Explosive Recordings Unveil Augusta County Board's Inner Workings, However Most Tapes Still Withheld
Written by: Sam Orlando
After what could be described as an epic Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request chess match between the Augusta County government and the public, new revelations have emerged that could drastically alter how constituents view their elected officials. One might say that democracy sometimes needs a little push, and that push has arrived in the form of leaked recordings.
The Ingenious Citizen FOIA Request
When the Freedom of Information Act failed to serve the news media with the sought-after information (yes, there's even a pending lawsuit over this), a savvy citizen took a different approach. Instead of requesting specific recordings or date ranges, they simply asked for the contents of the jump drive that Board member Dr. Scott Seaton handed to the board's attorney. And voilà! The citizen didn't exactly hit the jackpot, but they did get something a lot better: explosive recordings that give us a glimpse into the goings-on behind closed doors.
Recording #1: Constituents? Who Cares?
In the July 25, 2022 county work session recording, Supervisor Pam Carter seems to have forgotten a little thing called representation. Overheard claiming she doesn't want to hear from her constituents, Carter exhibited a level of disdain for the very people she's supposed to represent that might make Marie Antoinette blush. Not to be left behind in the "do-not-disturb" zone, Board member Gerald Garber voiced similar sentiment, because apparently, hearing from his constituents every day is a bit too much democracy for his taste.
Recording #2: The Forgotten $1.7 Million
On March 29, 2022, Jennifer Whetzel, a board staff member, reminded the Board about a small matter: the $1.7 million they "borrowed" from the county's capital fund but never replenished. To borrow from T.S. Eliot, this concern was met with a response "not with a bang but a whimper." No one even addressed her concerns, except for Dr. Scott Seaton, who has persistently warned the Board about potential illegal conduct.
Recording #3: The Tale of Two Tales
This August 10, 2022 recording features a conversation between Supervisor Scott Seaton and disgraced former Board member Steve Morelli. The topic? Body cameras for the Sheriff's Office. What makes this a must-listen is the dual narrative: Morelli claims the sheriff told him he didn't want body cameras, whereas the sheriff has been publicly requesting funding for them. Choose your fighter, ladies and gentlemen.
Morelli also criticized Seaton for giving Black Lives Matter protesters more time than they "deserved." However, Seaton's stance was backed by the facts: a county survey showed that over 90% of residents supported body cameras, irrespective of race. Morelli's failure to articulate his reasons for opposing body cams speaks louder than his thinly-veiled racist dog whistles.
While these three recordings represent less than 1% of those being withheld, they do give us a window into a realm that many might have naïvely assumed was dominated by integrity and public service. These revelations show that it's time for some soul-searching in Augusta County's corridors of power. Or, perhaps more aptly, time for the constituents to ask if these are the voices they want speaking for them.
As for that pending FOIA lawsuit mentioned earlier, the Augusta Free Press has sued for access to the recordings that are being withheld. The county denied Breaking Through's FOIA request as well, and we have litigation pending. However one crafty citizen, with a fine eye for detail, cracked the door to a scandal that has provoked referrals to the feds and a breakdown of county leadership. Stay tuned to Breaking Through News, we will bring you any new recordings which are released by Augusta County.