County needs to communicate better with its citizens

Letter

The Page County Board of Supervisors passed an edict in March that effective Tuesday, March 17 the Trash Recycling Centers will be closed “until further notice” due to the Coronavirus and that “for now” the Battle Creek Landfill will remain open.

Being unaware of this edict, I loaded my trash on my truck early in the morning of Tuesday, March 17 and headed to the Springfield Recycling Center, arriving there at 7:55 a.m. and noticed the gate was locked. I waited there until 8:10 a.m. wondering why nobody had shown up yet and just assumed they were running a tad late. I pondered if maybe it was closed due to the Coronavirus situation and looked around for signs indicating a shutdown.

The only sign I saw was the sign on the gate that provides the hours of operation. So there I was with my trash, after getting up early to avoid a crowd, and nobody was there.

After waiting 15 minutes I finally just took my five or six bags of household trash and a broken fan in a new fan box and placed them neatly against the locked fence and then left.

It’s a 40-minute drive from my home to the Springfield Recycling Center. When I got home, I checked the county website and saw the recycling centers were in lockdown effective that same day. I did not want to drive another 40 minutes back to Springfield, pick the trash up, drive another 45 minutes to Battle Creek Landfill, and then another 50 minutes to get back home?

When I got home I explained all this to my wife and she asked me, “What if someone goes through our trash and gets your name and calls the police or tries to steal our identity?” I told her, “That’s silly, what idiot would rifle through someone’s trash during a pandemic?”

Well, a day or so later a Page County deputy showed up at my home and advised me that an employee of the Springfield Recycling Center noticed my trash bags against the fence, rifled through them to find my identity, and then passed my identity on to his supervisor who then reported me to the Sheriff’s Department.

I explained the entire situation to the officer and was sincerely impressed by his professional, logical and reasonable response. The officer also advised me it was illegal to do what I had done, but at the same time, understood and sympathized with my explanation of the situation.

I was very impressed with the professionalism of the deputy’s handling of the situation and even more impressed with how he interfaced with a fellow citizen. He left a very favorable and positive impression with me of our Sheriff’s Department. To be honest, the only regret I had about this entire event was that the deputy had to drive 45 minutes to get to my house.

In retrospect, after chewing all this over repeatedly in my mind, I sure wish the Board of Supervisors would have applied more wisdom to this whole shutdown situation before just closing the Recycling Centers.

They should have expeditiously advised the citizens the recycling centers were closed. I wonder how many of our citizens drove out with trash as well only to find the place closed? I know of four personally.

What would prompt a Page County employee to rifle through someone’s trash during a pandemic? The only reason I can think of is vengeful punishment. And why didn’t his supervisor just call me instead of the police?

Here’s what I think, the Board of Supervisors’ continuing actions are resulting in an “us against them” mentality that is creating friction between our government and the citizens. Yes, doing what I did is illegal, but so is rifling through a citizen’s personal trash under the Identity Theft Provisions of Virginia Code 18.2-186.3.

I am not trying to blow this ludicrous event completely out of proportion, but as a Page County Citizen I think it’s important to express my concerns. I would very much appreciate it if the Sheriff’s Department would contact the responsible supervisor of the Springfield Recycling Center to ensure that he, and/or his employee, did not retain any of my personal identification records and, if they did, I want them returned to me so I can burn them.

We are all aware of the tremendous hardships and loss a personal identity theft situation causes and I must protect my family from ever suffering through that. I do think that the employee who rifled through my trash and reported it to his supervisor did what he thought was the right thing to do and that’s exactly what I am doing here; nothing more, nothing less.

Here is what I see as the big picture to minimize stupid things like this that create rifts between citizens and their government. First is to improve and expedite the lines of communication between the Board of Supervisors and the citizens.

I just became aware of the relatively new Page County alert system whereby you can sign up for notifications by either email or text messaging. I’m also aware of the differing opinions held between the Sheriff’s Office and Board of Supervisors as discussed in the news media prior to the Board’s decision to assume complete control of the [EOC] process.

One major pitfall of the new system, as far as I can tell on the government website, is that it excludes roughly 25 percent of the population at minimum because nobody is being contacted immediately by telephone like the Emergency Alert System did under the Sheriff’s Department.

Consider events such as severe weather warnings (ie: severe thunderstorm, tornado, etc), flood alert or warning, a missing person, a forest fire, a criminal on the loose, traffic emergency, or other immediate urgent notifications, threats, or dangers. How are those without a cell phone or computer contacted? As far as I can tell, they won’t be, correct?

I’ll use myself as a good example. I have a computer, a cell phone, and a landline phone. Cell phones do not get reception in my house because I’m in a dead zone. To use my cell phone I have to walk down the road around 50 yards or so to get reception. Sure, I can be reached by email on my computer if I want to just sit and stare at it all day to look for any emergency alerts. My only remaining option for notification of an emergency situation is my landline. Well, that’s “old-school” right? Oh really, what about in an electrical power outage? Save the “New-school” sarcasm for when your power is out, your computer is down, and you can’t charge your cell phone.

I can assure you that I’m not the only citizen in Page County in a similar situation. Furthermore, we have citizens who cannot afford a computer or cell phone, most especially now during the loss of income from an economic collapse and subsequent massive unemployment rate. Those most impacted by unforeseen emergencies are always the most vulnerable citizens and they should never, ever, be excluded from emergency notifications. In emergency situations, their landline may be their lifeline.

All that being considered, consider also these Page County statistics from the 2019 estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau and formulate in your own minds how to enhance and speed up emergency or time-sensitive communications. This data should be integral to making improvements to a more inclusive emergency contact system wherein communication speed is the top priority, not an afterthought.

  • –  Population: (24,000)
  • –  Over Age 65: 22% (5,280)
  • –  Citizens with Disability: 14% (3,360)
  • –  Citizens in Poverty: 14% (3,360)
  • –  Households with Computers (Includes Cell Phones): 75%

When you apply additional logical assumptions, such as citizens who may own inoperable computers or cell phones, seldom use a cell phone or computer, or are currently unemployed and can no longer afford a cell phone; the current number of citizens NOT being contacted in emergency situations or unaware of ongoing edicts by the Board of Supervisors could reasonably be 40 to 50 percent of our population.

All things considered, I suggest the appropriate Page County government agency official(s) immediately reinstate the former emergency telephone contact system in conjunction with our new system.

Kenneth R. Chumley

Luray, Va.

3 Comments

  1. As the manager of the compactor sites, I can assure you that we have not retained your information. I can also assure you that there have been postings on the gates as well as all social media platforms and the county’s website since March 16th about being closed due to the safety of our employees due to Corona. There are also additional signage stating that any after hours dumping is illegal and subject to a penalty. Additionally, the Board of Supervisors did not close the compactor sites, the landfill staff closed the compactor sites. I do appreciate the suggestion for an all-call system similar to weather and emergency updates; I will look into that. If you have any additional concerns, please call the landfill at 540-743-3854.

  2. Mr Chumley , so you understand, according to the Solid Waste Regulations set forth and enforced by myself, as a certified operator of a facility. Your Waste becomes the sole property and responsibility of the facility for which it was placed. Therefore the regulation gives me the “right” as you say to rifle through the Waste to find the source of the illegal dumper. Something you may also not know, as a certified operator I am solely responsible for the county’s waste and if I miss manage or allow wrongful disposal of materials, I personally can be fined up to $250,000. Not to include what the county could be liable for. I am doing the best job I can and am looking out for the interest of all citizens and the county to run a cost efficient and environmentally responsible organization. Feel free to contact me at the landfill if you would need further explanation.
    Thank you

    • Thank you for the information Jeff. I still contend the Board Edict was overreaching in general and the essence of my article was to articulate that an improvement in immediate communication of such a sweeping edict would have resulted in a different outcome for all. Most citizens, unless they are specifically employed as a Page County Government employee, would not have known what I found out after the fact. Perhaps more evaluation of potential outcomes by the Board before an Edict is passed would be helpful? I have explained my position as have you. As such, those reading this information can formulate their own judgement based on all the data we have outlined herein. In the end, the purpose of government is to serve the people and the duty of every citizen is to question the actions of government and, should they deem their actions inappropriate, bring attention to the matter to both the government and the general public. To this end, I am done with any further attention to this particular unfortunate and unnecessary situation.
      Ken Chumley

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*