If there were any doubt that the lawyer for the City of Charles Town was correct in advising Mayor Scott Rogers to recuse himself from last week’s vote on state financing for the sewer line to serve Rockwool, the question was laid to rest when Rogers unleashed a Trump-esque Twitter tirade when the vote didn’t go his way.
Rogers, who came into office in mid-2017 after running unopposed, clearly isn’t working for the people of Charles Town or the interests of the city. Instead, the city’s lawyer explained, Rogers has become an advocate for Jefferson County Vision, the citizens group formed after the factory’s groundbreaking in June of last year.
Rogers did the right thing in recusing himself from the March 18 vote. He then did the wrong thing – attacking those whose reasoning led them to vote yes on the sewer financing.
The City Council members who voted to accept the state financing – Nick Zaglifa, Bob Trainor, Mike George, Ann Paonessa and Chet Hines – have every right to their point of view. They were, after all, elected by voters. And unlike Rogers, some of the City Council members he’s so quick to lash out at have been elected to multiple terms on the council and have won their seats over rivals. We know that no one cast this vote without careful, thoughtful deliberation. Over several months, the City Council pushed off making a decision about the sewer financing in order to better understand its own role and function, to ask the questions that needed asking and to be provided with the answers to be able to make the best decision.
So how is it that, say, Paonessa – a smart and painstaking leader finishing a third four-year term on the council and a resident of the Eastern Panhandle for decades, someone who’s been in the nitty-gritty of decision-making in Charles Town since long before Rogers ever began scheming to launch his political career here – shouldn’t have exercised her own judgment? Or what about Hines, another hard-working and thorough leader who is also serving his third term on the council? The truth is, all the council members have every right to vote as they feel they should.
Rogers’s petty tweetstorm about his colleagues appears to indicate that he has not fully considered his own uneven contribution to making this matter the unholy mess that it has become.
An early supporter of Rockwool and one of the Charles Town city leaders pushing for sewer consolidation, Rogers abruptly flipped to opposing the insulation factory and set about accusing Ranson officials of dishonesty, at one point even threatening to cancel the two cities’ annual Christmas parade.
Even after taking his position against Rockwool, Rogers pledged last summer to Ranson officials that he would see to it that Charles Town upheld its bond obligations. But then he distributed on city letterhead with his signature a missive penned by Jefferson County Vision principal Chris Kinnan that called for opposing the plant – taking it word for word, an email thread proves.
And even last week, Rogers hurled broadsides at both state Commerce officials and the Jefferson County Development Authority and questioned whether the city’s utility had any obligation at all to provide sewer service to Rockwool.
After the Council voted to approve the sewer bond, Rogers not only disparaged the votes of his colleagues, he also demanded that the city’s Building Commission vote to oppose the bonds, a move that would have contravened the decision of the city’s sole elected body.
Rogers’s late-night social media rants and his loud, angry outburst this month against the city’s legal counsel Hoy Shingleton at a public meeting have been unsettling.
His embrace of Jefferson County Vision and antagonism towards his colleagues and city staff have shown a blithe disregard for the role and obligations of government.
It should be remembered that it is a fluke that the vote on the sewer bond came before the Charles Town leaders at all. Had Charles Town and Ranson and the Jefferson County Commission not pushed hard for an immediate merger of the area’s three public water and sewer utilities, the bond would have been approved by Ranson city leaders —and been over and done months ago.
The facts are, Charles Town didn’t have a choice about approving that sewer bond. State law says a factory permitted for the service area gets sewer service – a jurisdiction can’t say no just because they wish the factory were somewhere else.
Saying no to the state’s financing offer would have resulted in current ratepayers having to pick up the tab for future capacity upgrades, erasing whatever gains might have been had from consolidation.
Surely, Rogers knows this.
To say as he did on the night the vote was taken that the city “…should vote this bond down, table it, get rid of it” strikes us as cravenly irresponsible.
We’re left looking forward to 2021, when the Rockwool factory will have been open for months and life as we know it will not have ended; when dozens of families have jobs right here that pay decently, provide good benefits and have a future; and when voters in Charles Town will have the opportunity to push the reset button on this city’s administration and elect a new mayor who wants to work for Charles Town and with the City Council.