On the heels of a scam that bilked Spotylvania County out of more than $600,000, a tit-for-tat between the Board of Supervisors and the School Board continues to fester.
Members of the two boards lobbed accusations at each other at their separate meetings this week, claiming political games were being played after news broke about the theft of a partial payment for a new synthetic turf football field and a pair of fraud cases involving other county funds.
Supervisor Tim McLaughlin, who criticized the School Board over the turf payment theft, urged the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to direct the county administrator to develop an “auditing program … to review all the accounts” that use taxpayer money. The board approved the motion unanimously.
School Board Chairman Baron Braswell said Wednesday that the school system’s finances are audited by an outside contractor every year and no problems have been found.
“We need to come up with some protection” to avoid similar thefts from happening again, he said.
The school system’s partial payment for the $1.2 million blue synthetic football turf at Courtland High School vanished after being sent electronically in July.
The new turf is the first of five such fields to be installed at the county’s high schools. The other turf fields cost $800,000 each. Money for the fields was approved by county voters in a bond 2014 referendum.
Courtland’s field will be the only one with the Boise State University-style blue turf, which required Boise State’s approval but did not increase the cost. Drainage issues drove up the Courtland field’s price, according to Braswell.
Numerous officials have said police asked them not to talk about the theft of the field payment to avoid hampering the investigation. Braswell said it bothers him that someone decided to release the information anyway.
State police called the field payment scam a “sophisticated phishing scheme that specifically targeted and victimized the school system.” The Virginia State Police is leading the investigation into the fraud, along with help from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Secret Service
The county also was hit by what appears to be unrelated incidents in which gift cards were fraudulently obtained, resulting in a loss of nearly $4,000, and a county employee’s paycheck was stolen.
The thefts have brought to light simmering tension between the School Board members and supervisors, with accusations being slung at meetings and in op-eds in The Free Lance–Star.
At Monday’s School Board meeting, board member Erin Grampp criticized McLaughlin, saying his opinion piece in last Thursday’s paper was full of “completely false information.”
“This is not about a blue turf field … or transparency,” she said.
Instead, Grampp said, it is about “politicians who think they know better than police and have put an investigation in jeopardy. This is about lack of integrity from Mr. McLaughlin and a board member on this board.”
“Conflating a theft with a legitimate public function of government—spending—is a slimy way to grandstand,” Grampp said.
On Tuesday, several supervisors spoke about comments made at the School Board meeting and the relationship between members on the two boards.
Supervisor Greg Benton said any criticism of the School Board results in “attacks” and “accusations.”
“I don’t appreciate that,” he added.
Fellow Supervisor David Ross also criticized the comments at the School Board meeting, saying the boards should try to “work together.”
McLaughlin called the comments a “complete, unprofessional display … a coordinated political attack against me and my family.”
Board Chairman Paul Trampe added his take, saying: “It’s disturbing to me that some individuals seem more upset that the theft became public than they are that the theft took place. We’re not about cover-ups.”
Braswell emphasized that the county “needs to come up with some protections,” but he was also unhappy about the supervisors’ approach.
“This is political for them. It is a concern about money and politics,” he said. “Their motive is to control us.”