Residents Decry Lack of Public Input

Residents Decry Lack of Public Input

At its second meeting, new Board of Supervisors receives support and criticism.

County residents told the new Board of Supervisors "we will be watching every step you take" as they crowded the boardroom Tuesday, Jan. 20 for the second meeting of the 2004-07 board’s term.

At the first meeting, the board shook up "the most apathetic citizens out of their chairs to each and every board meeting," as one Loudoun resident said. Another resident accused the board of disenfranchising the voters by giving some of the chairman’s duties to vice-chairman Bruce Tulloch (R-Potomac). "You need to start afresh … restore the chairman with his roles and authority," came from another resident.

The six Republican supervisors had voted in a new set of rules of order, added 22 items to the agenda and reversed several of the previous board’s land use decisions at what turned into a 10-hour meeting on Jan. 5. Those supervisors showed themselves to be "power grabbing" and a "disgrace to the Republican Party," some residents had said.

As lifelong Republican Winston Porter put it, he was "very embarrassed" by the board’s actions. "I’ve never seen so many decisions made ahead of a meeting without public input," he said.

"Their actions have made Loudoun County a laughingstock in the Commonwealth and other parts of the country. Probably to their surprise and displeasure, it also seems to have increased support from the citizens for the chairman," said county resident Margaret Sterrett.

Porter, Sterrett and another 60 residents spoke to the board during three hours of public comment. The majority addressed the board’s actions at its first meeting. Most voiced their concerns, while a few congratulated the six Republican supervisors for eliminating tourism funding of the county’s open space program, restoring property rights and recognizing that "slow growth can’t be the answer."

FOLLOWING PUBLIC COMMENT, the board approved John Herbert’s appointment to the Planning Commission, as recommended by his supervisor Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin) at the Jan. 5 meeting. The Republican supervisors tabled the vote to Jan. 20 but did approve the recommendations brought forward by the eight other board members, as did Kurtz, chairman Scott York (R-At large) and James Burton (I-Mercer).

"He made his point. We made ours. He’s agreed to not add $10 million on every project that comes his way," said Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling).

Former Planning Commissioner David Whitmer criticized the board’s tabling the vote. "That was one of the most egregious things that happened on Monday," he said about the board’s "time-honored tradition" to allow supervisors to appoint their planning commissioners. "John Herbert, his qualities are second to none. … He’s very thorough and thoughtful."

Herbert, a Paeonian Springs resident, served as an architect in the 1950s and in 1964 began working as a planner at the local, state and national levels and is now a planning consultant.

"I would like to commend my colleagues for their smart move," Kurtz said. "The citizens of Catoctin relish his qualifications."

In another appointment, Purcellville residents and the town council requested Burton serve on the Purcellville Urban Growth Area Management Plan (PUGAMP) instead of Stephen Snow (R-Dulles). Snow, chairman of the Land Use Committee, proposed adding Burton’s name to the PUGAMP Committee that is assigned to the Joint Land Management Area between the town and county.

"Land use issues affecting Purcellville affect all of Loudoun County," said D.M. "Mick" Staton (R-Sugarland Run).

PURCELLVILLE TOWN COUNCIL member Karl Phillips, who was representing the Town Council and its residents, said that the council welcomes Snow’s participation on the committee but wants Burton to serve as the board representative to the committee, since Burton and not Snow is accountable to the town’s residents, he said.

Phillips mentioned that 200 residents appeared at the council meeting last Tuesday, the majority saying they want Burton as their representative. "It’s a matter of representation. That’s why the town council voted for Burton," Phillips said. "We’re not here to negotiate. We’re firm on this."

Phillips did not like that Snow had been appointed to the committee "in private." At the Jan. 5 meeting, the six Republican supervisors put forth their recommended committee assignments that the other board members had not seen until the meeting. "If you would have had this discussion in an open public meeting, we wouldn’t be here now," he said.

"It’s not a representative thing. You chose your representative and we chose ours," Snow said in response. "Here’s a chance to go in there and help. It was a genuine reaching out."

The board appointed Snow, since as chairman of the Land Use Committee, he can better understand the residents’ needs, Tulloch said. York said the board members should listen to what the residents want and said what they were doing was a disservice.

"Mr. Chairman you’re out of order. This is not pursuant to the issue on hand," said Tulloch.

"It’s a very heated issue, and I understand that," Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) added. "It was never our intention to cause problems between the town and county. We need to be clearer in what we mean. … We’re partners in this now."

Tulloch proposed an amendment to the motion, asking if the Town Council will accept adding an additional member to the committee from both the town and the county. The board tabled the motion 6-3 with York, Burton and Kurtz voting against.

IN OTHER BUSINESS, the Board of Supervisors:

* Agreed to support Attorney General Jerry Kilgore’s open government initiatives that, if approved at the state level, will require all elected officials to follow the public disclosure rules in the Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act before they take office, a motion that York brought to the board.

Staton said the initiative did not go far enough and should include legislative caucuses. Waters questioned whether elected officials should have a say in county votes before they take office if the initiative is passed. Snow suggested the use of transition team offices to allow incoming board members to be equal with incumbents. Kurtz said that she expects that from one board to the next board members would act like adults and talk with each other.

Kilgore’s second initiative, if approved, will require Supervisors to reveal their campaign contributors when the contributors bring a land use matter before the board. Tulloch asked York to withdraw the second part of his motion, which directs the county attorney to draft an ordinance or policy document that would "enact such contribution disclosure procedures," as stated in the agenda item.

"All I’m asking is for this board to endorse what the Attorney General is doing," York said, adding that he will withdraw his motion to reserve his right to bring it back to the board at a later date.

* Approved Waters’ request for staff to prepare a report on proffer accountability and tracking. She asked that the report provide information on how much in cash proffer money is in county control and how much of that money is committed in the future. She said she wanted the information before asking the state for impact fees from developers and to help the board identify ways to improve the proffer system to residents’ benefit.