Civic activist Jim Borland, who for years has sent his harangues about Fauquier County government to local newspapers, is about to have a boundless space of his own to air his views.
In as few as two weeks, Borland plans to launch fauquiernews.com, a public interest magazine on the World Wide Web that he hopes will sweep some cobwebs out of county government.
Borland, who sells antique prints for a living and harasses local government officials as an avocation, said he is styling himself less after controversial Internet scribe Matt Drudge than after the printers who created a media explosion in the early days of the French Revolution.
"They did some incredible things," he said, holding up his rare edition of bound copies of some of those early newspapers.
Borland said his watchdogging of county government over the years has left him with so much unpublicized information that now he is taking advantage of the limitless capacity of cyberspace. He said the venture will be just an extension of the good-government crusades he has waged over the last few years, criticized by some as petty ax-grinding.
Borland--accompanied by Bill Weber, his sidekick in this undertaking and in various rabble-rousing efforts over the years--stood outside a packed Board of Supervisors meeting last week and handed out his calling card as people came and went, describing his new Internet venture to anyone who would listen.
"It's going to be what The Washington Post doesn't have room to print, the Fauquier [Times-] Democrat won't print and what the Fauquier Citizen tries to print," he said.
Those comments elicited chuckles from the editors of the two county papers of record, the Times-Democrat, which traces its lineage to 1837, and the Citizen, begun in 1989 by a former Times-Democrat reporter.
John Toler, editor of the Times-Democrat, said jovially, "The only thing we don't print is every line of every letter that [Borland] sends us."
Citizen editor Lawrence Emerson--who recalls contending with skeptics when he launched the upstart paper 10 years ago, said "there's plenty of room" in the local media market for someone like Borland.
"He's a gadfly, but he's a good gadfly," Emerson said. "He's intelligent, and if more citizens were involved the way Jim is involved, it would be healthy, in this time of dwindling voter participation."
In the cluttered home office that amounts to his newsroom, Borland said underreported local stories--such as the cost overrun of a new radio communications system and the recent and still unexplained death of an inmate of the Fauquier Adult Detention Center--are part of what prompted him to start fauquiernews.com.
"There's just so much out there," Borland said.
For a good part of the time that he has lived in the county, he has been reading the fine print of local ordinances and meeting minutes and demanding answers when he sees inconsistencies--something he has been doing one way or another since high school.
Raised in a Republican family in Democrat-dominated Rhode Island, Borland said he used to watch the state legislature in action after classes and lobbied legislators to cut wasteful spending, an effort that got him on the front page of the local newspaper.
After a stint in the Marines and law school in Canada, he worked for a year in Washington on Capitol Hill. He was living in Fairfax County with his wife and four children during the mid-1980s when he spearheaded a citizens group that unsuccessfully sued the School Board over alleged violations of open-meeting laws.
He kept up his activism when he moved to Conde in Fauquier County in 1988. Nominated by a supervisor who read one of Borland's harangues in a local newspaper, he served during the early '90s on the advisory committee that dealt with 911 service. But it was his service on another committee that gained Borland the most notoriety.
Both he and Weber, a Federal Aviation Administration technician who lives in Broad Run, were appointed to a citizens advisory committee charged with finding solutions to the radio communications problems of the Fauquier Sheriff's Department. The way Borland tells it, he and Weber were booted off the committee when their recommendations did not jibe with those favored by the establishment.
It is now estimated that a new system will cost more than $11 million, although in earlier estimates it was expected to cost closer to $4 million. "Mr. Borland would like the system built one way," said Sheriff Joe Higgs. "Unfortunately, it does not meet the recommendations of the radio study committee."
Higgs said Borland's comments--and his new editorial venture--should be taken with a grain of salt, pointing out that Borland waged a last-minute and very unsuccessful write-in bid for sheriff in this year's election. He received 174 votes to Higgs's 8,557.
But Borland is conceding nothing. Sitting on some unsightly chairs he said he bought for five cents from the Montgomery County Historical Society, Borland said Higgs--"a powerful, arrogant man"--needed to be challenged because of the veil of secrecy he and other county officials place over their operation of local government.
"Someone has to be asking these questions," Borland said.
CAPTION: Jim Borland plans to start a Webzine, providing a new forum to chide officials. "He's a gadfly, but he's a good gadfly," said a newspaperman.