By. Bryan Rothamel
What looked like a light agenda and golden opportunity for a quick meeting of the Fluvanna Board of Supervisors on April 1, turned up as fools gold. And no one was laughing after the meeting.
It included one supervisor leaving the meeting in uproar over a comment from a fellow board member.
Supervisors breezed through the proposed tax rate public hearing with no residents speaking. It easily proclaimed April as Celebrating Children Month after hearing an update from Social Services, didn’t even entertain a vote on a resolution against the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case and then updated the parks and recreation fees.
Then came the employee ethics statement and recognition program. Gail Parish, Director of Human Resources, presented what a group of employees has come up with.
By this point, the only members in the audience were staff members, a constitutional officer and two members of the press. No residents without the affiliations described were there. The few that were there previously left after the Citizens United resolution failed.
The employee ethics statement is a springboard from the county’s mission, given by the Board of Supervisors. The employee ethics statement is PRIDE: People first, Respect, Integrity, Deliver and Excel.
After Parish briefly started his presentation on the recognition program, which includes monetary gifts for various awards throughout the year, Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District) raised his issues with the recognition program.
Ullenbruch compared the recognition program as a pat on the back and children in youth sports getting a participation trophy. He then concluded his remarks and what ensued was Ullenbruch leaving the meeting after Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) responded.
Here is a transcription from the end of Ullenbruch’s statements. It was the 1 hour, 59 minutes mark of the meeting.
Ullenbruch: You are hired to do a job. You are hired to do a job the best you can. I’m not saying our employees are paid enough or they’re not recognized enough. I’m not saying that at all. I’m trying, once again, keep people from being divided. This is devise. I’ve lived in this atmosphere of awards and plaques and that-a-boys, in the back, in the little huddles, in the little corners, it becomes a bitch session. The intent is not for that to happens, but it happens.
O’Brien: You sound like a communist, Bob. I mean honestly, why don’t we–
Ullenbruch: Wow. Wow. That’s on tape.
O’Brien: Yeah, your idea is that people don’t appreciate recognition. That they should just do their damn job, to use your words.
Ullenbruch: I’m just saying it causes divisiveness.
O’Brien: It does not cause divisiveness.
Ullenbruch: Why did you call me a communist?
O’Brien: Because that’s what you sound like. You basically sound like you are saying, ‘Just do the…’
At this point Ullenbruch stands up to leaves. The two began talking over each other but O’Brien responds to Ullenbruch’s comments with, “I mean, that’s what you sound like. I’m sorry you feel that way.”
Ullenbruch talks from the doorway. O’Brien responds, “I don’t think calling someone a communist is necessarily insulting them, Bob.” He turns back to the board, “That’s a first. Sorry. Apologies.”
O’Brien continues: I mean, honestly, I think a fundamental part of any organization is to recognize its people. Maybe the amount is too much but to argue that people should just do their damn job, and they should just like it, I find that offensive to the people that work in this county. I think the people who work in this county care about their jobs and I think they also care about how they’re performing their jobs. But by the same token being recognized for being exceptional, that’s pretty important. That shows leadership. That brings the bar up. When we create a program that raises the bar for all of our people, that’s a good thing. That’s not a bad thing. Maybe $5,000 is too much.
The discussion continues as usual board discussion until Ullenbruch comes back in about three minutes later and interrupts Parrish who is elaborating on the program.
Ullenbruch: I want to make a point. We were talking code of ethics just now. We have a code of ethics and disrespectful to other members of this board is part of our code of ethics. And it just showed, just now, in front of everybody, in front of all the employees here, what we think of our code of ethics.
O’Brien and Ullenbruch talk at the same time again.
Ullenbruch: How are you going to vote on someone else’s code of ethics?
O’Brien: First of all–
Ullenbuch starts leaving with his belongings: You are the one that said it. I would never insult you.
O’Brien: You should like the height of democracy, Bob. Does that make you feel any better?
Ullenbruch’s response is hard to hear but sounded like he said, “I should be (or am) the height of democracy.
O’Brien: Oh really? Sit down. I just said you are the height of democracy. Come on, sit down.
Chairwoman Mozell Booker (Fork Union District) calls for Ullenbruch to sit down.
Ullenbruch: If I would’ve said that to you (O’Brien)–
O’Brien: And what do you think I would’ve say?
At this point, another member of the board breaths out, blowing into the direction of one of the table microphones.
O’Brien: Call me an anarchist, Bob. I don’t care. I have the ability to react to the–
Ullenbruch: You know that I would never do that.
O’Brien: You know what? You can be a professional and sit down.
Booker: Bob, you need to come back and have seat. You know that its not–
Ullenbruch has walked out of the room.
Booker: That’s ok. Alright.
O’Brien: Apologies, madam chair. I did not mean to cause a fracas.
Booker: You can’t control other people’s actions. You apologized so let’s move on.
The board then continues to discuss the issue for another 35 minutes, most of the debate around the monetary gifts the program would award.
The proposed annual PRIDE in Public Service Award would give $100 bonus each month for 12 months to the recipient. The winner of the public service award would also be recognized on a plaque. The other five nominees would receive a $250 bonus check. Groups would be eligible with each member of the group to receive the bonus check.
The on the spot awards would be given by department or agency head and could include a thank you note, a lunch ordered in for the team, an hour of personal leave, praise in private or in a team setting, and/or certificate for the specific behavior.
Finally, the program would recognized retirees. All retiring employees would receive a plaque and employees with more than 20 years of county service would receive a gift of no more than $100. Gifts that are over $100, excess amount would be paid with non-public money.
After the lengthy discussion, the board elected to send the program back to the employee committee with less money involved. Don Weaver (Cunningham District) said he didn’t mind the money but felt it was too much of the emphasis and not on the actual recognition of the deed.
Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) agreed with Weaver to still include monetary gifts but decrease the emphasis.
After the meeting, O’Brien spoke in an exclusive interview with Free Enterprise Forum. He references how Ullenbruch and he say ‘colorful’ things to each other and the board. He said in length:
“We’re both colorful people, I guess is the best way I can put it. I was not personally calling him a communist. I said ‘you sound like a communist’ there’s a difference between that. I think if I had the opportunity to finish my statement would have been, ‘recognizing people, in the same way capitalism recognizes excellence, is a good thing.’ But since I didn’t get to finish that statement, all we heard was ‘you sound like a communist.’ I’m pretty sure Bob would agree with me that recognition of excellence is probably a good thing but I can’t speak for Bob.”
The Board will next meet at 7 p.m. on April 8 to have a public hearing on the budget. The budget proposed includes an $0.899 real estate tax rate and $4.35 personal property tax rate. Both are based on every $100 assessed.
The Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.
Photo Credits: Fluvanna County