Supervisors Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) and Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) said they are “disappointed” at what they say appears to be political motivations for County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall’s (D-At Large) planned rural summit Friday, Nov. 16.
During the Nov. 8 Board of Supervisors meeting, Higgins said neither he nor Buffington were told about the summit, and were invited to attend only after asking about it. Their districts include most of the county’s rural land.
“In the past two terms, my office in conjunction with the Blue Ridge office has sponsored three rural summits, and at each one of those summits we invited the chair or chairwoman to participate and speak at those rural summits,” Higgins said.
He said he was concerned he and Buffington were invited to attend, but not participate. And, he pointed out, the person emceeing the event, Tia Walbridge, has declared she will run against Buffington in the 2019 election.
“It does appear, unfortunately, to have become a political event, and I think it’s unfortunate, because we’re missing a real opportunity where we could have made progress on some of these issues in western Loudoun County,” Buffington said.
The summit is also being organized using Randall’s office budget, which Higgins said may be an ethics violation.
Randall, who was out of town during the board meeting, said Walbridge was the clear choice to lead the event.
“While I understand the concern, if you look at her résumé, it is obvious that she knows what she’s talking about when she talks about the rural west, so it really wasn’t a hard decision,” Randall said. Walbridge, a sheep farmer, is also a founding board member of Save Rural Loudoun, an associate director with Loudoun Soil and Water Conservation District, and serves on the Virginia Agricultural Council. Randall said she “wasn’t thinking about politics” when she chose Walbridge.
She also said her process setting up this summit was the same as her previous events, and pointed out that Higgins and Buffington have not held a rural summit in this term so far. She put the backlash down to emotion following this week’s election, in which state Sen. Jennifer T. Wexton (D-33) decisively defeated Republican incumbent Barbara Comstock in the 10th District Congressional race.
“Mrs. Comstock is not just their congresswoman, she’s their friend,” Randall said. “When you look at the numbers in Loudoun, they are stark, so I’m sure emotions are just very high right now.”
She said Loudoun has a “collegial” Board of Supervisors, she respects her colleagues, and “for me it’s very important to put this behind us.”
“It’s been a tough week, I get that, and emotions are high,” Randall said. “You have to put those emotions somewhere, and I am the chair of the board and I have broad shoulders, and I can handle their emotions for right now.”
The rural summit is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 16 at the Salamander Resort and Spa in Middleburg.