Until Monday, adopting a public meeting policy was Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio's answer to complaints about the county's joint meeting with Douglas County, Colo.
Delgaudio (R-Sterling) presented the Board of Supervisors with a draft resolution, which the board voted down before Chairman Scott York (R-At Large) countered with a second resolution. Delgaudio asked for a policy outlining when the public could be invited to county meetings with delegations from outside the county.
"I want to have some kind of guidelines to avoid confusion in the future. The spirit is all we're talking about ... the spirit of appearing closed," Delgaudio said, referring to the late August meeting between administrators from Loudoun and Douglas counties that was closed to the public. The administrators met to share information about how the nation’s two fastest growing counties manage their governments.
"Stop this closed form of big brother government and allow the people affected by your decisions and discussions to be in the room," said Jack Shockey, president of the Citizens for Property Rights (CPR) during public comment.
"It's not a secret group. It's not a private group, but it's a public group," Delgaudio said.
The board voted 7-2 against Delgaudio's motion, following with unanimous support for the resolution York presented. The resolution reconfirmed the board's support of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and encouraged board members and staff to go beyond the act's requirements by allowing public access to meetings when appropriate. The act outlines open meeting rules for local governments in the Commonwealth.
DELGAUDIO PRESENTED a second resolution asking the board to go on record opposing the half-cent sales tax referendum, which will raise $5 billion in 20 years for Northern Virginia transportation projects.
"I think we should stay out of it and let voters decide," said James Burton (I-Mercer).
Chuck Harris (D-Broad Run) agreed. "Growth is inevitable in the region," he said, adding that the growth will require additional infrastructure. "If we manage the growth, ... the growth is more concentrated in the areas where we want it to occur."
The board voted 7-2 against Delgaudio's motion, with Delgaudio and Drew Hiatt (R-Dulles) voting in favor.
"If [Gov. Mark] Warner wants a tax increase, ask the legislatures to do it," Hiatt said, adding that the sales tax is regressive, though food and medications will not be included. "It's not the one tax that is devastating. It's the culmination of taxes. The sales tax is a tax. When you take something out of someone's pocket, it is a tax."
York presented a second resolution endorsing the right of residents to participate in the voting process.
"This is something between the state government and the citizens of Northern Virginia," York said. "I encourage the voters to know the issues when they walk into the booths. This is for them to study, not to hear from the Board of Supervisors."
IN OTHER BUSINESS:
* The board asked the Department of Animal Care and Control several questions about the animal shelter's policies and practices, responding to comments received during the Sept. 3 public hearing.
The board's first question regarded the reliability of statistics provided by staff. County staff conducted an internal audit and found several errors in the July and August monthly summaries. In response, Robert Montgomery, director of the Department of Animal Care and Control, said after the staff member responsible for the records left in August, he could not reconcile the records for July and August and corrected the most obvious math and carry-over errors.
The board's remaining questions regarded animal euthanasia rates, temperate testing of dogs and the shelter's relationship with the Humane Society of Loudoun County and animal rescue groups. The report shows that the shelter's euthanasia rate has not increased since the shelter implemented formal behavior assessments in May. The assessments put dogs through a series of tests to see how they react to situations in a home environment and to help determine their adoptability. The assessments are similar to the processes used in other Northern Virginia shelters, according to a survey of the region's shelters.
The shelter currently encourages rescue groups to refer people interested in finding particular breeds to the shelter and plans to work with the organizations to modify policies and procedures to rescue dogs the shelter cannot adopt.
"We do have one of the highest adoption and return-to-owner rates," Montgomery said.
* The board voted unanimously to increase the sheriff's salary by $1,500 to accommodate raises for senior staff, who are allowed a maximum of 90 percent of the sheriff's salary. With the raise, Sheriff Stephen Simpson's salary will be $104,000.
"I'm extremely reluctant to give the sheriff a pay raise, yet we made a commitment," Burton said.
* The board voted 7-2 to provide the county administrator with a $7,500 vehicle allowance instead of a permanently assigned county vehicle. The allowance will be effective July 1, 2003.
"This job is pretty much a 24-hour job. It's best to have a public vehicle for something like this," said Hiatt, who along with Delgaudio, voted against the motion.