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Republican Del. Mark Cole, a leading conservative voice in the Virginia House of Delegates, has been hired as Spotsylvania County's deputy county administrator.
The county Board of Supervisors unanimously approved his appointment Tuesday night after interviewing finalists Monday.
Three supervisors--Ann Heidig, Timothy McLaughlin and Paul Trampe--disclosed that they had received campaign contributions from Cole. All were elected last year on conservative platforms.
Cole, 54, will start the job Jan. 2, seven days before the start of the General Assembly session. He will make $125,000 annually, about $25,000 less than the previous deputy county administrator. He plans to continue to serve as a delegate, but said he told supervisors he would keep politics separate from his full-time job. "It's totally separate from my day-to-day job and they understood that, and I believe they wanted it that way, too," he said.
Cole said he doesn't think the General Assembly session will interfere with his job, saying he can work nights and weekends and telecommute--which he often did in his previous job. "You don't necessarily have to be in the office [in Spotsylvania] to get work done anymore," he said.
Cole served as a Spotsylvania supervisor from 2000 until 2002 with current Supervisors Benjamin Pitts and Emmitt Marshall. "We didn't always agree on issues, but we all got along pretty well," Cole said.
He was elected to represent Spotsylvania in the General Assembly in 2002 on a "no taxes" campaign. He has also made efforts to eliminate or scale back the Business, Professional and Occupational License tax.
Those fiscally conservative views appealed to like-minded supervisors. "He's one that I would trust to watch out for the taxpayer," said Trampe, who said he has donated to Cole's campaigns.
Heidig called him a "good fiscal conservative" and cited his state and local government experience.
Cole is also conservative on social issues. This year he sponsored a controversial bill that would have barred the use of state money for poor women to abort fetuses that could be born severely or fatally disabled. It failed.
Opal Stroup, vice chairwoman of the Spotsylvania Democratic Committee, said she didn't agree with the selection of Cole. "If you look at some of the legislation he's proposed, he has a very ideologically conservative agenda," she said. "I think the [deputy] county administrator should be at least somewhat independent of that."
She added: "They have a job to do--to help run the county. Not to help enforce an agenda."
Cole noted that it's not unprecedented for a state legislator to work in local government. Former Democratic state Sen. Edd Houck, for instance, was an administrator for Fredericksburg city schools.
Cole said the timing of the job opening was perfect. He was laid off as a project manager for Northrop Grumman in September after 27 years with the federal contractor. Cole currently works for another government contractor.
He said he doesn't think his past donations to county supervisors--which he said he made strictly because he supported them--will be an issue. "Something like this was not even a glimmer in anybody's mind" when he made the donations, he said. "There's no way for them to know back then that this was going to happen."
The political action committee Cole for Delegate donated $200 to Heidig's campaign in 2011 and $300 to McLaughlin's bid for local office, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Though Trampe said he received money from Cole for his 2011 campaign, the project did not have an online record of that donation, possibly because it was less than $100.
The county received 104 applications for the opening to replace Ernie Pennington, who retired as deputy county administrator at the end of October.
In the past, County Administrator Doug Barnes--who has worked for the county for 35 years--would have chosen his deputy. But supervisors in October voted to expand their hiring authority and appoint the deputy county administrator, the deputy county attorney and all department heads. Pitts and Gary Skinner voted against the new hiring powers. Pitts called it micromanagement.
Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402