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Time to step down in IW

There’s no doubt that Isle of Wight Supervisor Byron “Buzz” Bailey and School Board member Herb DeGroft violated the county’s policies governing computer use, nor that some of the emails they say they accidentally forwarded to county employees were offensive and could even have been considered sexually harassing because of their crude content.

Both men have acknowledged the inappropriate nature of the emails, which included denigrating racial comments about President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle. Both have apologized, and both are facing a concerted effort by groups within the county to have them removed from office.

Those efforts were dealt a blow this week with the filing in Isle of Wight Circuit Court of a motion to non-suit the case against Bailey. In a 14-page motion, Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips Ferguson and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Susan Walton wrote that none of the emails — nor a comment made by Bailey during a public meeting that many took to be racially offensive — constituted a violation of state law that would lead the court to remove them from office.

“At this time, after a thorough review of the facts of this case and the applicable law, this case simply does not meet the removal requirements under Virginia Code Section 24.2-233,” Ferguson and Walton wrote.

Unfortunately, Suffolk’s prosecutors — charged with representing the citizens calling for Bailey’s and DeGroft’s removal after Isle of Wight Commonwealth’s Attorney Wayne Farmer recused himself from the case — were right in their assessment of the evidence. State law allows elected officials to be removed from office for a variety of offenses, but offensiveness is not one of them. And Isle of Wight’s computer policies include no mechanism for enforcing them against elected officials. In fact, it’s questionable whether they can even apply to people who have been put in office by the voters.

In the case of appointed officials or county staff, direct supervisors have the responsibility for hiring and firing, and they would be bound by the county’s computer usage policies in making such decisions. But there is a higher standard for the employment of elected officials, whose direct supervisors are the voters. Short of violating state laws in the conduct of their duties, elected officials must be hired or fired by the voters.

None of this is to say that Bailey and DeGroft should get a pass for their scurrilous behavior, and it’s easy to see why Isle of Wight residents would want the two removed from office. According to the prosecutors’ report, various county officials and citizens “referred to Bailey’s conduct as being ‘unprofessional,’ ‘insensitive,’ ‘offensive,’ ‘inappropriate,’ ‘political,’ ‘egregious,’ ‘disenfranchising,’ and ‘hurtful.’” Those are clearly not the traits of a statesman.

The situation is easily remedied, however, and Ferguson, in his motion, made the solution clear:

“The position of supervisor belongs to the people of Isle of Wight County. At this point Mr. Bailey must decide whether he can continue to effectively represent the citizens of Isle of Wight County or whether the citizens would be better served by his stepping down. Should Mr. Bailey decide voluntarily to step down it would be a prudent and statesmanlike decision and show that he is acting in the best interests of the people of Isle of Wight County.”

That’s simple and direct advice. If they have the good of their county in mind, Bailey and DeGroft will both take it to heart.