EDITORIAL: Election Manipulation


April 15, 2014

The photo at right of an anonymous poster outside the Post Office asks, “Will the Wave try to control the Town election?” But until now the Wave has been almost silent on the May 6 election for mayor and Town Council. When the eight candidates filed, we published an impartial story listing their names and brief bios. We intend to let the candidates tell their own stories, and invite them to write a few paragraphs on “Why I’m Running for Mayor” and “Why I’m Running for Town Council” to inform our several thousand readers.

But in this hotly contested election there are already signs (pun intended) of manipulation. And not for the first time – the November 2012 special election for a Town Council seat was shamelessly manipulated by the town power structure, taking advantage of the good name of Arts Enter as the “sponsor” of a candidates forum. In fact, assistant town manager Bob Panek masterminded that forum, and although his name did not even appear in the list of volunteers, like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain it was Panek who selected questions from the audience and decided to whom they would be asked. All the while, he displayed a sign in his yard for candidate Steve Bennett.

In this year’s election, Council incumbent Joan Natali was first off the line in blanketing the town with campaign signs, and no one complained. But later when opposition candidates David Gay, Deborah Bender, and Lynn Mitchell-Fields began matching the Natali signs with their own, the town took action, and most of the signs were confiscated by the Police Department under the excuse that they were not allowed in the right-of-way (even in front of private residences). Ironically, Natali was responsible for that town regulation, enacted in reaction to the “Community Center YES” signs of a previous battle.

Next comes the curious question of the “second” candidates forum sponsored by Cape Charles Rotary. Following the town staff’s manipulation of the previous forum mentioned above, the non-political Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore (CBES) agreed to host a forum for Cape Charles candidates. CBES has a long history of hosting candidate debates, and most recently held two forums for County Supervisors and School Board candidates in last November’s elections. At that time no one seemed concerned that a CBES forum might not be enough. [Read more…]


EDITORIAL: Blame the Wave

March 24, 2014

Going to the Post Office, it’s hard to miss the posters attacking the Wave, including accusations of “schemes to denigrate our town.” Another claim stapled to the telephone pole is that “the Wave has been screaming about wasteful spending and that we are going bankrupt.

The postings appeared on the telephone pole this past Friday, the morning after former town councilman Larry Veber addressed Town Council with a similar message. “Something that’s very concerning,” Veber related, “from what I hear from people who come into town. Two people recently that love Cape Charles and were so impressed with Cape Charles – they looked at everything, and said, ‘listen – we understand your town is going bankrupt!’ . . . ‘Everything we read about in the Wave – it’s bankrupt. You guys are going under! You are really in serious, serious trouble!’”

Veber continued, “We need to have somebody who’s going to give the information and not editorialize it.” . . . “There’s a group somewhere that keeps on talking, keeps on beating, and it’s hurting our town – in my opinion it’s having a tremendous negative effect on Cape Charles.”

Our response is that Mr. Veber’s accusations are utterly ridiculous and without foundation. What he doesn’t like is that the Wave actually reports the news – good and bad. The inner circles of any government never want bad news reported, and if possible they will print their own Pravda – or in the town’s case, the Gazette. [Read more…]


GUEST EDITORIAL: County Doing Poor Job on Zoning

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following editorial is reprinted by permission from the Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore newsletter, ShoreLine.

March 10, 2014

Those who read ShoreLine regularly know that we’ve taken a strong interest in Northampton County’s revision of its zoning ordinance. The editorial board is unanimously agreed that the ordinance needs revision — and we’re unanimously agreed that the County’s conduct of that revision has been so poor that it has raised the spectre of embarrassing legal action.

What’s been wrong with the process? First, the public has been effectively shut out. There has been no informed public involvement in developing the revision. The so-called public information meetings on the draft revision held in December were virtually meaningless because no presentations actually informed the public about the draft ordinance. Maps were displayed and staffers, available to answer the public’s questions, were more than willing to expound upon minor details. This process tended to obfuscate the real changes. In fact, without substantive information, it was hard to know what questions to ask. [Read more…]

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EDITORIAL: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell


January 16, 2014

At 5:15 p.m. today (Thursday), members of Cape Charles Town Council will go behind closed doors at Town Hall for an “executive session.” (The Wave has been criticized in the past for referring to such meetings as “secret.”)

Virginia state law requires almost every action, or even discussion, by publicly elected or appointed bodies to be open to the public, with records available. There are only a few exceptions — personnel matters being the most important. If Town Council wishes to interview candidates for, say, chief of police, the candidates understandably deserve privacy.

But today, Town Council is meeting to consider buying or selling property. That much we know, because state law requires the Town to state the reason for its “executive” session.

Here is the reason provided by the Town Clerk:

Discussion or consideration of the acquisition of real property for a public purpose, or of the disposition of publicly held real property, where discussion in an open meeting would adversely affect the bargaining position or negotiating strategy of the public body. Specifically: Discussion of property leased by the Town and Town-owned property.

So, we know that today Town Council will discuss property leased by the Town, with the idea of buying it, and property owned by the Town, with the idea of selling it. What we don’t know is — just what property?

The only allowance under state law to privately discuss the sale or purchase of property is if “discussion in an open meeting would adversely affect the bargaining position or negotiating strategy” of the Town. Note that any “adverse effect” must be on the Town – not the other party. [Read more…]


EDITORIAL: Voting Suggestions

November 4, 2013

Tuesday’s election is the most important in modern times for Northampton County. For the first time, voters have a chance to elect their School Board, which until now has been appointed.

Two of the Board’s seven seats are at-large, voted on throughout the County. For the four-year-term seat, Randall Parks is running against Delores Lindsay. Both candidates have decades of experience teaching in Northampton schools. Mr. Parks has the distinction of being the driving force behind the petition and referendum that resulted in an elected Board. His opponent, Ms. Lindsay, is currently an appointed School Board member. Voters happy with the current Board will want to retain Ms. Lindsay, while the rest have an opportunity to cast their ballots for Mr. Parks.

The other at-large seat is between Jo Ann Molera, who with her husband ran a Montesorri school in Nassawadox for many years, and Nykia Robinson, who graduated from Northampton High six years ago. We commend Ms. Robinson for her civic spirit, and also appreciate that a Board member not long removed from the student side of the classroom could contribute a unique perspective. That said, the current perilous state of County public schools cannot afford the luxury of on-the-job training, and thus we support Ms. Molera.

District 1, where Cape Charles residents vote, is contested by Shannon Dunham, an Eastville attorney and graduate of Northampton High, and Tamsey Ellis, a retired teacher with decades of local experience. The two candidates’ personal styles differ dramatically – the former feisty, the latter folksy – but we believe that either choice would make a good Board member.

The other District 1 race is for Board of Supervisors, where Granville Hogg is challenging incumbent chairman Willie Randall. We appreciate both candidates’ willingness to serve – especially since the incumbents in District 2 and District 3 are running unopposed.

In District 1, Mr. Randall is running on his record, while Mr. Hogg has raised serious issues with County policies. We note that Mr. Hogg served on the Public Service Authority until this year, but when he opposed the PSA proposal to nearly double property taxes for selected commercial properties to fund a sewer pipe, the Board of Supervisors replaced him.

District 1 voters (and only District 1 voters) have the opportunity tomorrow to send a message to the Board of Supervisors. If they agree with the direction the Board has taken over the past four years, they can vote for Mr. Randall. If they disagree, they can vote for Mr. Hogg.

EDITORIAL: Don’t Subsidize the County

September 19, 2013

Two weeks ago today, Cape Charles Town Council was supposed to discuss a proposed rate structure for commercial sewer customers on Route 13 and around Cheriton. Assistant Town Manager Bob Panek earlier said that determining a sewer rate would be “about a day’s work.” But no rate has yet been proposed, and Council’s work session was cancelled. It’s now clear that the sewer charge won’t be based on engineering calculations — it will be a political decision.

Cape Charles residents and businesses pay a minimum monthly sewer charge of $61. But County Administrator Katie Nunez doesn’t want commercial customers outside the Town to pay any more than an “affordable” rate of $45. Town officials bought into Mr. Panek’s reasoning that any additional sewer income would be “gravy,” since most of the costs of running the treatment plant are fixed, and not dependent on how much sewage is treated. So they initially were amenable to the $45 charge.

But try telling anyone who sells hamburgers in Cape Charles that they have to pay full rate to support the fixed costs of the sewer plant, while McDonald’s and Hardee’s will get a lower rate. It’s a politically indefensible argument, so it’s not surprising that Town officials now are scared to propose any rate. As a result, the public hearing set for Monday, September 23, at the County board room in Eastville will be almost farcical, since nobody knows what the rate will be.

It doesn’t take a month or even a day to calculate a rate structure for County sewer customers, because the calculation has already been done. If Town customers pay $61 a month, then County customers should pay $61 a month. Any less, and the Town is rewarding and encouraging businesses outside Town limits. Any more – well, forget that argument, because no County customer would tolerate a rate above $61 – even though Town Council member Joan Natali has publicly suggested that the Town could “make a profit” on providing sewer service to the County. [Read more…]

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EDITORIAL: Conflict of Interest


September 4, 2013

This editorial should not have to be written, because the issue should be obvious.  Sadly, that is not the case in Northampton County – or especially Cape Charles, where conflicts of interest are more common than September hurricanes. (Click here for an egregious example five years ago.)

Resident in Cape Charles is a remarkable individual known to all as Bob Panek. Once the acting town manager, he now prefers to be the assistant.  He was the chief consultant for construction of the Town’s wastewater treatment plant.  He is president of Citizens for Central Park.  At candidate debates before the last three elections, Mr. Panek decided which questions were asked and to whom, despite his unconcealed partisanship. And finally, which is the point of this editorial, he is chairman of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Public Service Authority, whose purpose is to study, implement, and operate water and sewer systems.

Mr. Panek was appointed by Cape Charles Town Council to represent the Town on the PSA. This was wrong, because it violates the principle of separation between a paid public employee and an elected or appointed official.  One might have hoped that Town Council understood that principle, after two town employees ceased to serve on Town Council. A paid town employee should not be appointed or elected to a town board or commission and should not be the town’s representative on a county board or commission. [Read more…]


EDITORIAL: The Developer’s Wife

August 28, 2013

An earnest commenter, upon reading the Wave’s story about the developer who plans to convert the Old School into an apartment building, wrote, “I don’t think it’s fair to smear someone’s name just for “knowing” another person. . . . Mary [McCormack, wife of developer J. David McCormack] is one of the kindest, sweetest people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and I am sure there are lots of people here on the Shore that would agree with me that her name should not even be brought into this mess.”

Indeed, it’s a journalistic axiom when reporting the actions of a public figure that family members’ privacy should be respected. But what about when the public figure himself brings up his wife’s name?

In this case, developer McCormack, addressing a meeting of the Cape Charles Planning Commission, noted that his wife, Mary, “just by sheer coincidence realized that she had a relationship with Heather [Arcos, the town manager].” The Wave videotaped McCormack’s statement (to the discomfiture of the Planning Commission chair), and the video may be viewed by clicking here.

Why is it newsworthy that the wife of a developer “had a relationship” with the town manager? Because what the Town did with the Old School property was highly irregular. When authorities decide to divest public property, it is unusual to give it away, and even more unusual to pay a developer $41,000 to take it – especially when the property was valued on the tax rolls at $900,000.

If a municipality wants to sell public land, it normally would advertise for bids, and then sell to the highest bidder. That didn’t happen in Cape Charles. Instead, Town Council met secretly with McCormack. No one else knew that Town Council was considering selling the building (much less paying someone to take it). Most people still thought the Cape Charles Christian School was going to lease the building. [Read more…]