In the 1980 presidential debate, candidate Ronald Reagan famously quipped, “there you go again,” when responding to President Jimmy Carter’s criticism of Reagan’s Medicare record. It’s an enduring phrase, and substituting the word they for you, perfectly summarizes the Ashe County Board of Commissioners’ actions surrounding the Department of Social Services (DSS) and treatment of its director, Donna Weaver.
The recent resignation of Weaver makes the third senior county professional the commissioners have driven from public service since July 2011. The first was County Manager Dan McMillan who was forced to resign or be fired. His replacement, Dr. Pat Mitchell, was the commissioners’ hand-picked successor even though she didn’t apply for the job. In August 2013, she too was forced to resign or be fired. In both instances no justification was ever given to either individual or the citizens of Ashe County.
At the center of both terminations was then Commissioner Judy Porter Poe. In McMillan’s case, Poe gave false accountings to the media indicating his departure was “mutual,” when in fact a Freedom of Information request revealed e-mails showing he was forced to resign or be fired, and also showed Poe’s attempt to orchestrate a conspiracy with other commissioners to keep the truth from the public. In the aftermath of Mitchell’s removal, Poe threatened the jobs of county employees if they demonstrated any support of Mitchell.
Proving she lacked the integrity and moral fortitude to serve the people of Ashe county, voters booted Poe out of office during the last election. But the discredited Poe, and three current commissioners, hadn’t yet finished wreaking havoc on the county’s senior public servants.
As commissioner, Poe had been on a crusade to dissolve the independent DSS oversight board since a 2012 change to state law allowed for its dissolution and placement of DSS under control of the county manager and commissioners. Failing to succeed while a commission member, Poe finagled an appointment onto the DSS board in October 2014.
Though now no longer a commissioner, Poe obviously retains influence over current Chairman Gary Roark and due to his feckless leadership and inability to form any long-range county vision, he’s still taking cues from Poe, his “political mama.”
Enlisting the aid of rookie commissioners, Jeff Rose and Brien Richardson, this cabal continued the two-plus years of harassing Weaver and her department all under the guise of “understanding the DSS budget” and the rouse of “streamlining” the department. Fact is the commissioners have always had complete control over the discretionary county funds in the DSS budget.
Following a public hearing where Poe, now a member of the independent DSS board, spoke in favor of its dissolution, Weaver unfortunately submitted her resignation letter which read in part, “For two years, I have endured lack of basic professional courtesy, respect, genuine collaboration or trust from county leadership.”
Folks, let’s call this what it really is…yet another ham-handed maneuver by unsophisticated politicians who have no real understanding of the complexity they’ve been charged with overseeing. Voters need to ask themselves why these commissioners continue to run our best professionals out of public service. Weaver has nearly 40 years of experience we’ve lost.
As Weaver also said in her letter, “The desire to be in control, yet be unwilling to learn is a dangerous combination and I believe the individuals who choose to operate this way must be responsible for their actions.” Regrettably, all Ashe Countians are suffering from their actions.
Though we’ve lost Weaver, her resignation brought some clarity to one cabal member. Jeff Rose joined commissioners Larry Rhodes and William Sands in retaining the DSS board. That means the DSS board will pick Weaver’s permanent replacement and the department will not become yet another under County Manager Sam Yearick, a nice man who seems to be struggling in managing his current workload. It also, as Weaver noted in her letter, “creates a safeguard between service and politics.”
Donna Weaver recently announced she’s running for a county commission seat. Let’s hope she’s successful as we could use someone with competence and broad public sector experience. And, let’s hope Judy Porter Poe will finally stop embarrassing herself and the county.
Ken Lynn is a retired USAF colonel. He’s an adjunct online instructor with the USAF Air University.