POWHATAN – During the new Powhatan County Board of Supervisors’ first meeting of 2020, newly-elected board chair David Williams announced the members’ unanimous decision to ask for and receive the resignation of county administrator Ted Voorhees, effective immediately.
Williams made the announcement toward the end of the board’s short organizational meeting on Monday, Jan. 6, in which the board chose their leadership for the coming year and approved nominations to different committees and boards.
Williams read a press release that was sent to all county employees a little over an hour and a half before the meeting started. It stated that: “In the November election, the citizens of Powhatan made it clear they wanted a change of leadership for the county. As part of the transition, the newly elected Powhatan Board of Supervisors has requested and accepted the resignation of the county administrator, Mr. Ted Voorhees, effective today, Jan. 6. Mr. Bret Schardein, assistant county administrator, will assume the duties as county administrator until a replacement for Mr. Voorhees is in place.”
Williams, who represents District 1, and vice chairwoman Karin Carmack, District 5, both declined to comment beyond the release other than agreeing that the decision to ask for Voorhees’ resignation was unanimous. Larry Nordvig, District 2, Mike Byerly, District 3, and Bill Cox, District 4, also declined to comment further.
The board was sworn in Jan. 2, took no public vote, and held no recorded closed session before Williams made the announcement on Jan. 6.
Voorhees had worked as the county administrator since May 1, 2017, when he succeeded retiring county administrator Pat Weiler.
Serving at the pleasure of the board
Voorhees was back in his office the day after the meeting packing up his belongings and agreed to speak with the Powhatan Today while he worked.
Regarding the board’s reasons for asking for his resignation, he referred to the majority changeover of the board with three new members. He said he thinks the board members are interested in “having a fresh start, picking their own person and going from there.”
He pointed out that it is the nature of the county administrator’s job to “serve at the pleasure of the board and there are a lot of dynamics involved in satisfying any board.”
Voorhees said he didn’t think there was any question that he had served at the will of the board of supervisors for the last two and a half years and helped accomplish some good things on behalf of citizens.
“We strengthened services in several areas, all the while lowering the tax rate and refinancing some debt. We have gotten clean audits and built some new facilities. I think all in all, a fair evaluation is that the last two and a half years were very successful, and I appreciate the opportunity to have been a part of that,” he said.
With hindsight, Voorhees said he wouldn’t have done anything differently.
“I did my best to serve a board that had some disagreements on several different levels. That is always a challenging environment for any administrator. But I certainly tried to stay out of the fray and advise all board members equally on what the options were,” Voorhees said. “I think I was fair to staff and spent a lot of time trying to support the staff and staff development. I really don’t see anything I would change about that.”
Voorhees’ time with the previous board hit some bumps along the way. One of the public incidents where tensions rose took place in March 2019, when Voorhees presented a proposed balanced budget, but then a week later also helped then-fire and rescue chief Steven Singer present a fire and rescue proposal that would have needed an additional 3.5 cents on the tax rate to fund. Board reactions to that incident ranged from dismay and disbelief to outright anger that the proposal would be presented completely separate from the balanced budget.
At the same March 4 workshop where he made his initial budget presentation, Voorhees told the board he was one of three final candidates being considered for the position of city manger of the city of Charlottesville. Just about a year earlier, during a Feb. 26, 2018, meeting that saw Williams aggressively questioning a staff member, Voorhees sent an email threatening to resign.
Voorhees thanked the citizens and staff who reached out to him in the hours after the news broke to offer kind words. He said that Powhatan has a “great county staff who everyday works to try to be good stewards of county resources and provided excellent customer service. To the extent that I was able to continue to develop that staff – that is my most important accomplishment.”
He declined to give any details of how the meeting to ask for his resignation was handled other than to say “it was business-like and we agreed to part ways in accordance with the terms of my employment agreement, and I appreciate that.”
According to Voorhees’ employment agreement, he is entitled to six months of salary at his current rate, which should come out to $96,524 based on his current annual salary of $193,048. He is also entitled to six months of the employer's share of retirement payments paid on his behalf; nine months of health plan coverage, life insurance, and disability coverage, and the outstanding remainder of the annual vehicle allowance.
Reactions to the news
The hours that followed the announcement of Voorhees’ resignation on the Powhatan Today’s Facebook page saw a mix of public reactions in the comments. Some were outraged and dismayed over the board’s actions without giving Voorhees a chance to try to work with them. Others expressed satisfaction with the action and argued the board was justified based on previous incidents.
They were not the only ones speaking up. In a separate interview, former supervisor Bill Melton said that while it is certainly the board’s prerogative to ask for Voorhees’ resignation because he “serves at the pleasure of the board,” he did not agree with the manner in which they acted. He said the current board never gave the county administrator a chance to demonstrate whether he could work with them and accomplish their goals effectively.
“I just think it is wrong. Ted is an excellent county administrator who brought a ton of knowledge. He was very well respected by his peers from other localities surrounding us. He was very respected by his employees and his associates. He was very respected by the constitutional officers,” he said.
Melton said he was also extremely disappointed to see the board of supervisors repeating such an “unfair and unprofessional” cycle. Around the time a new board took office in 2012, three of the members – including Williams – pressured then-county administrator Carolyn Bishop to resign without the knowledge of Melton, who was newly elected, and then-supervisor Carson Tucker.
Also in a separate interview, former supervisor Angie Cabell said that Powhatan having “four county administrators in eight years is another black eye on this county.” Combined with the county’s pending lawsuit over the R-C zoning issue and the Department of Justice inquiry into a discrimination allegation by the former board, she said she believes the new board “is going to be hard pressed to find a qualified professional to fill his shoes.”
Voorhees was an exceptional county administrator and a consummate professional who “served this county, it’s citizens, staff and elected officials with integrity and wisdom,” Cabell said.
“I am dismayed, yet not surprised, that this group of supervisors chose to force a resignation without affording him the opportunity to prove his ability to adapt to new leadership,” she said.
The board of supervisors is likely to discuss its plans for searching for a new county administrator at its Jan. 27 meeting. The nationwide search that ended with Voorhees being hired took several months and occurred while former county administrator Pat Weiler was serving out her notice before she retired. That search cost the county $18,541, according to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the county. But the county had a full year of interim county administrators between Bishop’s resignation and Weiler being hired in 2013. That search cost the county $22,000.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.