Cathy Dyson writes about King George County.
Grzeika’s ‘unilateral decisions’ irk board
Dennis Askin couldn’t understand why the King George Board of Supervisors would deny residents the chance to get rebates for devices that were environmentally friendly and saved energy.
He started looking into the matter, making phone calls and reading meeting minutes. He discovered it wasn’t the decision of the entire board, but of one supervisor, Joe Grzeika.
Grzeika is the county’s representative on a regional agency that was handling an energy-saving program, and he decided King George would not participate. He said the King George Board of Supervisors objected to stimulus funding—even though the board has accepted millions in stimulus money for other purposes.
“I was mad,” said Askin, who spent 24 years in the Navy in Explosive Ordnance Disposal. “Bottom line, it was money that was supposed to go to our county.”
Grzeika’s action affected Askin and other higher-income residents eligible for rebates, as well as low-income homeowners who could have gotten energy improvements at no cost.
Other residents and board members say this isn’t the only time Grzeika has made what fellow King George Supervisor Ruby Brabo calls “unilateral decisions.” They say Grzeika, who has been on the King George board since 1995, has taken similar action without first consulting board members on matters as big as preserving the Navy base at Dahlgren.
Grzeika did not reply to four email and phone requests for comment from The Free Lance–Star.
Fellow supervisor John LoBuglio said Grzeika lives by a “double-standard” in how he acts as a supervisor compared to how he believes others should perform. LoBuglio said he’s heard complaints about him from residents across the county.
“They feel like he’s just trying to live the same role he always had before, in running everything the way he wants,” LoBuglio said. “And it’s sort of so contradictory to what he himself is always saying—that individual members don’t have the power themselves, that it’s only the full board together that has the power to make decisions.”
Chairman Cedell Brooks Jr. also said he’d heard about issues “through the rumor mill.” He said he didn’t want to point fingers without knowing all the details.
“But if he made a decision on behalf of the Board of Supervisors and did not tell us about it, that was wrong,” Brooks said.
Supervisor Dale Sisson Jr. could not be reached for comment.
GRZEIKA DELAYED STUDY
At a town-hall meeting Brabo held in June, Bob Fuscaldo, a former supervisor and Dahlgren base commander, spoke about the need for a Joint Land Use Study. The study looks at the interaction between a military base and the community around it.
The Department of Defense has to make serious cuts in coming years and may look at shutting down more bases, he said.
The 2005 Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC process, “was real, real close in terms of closing down Dahlgren,” Fuscaldo said in June. Efforts by key individuals kept it open, as well as studies by the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Its research showed the military installations at Dahlgren, Quantico and Fort A.P. Hill provide jobs for more than one-third of the people in the Fredericksburg region.
The Navy set aside money in November 2011 to do the land-use studies at Dahlgren and Indian Head, Md., said Dahlgren spokesman Gary Wagner. Then, Navy officials asked county representatives, who work with them on the Civilian–Military Community Relations Council, when the studies might begin.
Grzeika was appointed by the supervisors to be King George’s representative. He’s also spent his career at the base, including nine years as an electronic warfare specialist for the Navy, then 22 years working for defense contractors or as a consultant.
Grzeika told the COMREL board the timing for a land-use study wasn’t good because the county was updating its Comprehensive Plan. He said he’d prefer to delay it for two years, Wagner said.
The Charles County, Md., representative said the same thing about the Indian Head study, Wagner said.
Grzeika’s decision bothered Fuscaldo, who has been through four base-closing procedures as a Navy officer and civilian. He believes the county should have done the study as soon as funding was allocated.
“They don’t send money out because they feel good about things. They send that money out because they’re gathering information about encroachment issues,” Fuscaldo said.
Brabo, who joined the King George board in January, also was concerned that she didn’t get to weigh in on the decision. The Navy base is in her district.
‘WAITING ON THE COUNTY’
Grzeika told fellow King George board members in December 2011 that the COMREL council wanted separate studies of Dahlgren and Indian Head, not one combined study as initially suggested. But he never mentioned that he had delayed the study, according to prepared notes he reads at each supervisors’ meeting about his activities.
Brabo said she heard from base officials that the study was delayed in March while touring the base. She asked the reason, and Wagner told her, “We’re just waiting on the county.”
Before and after the June town-hall session, Brabo has asked at supervisors’ meetings for a policy stating that no supervisors be allowed to make decisions that affect the county without bringing the matter before the whole board.
Two months after Brabo and Fuscaldo discussed the land-use study, Grzeika brought it up before fellow supervisors.
On Aug. 21, he said he thought it would be a good idea for a Department of Defense representative to present a report about the land-use study this fall. That way, he said, money for the study would be included in the federal government’s budget next year.
ENERGY GRANT DECLINED
Grzeika serves or has served on more than 10 different groups and commissions throughout the region. He’s on the board of visitors with the University of Mary Washington, as well as a director of groups as diverse as the Rappahannock United Way and the Fredericksburg Regional Alliance.
Grzeika was involved with the energy grant as King George’s representative on the George Washington Regional Commission, a group that administers regional projects in Fredericksburg and the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford.
Two years ago, the GWRC got a $1 million grant to develop a regional home energy-efficiency and conservation program called Home Energy Loss Prevention Program.
When the commission voted to accept the money, Grzeika told fellow GWRC members that King George wouldn’t be part of it.
He said, “The King George County Board of Supervisors has acted to decline participation in the regional program, citing the Board’s objection to accepting federal ‘stimulus’ funding,’” according to GWRC minutes from Feb. 22, 2010.
Supervisors got a briefing from GWRC officials about the program in January 2009 and again in September of that year. But Grzeika never mentioned it again, and King George board members didn’t discuss opting out of the program, according to the County Administrator’s office. An assistant researched meeting minutes and packets of information board members receive—and found no discussion after September 2009.
OTHER STIMULUS FUNDS
Askin passed along various emails he received about the energy grant. He had asked King George Journal reporter Phyllis Cook about it, and on Aug. 23, she sent Askin an email that Grzeika had sent her.
In it, Grzeika said he believed the grant program should have been run by a private organization, not a government agency. He also said the grants were being offered at a time when stimulus funds were going to other agencies.
Several times in recent years, Grzeika and fellow Supervisor Sisson expressed concerns that the King George School Board would come to rely on stimulus money—which the county would have to make up when the funding ran out.
“Stimulus funds were more on our mind as something that we would have to supplant after they had been put in place and folks started using them and becoming dependent on them,” Grzeika wrote in his email to Cook.
Askin doesn’t agree.
“You gotta be kidding me,” he said. “This is one-time money. When it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Kevin Byrnes, director of regional planning for the GWRC, said he didn’t second-guess Grzeika’s statement about the county’s position. But he said he was surprised by it.
“I was not aware of any previous official action of the King George Board of Supervisors to decline the county’s participation in the project prior to the grant application and subsequent award,” Byrnes wrote in an email.
Also, King George received stimulus funds for other purposes. In 2011–12 alone, county schools got more than $3 million in stimulus money.
In March 2009, the county applied for $1.4 million in stimulus funding for a water tank project at Fairview Beach.
Askin, who lives across the street from Supervisor Brabo, said he would have felt better about the lack of a rebate if the decision had been made by more than one person.
“I’m really wondering,” Askin said, “would they have turned it down if they all had talked about it?”