In less than 16 months the current Bath County Board of Supervisors have done everything in their power to show the citizens of Bath County they are incapable of governing without controversy. Every time it looks like they've put their latest imbroglio behind them the second Tuesday of a new month rolls around and some new drama grabs our attention. This new normal has damaged the the reputation of the county regionally. One of the unintended consequences of this board's actions is the damage they've done to the legitimacy of the Bath County Sheriff's Department, the Commonwealth Attorney's office, and the General District and Circuit Courts. Every level of the legal system has had to ignore or excuse the insults and violations of the law committed by elected officials. This has created a double standard inside the county that feeds the disenchantment many citizens feel towards their local government.
The latest addition to the growing list of embarrassing behavior by Bath County politicians occurred on Tuesday, March 14th, when another Board of Supervisors meeting ended in what the Commonwealth of Virginia code § 18.2-415 classifies as disorderly conduct in public places. The statute reads:
A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if, with the intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, he: A. In any street, highway, public building, or while in or on a public conveyance, or public place engages in conduct having a direct tendency to cause acts of violence by the person or persons at whom, individually, such conduct is directed;
(There are two other provisions that deal with intoxication, but they aren't relavant to the antagonistic and disrespectful atmosphere created by our elected officials and seemingly condoned by law enforcement.)
For 15 months the citizens of Bath County have witnessed the public execution of civility and decorum at the hands of their elected officials. In addition to the half dozen incidents of disorderly conduct committed in front of law enforcement, the current board has racked up questionable terminations, recall campaigns, resignations, arrests, court dates, and a Noelle Prosequi that completely disregarded a Virginia State Police investigation and a Grand Jury's indictments. There are audio and video files of elected officials chastising citizens and issuing threats against them. Local law enforcement has chosen to view these incidents as disconnected from each other. Part of law enforcements inability to act is fear of political retribution. I had a law enforcement official say off the record, "I'm worried about my pension...This board has gutted whole departments. I have to think about my family." Most of the deputies know if they make an arrest or issue a criminal complaint the odds of getting a conviction against any elected official are slim to none. This impotence has only made public gatherings more contentious as certain people know there will be no consequences for their behavior. This makes the job of security that much harder.
An organized crime syndicate wouldn't be able to destabilize the Bath County criminal justice system as efficiently as the Board of Supervisors have. This is a shame because there are truly some admirable people in public life who are seeing their reputations flushed down the drain because of their affiliation with a governing body that hasn't shown the ability or willingness to govern. Bath County faces some very serious economic challenges over the next few years. I hope this board can get it together and govern, but I haven't seen sufficient evidence of that happening anytime soon.