The Charles County commissioners have hired a new county administrator, filling a post that had been vacant since a majority of the board fired the previous administrator in July.
Mark J. Belton, a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy Reserve, will leave his job as administrator of Page County, Va., to start work in Charles on Monday. Belton has held the Page County post since 2005 and also served as administrator for Queen Anne’s County in Maryland from 1999 to 2002.
Originally, Belton’s contract with Page County expired in January, but county supervisors voted Nov. 22 to let him resign early, said supervisors Vice Chairman J.D. Cave. In “late summer,” the board voted not to renew his contract, but Cave would not say why.
“His leaving us was not his decision,” Cave said.
Belton said the supervisors were looking to replace someone hired by the previous board and to pay a lower salary.
“They said they were looking for someone who made less money than I was making when I worked there for Page County. They just wanted to make a change. You probably know . . . elected officials change over time. The group that hired me eight years ago, none of them remain on the Board of Supervisors today. I think the issue really boiled down to, they wanted somebody they hired, their person,” Belton said.
Supervisors Chairman Johnny Woodward had praise for Belton despite his vote, a decision he said he made because “the board just felt it was time for a change.”
“You’re getting a good man,” Woodward said. “I can tell you that Mark does a good job. He keeps things well organized, he keeps things up to date and he keeps everything in order.”
Education dominated his legacy in Page County, Belton said. He recalled his role in helping establish middle schools in a public school system that previously had only elementary and high schools, and in attracting a campus of Lord Fairfax Community College to a county that had been without any institution of higher education. He also assisted in the development of a small commercial airport, he said.
It’s too soon to say what projects he’ll face in Charles, but “I can tell you I’m certainly aware of the growth pressure that the county faces and the internal discussions within the citizenry about where the county should go in regulating growth and how that should be dealt with,” Belton said.
Page County, like others in rural Virginia, often serves as a training ground for officials who progress to more lucrative positions in larger, wealthier counties, said former Page County Board of Education member Gary Gibbs.
“We’re often used as a stopover for people to get a little more time on their résumé before they move on to the larger counties. There is upward mobility; generally, it’s limited in small, rural areas.. . . . We’re a small, rural county. I thought he was leaving primarily because he wanted a bigger place.”
The Charles commissioners interviewed four candidates before settling on Belton, commissioners President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) said.
“For me, I think his experience demonstrates to me that he would have the ability to work within a large organization with lots of different personalities and different approaches, different priorities, and be able to balance that and administer his way through it because, at county government, we have lots of great ideas,” Kelly said.
Belton graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis in 1983 and served in the Navy for seven years. Since 1991, he has been in the reserves, from which he was mobilized and sent to Kosovo in 2001 and to Baghdad from 2009 to 2010. He serves as a supply officer, he said.
He has a master’s in business administration from Regis University in Colorado and served as assistant secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources for two years, Charles officials said in their announcement.
As a reservist, Belton could be recalled to active duty but it is “highly unlikely” because he already has served several postings, Kelly said. Should he be called up, the county will manage “just the same as we always manage, with our deputy county administrator, and as we’ve managed previously when various different folks in leadership roles were out or pending a replacement.”