HARRISONBURG — Richard Baugh is no stranger to Harrisonburg or to the state.
Baugh, a member of City Council, was recently reappointed by Gov. Ralph Northam to serve on the Local Government Advisory Committee to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council.
“When you’re appointed, you’re on the committee pretty much until the governor tells you that you aren’t,” Baugh said in a Friday interview.
The advisory committee consists of around two dozen people from the six bay watershed states — Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and West Virginia — in addition to Washington, D.C., Baugh said.
“All the people on the committee usually are a local government official or have ties to local government,” he said.
According to the Chesapeake Bay Program, the committee’s mission is to share the views and insights of local elected officials with state and federal decision-makers, and to enhance the flow of information among local governments about the health and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
“It’s funny because when you put a bunch of elected officials in a group and get fired up about something, the next thing you know, you are taking a vote and telling the governors what to do,” he said. “And then the governors’ staff and executive council are like, ‘You are the advisory, not the decision-makers.’”
He said he is the only Virginia representative on the committee from the Shenandoah Valley, “so it gives me an interesting perspective on things, primarily because I serve on this City Council in this outlier city in the Shenandoah Valley.”
Baugh was appointed to the committee in 2014 while he was serving his second four-year term on council. He is currently serving his third term, which ends in December 2020.
Mayor Deanna Reed said Baugh is the anchor of council who brings wisdom and experience and has a “tremendous heart and passion for our city.”
“He is the one we can count on to be steady and reasonable,” she said. “I enjoy serving on council with Richard. He is our rock, and I am so proud of his accomplishments.”
Baugh said because of his time on the advisory committee, he knows what’s going on at the federal and state level.
“I know more about Maryland and Delaware than I ever would if I hadn’t been appointed to this committee,” he said.
By being on the committee, holding his seat on City Council and in his career as an attorney, he said he is constantly working with many different types of people and being put in a position to help people accomplish what they want to accomplish.
“The best thing I can take away from this committee I serve on is that it’s the combination of networking and exposure of things that other local officials are doing that’s working from there,” he said. “So I have a front-row seat for all that and I can bring something back to Harrisonburg that I feel would be useful.”
Fellow Councilman George Hirschmann said he believes Baugh being on the committee as well as a lawyer has been a big asset for City Council and the community.
“I think with all Richard is involved in, it brings a great wealth of knowledge for all levels of government,” Hirschmann said. “He has a sincere interest in both the local and state level government, and I think he adds sanity, a constructive view and stability to our council.”
Hirschmann will be taking a trip with Baugh in a few days to see the Chesapeake Bay.
“We are going to get a chance to look into the drainage among other issues at the bay and work together to find ways to help the Chesapeake Bay efforts on a local level,” he said. “He always has a logistical approach to things, and I think that really stems from the advisory committee and his time serving as a lawyer.”
After graduating from the University of Virginia with a Juris Doctor, Baugh began his career as an attorney and has lived in Harrisonburg since December 1985, when he took a job at Clark and Bradshaw. After leaving the firm in 1995, he began working at his current job with Hoover Penrod, where he has been for 25 years.
It wasn’t his plan to become a lawyer, though, but after graduating from Columbia University with a bachelor’s degree, he realized getting a job wasn’t so easy.
“My dad was a plumber. I went to college and here is what I know: coming back from getting an undergraduate degree and not having a job wasn’t an option,” he said. “What appealed to me about going into law is that it could be a springboard into other careers that I could take on, but obviously that didn’t happen.”
Baugh said that unlike many other jurisdictions, Harrisonburg is an interesting place to live and “the more I understand what other localities in Virginia are like, the more I like it here.”
For example, he said immigration is a big topic around the nation, and one can talk about philosophy or hypothetical situations, but in this community, “when you talk about someone who has issues with their status, it’s not hypothetical. It’s my next-door neighbor.”
He said that is just one of many reasons he likes Harrisonburg so much.
“This is what Harrisonburg is like. It gives you different perspectives than other communities,” he said. “I know these folks. They are good folks and my neighbors.”
Baugh said his career and service for the city and state has taught him a lot about how to best serve his community.
“We don’t all have to look at governing or issues we have to face in the same way,” he said. “Our diversity is our strength. That’s not a political slogan. It’s something that actually helps you make better decisions.”
He said since he began on council in 2009 during the recession, Harrisonburg has taken big strides forward and has a lot of things going for the city.
“We seem to have made good decisions,” he said. “What pulled me to run for office in the first place is that I felt that Harrisonburg had been a good community for me and my family and I wanted to continue seeing that for other families.”
Although Baugh does not know if he will run for another term after his ends next year, he said his time serving at both the local and state level have been rewarding and knowledgeable.
“I’ve learned a lot and I hope I continue down that path as long as I serve on the advisory committee and on City Council,” he said. “The future of Harrisonburg matters to me and so does the future on a state and federal level, and I want to be a part of the growth in a positive direction.”