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In defense of party hacks; where have all the signoras gone?
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By Paul Akers
WITH lordly disdain for legitimate citizen inquiry, Stafford County Supervisor Cord Sterling recently tried to stick a Freedom of Information Act filer with a $1,240 bill based on the salary of Sterling's well-paid day job. I gather it is one in which he calls the officers of Fortune 500 companies "Sam" and "Bob."
The haughty supervisor--I picture him with a "von" in his name, squinting through a monocle--explained that he would have to hire a lawyer or take a vacation day to comb his personal email account for the requested information. The solicitous Sterling also noted that county staff had "better things to do" than track down official messages sought under the auspices of the Virginia code.
I should not have been surprised by such casual arrogance, hardly offset by Sterling's plan to turn over the FOIA fee to county schools. In my native West Virginia, after all, one-party rule produced frequent excesses. Just as no Democrats serve on the seven-member Stafford Board of Supervisors, no Republicans mottled most of the Mountain State's public bodies of my greener days. This absence of bipartisan vigilance helps explain why elective office in West Virginia was often a stopover en route to the Big House.
Partisan monopoly was just one of the subjects I inadvertently studied as a reporter in Lincoln County, where at a county weekly I learned more about government in two years than elsewhere in 10. The handful of county Republicans, good-natured about their impotence, jokingly claimed affiliation with the unspecified "Other Party."
Every elected county position was held by a Democrat--ironic in a county named for Honest Abe--but official arrogance, much less corruption, rarely surfaced. This was partly because the Democrats had factionalized--one set supported Jay Rockefeller, the other some now-forgotten rival--creating a de-facto two-party system with mutually wary watchdogs.
The politicos of Hamlin, the county seat, were exceedingly nice, a quality that influences reporters who would angrily spurn an outright bribe. George Johnson, the chairman of the county commission, gave me my first taste of authentic moonshine in a Washington hotel room. The occasion for this deflowering was a trip by several county nabobs to see the state's two senators and a congressman. It was a memorable three days, despite the moonshine.