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Bossio Credits Culpeper’s Collaborative Spirit

Photo By Wally Bunker County Administrator Frank Bossio looks over budget figures with County Finance Director Valerie Lamb. Bossio’s last day is March 31.
On his last day in the U.S. Navy, then­Capt. Frank Bossio sat in the cockpit of an F­18 Hornet,pulled back on the stick and soared into the sky above Cecil Field in Jacksonville, Florida. He had a bird’s eye view of the expansive airfield he commanded and was about to leave.

Tuesday is Bossio’s last day as Culpeper County administrator. He will take a more grounded approach as he goes from office to office saying goodbye and talking to his staff one final time.

“Sixteen and a half years went by in a flash,” said Bossio

His retirement from the county is final.

Just two weeks after hanging up his Navy wings following 27 years of service, Bossio, a Morgantown, West Virginia native, landed in Culpeper and began serving as the county’s airport manager. That was just the first position Bossio would have with the county during the next 16 plus years.

Bringing business to Culpeper
A year after taking over as airport manager, the Fairmount University graduate, with a bachelors degree in industrial science, was named the county’s economic development director.

“Economic development always has been and still is a passion of mine,” said Bossio.

Shortly after taking the economic development position, Bossio had a chance to land Pella, a window manufacturer that was looking to build a 600,000 square­foot assembly plant to serve he underserved northeast market. The plant would bring about 400 to 500 jobs.

During the next eight to nine months, Bossio put together a team of community leaders to sell Culpeper. One former community leader said Bossio looked at the big picture – what Culpeper had to offer in the way of housing, medical services and recreation – not just a site for the plant.

Bossio had some of his pilot friends take aerial photos – before satellite imagery was prevalent –to show Pella where the plant would fit.

Culpeper and Gettysburg became the finalists, with Gettysburg getting the nod due to geography. Transportation concerns on the I­95 corridor and Capital Beltway tilted the scale in Gettysburg’s favor.

“”I was personally disappointed,” said Bossio. “We put a lot of time into it.”

But Bossio, 66, learned a valuable lesson from that experience.

County government’s top job
In 2000, Bossio was named county administrator. When Terremark came calling to possibly build a data center, Bossio was ready.

A 1 p.m. phone call one day set Bossio into motion. Within three hours, he had assembled a community team of about 10 officials representing Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, then-
Culpeper Regional Hospital and other community leaders to meet with Terremark officials at 4 p.m. The meeting lasted two hours, with a promise from impressed Terremark representatives that would return.

“Before they made their decision, we had probably a dozen meetings,” said Bossio.

After Terremark decided to build its facility in Culpeper County, Bossio made a friendly bet with a senior company official that the building would be out of the ground within six months. Bossio didn’t think it would happen because he knew there was rock to be cleared that would slow construction.

“It was the best bet I ever lost,” said Bossio, with a broad smile and laugh.

Undeterred, Bossio made another bet that the building wouldn’t be completed within a year. He lost that bet too.

The county worked with Terremark’s construction company to help speed up the inspection process. Bossio said Terremark officials have told the story many times about how quickly Culpeper responded to the initial overture.

“That took us into a new era of economic development,” said Bossio.

Developing Downtown
But Bossio also remembers economic downtown revitalization development efforts in the town of Culpeper. He calls the town the crown jewel of the county.

He said local citizens, businesses, government leaders and the town’s Main Street Program, Culpeper Renaissance Inc., wanted to rebuild the core downtown from its deteriorated and rundown condition. Buildings were boarded up; a tree grew from the second story of a downtown building and vagrants hung out day and night.

“They had a vision. People would have said they were crazy, but they weren’t crazy,” said Bossio. “I had a real appreciation for what they were trying to do.”

The retiring county administrator said the key to a revitalized downtown was everyone working together. He said without a vibrant downtown, there would be no Terremark.

Other areas of economic development of which Bossio is most proud occurred north of town, with Lowe’s being a catalyst for other retail shops, stores and restaurants.

It was that growth that had town officials questioning why it was providing water and sewer to developments outside the town limits that competed with town businesses. Water and sewer had always been a contentious issue between the town and county for decades.

In less than a year, Bossio and the board of supervisors, his town counterpart former Town Manager Jeff Muzzy and the town council hammered out an agreement that would have the town provide water and sewer services, with the county allowing the town to take in the commercial development that included Lowe’s. The agreement has a formula in place allowing the town to take in areas developed adjacent to the town limits every 10 years without any additional action.

Bossio described it as a “fair agreement.”

The agreement, which was approved by the Commission on Local Government, the Virginia Attorney General and a three ­judge panel, serves as a model for other localities facing similar dilemmas, said Bossio.

Under his leadership, the Culpeper Regional Airport has been ranked second in operations among small airports without a tower. Culpeper ranked sixth, at one time.

The Great Recession had Bossio making hard decisions. He had to cut the Culpeper Human Services’ budget by $300,000 and lay off county workers in the building department.

Bossio had his own way of dealing with his seven elected bosses. He established boundaries. He also ensured that information sent to one board member was sent to all the others.

He said building trust with his bosses was paramount and getting out in front of issues.

“I always told them what I thought,” said Bossio.

But he credits stability on the makeup of the board as a major factor for his longevity.

As the clock winds down on his days as county administrator, Bossio still has a budget to work on.

“I have been thinking about all the things that I didn’t get done – all the little pieces,” he said.

Bossio never shied away from challenges and relished them. He will miss those daily challenges, but most of all, he will miss the people.

“This staff is some of the best professionals,” said Bossio, as he looked at the boxes of memorabilia sitting on the floor beside the round table in his office.

The items will be stored at the home he and his wife Jeannie, a retired Fairfax County elementary school teacher, own in Fauquier just across the Culpeper County line.

“I will be around,” he said, with a huge smile. “It’s just different.”

Wally Bunker is a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. You may reach him at wallybunker@outlook.com
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Guest Frank Bossio, Culpeper County Administrator

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