Person of the year: Ken Boyd. King of the road... and the midnight vote
If Ken Boyd's entire political career were an Aesop's fable, he'd be the slow-and-steady tortoise. But when the opportunity arose earlier this year, the usually mild-mannered Republican maneuvered and rammed through a late-night vote on the controversial Western 29 Bypass, a highway project that had been presumed dead for more than a decade. In seizing the reins of power after the public had gone home, Boyd helped overturn long-established opposition from the Board of Supervisors, sent shock waves through the environmental community, and launched a permanent change to the landscape of Albemarle County.
Earlier this year, it wasn't even certain that Boyd would seek a third term on the board. Yet he was reelected to his Rivanna District seat in November by his widest margin ever against an opponent who wanted blood for the bypass, proving that as green-leanin' as this area can seem, a lot of people really want the new road.
For his quiet perseverance and for his midnight ride of upheaval, Ken Boyd is the Hook's Person of the Year.
A night to remember
The Western 29 Bypass wasn't even on the radar of those attending the June 8 supervisors meeting. The controversy that night was the fear Albemarle might get controlled by the United Nations. After five hours of heated debate in Lane Auditorium, board Chair Ann Mallek was ready to adjourn around 11:30pm.
She asked her fellow supervisors if they had any more business. That's when Lindsay Dorrier dropped a bombshell. "I want to bring up the bypass issue and move to change my vote," Dorrier said.
There had been a vote just a week earlier when the conservative Democrat Dorrier had opposed a push to let the bypass move forward. And at the same meeting, the board agreed that votes could not be taken on matters not on the agenda.
And taking up the Western Bypass again definitely was not on the June 8 agenda.
When Mallek laughingly attempted to dismiss Dorrier's motion, that's when Boyd jumped in: "I don't think you can rule against the motion if he wants to make it."
Boyd pointed out that if the board voted to rescind its recent rule, they could act decisively, and the county attorney agreed. Boyd moved to suspend the rule, and it was quickly seconded.
"I can't believe I'm sitting on a board that will change the rules at the drop of a hat," protested fellow Supervisor Dennis Rooker.
"There's been a motion made and seconded," Boyd calmly informed Rooker. "You can continue to argue if you want to."
Meanwhile, Dorrier, who suffers from Parkinson's Disease, was having a hard time reading his own motion, which Thomas had conveniently handed him at the beginning of the meeting, and Boyd leaped in to help Dorrier say he wanted to remove the board's bypass opposition.
Again, Rooker objected. "It's his motion. Let him make it."
Dorrier explained that he'd talked to Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton, who said not only would he find funding for the bypass, estimated at around a quarter of a billion dollars, but he'd release the cash for other pet projects favored by the supes, such as widening U.S. 29 and building a bridge for Berkmar Drive Extended.
And with that 4-2 vote, a 6.2-mile project once named the most expensive in America was on its way.
Four more years
According to Boyd, 63, his biggest 2011 accomplishment was getting re-elected to the Board of Supervisors. After an unsuccessful run in 2010 for the Republican nomination for the 5th District congressional seat now held by Robert Hurt, Boyd initially indicated that he was hanging up his political hat and not seeking a third term.
"It was a decision I struggled with for a long time," says Boyd. "I felt we had some unfinished business."
And there was one other factor: his wife, Brenda. When he called a press conference in early May, even his closest supporters said they had no idea whether he was running again. He started his speech noting the personal sacrifice exacted after 12 years of public service, and then said he was in. "My wife," he explained, "allowed me to."
Boyd came to Charlottesville with the former Jefferson National Bank, the predecessor of Wachovia and Wells Fargo. It was at the urging of his father that he struck out for himself after 23 years in banking. Boyd Financial Planning occupies a modest office at the back of the Berkmar Crossing office park.
He was on student council in high school, and then took more than 30 years off politics before delving in again with the Albemarle School Board in 1999.
"He brings experience on the financial side and has a keen ability to work with numbers," says supporter Pat Earle, who claims credit for getting him to run for School Board and considers Boyd's reelection an endorsement of his work the previous eight years on the board, and not any sort of bypass referendum.
"I don't think he'd have had it come up at this time," says Earle. "That is a divisive issue. I think he won by a bigger margin than ever before because people recognized his service and the type of campaign he ran."
Certainly, the bypass was an issue that his opponent, Democrat Cynthia Neff, campaigned on, and something that environmental groups like Piedmont Environmental Council and Southern Environmental Law have opposed since the early 1990s.
A turning point for Boyd was the 2009 election to the Board of Supervisors of fellow Republicans Rodney Thomas and Duane Snow. No longer was Boyd a minority on the six-person board.
"I think Ken was the happiest man in Albemarle when Rodney won– second to Rodney," says Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris.
"He did not want to see David Slutzky reelected," says Norris. "He made it clear he didn't like the direction Slutzky was going with [International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives] and against the bypass."
Boyd credits Thomas and Snow for doing the heavy lifting that got the Bypass back in play again. They were the ones who met with Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton in April, and that's when they learned money would be available– if they could get the votes.
And there was the rub. Even with Boyd, Snow, and Thomas in favor of the bypass, Ann Mallek, Dennis Rooker and Lindsay Dorrier were not.
A June 1 vote to remove the board's opposition failed 3-3; that's what made the midnight vote a week later such a shocker.
"[Boyd] engineered the four votes," says Norris. "That's how you get power."
Norris continues: "He worked hard to support candidates like Rodney Thomas and Duane Snow. He worked with Lindsay Dorrier. That's how you get power. That's how you get a bypass."
"Clearly, it was orchestrated by those four," says Dennis Rooker. "Ken was very supportive. He had no problem suspending rules at midnight and voting."
"I do think I'm getting a bum rap," objects Boyd. "But I didn't change my vote. It was initiated by Lindsay. I wish it hadn't been at midnight."
Boyd insists he didn't want the election to be about a single issue– although his campaign had done a poll that showed Rivanna voters supported the bypass by a factor of 2.5 to 1.
"I knocked on a lot of doors," he says. "Anecdotally, I had a lot of people tell me that they're Democrats, but they really wanted that bypass. It always came up."
What the unsuspecting thought was the big issue that drew 83 speakers, including the Jefferson Area Tea Party and environmental groups, June 8, the night of the midnight vote, was whether Albemarle would continue to belong to the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives– ICLEI– an organization to help communities lessen greenhouse emissions, but which opponents see as nothing less than the United Nations controlling local government through something called Agenda 21, a sustainability accord signed in 1992.
"It talked about population growth," says Boyd. "I thought, 'What are we doing getting into that?'"
Some, like Rooker, see Boyd's embrace of this issue as pandering to the Tea Party. Rooker and Slutzky both favored Albemarle's participation in ICLEI as well as Cool Counties, a voluntary initiative to reduce carbon emissions.
“In my mind, that’s a good thing,” Rooker said at the May 4 supervisors meeting. “This whole thing about international control and one government is, in my mind, completely ridiculous.”
Boyd laughs at any suggestion that rejecting ICLEI is evidence of a "flat earth" mentality.
"I consider myself an environmentalist," says Boyd, "but I don't agree with the idea you have to join some organization to be one."
As for any alleged Tea Party pandering, Boyd says, "That's an organization that represents a huge constituency here in Albemarle. I listen to them, just as I listen to [Piedmont Environmental Council's] Jeff Werner and [Southern Environmental Law's] Morgan Butler."
Rooker remains dubious.
"I think taking positions against the environment go against the interests of the county and its economic vitality," says Rooker.
Board ally Rodney Thomas commends Boyd's diligence in sticking to the issues. "Nothing was personal," says Thomas. "It's all about the issues."
Rooker more sharply describes Boyd, particularly during the very first meeting back in January 2010 with newly-elected supes Thomas and Snow.
"Ken came in with a list and said this is our agenda and we're going to vote on it today," recounts Rooker, calling that "inappropriate and highhanded."
Although often on opposite sides of an issue, Rooker does say this, "I've never known Ken to do anything dishonest."
Paul Wright has run a lot of Republican candidate campaigns, including Boyd's. "He's one of the most direct people I've ever dealt with in politics," says Wright. "I've never heard him curse. He really loves his wife. He's straight-forward and direct and I think people have always responded to that."
Meanwhile, Boyd has a lot to do before his board majority possibly shifts when incoming Democrat Chris Dumler is sworn in next month.
Boyd continues to push his economic vitality roundtables to figure out how to get government out of the way of entrepreneurship, because that's what creates jobs, he contends, not the government.
He sits on the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority, which has a big dam to get built, and if Boyd had his way, that dam's nine-mile pipeline from the Rivanna Reservoir to Ragged Mountain would be installed as part of bypass construction.
And at the December 7 supervisors meeting, Boyd launched another long-time highway project: opening the county's portion of the Meadowcreek Parkway.
Persistent and consistent– that's how Ken Boyd wins the race.