Another sea change is in store for the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors this January, when four Republican members are replaced by Democrats who ran on platforms of controlled growth. The ousted Republicans ran for the present term on promises to deregulate residential development, and in the four years since the last election, Loudoun has become one of the fastest-growing counties in the country.
Last week’s election heralded the third consecutive term in which control of the board has swung between slow-growth Democrats and pro-growth Republicans.
Prior to the election, the Democratic challengers said they expected frustration with runaway residential growth to factor largely in the election’s outcome. Since then, the Loudoun County Republican Committee has issued a statement saying the defeat of four Republican incumbents "appears in many ways to be an extension of challenges our party is facing on the regional, state and even national levels."
MICHAEL MCDONALD, a government and politics professor at George Mason University and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute, said the political wind might have been a factor in the election’s outcome but was not likely to have been a deciding one. At the time of the 2003 elections, he said, the Republican Party was "at a high point of name identification," meaning the majority of the population identified itself as Republican. Since then, "Republicans have gone from the highest level to the lowest level of name identification in 40 years," said McDonald.
However, he said, local elections tend to hinge more on local than national issues. He noted that growth was a major concern in Fairfax and Loudoun counties alike. "Growth is a two-edged sword for Republicans," he said, explaining that a growing population is good for business but raises the need for services and infrastructure. Meeting this need can require tax hikes, which Republicans generally do not favor.
McDonald said growth also brings large numbers of new voters with no ties to the local government, which does not work in the favor of incumbents. "Usually, incumbents cultivate name recognition," he said, noting that new residents would be no more predisposed toward an incumbent than a challenger.
The idea that the shift in the Board of Supervisors was the result of a national trend is also undermined by the fact that Loudoun’s Republican candidates for the Virginia General Assembly won or made strong showings in most of their races, while the ousted supervisors were beaten soundly.
The Democratic challengers also said allegations of corruption and what most described as a lack of civility on the board factored into voters’ choices. Andrea McGimsey, who beat Potomac Supervisor Bruce Tulloch, alluded to a "bullying attitude" among board members and a lack of attention to citizen input.
One notable aspect of the incoming board is that it will be dominated by women, at a ratio of 5-to-4, a characteristic that could help with the issue of board animosities. McDonald said women in government tend to favor cooperation over confrontation. However, he noted that repeated studies had demonstrated that, aside from this difference in "management style," the gender of a politician or political body has "minimal" bearing on policy.
CHAIRMAN SCOTT YORK, who was re-elected to the present and coming terms as an Independent, said he expected that the coming board would be "a little less favorable to changing the Comprehensive Plan to add houses." York said the board’s priorities would shift toward "making sure we’re taking care of the citizens who are here, rather than adding more."
He also said he intended to work with communities in the more populated eastern portion of the county to come up with a plan for growth, and he noted that a few dates would likely be set in the first two months of the coming term for the board to visit communities for "public input meetings."
"Area plans" for the four areas of eastern Loudoun laid out in the 2000 Comprehensive Plan constitute another of York’s hopes for the next four years. The area plans, he said, would try to answer the question, "What can we do to ensure that we continue to have an outstanding community?"
York also said he expected to see "a lot more civility" on the board. At the beginning of the last term, the Republican majority voted to strip York of the traditional powers of the chair and transfer them to vice chair and Potomac Supervisor Bruce Tulloch. York, who was elected to the board and then the chairmanship as a Republican, had just run as an Independent for the first time. He said almost all the members of the coming board had told him they would immediately vote to restore his powers as chairman.
"That’s a signal to me that they want to work together," he said.
"ONE OF THE THINGS I’ve been hearing people talk about is how delighted they are that the new board will restore civility to the government," said incoming Dulles Supervisor Stevens Miller.
He said he expected board members to show greater courtesy both to each other and to the public. He also said he was eager to sign the code of ethics adopted by the county, as did most other supervisors contacted for this story.
Miller said he would like not only to curb residential growth but also to work on drawing professional business development to the county. This would mean businesses outside the field of retail, he said.
"Those are perfectly legitimate jobs, but they shouldn’t be the only ones we’re attracting to Loudoun County."
Miller said he was thinking of pushing to have a panel created to look into professional businesses that had considered moving into the county but had ultimately decided against it, although he said that task might fall under the purview of the Department of Economic Development.
To improve the government’s relations with the public, Miller said he would like to create a position for a public liaison who would find answers to citizens’ questions and also compile citizen input to be presented to county boards and commissions. Another way he said he would like to improve public relations would be by making it possible for citizens to sign up online or by phone to speak at public meetings. They would then be told the hour or half-hour during which their turn would come up, so that they would not have to sit through entire meetings that can last past midnight.
A confessed "computer geek," Miller said he would also like to see the government switch from the Windows computer operating systems to Linux, although he noted that many of his future colleagues may not share his sense of urgency about this matter.
BROAD RUN SUPERVISOR Lori Waters, one of only two of the board’s Republicans to survive the election, said she expected a professional, positive relationship with the future board. She noted that she had already established a working rapport with Democratic Supervisor Sally Kurtz (Catoctin) and independents York and Jim Burton (Blue Ridge) and said she hoped to have similar relationships with incoming board members.
"I think it will be a time when we have a lot more civility," she said, adding that she still expected "some impassioned debates."
In 2004, Waters voted alongside her Republican colleagues to transfer the powers of chairman from York to Tulloch, but halfway through the present term, she introduced a proposal to reverse the action. She said she would "absolutely" vote to fully restore York’s chairmanship.
Waters said she thought one reason she weathered the election that ousted most of her party members was that she distinguished herself by approaching problems from a community perspective, rather than always toeing the party line. "I know a lot of my Republican colleagues had issues with that," she said.
"It’ll be a fresh start for the county and for the board and I hope it will be a fresh start for the Republican Party in the county," Waters said of the coming term. The election results, she said, could serve as "a wake-up lesson that some changes need to be made in the local Republican Party, and I hope to facilitate that."
MCGIMSEY ECHOED HER colleagues’ hopes for greater courtesy and a community focus, and plans to rein in growth, revisit local area plans and increase the commercial tax base. She also said she would place an emphasis on managing traffic, pushing for the completion of the local road grid, Metrorail, a bus system, the resurrection of the county’s bike and pedestrian plan and an increase in telecommuting.
"The thing that got me into all this was the traffic," she said.
"With all the growth that’s happened, we’ve got a lot of challenges," said McGimsey, noting that thousands more homes have already been approved and will be built in coming years. She said she did not want to bring residential growth to a halt, but to slow it down. "We’re going to consider reasonable proposals from developers."
She said her background as a senior manager at America Online and then as a small business owner, as well as her work on growth issues through the group Campaign for Loudoun’s future, would help her to work both with communities and businesses. "And I do care about clean water and clean air and things like that," she said, noting that clean water was an especially important issue in her Potomac District, where illegal dumping at Hidden Lane Landfill contaminated residents’ well water. McGimsey said she hoped to bring county water to the area’s homes.
ASKED HOW HE survived the election that ousted most of his colleagues, Republican Sterling Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio said he did not know.
"The people want me, and I’m honored," he said.
Delgaudio said he did not expect much controversy in the coming term. He noted that his votes had been in line with the present board members over the last six months, as they voted to remove four town centers from the plan and to adopt the "Delgaudio Overcrowding Ordinance" that would prevent numerous families from living in one house.
Moreover, he said, "All of the candidates ran on the same platform," promising to focus on quality of life, controlling growth and enforcing laws regarding illegal immigration. "Nineteen out of 20 candidates said they’re going to uphold the law on illegal immigrants," said Delgaudio. "The degree to which we uphold those laws is perhaps the only discussion we need to have."
He said the overcrowding ordinance, which would not only deal with citizen complaints but would take an aggressive approach to "hot spots" like the Sterling Park community, would be a focus of his in the coming term. Restoring Sterling Park "to the quality of life" enjoyed by other districts, he said, would be "a lasting legacy for this board."
Delgaudio said he would sign the county code of ethics only if the board members agreed to give up their county salary. "Volunteerism is the highest form of ethics," he said. "Anything else is posturing."
He said he would make a motion to return the supervisors’ salaries to the county treasury when the code of ethics was brought up.
ROSEMARIE PELLETIER, government and politics professor at Northern Virginia Community College’s Loudoun campus, said her biggest concern with drastic changes in board membership every election was that institutional knowledge was lost with the start of each term. With five incumbents in the coming board, she said, "maybe now we have some institutional knowledge and we have some new blood, and so now maybe we have a hybrid."
She said the frequent and significant changes in the boards membership and approach could scare off some businesses, but she said she thought the changes indicated that voters saw elections "as an opportunity to get it right." She noted that the booming population brought many new voters with different values and ideas.
"I think what they’re looking for is a balanced approach," she said, adding that "most of the extremes" had been voted out of office. "Most of the people in Loudoun County are not interested in the theatrics."