Editorial – County’s Old Computers Need to be Replaced

Well, it happened again last night.

The heating and air conditioning system isn’t the only thing that doesn’t work in Clarke County’s new Joint Government Center. Computers and networks used to display critical information at public meetings regularly malfunction and often cause County staff to go to “Plan B”.

Definition:   Plan “B” – a frustrating and generally futile attempt to describe the information contained on charts, graphs and presentations that often take hours of work to put together but can’t be displayed because the target computer system fails to operate efficiently or reliably.

At two recent JGC building committee meetings, attempts to display images being considered for use in the building’s lobby caused the meeting room’s computer to languish for nearly twenty minutes while staff members dabbled with buttons and attempted, in vain, to get someone – anyone really – into the room who could fix the problem. Meeting attendees eventually resorted to neighborly small talk to kill time before finally  drifting off to other appointments after it became clear that the desired digital images were not planning on surfacing anytime soon.

The frustrating thing is that the JGC’s computer problems aren’t rooted in poor software or lack of technical skill by the people using the systems.

The JGC computers are just old – really old.

Old in the sense that the computers were purchased when average file sizes – and available computer memory – were much smaller and Internet connectivity was more complex. Old in the sense that their web browsers have difficulty accessing County networks.  Old in the sense that presenters with experience at the JGC bring their own personal computers rather than trust their fate to the JGC computers.

The good news is that today’s modern computers are not only more reliable and more powerful, they’re also much cheaper. The two ancient JGC systems could be replaced with newer basic, but more powerful and reliable computer systems, for probably less than a thousand dollars.

At Monday night’s School Board meeting, computer problems generated a distracting sideshow as school staff members attempted to coax the ailing system into working. At least fifteen school and county staff members, five School Board members and many citizens were ultimately unable to obtain the information that they came to hear because the computers could never be made to work.

“As a general comment, this is not the first time that we’ve had technology problems here” School Board member Robina Bouffault said as three staff members tried in vain to access the School Board’s online document system. “We have digital Board Docs now and we are legally obligated to have a copy of our documents available to the public. Normally when we have Board Docs up on the screen it is available to the public while were going through the meeting. But when this is not working properly there are no copies available to the public.”

At around seventeen minutes into the meeting, when all of the fiddling, fussing and probably a few colorful, but unspoken, phrases failed to prod the old systems into action, Clarke County Public Schools’ ever resourceful testing coordinator Ed Shewbridge was left with no other recourse other than going to Plan B; Instead of displaying his many pages of complex charts and graphs covering SAT & SOL scores, school accreditation statistics, annual measurable objectives and other text, Shewbridge simply read each presentation page to the School Board line-by-line.

The only reason that Plan B could even be attempted is because the School Board already had a strong working knowledge of the often confusing acronyms and jargon associated with the No Child Left Behind law. Even so, listening to line after line of statistical comparisons probably wasn’t the best use of anyone’s time.

One can only imagine what the experience must have been for the twenty-plus citizens sitting in the audience.

Budgets are tight right now and we all understand that our officials are doing everything that they can to keep the County budget under control. But spending a little money on a couple of new computers wouldn’t be a bad investment in our local democracy.

Afterall, a picture – or should we say a PowerPoint presentation – is worth a thousand words and probably much more than a thousand dollars.

Letter to the Editor – May Endorses Minchew

Joe T. May

Clarke Daily News - Opinion & Editorial

Delegate, 33rd District

Virginia House of Delegates

Loudoun, Clarke, and Frederick Counties


August 17, 2011

RE: My Endorsement of Randy Minchew, Conservative Republican Candidate for the new 10th District

Dear Friends,

I am writing to you as your former delegate to the Virginia House of Delegates. As you probably know, our old 33rd District was changed by the redistricting done this past Spring and a new 10th District was created out of the precincts that were formerly in my district. While I will miss the honor of representing you in Richmond, I am writing to let you know that I strongly endorse Randy Minchew to be your new delegate from the new 10th District. Randy has the integrity, experience, and conservative credentials to serve you well in Richmond and I could think of no finer gentlemen to have represent you and work with me in the House of Delegates in fighting to keep our taxes low and in working on important legislative matters to protect our families and encourage job creation and business growth.

Next Tuesday, August 23rd, is your day to vote in the election that will decide the Republican candidate in the new 10th Virginia House of Delegates district. Please remember to vote that day and join Bobbie and me in supporting Randy Minchew for election as the Republican candidate who can best ensure that we hold the new 10th District seat in Republican control. I have known Randy very well since he worked on my first campaign in 1993 and he is one of the most outstanding Republicans I have ever known. I strongly support him in this contest, and hope you will vote for him with confidence and enthusiasm.

Randy has served as Deputy Counselor and Advisor to Governor Bob McDonnell. He has worked with the Governor and Congressman Frank Wolf to fund our regional road network – without higher taxes. He has been an outstanding leader in regional economic development having chaired the Loudoun County Economic Development Commission and the Rural Economic Development Task Force. Randy has also served as Scoutmaster of the Boy Scout Troop in Leesburg and volunteers much of his time toward mentoring young men as a regional leader of the Boy Scouts of America. I also see Randy regularly at church where he serves as a lay minister and discipleship leader.

At a time when so many Americans are skeptical of politicians and their promises, I can tell you that Randy Minchew is worthy of your trust. He is a man of his word and possesses great personal integrity and honor. I am confident Randy will work for you, with me, and with our House of Delegates Republican caucus for the betterment of Virginia.

Randy is a rock solid conservative – and has been for decades. He’s not new to the conservative cause. He didn’t just discover the Second Amendment. He has never wavered from his pro‐life, pro‐family convictions, and his strong support for traditional marriage. As a distinguished attorney and one of Governor McDonnell’s senor advisors and attorneys, Randy has successfully fought for public policies that protect our Constitutional liberties, the rights of the unborn, and advance the quality of life of our citizens. I know he will continue to do so as your next Delegate.

Randy Minchew has done more than talk about reforming government. He has worked closely with Governor McDonnell on state policies that cut government spending and lower our taxes. Randy believes that Virginia’s families should keep more of their hard earned income, and we agree!

It was my great honor to represent you in Richmond and I want you to have a delegate who shares my vision for our region and who will work with me and other conservative Republicans on your behalf. I earnestly believe that delegate should be Randy Minchew and I endorse him without reservation.

Please mark your calendar to vote for Randy Minchew on August 23rd. Call your friends and neighbors today and ask them to do the same. Polling locations will be open from 6 AM to 7 PM, and voting will take just a few minutes of your time.

Very truly yours,

Joe T. May

Paid for and authorized by Minchew for Delegate.

Editorial: CDN and “Comments”

After our first year of providing news about Clarke County one thing has become very clear; Clarke Daily News readers have a lot to say. CDN’s “comment” feature, a social media tool that allows readers to attach their opinions to any story, has generated significant interest.

Our primary goal in allowing readers to comment on our stories is to create dialogue around issues that are important to our community. Every comment posted to the CDN website is “moderated.” Comment moderation means that a CDN staff member reads each comment and makes a decision to post the comment as submitted, edit the comment to remove objectionable material or reject the comment.

As a rule, very few comments submitted to CDN are rejected. We have been particularly pleased by the many cases where comments lift the discussion topics to new levels (teen drinking, the CCHS greenhouse, and the recent Shenandoah River Lane house fire come to mind as examples.) CDN’s comments prove again and again that Clarke County’s best news analysis comes from its citizens.

CDN has also generated a lot of controversy with its policy, both “for” and “against” allowing comments that don’t always conform to the majority’s viewpoint. That’s why we also make every attempt to [REDACT] foul language so that comments from “colorful” authors can still be read by the general public. We also are committed to defending the anonymity of our readers under all circumstances. For a variety of reasons, many people simply don’t want the things they say online to be connected with their offline identities. Instead of using their true names to communicate, some people choose to speak under assumed names.

CDN believes that anonymous communications have an important place in our political and social discourse. The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that the right to anonymous free speech is protected by the First Amendment. A much-cited 1995 Supreme Court ruling in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission reads:

Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical, minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.

We also recognize that not everyone has an interest in defending, or even reading, the free speech of other citizens who attach their thoughts to CDN stories. If you are such a reader who finds CDN’s reader comments unappealing, we have implemented a solution that may help.

CDN comments at the end of each story are now “hidden” by default. Readers who wish to view comments may now simply click the button at the end of each story:

CDN readers now have the option of not seeing comments attached to stories

The Clarke Daily News staff expresses it sincere thanks to the people of Clarke County for the outpouring of support for our community that has been voiced through our online news “experiment.” It’s safe to say that we had no idea what we were getting into when we first began publishing CDN. But the experience has been nothing short of “awesome.”   No one knows what the coming year may hold but we look forward to sharing it with you.

Editorial: Looking Back on the News of 2010 in Clarke County

As we all take a few moments to reflect on the past year and look forward to what 2011 will bring, we at the Clarke Daily News would like to take this opportunity to look back on the past year in local news.

Our effort to return local news to Clarke County launched a little over one year ago. Our first official post was put online on December 17, 2009. Since that time our site has had 219,800 visits with 731,104 page views. In one year’s time our writers and contributors have written and posted 1,290 articles.

When looking back over the news of 2010, events like “Snowmagedden” and the construction of the new high school certainly led the way, but we thought we would adopt a slightly different measure for the news in review for Clarke County and provide the top ten most commented articles of 2010.

One of the features our site provides is the ability for the community to discuss the news in an open forum. The comments on articles provide a voice for people to say things they think but may be reticent to discuss openly in a small town. This has proven volatile at times. While we make every effort to moderate in a way that allows for productive discussion, inevitably some comments will ruffle some feathers. However, discussions in any forum will always have people voicing and defending positions that will not be shared by everyone. It is the nature of any conversation and we believe conversation is a good thing. While some readers have been very outspoken about our policy, we believe it provides a valuable feedback mechanism for the residents of our community. The goal is to allow discussion where none was possible before. Based on the data from our site, our readers agree. The 1290 articles on our site have generated a staggering 4,313 comments.

So as we reflect on the year in news, the measuring stick for significance in this top ten list is the number of comments articles generated. Here’s our retrospective list:

  1. Manslaughter Charges Filed in Connection to Death of Aaron Shirley – 268 comments
    The tragic death of Clarke County High School student Aaron Shirley shook the community to the foundation. The accident involved underage drinking and caused the entire community to face the problem.
  2. Amir Banks Named in Connection with Aaron Shirley Death – 149 comments
    Once the driver in the accident that claimed Aaron Shirley’s life was identified the community was forced to wrestle with issues of forgiveness and punishment.
  3. School Board Told that Teacher Salaries & Computers Need Funding Boost –   118 comments
    In times of tight budgets and limited funds the Clarke County Education Association representative made an appeal for specific funding considerations and the community responded to the issue.
  4. Letter to the Editor: Clarke County Band Association Fund Raiser Denied – 117 comments
    The only “Letter to the Editor” to make the list was an appeal for fairness in fundraising procedures at the high school and it garnered a significant response.
  5. Remodeling Project Underway at the Former Lighthouse Restaurant – 110 comments
    The beleaguered property that was the Lighthouse Restaurant has undergone some significant changes over the past year and readers had a wide array of opinions on the changes.
  6. Clarke Community Seeks Answers on Underage Drinking – 97 comments
    Brought into the public consciousness by the death of Aaron Shirley, underage drinking became a lightning rod for conversation.
  7. School News Round-Up – No Guitar Heroes At CCPS – 96 comments
    A dust up over the scheduling of Band Camp lead to discussion of teachers salaries.
  8. Survey Finds Young Farmers Optimistic But Concerned Over Activists – 95 comments
    This was the earliest post in the list and veered from farming into animal cruelty and the agricultural community in Clarke responded.
  9. Sex Ed Coming to Clarke Schools 90 comments
    As Family Life Education makes a planned return to the curriculum in Clarke, residents voiced opinions on education and morality.
  10. Ashburn Man Arrested in Metro Terror Plot – 66 comments
    An incident with local connections to terrorism launched a long back and forth discussion about racial profiling and safety issues.

There were many more comments and many more issues that are near and dear to Clarke County and we hope to continue bringing the news to you in 2011. We would also like to extend a heartfelt thank you to all of our readers and contributors and extend our wishes for a happy and prosperous new year to you all.

Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor:

I am writing this letter to express my sincere thanks to the numerous people who helped make our 4th annual Conservation Day – “Watersheds:   Discovering our Connections” a huge success.   We spent an entire school day OUTDOORS building upon students’ prior knowledge of watersheds and conservation education, fostering their new knowledge of important natural resources in Virginia and what they could do to become better stewards of protecting those natural resources.   A second opportunity gained by this experience was that all 4th graders from Powhatan, Cooley, and Boyce were able to share in a day of learning.

Conservation Day 2010 was spent outdoors as CCPS students learned about watersheds - Photo Amy Larrick

Powhatan School provided an opportune setting of natural resources: a stream, vast open space, and natural shade.   I appreciate Mr. Lathrop’s willingness to allow us to use his facility for this event, and the hospitality of Mrs. Megeath and Mr. Ray Legge who assisted in the coordination of this event at Powhatan.

Gem Bingol, of the Piedmont Environmental Council, was the overall organizer of this event and I am extremely hopeful that we can continue to provide this experience to students.   Conservation Day – “Watersheds:   Discovering our Connections” would not have been possible without the collective efforts of the multiple participants who provided activities and/or literature for the students.   Their dedication to planning and delivering a meaningful lesson was phenomenal, not to mention the fact they took time out of their day to help educate our students.   The list of participants include:   Piedmont Environmental Council, Blue Ridge Wildlife Center, Carter Burton Architecture, Blandy Experimental Farm, Berryville Water Plant Facility, Shenandoah Audubon, Patsy Gochenour, Mountain Trails, Amy Smith from Shenandoah University, and Maureen Adamski, Amber Frazier and Lee Coffelt who volunteered to present on behalf of the Native Plant Society.   This year we concluded the event with a presentation from the Virginia Wildlife Center.   Students were introduced to an opossum, corn snake, and owl and educated about the dangers of littering.

Amy Larrick

Clarke County Public Schools

Amy Larrick is assistant principal at Boyce Elementary School in Boyce, Virginia

Editorial – Veterans Remember and Remembered

William Peter Deahl served Virginia during the Civil War as a private in Capt Pichegru Woolfolk, Jr.’s light artillery company. A quick internet search reveals little about Deahl personally. His name is listed in Woolfolk’s company muster record as “W. P. Deeles” (correct spelling not being the priority then as it is today). However, search a bit more and Woolfolk’s artillery company shows up in many of the Civil War’s pivotal battles. Woolfolk’s troops saw action in the Penninsular Campaign under Brig. General W. N. Pendleton, at Lookout Mountain in Tennessee and at Antietam.

Grave marker for CSA Private William Peter Deahl, Virginia Light Artillery (Berryville, Virginia) - Photo Edward Leonard

Grave marker for CSA Private William Peter Deahl, Virginia Light Artillery (Berryville, Virginia) - Photo Edward Leonard

If Private Deahl, who is buried in Green Hill cemetery, was a resident of Berryville when he enlisted, it becomes easy to imagine that he may have fought on the bloodiest day of the Civil War waged just a few miles up the road from where he rests in peace today. The battle came to be known as Antietam to some, Sharpsburg to others. The fighting commenced on September 17, 1862 and ended with 23,000 American casualties.

If William Peter Deahl did fight at Antietam, he was one of the fortunate to have survived. His grave stone, flanked by American and Confederate flags,  reveals that Deahl lived until February 9, 1925.

Just a block south of where Private Deahl rests, another veteran is placing American flags along the sidewalk in front of his home. Edward O’Neal says that his house is around ninety years old, the former residence of Judge Norman “Dev” Morrison. O’Neal and Morrison grew up together in Clarke County before O’Neal joined the U.S. Army and went off to war.

O’Neal’s war was fought a hundred years after Deahl’s in a far away land called Viet Nam. O’Neal was a member of a reconnaissance unit stationed at An Khe in the central highlands of Viet Nam. O’Neal said that his unit operated mainly at night throughout the Cha Rang Valley northwest of Qui Nhon. The “recon” unit also ranged into neighboring Cambodia, “unofficially” of course.

Viet Nam veteran Edward O'Neil places American flags in front of his Berryville, Virginia home each Memorial Day, Labor Day and 4th of July - Photo Edward Leonard

Viet Nam veteran Edward O'Neil places American flags in front of his Berryville, Virginia home each Memorial Day, Labor Day and 4th of July - Photo Edward Leonard

Recon teams assembled during the Viet Nam war required men with steel nerves and brave hearts. The men in Recon were known as “problem solvers”, troops that went off into Viet Nam’s tropical jungles and didn’t come back to base until the mission was completed. Death was seldom a stranger on Recon missions. Dangerous operations conducted in isolated terrain meant that help just didn’t exist if problems were encountered.

Thankfully, both William Peter Deahl and Edward O’Neal did return home to Clarke County alive. O’Neal says that he places American flags in front of his house every 4th of July, Labor Day, and of course, Memorial Day. Whether Private Deahl ever made the trip north to Sharpsburg in 1862 we may never know. If he did, chances are that he and O’Neal may have shared many of the same feelings and emotions associated with risking your life in a foreign country. Surely we can imagine, but never fully know, the  relief and comfort both men must have felt upon their safe return home to Clarke County.

Flags line the sidewalk of O'Neil residence on North Buckmarsh Street - Photo Edward Leonard

Flags line the sidewalk of O'Neil residence on North Buckmarsh Street - Photo Edward Leonard

War always involves our most precious possession, the blood of our sons and daughters. Whether in the cornfields of Antietam, the jungles of Qui Nhon or the mountains of Afghanistan, Memorial Day is America’s time to raise our flag in honor of our fallen soldiers and pause to remember the awful cost of war. To those who serve today and to those who have served in the past, we offer our profound thanks and gratitude.

Editorial – Names in the News

Is there a difference between news and gossip? When does the public interest trump personal privacy? Distinguishing news from gossip is often in the eye of the beholder. Yet, no matter what your personal view of what ought to be left to private conversation, several recent “stories” have presented opportunities for all of us to re-access our opinions.

Clarke Daily News - Opinion & Editorial

Clarke Daily News - Opinion & Editorial

A couple of weeks ago the Clarke Daily News ran a story describing an intoxicated parent that was arrested after attempting to pick-up a student at Berryville Elementary School. We included the parent’s name in our story after the name was released by the Berryville police department. While a few of our readers expressed discomfort with the story (one even referred to the story as “gossip”), most readers applauded the school employees for “doing the right thing” and defended the public interest in hearing the name of the parent. Pleasant news? No, but news none the less.

Another story that everyone seems to know about but hasn’t appeared in print involves several students involved in a school club who were recently disciplined for alcohol use during a school sanctioned event. The disciplinary measures and the student identities are an open secret. Fortunately the infraction didn’t result in physical harm to any of the students. We’re glad that the incident did not become news but teen drinking is a community problem not just a school problem. As with the intoxicated parent at Berryville Elementary, community opinion is sending the message that alcohol and our students don’t mix.

This past week another local news source published a story about Clarke County High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance club. Clarke students, the news source reported, formed the club about a year ago, one of 103 similar student clubs across Virginia. The fact that the story published the full names of gay and bi-sexual students over protests from school officials may be news but the sexual orientation of minors living in Clarke County is not. In fact, the story simply raised the profile on an issue that the student body already is handling independently. Is this story news? Perhaps, but including the names of the students involved goes too far for such a controversial topic.

The Clarke Daily News has been delivering news and information to our community for just six months now. But during that time we have not found any shortage of news (or opinions) about the lives and times of Clarke County, Virginia. In fact, during most weeks there is more news than we can cover. News editors have an obligation and responsibility to report the news responsibly and sensibly. Our goal in creating the Clarke Daily News was to bring you news in ways that, we hope, will make our community stronger and less divided. We will attempt to moderate our reporting in a way that is consistent with Clarke County’s social values. We will likely never agree all of the time, however, your continued comments and participation are key to our collective success.

Editorial: Let’s Do What’s Right for Our Kids

Ask just about anyone in Clarke County how they feel about the 10-year odyssey that we all refer to as “the new school” and you’ll get fairly consistent replies that include “embarrassment”, “outrageous”, “incompetence” and “shameful”. It’s awfully hard to argue that these labels aren’t well deserved. After all, who continues to be hurt by delays other than a group of exceptionally bright and talented students who just happen to be our children?

Clarke Daily News - Opinion & Editorial

Clarke Daily News - Opinion & Editorial

No, the people of Clarke County have got it right. The school deliberation process has gone on far too long and for all of the wrong reasons. Most of us still remember the seemingly endless wrangling over selection of the current building site. (By the way, the School Board which presided over that fiasco was unceremoniously booted out of office.) The wisdom of placing Mosby Boulevard through the middle of a school campus still has most people wondering “Who’s idea was that?” And now it seems that both the County and the Town are nickel-and-diming the construction budget in hopes of making up for declining tax revenues.

This kind of behavior is hurting our kid’s chance for a better future and it just has to stop.

In just the last week we’ve seen Clarke County float a notion to offset the salary of its under-employed building inspection department.  Source of funding for the offset? You guessed it, the school construction budget. We’ve also seen Berryville insist on a fire flow design that the School Board Chairman says is $300K more expensive than a comparable plan that she has proposed (oh, and by the way, the $300K of added expense will be split between the school budget and taxpayers pocket if you hadn’t  already guessed.) And if you’re a proponent of “green design” (we’ve heard that it’s starting to catch on in the US) here’s a message for you about Clarke’s environmental stewardship: There isn’t enough money for water-permeable parking spaces at the new high school but there is $21M available to build a new treatment facility to handle the excessive run-off that green design can help eliminate. And let’s not forget the Town’s requirement last week to reinstate funds for a walking trail that its citizens reportedly don’t even want. (Yep, that’s coming out of the school construction budget too.)

Mosby Blvd - Berryville, VA

Mosby Blvd - Berryville, VA

At least with Mosby Boulevard we can partially blame “faceless” bureaucrats in Richmond. Not so easy (or faceless) when it comes to these other issues.

It seems like we have all gotten so desperate to finally get something built (anything really) that common sense is being abandoned in favor of expediency. “Haste makes waste” goes the old adage but Clarke County can ill afford financial waste in these challenging economic times.

It’s time to put aside the politics in favor of doing what’s best for our kids.

We think that it’s time for the Board of Supervisors, Town Council and School Board to hold a one-day work session dedicated to restoring “peace and reconciliation” to the school construction budget process (read “The citizens of Clarke County are really fed up with the financial bickering and its impact on the education of our kids.)

Potentially wasting $300K  simply to avoid a  possible review process delay needs to be the first item on the work session agenda. Next, tackle the issues around Mosby Boulevard. Third, make a pact to stop eyeing the school construction budget like it’s a “rainy day” fund for revenue strapped departments. If you’re not sure about the other issues to add to the agenda check with the citizens of Clarke County, they will certainly be able to offer some guidance.

Getting on the same financial page won’t be too difficult if everyone is willing to try. We’re all neighbors in one of Virginia’s smallest counties.  We know that you can do it and we all support and thank you for your efforts. After all, we’ve been at this for nearly a decade. Let’s at least try to get it right and stop the wasteful rush to simply say that we finally made it across the finish-line. Our students (and taxpayers) will appreciate it.