask the supervisors. Honestly, though, as a matter of operational efficiency, is it really necessary to have a treasurer, a commissioner of revenue, a finance director and a county administrator all playing in more or less the same organizational space?

There’s a pretty decent argument to be made for removing several county-level offices from the realm of electoral politics and turning them into appointed, civil-service level jobs. Personally, I’ve never been much of a fan of Virginia’s tradition of elected sheriffs, insofar as the law enforcement side of the job is hardly what you’d call a natural fit with the vote-getting side. (Plus sheriffs have enormous latitude once they get in office and don’t always self-police as well as you’d like, as Halifax County has had the misfortune to witness.) Having the chief prosecutor run for the job is basically okay by me, but I’ve never understood why there should be popular elections for positions — clerk of court, bill collector, bill sender — that essentially are staff jobs. What’s next, dog catcher? Whenever we talk about underwhelming politicians, we like to say that so-and-so couldn’t get elected to that position, either, but clichés notwithstanding, dog catcher is not a position that people are hankering to line up and vote for. So why should it be any different for commissioner of revenue?

So, to recap today’s contribution this far: May elections, bad. Too many elected officials in the local government ranks, bad. Hmm. Maybe I’m not such a Democrat after all.


A follow-up to last week’s column, which touched on Charlotte County’s successful recruitment of The Corsi Group, a custom cabinetmaker that will open a plant in Keysville and hire 110 people: Susan Adams, Charlotte’s deputy county administrator, credited Jeff Reed with bringing the prospect to Charlotte’s attention in his capacity as executive director of the Virginia Growth Alliance, which encompasses 11 Virginia localities from Buckingham to Greensville. (Halifax is member of a similar regional marketing group with Pittsylvania and Henry counties.) Reed, of course, was formerly Halifax County’s go-to guy for recruiting industrial prospects before he moved on with the change of leadership that the Halifax County IDA experienced. The Corsi Group had been on Virginia’s radar for years prior to last week’s announcement, but it only resurfaced as an expansion candidate after Reed left Halifax. So he was able to help Charlotte land a big fish that proved elusive in his time here. Sometimes you get the breaks, sometimes you don’t.

This is the second nice win for Charlotte County — people there also are excited about Patriot Rail Company, which bought out the assets of Alderman Railcar Services, last seen in bankruptcy court. Patriot Rail plans to ramp up operations refurbishing, repairing and cleaning rail cargo cars, which could bring another 100 or so jobs to Keysville. Whoever could have guessed that Charlotte County would become a hotbed of new manufacturing jobs in Southside Virginia?

With traincars exploding in the James River, the future’s so bright, you gotta wear shades ….

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