Augusta County Board of Supervisors: Guardians of Truth or Masters of Spin?
Written by: Michael Phillips
VERONA, VA - In Augusta County, a simmering debate over how local government should manage the flow of information has come to a boiling point. The Board of Supervisors is pushing for what they term "information management," ostensibly to correct "false information" that may be disseminated during public board meetings. While countering misinformation is a noble goal, the timing and context of this initiative raise concerns, especially considering that the Board is currently embroiled in a series of controversies that include allegations of criminal activity, an undisclosed HR scandal, and accusations of illegal fee-charging.
The Drive for "Information Management"
Pastures Supervisor Pam Carter is spearheading this initiative. Carter recently expressed the need to provide "accurate information" to citizens, citing inadequacy in relying solely on newspaper articles. This initiative becomes even more significant against the backdrop of increased public scrutiny, with a surge in the number of people streaming board meetings online.
A String of Controversies
It's essential to note that the board's information management drive comes amid a series of controversies that have caught public attention. Dr. Scott Seaton, a critic of the board, claims to have years of recorded executive session meetings that may contain evidence of criminal activities by the board members. Additionally, the recent resignation of Board member Steven Morelli over an undisclosed HR scandal involving sexual harassment allegations has further clouded the board's image. Add to this the board's recent debacle of charging illegal fees for pet reclaiming, and it becomes clear that the push for "information management" may not be as altruistic as it appears.
Free Speech or Controlled Narrative?
Given this context, the Board's call for "information management" could easily be interpreted as an attempt to control the narrative, rather than to promote transparency and accountability. This is not an isolated challenge; governments worldwide have grappled with the tension between disseminating accurate information and suppressing dissent. Instances like the McCarthy era's suppression of "un-American" activities in the U.S. and the formation of "truth bureaus" in authoritarian regimes offer cautionary tales about the pitfalls of governmental control over information.
The Precarious Balance
South River Supervisor Carolyn Bragg and County Administrator Tim Fitzgerald have offered more nuanced positions, acknowledging the difficulty in immediately addressing specific questions or criticisms during live meetings. Fitzgerald recommended researching the issues before providing answers, an approach that seems balanced but leaves open questions, especially when considering the board's current predicaments.
Setting a Precedent or Raising Red Flags?
As the Board considers adopting a new approach to manage public discourse, they inadvertently set a precedent that could either enhance trust or erode it further. Given the ongoing controversies, which include allegations of criminality and ethical misconduct, the board's actions will be highly scrutinized. Striking the balance between correcting misinformation and maintaining the democratic values of transparency and free speech is an intricate dance, made more complicated by the shadows of controversies looming large over the Augusta County Board of Supervisors.
As this local governing body navigates these troubled waters, their approach will serve as a case study for democratic institutions grappling with similar issues worldwide. The question remains: will the board use "information management" as a shield to protect the public or a sword to silence dissent? Only time will tell.