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Letter: Expertise Needed

To the Editor:

Prior to the April 10 meeting of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (BOS), the meeting agenda listed an agenda item beginning on page 303 concerning a BOS vote to approve or turn down a new charter for the County's Tree Commission. I reviewed the item and discovered that the new charter proposed a dramatically increased role for the Tree Commission and that they had approved their newly proposed charter on March 7, 2012.

I reviewed the charter and found that it required no technical expertise of any kind for Tree Commission members. This concerned me, given the influence of Tree Commission members on reasonable development proposals. I accordingly wrote Supervisor Hyland to bring this issue to his attention and request that consideration of the charter be tabled so that it can be amended to require adequate technical expertise for its members. At the BOS meeting, the proposed charter was withdrawn from the agenda. I don't take credit for this development but trust that BOS members will require the charter to include a technical expertise requirement for Tree Commission members.

I am reminded of the "performance" of Mount Vernon's tree commissioner at the public hearing before the Planning Commission concerning the proposed up-zoning of the Leatherland property. She had opposed the up-zoning and gave details regarding her tree concerns. Questioned by Planning Commission members about her comments, she admitted she has no technical expertise concerning trees and asked that the questions be directed to the County arborist. This incident points out the need for technical expertise on the part of those who volunteer for boards, authorities and commissions and find themselves in a position to affect development proposals. Caring about trees isn't a qualification to serve on the Tree Commission. We all care about trees.

I note that in preparing to write this letter after the BOS meeting, I visited the County's website to review the proposed charter since, although I had printed it out, I couldn't immediately find it. I discovered that the proposed charter had been purged from the Board package after the fact. Search of the County website failed to uncover it — it was as if it had never existed. Fortunately I found the print out I had made. I find it disturbing that when an item in the Board agenda package prior to the meeting is subsequently withdrawn from consideration, that item is purged from the package after the meeting. This action deprives taxpayers of the ability to see what was on the agenda prior to the meeting. Citizens are now deprived of the ability to read the proposed charter and provide their comments to the BOS. I ask Supervisor Hyland to request that the proposed charter for the Tree Commission be restored to the County's website so that taxpayers will be knowledgeable about what was proposed and can follow the process and provide appropriate input.

H. Jay Spiegel

Mount Vernon