Lowe-down: Planning chief loses supe race
Greene County Planning Commission Chair Gary Lowe, target of one libel suit in addition to three lawsuits against the property owners association he's president of, lost his bid for Greene County Board of Supervisors November 8.
Voters elected his opponent, Greene native Patsy Morris, to the at-large seat with 2,310 votes to Lowe's 1,852, much to Morris' surprise.
"I'm just a poor kid from Greene County," says Morris. "I can't believe I won."
Morris cites land use and rising property taxes– particularly as they affect seniors– as the issues that spurred her to run. And, she adds, "I didn't want Gary to have it on a silver platter because no one was running against him."
In late summer, three residents of Dogwood Valley filed suit against the Lowe-led Dogwood Valley Citizens Association, claiming it had no right to levy assessments because of a ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court. In that case, the court overturned the Association's controversial decision to auction two lots whose owner owed $70 in allegedly unpaid special assessments. Adding to the controversy, Lowe bought one of the lots.
In September, another Dogwood Valley resident, Joe Mitchell Miller, filed a $150,000 libel suit against Lowe because of a letter Lowe wrote to the Greene County Record.
Did the flurry of lawsuits derail Lowe's run for supervisor?
Steve Catalano, chairman of the Greene Board of Supervisors, declines to comment on that. However, he says Lowe's tenure on the Planning Commission may have affected voters.
"I think it boiled down to land use. He was Planning Commission chairman, and some of their decisions could be perceived as developer friendly," Catalano says.
"We don't like pushy in Greene County," he adds. "The perception was that the Planning Commission was trying to push an agenda in the county."
Helen Phillips, an attorney who'd been appointed to fill the vacant at-large supervisor seat and who did not run for re-election, thinks the lawsuits were a factor. "That wasn't the cloud I wanted to see hanging over Greene," she says.
Two Dogwood residents, Miller and Doug Dye, mentioned Lowe's promise at a forum to run the county as he did Dogwood Valley. "It came across as ironhanded," says Miller." I think it had an impact."
Miller, who's been sued by the Dogwood Valley Citizens Association and by one of its officers, thinks the anonymous donors paying the association's legal fees were another factor.
"I saw ulterior motives," Miller says, and he thinks others did, too. "Nobody could understand why someone would spend tens of thousands of dollars without expecting something in return."
Lowe did not return phone calls from the Hook, but in an October 27 article ["Slap Happy: Lawsuits Bloom in Dogwood Valley"], he said he didn't understand why anonymous donors paying the association's legal bills upset some residents. "They should be thanking them," he said.
The Greene election also saw the ousting of incumbent supervisor Kevin Welch, who was defeated by former supervisor Buggs Peyton, while another former supervisor, Joanne Burkholder, came 56 votes short of getting her old seat back.
"My take is it's a throwback," says Phillips. "Peyton and Burkholder have been on in the past. It's showing the stress between lifelong residents and new people."
Catalano thinks the message from voters was less anti-incumbency and more about fiscal responsibility and land use in the face of rampant growth.
"We're a small county," says Catalano. And of politics in Greene he says, "They're tricky."
Patsy Morris was not at all confident she would defeat Greene Planning Commission Chairman Gary Lowe for a seat on the Board of Supervisors.
PHOTO BY GEORGE KAMIDE
Gary Lowe, slapped with three lawsuits stemming from his service on a homeowners association, as well as one libel suit, called the timing of the suits during his run for the Greene Board of Supervisors "interesting."
FILE PHOTO BY GEORGE KAMIDE