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Sunday, April 28, 2013
What the heck has happened to politics in Roanoke County?
For evidence of its depressing state, you need look no further than the Roanoke Tea Party’s forum Thursday night for Republican candidates for the board of supervisors.
Tea party hijinks have more or less driven Republican Supervisors Richard Flora and Mike Altizer into announcing their retirements. Now, unfortunately, the tea party has hijacked the GOP issues agenda. The result was lots of hot air wasted on things that are part mundane, part insane.
One was the county’s membership in an environmental organization, ICLEI , which has long been a thorn with the tea party.
Another was whether the county should have wasted taxpayer dollars fighting for unfettered prayer at board meetings. A third was whether restrictions on backyard chickens violated the constitution.
Loony-bin issues are bad enough. But the Roanoke County Democrats seem in even worse shape. Their problem is loony-bin infighting.
A bitter leadership struggle between former party Chairman Richard Evans and the current chairman, Brian Lang , has hamstrung the party and dragged it into both civil and criminal court. More about that below.
The four GOP primary candidates are RoxAnne Christley and Joe McNamara, running for the nomination in the Windsor Hills District, and Mike Bailey and Al Bedrosian , who are seeking the party’s nomination in the Hollins District.
To loud cheers Thursday night, Christley and Bedrosian vowed to get the county out of ICLEI if they are elected. Christley declared that the United Nations has no place in Roanoke County, and the same goes with any local group affiliated with it.
“ICLEI needs to go. RC CLEAR needs to go. Agenda 21 needs to go,” she said. “No foreign or domestic enemy will infringe on our sovereignty,” she said.
Bedrosian said he’s done “a lot of investigation about ICLEI.” And he linked it to efforts to get rid of incandescent light bulbs in favor of newer energy-saving ones (he prefers the former).
“Let’s nix [ICLEI]. Get rid of it,” he said. The crowd of about 40 cheered loudly.
Bailey, a former Roanoke County GOP chairman, also called for the county to drop its ICLEI membership. Initially he termed the issue “small potatoes.”
But later in the meeting, criticizing restrictions on the number of backyard chickens a county resident can have, Bailey said, “well, that’s ICLEI. They don’t see the connections between that and storm water and ICLEI and Agenda 21.”
McNamara, who spent 12 years on the board and voted to join ICLEI, wisely slipped around the question with a caveat. He said he would oppose ICLEI membership if ICLEI ever imposes any requirements on the county. He knows it can’t and won’t.
Both Christley and Bedrosian said the county should have waged a legal battle in court in favor of sectarian prayers at supervisors’ meetings. Instead, the county adopted a formal policy last year that sought to avoid such expense.
“The power and strength of America, my thoughts are, it comes from our Christian heritage,” Bedrosian said. “I would rather have had our county defending our rights to our religion,” Christley said.
Bailey and McNamara said they believed the county did the right thing. And it did. The issue is a sure loser in federal court, and it has cost other counties that have fought it hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.
If you think all of the above is bad, then you haven’t been paying attention to the mostly behind-the-scenes battles among Roanoke County Democrats. Two factions of them have been at each others’ throats for years.
It started more than five years ago and involves a 2008 lawsuit filed by Richard Evans, the former chairman. It’s still dragging on. All of the Roanoke County judges have recused themselves, so it’s being heard by a judge who drives here from Charlottesville. The next hearing is May 28.
It dates to Brian Lang’s election to the top party post and accusations of parliamentary skullduggery that each side has hurled over control over the county committee.
“I’m asking for an injunction on certain members of the county committee, that they be required to follow their own rules,” Evans told me. “There’s been incredible, unbelievable cheating going on. … It just breaks my heart that the Democratic Party of Roanoke County is not well and thriving.”
Things really heated up last year, when current Chairman Lang sent Evans an email barring him from any future meetings. More than half of the committee later resigned.
Last summer, Roanoke County police responded to a committee meeting at the South County Library that turned into an uproar after two factions tried to hold two different meetings in the same room.
“It was chaos,” said attendee Carter Turner , an unsuccessful independent candidate for supervisor in 2011. “You had one person moving approval of meeting minutes, and you had another calling for people to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance. It was surreal. It was absurd.”
Lang later filed assault charges against a member of Evans’ camp who was at that meeting. Those were dismissed by a judge. Lang declined to comment on Evans’ lawsuit.
“As near as I can determine, there’s not been a meeting of the county Democratic committee since last summer,” said Wayne Goodman , who resigned from the committee early last year. “In effect, there is no Roanoke County committee, and there hasn’t been for at least nine months and maybe as many as 11 months .”
Lang disputes that. “We have had significant challenges in the past. I believe we’ve worked through and moved past those,” he told me.
What they don’t have is candidates. Currently, the Roanoke County Democratic Party has zero for three open supervisor seats, Lang acknowledged. That’s a bad sign for the party.
So the Republicans are dominated by crazy issues. The Democrats are mired in crazy power struggles.
Caught in the middle are voters in the second-most-populous jurisdiction in the Roanoke Valley. They deserve better.
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