What occurred at 1 Harrison Street on Monday, Jan. 5 was “unbelievable” to Board of Supervisors chairman Scott York (R-At large).
“Democracy was lost on Monday. The public’s right to be notified was lost on Monday,” York said, adding that the board had “ignored the public process.”
At their first meeting, the five newly elected Republican Supervisors and their incumbent colleague Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) added 21 items to the agenda without public notice or providing copies to the two independent and one Democratic board members.
Through a series of votes, the Republican supervisors reversed several of the land use decisions made by the previous board.
For Del. Richard “Dick” Black (R-32), “the new Board of Supervisors is off to a very fine start.”
“There certainly is an east-west divide in Loudoun County where people in the east are concerned about density packing, and you have Voters to Stop Sprawl in the west who still want all the growth to be focused right here in our neighborhood,” said the Sterling resident. “I understand people who want to keep growth and development in someone else’s neighborhood. We might all feel that.”
The Republican supervisors approved extending public utilities to the transition area, amending county planning documents to allow for active and passive recreation in minor flood plains and allowing schools to be built in industrial zones. They ended tourism tax funding of the Purchase of Development Right (PDR) program that preserves open space in the county. And they passed new rules of order that transferred most of the chairman’s duties to vice-chairman Bruce Tulloch (R-Potomac).
“The chairman is appointed by the people not by the Board of Supervisors,” York said.
“The six Republican Board of Supervisors appear to not like the result of the election of the board chairman,” said Wesley Corber, York’s campaign manager. “They seem to be changing the result after the fact by preventing the voters from having their chairman.”
FORMER SCHOOL BOARD candidate Chris Simmons asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate what he considers to be violations of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, while the Loudoun County Democratic Committee issued a statement denouncing the six supervisors’ actions as “reprehensible.”
“The new majority revised rules that clearly show they are disrespecting the minority. I strongly suspect this is not by accident,” said Phil Lo Presti, an Ashburn resident who follows the board’s activities. “That can be very, very dangerous. It is not only dangerous to the county at large but dangerous to the board members themselves. … Beware the pendulum that swings because if they really have unfairly exploited their majority, and all indications are they have, they may alienate the citizens so much that they will suffer their criticisms and actions that will strongly remove them from office and render them useless. And it might not take four years. Heck, they might be laughed out of office.”
“I believe they showed very little respect for the voters, their colleagues and the staff,” said Betsy Mayr, president of the League of Women Voters and former secretary of the Board of Elections. “To quickly summarize items on the agenda without due notice to the public, I find that to be offensive and not good government. … I thought they would start off with the honeymoon process. I never expected them to come in and draw blood. I had heard this would be a board of moderation. I have been in the county for 22 years and this is the most radical board I’ve seen on their first day of work.”
“I’m surprised they so flagrantly wanted to conflict with the will of the voters,” Corber said.
ACCORDING TO OTHER Loudoun residents, the six Republican supervisors were representing the will of the voters at Monday’s meeting.
“It’s pretty clear to everyone in the county, the majority of six on the Board of Supervisors had an agenda on their mind they wanted to take care of,” said Jack Shockey, president of Citizens for Property Rights and a western Loudoun landowner. “I think it’s a direct result of the prior Board of Supervisors being so extreme in their land use policies and tendency to spend taxpayers’ money like drunken sailors. A prime example of that is no more funding of the PDR program.”
“I think the new board is a breath of fresh air,” said John Nicholas, a Loudoun landowner. “The pendulum had swung too far. … This is a matter of the pendulum coming back to the middle.”
As that pendulum settles, Shockey expects the county to return to “normality and openness in government where all sides of an issue are listened to, not one side from special interest people,” he said.
Likewise, Dale Pollen Myers, chairman of the 1996-99 Board of Supervisors, did not see how the board’s actions had taken away anyone’s rights. “What they did was to begin a public process … that now people can participate in,” she said on Jan. 6. “A lot of people in the east made it clear they didn’t like public funding of the PDR’s. I think what they did yesterday was responsive to those constituents.”
Former Sugarland Run supervisor William Bogard disagreed. “I always thought some of those folks were capable, and I guess it confirmed my worst suspicions,” he said. “I guess I was surprised they actually did it. Most people wouldn’t do that sort of thing. … There were some people who were just doing what they were told to do, that would be my guess.”
“It appears this board has an agenda it will ramrod through,” said Peggy Maio, Loudoun field officer for the Piedmont Environmental Council. “It’s not so much what they did, it’s how they did it. … It’s incumbent on Loudoun citizens to rise up to make sure the democratic process does survive in our county.”
BOGARD HOPES the six Republicans will realize “this is the way government should not be working, particularly at the local level.”
“There was a raw sense of partisanship displayed on Monday,” said David Whitmer, former planning commissioner for the Broad Run District. “That raw partisanship occurs in the House and Senate. You don’t expect that to happen in local government.”
Shockey considered the board’s first meeting to be “very professionally done.”