As a member of the Henrico Business Council cabinet, I've had the privilege of lunching in recent months with members of the board of supervisors.
What I've learned has been less about county programs and issues, and more about the lifestyles of Henrico's elected leaders -- including a number of misconceptions that the public has about them.
Members of the BOS may be the closest things we have to celebrities in this county, but it's astounding how little the public knows about their jobs and what they entail.
For instance, while lunching with Dick Glover of the Brookland District, I happened to get a peek at his weekly calendar.
Back in the summertime, it featured ballgames, a meeting with the planning department, an open house at a business, and ceremonial events such as ribbon-cuttings -- in addition to the upcoming BOS meeting.
"People think I go to two meetings a month," Glover said with an amused smile.
At the Business Council's advocacy dinner Nov. 30, I asked Mr. Glover to pull out his calendar again. This time the list was even longer.
"I've counted up 41 events between Thanksgiving and Dec. 25 that I'm invited to," he said, adding that it often seems taken for granted that he will attend. "At a lot of these," Glover commented, "my absence is noted more than my presence."
Pat O'Bannon, who represents the Tuckahoe District on the BOS, agreed with Glover that constituents often have no idea how much time supervisors must put into the job.
Even the lunch with the Business Council required preparation and planning, said O'Bannon, who had solicited information and statistics from her staff so that she could accurately report on county issues and initiatives to cabinet members.
O'Bannon also noted that constituents often call her with questions or concerns that have nothing to do with county government, and that her job may require steering them to federal or state agencies that can help.
No doubt Dianne Pettitt, a member of the Chesterfield County School Board, can relate to O'Bannon's experience.
Some years ago, soon after Chesterfield shifted from appointing school board members to electing them, I had a conversation with Pettitt about the changes that had come with her new visibility.
As an appointee to the school board, Pettitt had labored in relative obscurity. But as chair of the first elected school board in 1995, Pettitt began getting phone calls at home every time a constituent encountered a problem -- school-related or not.
"People would call me up and complain about potholes," Pettitt recalls, "or wonder [after a snowstorm] when their street would be plowed!"
More recently, Pettitt said, she has gotten calls from constituents complaining about the cell phone towers located in her neighborhood.
But the call that really took the cake, she said, was from a woman in North Carolina -- hundreds of miles from her district. The caller was upset that her nephew had not been admitted into one of the Chesterfield County's specialty centers.
When Pettitt asked how the caller had obtained her phone number, the North Carolina woman admitted that the student's mother lived in Pettitt's district. But she had not had the gumption to complain to Pettitt herself. So -- she had put her out-of-state sister up to it.
Like O'Bannon and Glover, Pettitt reports that the phone calls are only one part of the job. She also has a long list of obligations to attend committee meetings and constituent gatherings, on top of regular school board meetings.
"It's a merry-go-round!" said Pettitt with a laugh.
Local elected officials also tell stories of having a dinner out interrupted by constituents wanting to bend their ear, or of complainers who intrude even on their worship. One board member told me of a colleague who has learned to arrive late at church every Sunday, to avoid being waylaid by a talkative congregation member.
So the next time you hear someone complaining about an elected official being overpaid or having a cushy job, consider what price you would require if your life were not your own.
Sure, elected officials get prestige, and a few perks to go along with their salaries. But as Dick Glover points out, most people don't go into public service for the money or the perks. The compensation that he gets for the demands on his time and the lack of privacy, Glover told me recently, is simply job satisfaction.
"It's the most interesting, satisfying thing that I've ever done," he said.
I, for one, am glad for the good people who are willing not only to take on the responsibility of public office, but also to put up with the constant intrusions on their private time.
They don't call them public servants for nothing.
The threat of bad weather didn’t keep visitors away from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden July 10 for the facility’s weekly Flowers After 5 event (which pairs music and food with a chance to stroll the garden) and its monthly Fidos After 5 (which allows dog owners to bring their pets with them to enjoy the evening). > Read more.
Thanks in part to a $10,000 gift from the Western Henrico Rotary Club, another bright pink Jeep modified to travel extremely rough terrain has been delivered to Midwives For Haiti so that more pregnant women in the quake-ravaged country will have access to prenatal care and a greater chance of surviving childbirth.
The funds were raised at the annual casino night held in February, club president Adam Cherry said. The Rotary Club also helped purchase the Virginia-based charity’s first pink jeep three years ago. > Read more.
Canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts soon will have a new access point to the Chickahominy River. VDOT, the James River Association and Henrico County Parks and Recreation are teaming up to establish a new site in Eastern Henrico.
The James River Association negotiated the deal with VDOT to procure official access to the area located just east of I-295 on North Airport Road in Sandston. The site includes a park-and-ride commuter lot bordering the Chickahominy River and has been an unofficial launch site used by paddlers for years. > Read more.
Take in a show at several locations this weekend! West End Comedy will provide laughs at HATTheatre; the production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes” will close Sunday; and the youth theatre company CharacterWorks will present “Footloose” at The Steward School. Another show perfect for the kids – “Despicable Me 2” is playing at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center tonight. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
‘Earth to Echo’ aims to become this generation’s ‘ET’
It’s no secret that all found-footage genre movies are the same. Grab a couple of characters, give one of them a camera, and expose them to something supernatural that’s content to lurk just off-screen until the last five minutes. Everything else will just fall into place.
But that formula isn’t particularly family friendly, if only because that thing waiting a few feet to the left of the cast is usually plotting their violent doom.
That’s what sets Earth to Echo apart from the pack. It, too, follows a group of characters armed with a camera and a tendency to encounter unknown life forms. But all those familiar parts have been rearranged just enough to make it suitable for a much younger audience. > Read more.
An eclectic array of events are taking place this weekend throughout the county. In the West End, we have the Richmond Wedding Expo, the Under the Stars Family Film Series and Henrico Theatre Company’s production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes.” In the eastern part of the county, we have a blood drive at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center, Gallmeyer Farm’s annual Sweet Corn Festival and an origami workshop at Fairfield Library. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
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