Contentious Election Stirs Commission Meeting

Contentious Election Stirs Commission Meeting

For the second year in a row, the Alexandria Planning Commission election of officers became an embittered face off between the existing chairperson and the Commission's only female member.

At the beginning of Tuesday night's meeting, Commissioner Donna Fossum asked to make a statement prior to the formal nomination and election of officers. In that statement she threw down a challenge to Chairperson Eric R. Wagner: "I'll nominate you for a second term if you nominate me next year."

It met with stone-faced silence from Wagner and a rebuke from existing Vice Chair Richard Leibach. He offered to second her nomination of Wagner only if she withdrew her stipulation. When Fossum made no response to do so, Liebach then nominated Wagner for a second one year term.

In her opening statement Fossum accused Wagner of isolating her over the past year. "Aside from a perfunctory exchange when we happen to meet, Chairperson Wagner and I have not spoken to each other since last March, even though we sit inches apart up here," she said.

"Not once this past year has Chairperson Wagner called me to discuss any matter pending before the Planning Commission. I know he does this with other Commissioners. Rest assured that what is hurt by this is not me. What is hurt is the planning process of the City of Alexandria," Fossum insisted.

She then offered "to bring some unity to this body" by nominating Wagner with the stipulation he reciprocate next year by nominating her for chairperson. As Wagner remained silent, staring straight at the audience packed Council chambers, Liebach noted that such a stipulation was unrealistic based on the many possibilites over the next year.

Fossum noted that she had "heard from literally dozens of Alexandrians" who were "quite disturbed" by her being denied the chair at last year's election. At that time Fossum had served as the Commission's Vice Chair for eight years, with three more years longevity on the Commission than Wagner.


In making her offer, Fossum pointed out, "that in a city where white males comprise only 25 percent of the total population, they comprise over 70 percent of the Planning Commission." She then displayed a chart, which she stated had been sent to her by a supporter, depicting the criteria for determining leadership on the Planning Commission.

Headed "What Really Counts?" the chart listed the following comparisons between Fossum and Wagner. Age: Fossum-53, Wagner-46; Years on Commission: Fossum-12; Wagner-9; Years as Vice Chair:

Fossum-8; Wagner-0; Years as President of a Civic Association: Fossum-5; Wagner-1; Number of Advanced College Degrees: Fossum-3; Wagner-1; Number of "Y" Chromosomes: Fossum-0; Wagner-1.

But when it came to the vote it was Wagner six and Fossum zero. She did not vote. Liebach was then nominated and elected as Vice Chair to a second one year term by a vote of seven to zero, with Fossum casting her vote in favor.

Following the contentious election, the Commission moved into its agenda approving each of the following items:

* The construction of an office building at the site of the present Table Talk Restaurant, 1623 Duke St. A restaurant will remain on the ground level. The proposed building would be 36,943 square feet spread over four stories with two levels of underground parking.

* Expansion of the child care center at 100 East Windsor Ave. known as Creative Play School. The applicant requested a Special Use Permit to add three new programs for 60 more children.

* The relocation of The Clubhouse, operated by the Alexandria Community Services Board, from its present location at 115 Patrick St. to 1400 Duke St. The facility, in existence since 1980, offers structured day programs to those with a history of mental illness, substance abuse, or mental retardation, according to the staff report. It provides case management, medication management, family support, and education services to its consumers. Approximately 50 speakers addressed the Commission, most opposed to the relocation, prior to its vote. The Commission's recommendation now goes to City Council to either be upheld or rejected.