Hanover County Supervisor Elton J. Wade Sr. dealt with two controversies on Wednesday night, retiring from his $41.25-an-hour traffic guard job, and fulfilling an eight-year-old commitment to appoint his former campaign manager to the School Board.
Hanover County is among few localities in Virginia in which county supervisors appoint school board members instead of holding a public election for the seats.
Wade has faced criticism for telling the Richmond Times-Dispatch in April that he planned to replace Robert L. Wood, who has been Wade’s appointee to the School Board for 20 years, with his former campaign manager, Norm Sulser.
Wade said he might have promised Sulser eight years ago that he would choose him to represent the Cold Harbor District on the School Board. While he says he can’t remember making that promise, Wade says he has come to believe it, based on what others have told him.
School Board Chairwoman Ann F. Hagan Gladstone was also replaced Wednesday. For the South Anna District School Board seat, Supervisor Wayne T. Hazzard selected Sue Dibble for the four-year appointment.
But Hazzard’s selection process was different than Wade’s.
Hazzard says he made his decision after a process that included an analysis of the candidates’ qualifications and their answers to a questionnaire.
Wade said last month that he had no intentions of interviewing one candidate, former Patrick Henry High School assistant principal Paul Cash, adding that Cash had no chance of being chosen — “not one iota.”
Sulser was appointed to the School Board with six votes from the seven-member Board of Supervisors. Supervisor Angela Kelly-Wiecek of the Chickahominy District abstained, adding that the situation had left supervisors with a peculiar dilemma.
“Sadly, in this situation, the issue of qualifications has been lost in the broader community’s discussion. And I fear, as a result, many citizens are questioning the viability of the appointed school board process as well as other decisions,” Kelly-Wiecek said.
“The dilemma I see in our decision here tonight is that voting yes might signal a lack of concern, or worse, complicit compliance over using appointments as political payback. However, voting no would call into question Mr. Sulser’s qualifications and his good name and reputation in this community.”
Wade said there were no “under the table” deals at play, adding that he’s been trying to be honest and up front about the situation all along.
Wade publicly thanked his longtime School Board appointee, Wood, for his contributions to the county, adding that he had “done a fine job.”
However, Wade said he believes Sulser is the best person for the job, adding that Sulser was his first choice 20 years ago. Sulser was serving on the School Board in the Cold Harbor District, prior to Wade being elected to the Board of Supervisors. Wade said he wanted to reappoint Sulser, but was not allowed because redistricting knocked Sulser out of the Cold Harbor District. Instead, he picked Wood.
The new School Board members will begin their positions next month. School Board members are selected for four-year terms on a rotational system.
Wade on Wednesday also addressed his $41.25-an-hour pay as a crossing guard for two Hanover County schools, which has raised eyebrows in recent weeks.
At some point, Wade said, he was given eight hours of pay for four hours of work at the schools, but when the contracts merged into one that now reflects four hours of pay at $41.25 an hour. He announced his retirement from the traffic guard positions effective at the end of this week.
Wade said he wasn’t “maneuvering the School Board” to pay him two salaries, adding that he thought he had a similar arrangement to that of other employees.
During a public comment period, a Cold Harbor District resident and former Mechanicsville Tea Party president Gerry Baugh called Wade “an honest man.”
“He may not be the smartest guy in the world when it comes to words, and choice of words and statements. But that’s OK. I believe that’s a tribute to his honesty.”