Sul­li­van set to con­vene fi­nal meet­ing as Wash­ing­ton mayor

‘There’s a re­ally good core of peo­ple with en­ergy and con­cern for the town who I think will help gov­ern it very well’

Rappahannock News - - FRONT PAGE - By John Mc­caslin Rap­pa­han­nock News staff

This Mon­day evening, John Fox Sul­li­van will call to or­der his fi­nal Town Coun­cil meet­ing as mayor of Wash­ing­ton, a po­si­tion he has held for the last eight years.

“I’ve learned a lot,” Sul­li­van re­flected this week, seated in the straight back chair he’s oc­cu­pied for two terms in his­toric Town Hall. “One of which is that as small a town as Wash­ing­ton is — and we all laugh at how small it is — to an in­di­vid­ual every prob­lem, per­haps seen by oth­ers as a lit­tle prob­lem, is im­por­tant to them.

“So you have to worry about the lit­tle as well as the big,” he ex­plained. “An­other gen­eral learn­ing les­son is that this is a com­mu­nity where you know

every­body — it’s not like be­ing a mayor of New York or Wash­ing­ton, D.C., where you don’t even re­ally see the peo­ple. Here ev­ery­thing you do is ob­served and im­pacts your friends, neigh­bors, the peo­ple of the com­mu­nity. That’s good be­cause it sen­si­tizes you so that what­ever you do you re­al­ize that it im­pacts real peo­ple.”

Sul­li­van, af­ter much thought, an­nounced in May that he had de­cided against seek­ing a third term as mayor of the county seat, declar­ing it’s “time for a change, both for me and the town.” He said his de­ci­sion “did not come eas­ily.”

Mayor-elect Fred Catlin will of­fi­cially take over the town’s reins on Jan­uary 1.

Sul­li­van, who is 75, said be­ing mayor of the town “has been the cap­stone” of his 40plus year ca­reer in na­tional me­dia, much of it spent as a mag­a­zine pub­lisher in the big Wash­ing­ton. When his term ends at the end of this month he will have served eight years in the town’s top lead­er­ship po­si­tion, 10 years to­tal on the Coun­cil, and two years on the Ar­chi­tec­tural Re­view Board (ARB).

His nu­mer­ous ac­com­plish­ments dur­ing his decade-plus of pub­lic ser­vice — de­vel­op­ing and im­ple­ment­ing a state-ofthe-art wastew­a­ter sys­tem; sta­bi­liz­ing the town’s fi­nances through cost con­trols, sewer and wa­ter fees, meals and lodg­ing rev­enue, and the sale of Avon Hall; de­vel­op­ing a new Com­pre­hen­sive Plan with de­mand­ing goals; and beau­ti­fy­ing the cen­ter of a vil­lage cher­ished by vis­i­tors — far out­weighed the neg­a­tives.

Re­gard­ing the lat­ter, he sought to build on his may­oral pre­de­ces­sor Eu­gene Leggett’s in­roads in dif­fus­ing of­ten-con­tentious pro­ceed­ings be­tween town of­fi­cials and cit­i­zens, in­clud­ing those who didn’t live in the town. Sul­li­van de­scribed a very fine line sep­a­rat­ing Wash­ing­ton and Rap­pa­han­nock County, and dur­ing the town’s few but sig­nif­i­cant lit­i­ga­tion cases dur­ing his terms as mayor his most out­spo­ken crit­ics weren’t even his con­stituents.

“I like to think there is a comity and a ci­vil­ity in our town that is lack­ing in our world at large, and the county for that mat­ter,” the mayor didn’t mind say­ing. “I get ter­ri­bly frus­trated by the in­ternecine war­fare of [cer­tain] peo­ple. They don’t have a sense of the com­mon good. I’m a be­liever in the com­mon good. So many peo­ple seem to be liv­ing in their own lit­tle bub­ble — the men­tal­ity that if some­thing good hap­pens to the other guy it’s go­ing to hurt them. It’s a zero-sum game. And I be­lieve just the op­po­site.”

Sul­li­van said this week that he re­grets step­ping down be­fore a build­ing site has been an­nounced for a new post of­fice. The U.S. Postal Ser­vice sur­prised town of­fi­cials this late sum­mer when it pro­posed mov­ing the post of­fice — which has been in the town for 215 years — to a new lo­ca­tion off High­way 211 be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Sper­ryville.

In re­cent weeks, how­ever, the Town Coun­cil of­fered the Postal Ser­vice a new lo­ca­tion to con­sider, which is within Wash­ing­ton’s bound­aries.

“We worked re­ally re­ally hard to keep it here,” Sul­li­van said. “I think we have a good pro­posal. Fred, the new mayor, ob­vi­ously will be very much in­volved in that, but if I can con­trib­ute in some way in mak­ing that work I’m go­ing to.

“One of the tricky things,” he added, “is how to stay in­volved in town af­fairs, be­cause I care deeply about them, and at the same time I don’t want to get in the way of the new mayor and Town Coun­cil. I want Fred to do a great job, and I think he will do a great job. He’s well trained for it.”

Speak­ing of his suc­ces­sor, the mayor said Catlin will quickly dis­cover that be­ing mayor, while “clearly a part time job” on pa­per, is ac­tu­ally “full time in terms of you never es­cape be­ing mayor. There’s al­ways some­thing hap­pen­ing, so it’s not as if there’s a time sched­ule of when you get to be mayor.

“A larger point is that over the last six or seven years there have been a num­ber of peo­ple who have moved to the town, liv­ing here full time, who have got­ten very en­gaged in the plan­ning com­mis­sion, Town Coun­cil, ev­ery­thing in town. So there’s a re­ally good core of peo­ple with en­ergy and con­cern for the town who I think will help gov­ern it very well.”

Sur­round­ing his de­par­ture, Sul­li­van said he is “ex­tremely in­debted” to Town Clerk Laura Dodd and Town At­tor­ney John Ben­nett, “who have worked for this town for many years. They have done so much to en­hance the qual­ity of the town, and have been ex­tremely help­ful to me, per­son­ally, in nav­i­gat­ing var­i­ous is­sues. They can­not be ap­pre­ci­ated too much.”

In clos­ing, the mayor stressed that “John and Bev­erly Sul­li­van are not go­ing any­where,” re­fer­ring to his wife of many years. “Peo­ple have come up and asked me, ‘Are you go­ing to move to Florida? What is it you’re not telling us?’And the an­swer is we’re stay­ing here, pal, un­til they carry us out of our house.

“By the way, the house does not con­vey to the new mayor,” he quipped. “Our youngest grand­child — he’s about eight years old — he feared that our house would con­vey to the new mayor and he could never come visit us on Thanks­giv­ing again.”

Sul­li­van said he hopes his fi­nal monthly meet­ing as mayor, set for 7 p.m. Mon­day, will be filled with “hu­mor and joy. I don’t have any rea­son to be sad.”

“I hope on oc­ca­sion I’m missed,” he adds with a laugh. “I don’t want to be for­got­ten!”

So you won’t mind then if peo­ple still call you mayor?

“I’d love it!”

“I like to think there is a comity and a ci­vil­ity in our town that is lack­ing in our world at large, and the county for that mat­ter.”


When his term ends at the end of this month, John Fox Sul­li­van will have served eight years in the town’s top lead­er­ship po­si­tion.

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