Low rollers: Albemarle supes go a-Homesteadin'

In April, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published a story about county officials throughout Virginia spending $300,000 at a meeting at the posh Homestead resort in Hot Springs.

The multi-author story appeared in the Daily Progress, and it teemed with outrage.

Prince William County paid $262 for wine. Nelson County paid for the wife of supe Thomas Bruguiere to share his lodging as well as for her $57.50 "spa treatment." Sussex, one of the poorest counties in Virginia, spent a princely $8,244 to send eight representatives to the annual Virginia Association of Counties meeting last November. When the Homestead didn't have enough room for all the Sussexites, the remainder headed over the equally swanky Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

(Greene County deserves the slumber-party prize: Their supes shared rooms in a Hot Springs Comfort Inn.)

Glaringly omitted from the article were details about Albemarle County officials: What did they spend, and how did they spend it?

"I heard the reason Albemarle was not included in the Times-Dispatch article was that they were annoyed at how little we spent," says Albemarle supervisor Sally Thomas.

The county picked up a $1,231 tab for three supervisors to attend "VACo," as the meeting is called. Walter Perkins spent two nights at a cost of $577, Thomas spent one night for $335 as did Dorrier, whose bill to the county was $317.

"Some costs were not paid for by the county," says Albemarle spokesperson Lee Catlin. "Spouses could be included, but the county didn't pay for them."

And official duties determine how long the supervisors stay. Because Perkins had committee duties on the first and last days, he had to stay two nights, says Thomas. Other county officials just drove over for the day.

All three Albemarle supes who went defended the value of the convention. "You can pick up information that's helpful to the county," says Perkins. "It's good training for supervisors to find out how other counties are doing things."

"It's the one in-service training we get, as well as our chance to deal with state legislators," says Thomas. She also points out that she's been to other conferences at her own expense at non-resort locations.

Because there are so many concurrent sessions at the Homestead, she would have liked to see more Albemarle officials attend. "We get the best benefit when we send several people because we can cover more meetings. If anything, citizens should be critical of local government when they don't educate themselves about changes in state law and how other local governments do things," she says.

In fact, more county officials were planning to go, but the timing was bad. "We were just finding out revenues were coming in short, and we didn't think we should spend money on the Homestead when we were getting ready to ask departments to make cuts," says Thomas. "We were taking less advantage of it than usual."

At the same time, she says, "We've always rolled our eyes about the fact that this highly defensible annual meeting is held at the Homestead."

Dorrier enthuses about the programs on rural roads, zoning, and economic development. Plus, he says, it's a chance to network with other officials from contiguous counties like Buckingham, Greene, and Nelson.

"As far as being a boondoggle," says Dorrier, "I go to all sessions. I don't have time to play golf... The reporters who reported on this should go and see people working."

And Perkins sees VACo as a good deal compared to other conferences. "Sending three people to San Francisco– how much does that cost?"

"I didn't ask to have it at the Homestead," says Dorrier. "I'd go if it were held in a public building in Grundy."