Fairness, balance and historical precedent came up as underlying issues of the debate, but the main question was who gets to set the agenda?
The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted to amend some of its rules of order, which determine how the board conducts its everyday business. Two proposals, one from Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) and one from Supervisor Jim Clem (R-Leesburg) were brought in front of the board.
Waters said her proposal advocated a greater balance between the duties of the board's chairman and vice chairman. She proposed the chairman be granted the power to set the agenda for the board's business meetings, as it had been done in the past. In January 2004, when the current board took power, the board voted to take the agenda-setting power from Chairman Scott York (I-At Large) and award that power to the vice chairman, Supervisor Bruce Tulloch (R-Potomac).
"if this passed it would finally be a return to what has been a historical precedent in the county," said Supervisor Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin) of Waters' proposal.
KURTZ SAID the chairman is the only official who runs for election in every district, which is basis enough for him to have the authority to decide what items are put on the board's agenda. Taking that authority away from the chairman, said Kurtz, is tampering with people's will.
Supervisor James Burton (I-Mercer) said adopting Waters' proposal would be a fair thing to do.
"Current rules of order provide too much power to one district," said Burton. He asked why should one district supervisor, out of eight, have more power than the rest. York seconded Burton's notion. He said the Board of Supervisors asked people if they wanted to elect the chairman, instead of the board doing so. He said the local government was not the federal government, where the majority party picks a majority leader. He also said adopting Waters' proposal was simply the right and fair thing to do for the citizens of the county.
The Republicans on the board fired back. Supervisor Mick Staton (R-Sugarland Run) said the chairman still had the powers granted to him by the Code of Virginia. However, he runs on an opposite sleight than the majority of the board, and therefore he was stripped off some everyday business duties. He added that the historic precedence Kurtz talked about only dated back to 1992, and was changed twice since then. He said the idea of tampering with will of the people in this case was ludicrous.
"This has nothing to do with fairness," said Supervisor Stephen Snow (R-Dulles). "Mr. York has a different philosophy and Mr. Tulloch shares the same philosophy as the majority of the board."
WATERS' PROPOSAL failed in a 4-5 vote, but Clem's proposal did include a compromise, which Waters thought was better than the current rules of order.
The proposal, which passed in a 6-2-1 vote, said the chairman and the vice chairman would work together on setting the agenda. However, if there was disagreement between the two, the vice chairman would prevail. "This is a good compromise," said Clem, "it puts the two most important people on the board to work together for what is best for Loudoun County."
Burton disagreed. "It is a false sense of cooperation. I find it difficult to see that as a real compromise," he said.
Tulloch, who won another term as vice chairman in a 5-4 vote at the first meeting of 2006, said there is a lot more cooperation between members of the board than there was in 2004. He said the board has been trying to find the center on the issue, and Clem found it. He added that he and York work well together.
Some of Waters' other points were added to Clem's proposal. They include that no member of the board will speak on behalf of the full board in front of a legislator on any issue, unless the board had taken a position on the issue by a majority vote. Also, if it was unclear which of the board's committees had the jurisdiction over an issue, there would be a joint committee meeting. Another point Clem adopted from Waters was that action items be discussed after public comment. This way the members of the public would not have to sit through all of the organizational items on the board's agenda.
Waters said she reluctantly supported Clem's proposal, because it is a little better than what was currently in.