The Goochland Gazette
From 2008 – 2010, I wrote weekly editorials for The Goochland Gazette, commenting on the trials, tribulations and triumphs in Goochland County.
In 2010 I won third place for editorial writing in the Virginia Press Association’s 2009 News, Editorial and Photo contest.
The Goochland Gazette’s Opinion Page
Click the title to read the full editorial.
Note: these editorials were recently migrated to the richmond.com site, and all comments were lost in the process.
Del. R. Lee Ware Jr. (R-Powhatan) is sponsoring a bill that would allow any public body to seek “injunctive relief” against citizens who are causing “harassment” of the government by submitting too many requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
House Bill 449 does not, however, describe what that “harassment” might entail—does this mean two information requests, or 20? Who decides if the number of requests constitutes harassment? And who decides, and why, whether to seek “injunctive relief,” or a prohibition against further requests?
This economy is presenting brutal challenges to our government and to our community. I think people, many of who have either been laid off or who know those who have, some who may have had to foreclose on a family home, understand that these are tough times requiring tough decisions.
But I also think it’s become clear that what people in Goochland won’t grasp is a reluctance to tell the truth.
Many have lamented that deep cuts to our school system could permanently damage its ability to function. I would add that those who are disingenuous while making cuts, or who are patronizing or dismissive during that process, will also lose their ability to function for the good of the county: They will permanently lose the support of those they serve.
Sunshine Week, an annual celebration of open and transparent government, officially ended last Saturday.
But here in Goochland the party continues, as we have received e-mails this week from those who have submitted requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act.
Such requests, said a few local officials, are on the rise these days, as economic pressures and issues raised by budget season have prompted questions about how resources are being used.
A responsible and informed use of FOIA eases the democratic process. But how exactly does FOIA work, and why?
Instead of transparency, Goochland is right back in what seems to be its murky comfort zone. And instead of participating in government, citizens take on the role of voyeurs.
I, and I believe that there are others like me in this county these days, would like to have our elected and appointed officials give reasons for their actions.
“Old boys’ network” and “backroom politics” are, as one supervisor justifiably pointed out to me recently, vague terms that don’t really mean anything.
So why don’t we all stop being vague, and ask the specific question: Mr. Quarles, Mr. Eads and Mr. Pryor, will you tell the taxpayers and the electorate why, exactly, you did not want Mr. Butler to be chairman?
These have been a tough few years. I, too, am reminded by a quote, one I think has been around so long the source isn’t cited anymore: “Cheer up, things could be worse. So I cheered up and sure enough, things got worse!”
So how do we all persevere?
Well, I think we’re learning to live the answer, if only by default.
Sometimes you persevere because you don’t have a choice.
And sometimes you persevere because you’re inspired by those who came before you, who kept getting up even when the floors were cold and the cupboards were getting perilously bare.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Meaning, this is a good time to stop and take a look at the women you run into every day, the ones weighing apples at the grocery store, taking notes at a PTA meeting or sharing a pew at your neighborhood church.
Of these women who shop, sit and kneel beside you, one in every four will experience a life-threatening situation, one that even her closest friends and family may never suspect. One in every four of these women will experience domestic violence.
It doesn’t matter what color a woman is, what church or temple she attends, how old she is, or how many degrees she has or hasn’t earned. Domestic violence doesn’t respect differences; it rages through every corner of society.
And escaping its wrath isn’t easy. So how can women protect themselves? And how can we in our community protect each other?
Ray Bradbury, author or “Fahrenheit 451,” once wrote, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
Bradbury’s novel is a science fiction tale published in 1953. It describes a society in which books are burned, and people are indifferent.
More than 50 years later, the number of people that have stopped reading them is growing.
In fact, less than half of American adults are reading literature these days, according to Reading at Risk, a 2004 report released by the National Endowment for the Arts.
And since people who read, says another study recently released by the NEA, are twice as likely than non-readers to get involved in their communities, Bradbury’s vision of an illiterate, apathetic public is becoming eerily accurate.
Some people in our country have speculated that Wilson felt at ease heckling President Obama because our president is black. Some in our county wonder if those who committed felony vandalism at Second Union Baptist Church, did so because of its historic ties to the black community.
Sheriff Agnew says that what happened at Second Union is now the Crime of the Week for Crimestoppers.Â “Hopefully that will result in some useful tips,” he said.
I hope so.
And I hope that Wilson yelled at our president because he just happens to be the kind of guy who yells at presidents.
And I hope that the people involved in busting up Second Union did so because they are the kind of people that like to destroy what others build.
Because the idea that they were emboldened by racism… just leaves me feeling hopeless.
If parents do not agree with the views of our elected leader regarding education (or anything else), they can discuss these with their children. This would be an excellent opportunity to engage our kids in sharing their thoughts about school, about our leaders, about our country.
Why would a speech by our president, a speech meant to offer encouragement and support to our children, be considered offensive OR irrelevant? Why would any responsible parent or educator choose to censor that speech?
I can think of only one reason.
And as President Barack Obama wrote in his speech, “Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.”
I hope that we can all start making America’s future one in which knowledge will trump ignorance, and courage will transcend fear.
The people of this county have often stood at public hearings to announce their desire for change. They did so again at the first Board of Supervisors meeting headed by Rebecca Dickson.
The audience applauded when one speaker expressed hope that the “smug self-righteous… good ol’ boy philosophy” of a few former administrators would soon fade into Goochland’s past.
Many of these people then laughed when a citizen stepped up to the mike and asked Dickson if she is married, because, he said, if she isn’t, then there is hope for the men of Goochland County.
Dickson chose not to respond; she said nothing, she simply sat there, waiting for the laughter to subside.
It might be ironic to hear a speaker put down the ways of the good old boys, then immediately ask the female county administrator out on a date.
But is it funny?
I guess that depends on one thing: How serious are you, Goochland, when you say you’re ready for things to change?
Goochland’s utilities department, last winter, seemed a strange and shadowy place.
A place not unlike a parlor you might step into down in the deep, deep South, if you were to enter a room envisioned by Flannery O’Connor or Truman Capote, where heavy velvet curtains blocked the light and papers were scattered like confetti tossed at a party years ago.
In the case of our utilities department, until recently those papers tended to be undeposited checks or unpaid invoices, strewn across desks and buried in file drawers.
And just as you can wander by a decaying and unkempt Victorian house and wonder if the people inside are malicious or merely eccentric, many here didn’t know what to make of an administrative office where accounts were often, simply, not kept up.
Imagine my surprise, when I asked some basic questions about the Tuckahoe Creek Service District Advisory Committee last week.
What we went through to get answers was beyond basic; the quest necessitated advanced diplomacy and advice from the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.
I was eventually given what I requested, and I appreciate that.
What I did not appreciate was the initial reaction, at the end of a phone call, a snarled, “I’m not going to respond.”
But here is journalism’s power to counteract such reticence, to elicit a response even when it is given reluctantly: “You do realize you are on the record, right?”
“I was just joking,” was the quick reply. “Of course I’ll respond!”