Accomack Board Explores Funding Change After Tourism-Poultry Kerfuffle

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By Linda Cicoira

Accomack supervisors are unhappy the Eastern Shore Tourism Commission did not act to reprimand its director.

The words “Outlaw Industrial Chicken Farming,” posted at a recent economic summit attended by the governor and other top state officials, and attributed to Kerry Allison, executive director of the tourism commission, reverberated at the supervisors’ session.

Supervisor Grayson Chesser brought up the topic. “You don’t point a gun at anything you don’t intend to shoot,” he said his father always told him. Chesser compared Allison’s words to the weapon. Likewise, he said, “Words out of the mouth are like bullets out of a gun.” Once you shoot them off, you can’t take them back, he explained.

Chesser said Allison showed “An alarming lack of understanding of the economy of the Eastern Shore. I don’t know her well …  She may be a wonderful person. To me, her remarks were callous and insensitive. They were like a slap in the face to me and my neighbors … the people who work in the poultry plants are my neighbors. I see them every day. When you say outlaw, that’s saying these people are not worth anything to our economy.”

“Our people work in the houses, they work in the plants, they drive the trucks … what’s more value added than taking an ear of corn or some soybeans and turning it into a chicken?” he asked. And then turning that into fried chicken. “That’s twice value added,” he said. “These are good jobs.”

Chesser referred to two people who came before the board recently telling the stories of what Tyson has done for them.

“Without the poultry plant, you wouldn’t have a Walmart (and) you wouldn’t have a hospital because you wouldn’t have the population to support” them, he continued. “These are not minimum wage jobs. And if you are smart … you can work your way up the ladder.”

It may not rank up there with Marie Antoinette telling the people who had no bread to eat cake, “But it is close,” he said. Chesser was referring to the famous bride of France’s King Louis XVI and her alleged response to learning peasants were hungry in 1789.

“It makes me so mad I could bite nails in two,” Chesser said, adding that he needed to stop talking so that he didn’t do as he said earlier and “shoot bullets” with his speech.

Chairman Robert Crockett agreed with Chesser. “Poultry is our anchor tenant,” he said. “That would be devastating for us … high ranking state officials saw that … to make such a comment … is harmful to this county … now back in Richmond, you know they are talking about this.”

Crockett made the motion for county staff to explore a new approach of promoting tourism in Accomack by teaming up with local chambers “and to assist Chincoteague for the first time.”

Supervisor Ron Wolff mentioned an email supervisors saw about the subject from Steve Potts, chairman of the tourism commission and a business owner on Chincoteague. “We didn’t discuss poultry period,” Wolff said Potts wrote. The tourism chairman’s comment was taken to mean Allison was not speaking for the commission when she wrote her remark in a survey taken by the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission.

Wolff complained Potts did not report a course of action to reprimand Allison. “There still should have been some type of discussion” between Potts and Allison. “Did she act alone?” Wolff wondered out loud.

Northampton County does not allow poultry houses. It also does not have a poultry plant. Chesser said 10 percent of Northampton residents work for the two plants in Accomack. The tourism commission budget is funded with $86,500 from Accomack and $144,000 from Northampton.