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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Virginius Dabney, June 10-13, 1975. Interview A-0311-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The county-manager system eliminated the boss system of Harry Byrd

Dabney discusses how Virginia's adoption of the county-manager system signaled the end of the Byrd organization.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Virginius Dabney, June 10-13, 1975. Interview A-0311-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

DANIEL JORDAN:
What about the circuit judge in the Virginia system and how important was and is he?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Quite a cog in that whole county ring, of course. He was the top man in the county, he appointed a lot of the officeholders and still does in most counties . . . a lot of county officials and boards and things of that sort and was elected by the General Assembly, except in an interim situation when the governor appointed him subject to confirmation when the legislature next met. So, it was all kind of a wheel within a wheel with the county office holders and the judge and the General Assembly and the governor all working together.
DANIEL JORDAN:
And the speaker of the House, as I understand it, had unusual powers as compared to speakers in other states.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
He appoints all the House committees. As you can see, it is a tremendous power.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Was this county manager form of government a solution to some of this county politics?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
A very great solution to a lot of it, but it is hard to get it adopted for that reason. It eliminates a lot of these county office holders who do very little except sit around and play politics and draw their salaries and shake hands with the voters. It is the most inefficient, outmoded, indefensible system. Time and again there have been reports by students of government saying that we could get along much better with thirty counties than we have now, about ninety-six, and it would be more efficient and more economical. But in order to do it, you have got to get the people of the county to vote these county officeholders out.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
One of the citations that you received that we talked about yesterday, I believe, was for your arguments in favor of the county manager form government in Henrico County. Can we presume from this that you were not only arguing for county manager governments but also against this collection of power in the county seats?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Oh yes, I think that every student of government who has said anything has said that the old system is incredibly inefficient.
DANIEL JORDAN:
But from the organization's standpoint, I guess that it was a foundation of power.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
It was a godsend; that's why it is so hard to get rid of it.