The Minority Rules

Dennis Nichols / photo by John Paul

It was just a couple of years ago now, when the popular Republican Commissioner Charlie Camp decided against running for reelection. A man with an All-American smile and a Hugh Hefner swagger replaced by a decidedly drab engineering type — An obscure Republican Supervisor from Brighton Township named Dennis Nichols.

During the primary everyone knew Nichols would hold the lone Republican seat of the county’s triumvirate, and everyone knew he was going to be irrelevant. He would be approached with decisions only after they had already been decided, handed forms to sign only after the other two had signed them. Sure he would be allowed his pet projects, minor expenditures and initiatives giving him something shiny to flash in front of his Republican base, little things to keep him content — But the real governing, the heavy lifting as it were, would be handled by the two Democratic Commissioners, Tony Amadio and Joe Spanik.

At least, that is how it was supposed to work. What happened instead is something no one could have imagined, and very few have come to fully realize — Although still maintaining the title of minority, Commissioner Nichols is now the captain at the helm of county government.

Dennis Nichols’ climb to the top started almost immediately following the election. Having already served several terms between them, Amadio and Spanik seemed to take their power as Commissioners for granted. They continued on as usual, coming and going from the courthouse, attending off-site meetings and glad-handing at various functions. The election brought a far different reality for Dennis Nichols. Accustom to flying around the country during his life in the private sector, Nichols seemed almost giddy of his now short 5 minute commute from Brighton Township to the courthouse. Regularly the first Commissioner to arrive and the last to leave, Nichols spends more time behind his desk than either of the other two Commissioners. His constant presence gives him a de facto power, he became the go-to Commissioner simply because he is often the only Commissioner available to go to.

Commissioner Tony Amadio is seldom seen at the courthouse now. Circles of minor illnesses which seem to loop from one to the next have regularly left him missing for weeks at a time, leaving him to appear only during obligatory meetings — Endless family tragedies and dramas see his reserved spot at the side of the courthouse more often occupied by a secretary’s vehicle than his own. The Chairman of Commissioners is losing the little pieces of the puzzle, and clearly lacks vision of the big picture as a result. He is something of a blind man that allows himself to be led by whoever manages to place a hand on his shoulder. While he says he still loves the job, Amadio just doesn’t act like he wants to be Commissioner anymore.

During his time as the only Commissioner in the building, Nichols has made an unlikely ally in the otherwise empty wing of the courthouse. Along with three offices aligned one after the other in the Commissioners’ unit, there is a forth space at the end of the hall. A spartan room occupied by County Financial Administrator Vince LaValle.

That LaValle is still even employed by the county is almost a minor miracle in and of itself. After his long-time boss and political ally Controller Rick Towcimak was ousted by David Rossi, one would have expected LaValle to fade into obscurity. His ties to the now infamous Representative Mike Veon, his work as accountant for the Voluntary Action Center (which saw its director Darla LaValle indicted for financial improprieties), the political enemies he made as Chairman of the Democratic Committee; there were more than enough reasons why LaValle could have been pushed off the cliff. He instead managed to find a small ledge for himself. After losing his spot as Deputy Controller, Amadio and Spanik gave LaValle a foothold by creating a position of director for the two person payroll office. He would use that little ledge as a basecamp for a grand expedition, quickly climbing into the position of County Financial Administrator — A position that came with an office smack in the middle of the Commissioners’ wing.

Together the two misfits of county government, Nichols and LaValle have become unlikely allies. LaValle has endeared himself to Nichols, the lone Republican now looks to the former Chairman of the Democratic Committee as his most trusted adviser.

A chess champion of sorts who uses elected officials as his pawns, LaValle is the consummate politician, although he has never run for a county office himself. During his short time working next to the Commissioners, LaValle has single-handedly been able to widen the already existing chasm between Amadio and Spanik — Leaving himself as the only bridge between the two. Regularly playing each of the Democratic Commissioners against one another on various issues facing the county, LaValle became Dennis Nichols’ king maker, consistently providing him with the second vote needed to move the county, consistently making sure the third then conceded. The Commissioners have always voted in unison, regardless of how strong their private disagreements may have been.

It was a favor Nichols would return.

Now two men divided, it wasn’t long before Amadio and Spanik began ceding power to LaValle at the prodding of Nichols. The list of LaValle’s titles continues to grow: Director of Payroll, County Financial Administrator, Director of Central Services, Director of Information Technology, Director of Micrographics, Director of Recreation and Tourism. Nearly all of the county’s business is now being filtered through LaValle, and Commissioner Nichols is working to develop a new title for him which will encompass the entirety of that responsibility.

Nichols and LaValle have not only managed to separate the two Democratic Commissioners from each other, but also from formerly trusted advisors.

Officials like County Solicitor Joe Askar and Human Resources Director Rick Darbut find themselves sitting in the minority seat left empty after Nichols’ stand to power. They are the ones now being approached only after decisions have been made, being presented with documents only after they have already been signed. Their counsel would steer the two Democratic Commissioners in a direction far different than the one planned by LaValle and Nichols, and the two know it.

LaValle continues to work quietly behind the scenes as Commissioner Nichols forwards their agenda, passes their initiatives, and directs their vision for county government. Whether their control leads to a new fiscal prosperity for the county, or just more political turmoil, remains to be seen.

 

27 comments

  1. With the democrats in such a pathetic state locally all the way up to the federal level I’m just going to vote republican so I can get to pick which one is going to screw me next.

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  2. SpeakTheTruthToo

    Kudos to you JP. This was very well written. I bet 9 out of 10 people who read this story don’t even know what triumvirate means.

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    • And I’m willing to bet the farm until you looked the word up you didn’t either. :thumbsdown:

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      • SpeakTheTruthToo

        Bullshit. I’ve known that word for over 20 years because in high school we had to read Julius Caesar in the smart kid English class.

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  3. Well I’m wondering….is Vince going to turn Republican or Denny turning Democrat? Since those two seem to be running the show, why do we need Tony & Joe? It’s pretty sad when the minority takes over. Next term will probably be two Republicans and a new Democrat. Wonder what Tony & Joe will get into then. Tony can go back to being a supervisor for Center again. He needs knocked down a peg or two. He let his position go to his head.

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  4. I’m just glad Charlie Camp is gone. What a coincidence his brother is director of public works.What are the odds ???

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  5. its ok the story will end happily ever after in the next election when all of them get thrown out of the courthouses onto their asses :thumbsup:

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  6. It never ceases to amaze me when I read the comments in most stories involving the BC commissioners where one after the other people complain, whine and gripe yet these are the same people who voted for these “leaders.” I too am sick to death of the elected officials acting as if they are running the Roman Empire and during the next election I will cast my vote accordingly. People need to stop basing their votes on political parties and start basing them on individuals.

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  7. @ Dick trickler Jimmy camp has been a director got over 20 years before Charlie was commissioner, sadly they need Charlie back in with 2 new commissioners to boot, Dennis is a slap Dick for some time Brighton township was elated when he left

    But what a joke Republican commissioner listening to former DEM party chairmen, but they couldn’t even get people to run conforti lol that was it before a bankrupt cook was a finalist so yeah I would take Charlie

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  8. Yep, not much has changed back home. Just a few name changes; but the same story. Yes I miss it still!

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  9. That is what happens when you get elected just to collect a paycheck and pension. Someone slips in and makes your arrogance irrelevant.

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  10. This article is so true. I work at the courthouseand check the commissioners parking places, Joe and Tony are never there. And the sad part of this is no one cares.

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  11. Looks like Captain Nichols is making the two midgets walk the plank and their too stupid to know it while he takes over USS Beaver County and sails away with his first mate Vince

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  12. well if Nichols and Lavalle are running the show at the court house THEY STINK, What have they done? Waste my tax dollars that I work hard for. I won’t be voting for any of them…..

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  13. Having been in many meetings with commissioner Nichols, I can only say he brings professionalism to the office!!!!

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  14. Don’t you love small town politics

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  15. nothing but heartbreak for me and my family in that county and that state!!!

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  16. @WELL WELL very well said “they stink”. They have not done crap for our county. As a local business owner the last year has been my worst in 50 years. Right now is the time where other countys are growing and ours is in a stand still. When the next election comes around I hope the two mental midgets and Nicols are voted out. Beaver County need new young faces and I hope the Republican party and the Democrat party each find good candidates to run.

    As for @Dick Trickler ……..Camp was a good commissioner he did very little wrong. Look was JP wrote abour one of our state reps not to long ago about spending campaign funds and they story blew over quickley. Im sure Camp is happy that happened because it was an escape gate to get away from mess of a court house.

    Vote For Change in 2016

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  17. Republicans and Democrats working together! The end of the world is near! Some people call that statesmanship. So, our county has been in the tank for many years….under Democratic guide.

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  18. All the back stabbing and conniving turns my stomach.

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  19. I did FEMA disaster work after the record snow storm a couple years ago. I did Project Worksheets for reimbursement grants and Beaver County was one of my areas. Met many nice people

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  20. According to this article, Dennis Nichols is the get-it-done guy. Earlier in his career, Dennis (a Republican), was a Brighton Township Supervisor, serving alongside Harold F Reed Jr (a Republican), the Township solicitor.

    According to an earlier JP report, the Commissioners are getting closer to purchasing a building that was damaged by fire; that building is owned by Harold F Reed Jr. According to the web, Harold F Reed Jr graduated from Princeton University, magna cum laude, in 1948.
    Do the math.

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  21. Vince Lavalle running show I would not let him run a check book for a bake sell.

    I did a ton if VOLUNTEERING at volunteer action network where he was business manager or what ever he was, well yatta yatta Darla Lavalle ran it and got charged for taking to much pay and grants where not properly used one person had there benefits stopped for health care that’s just naming a few he was the money man… Poof its gone now, why didn’t he stop it? or prevent it?

    Someone better look more into that deal, I think he saved himself and tossed the hot potato on.

    Plus my niece worked polls for two years as a democratic committee woman, was to be paid the town chair said Vince who was chairmen never gave then payroll, but officials said they paid assessment and someone says they only write checks to who Vince said, but sent her a ticket for pig roast for his boss to buy for 100 bucks, friend if mine had a business in Rochester she since has past was related to one of the queens that are row officials she said it best and was really involved, said about her relative and the rest your only good as the time you did for them and the reward is a baked beef dinner and free long speeches once a year

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  22. From my distant outpost in BF, this looks like constructive cooperation. I hope it truly is. The past seems built on partisan bickering, petty empires, and plenty of time off. Nose-to-the-grindstone sound refreshing to me. May we have more of it in BC. God knows, we need it here.

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  23. Voters: Had enough yet? I know I have. Vince LaValle and Dennis Nichols taking turns raping the County Taxpayers. Only YOU can make yourselves heard. Don’t for one second think this article is a joke. It IS a chess game. Paid for by the voters.

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