An exercise in Democracy?

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By John Barnhart

The Bedford County Board of Supervisors is faced with the task of filling a vacancy in its midst. The District 2 supervisor's seat became vacant when Chuck Neudorfer resigned in a fit of pique two weeks ago and walked out of a supervisors meeting when he didn't get his way on a planning commission appointment.
    The supervisors are moving quickly. The window for interested persons to apply for the seat closes at 5 p.m. this Friday. The board of supervisors are scheduled to interview candidates on Monday, Nov. 5.
    As the supervisors discussed this, Monday night, District 4 Supervisor John Sharp noted that they will be making the appointment the night before election day.
    "This is an exercise in democracy," said District 4 Supervisor John Sharp.
    This is going to depend on how the supervisors go about making their appointment. They have not yet discussed whether they are going to interview the candidates in open session or behind closed doors.
    This decision is important because whoever is appointed will represent the citizens of District 2 on the board of supervisors until after the general election in November, 2013. Mr. Neudorfer's resignation came far too late for a general election to be held to fill his unexpired term. I think he did his constituents a great disservice by doing this. If he was going to resign, he should have done this last summer. Then the citizens of District 2 would be choosing their representative on Nov. 6.
    But, they won't be able to do that. The supervisors will appoint somebody to represent them for a year. This is why it is important that the supervisors conduct this process in an open meeting.
    This year the school board faced two vacancies in its midst, The school board is a very important elected body as the school budget, which they are responisble for, accounts for most to the county's budget. School board members are responsible for how a huge amount of money is spent, so choice of the individuals who fill these seats is important.
    The school board interviewed the candidates for both seats in open meeting. They should have also held the discussion, that followed the interviews in open meeting. There is really no reason for these discussions to be held behind closed doors, other than avoiding the opportunity for school board members to look bad in public. Nevertheless, holding the interviews in public was a good move.
    Open meeting interviews of the candidates for these seats worked quite well for the school board. There is absolutely no reason for the supervisors not to do the same. If this selection process is truly "democracy in action," as Mr. Sharp suggested, then that is exactly what they ought to do.
    Unless they have something to hide. Do they?
    Listening to the debates among the supervisors, and their votes, I see no sign of the coalition that Mr. Neudorfer alleged exists among them. I just see a board consisting of people who share the same philosophy of local government.
    However, their commitment to transparency leaves a lot to be desired. Former County Administrator Kathleen Guzi was ousted behind closed doors and none of the supervisors will give an explanation as to why they made her walk the plank.
    Holding the supervisor candidate interviews out in the open will be a good first step toward greater transparency.