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Letter to the Editor: Unidentified Appointments

To the Editor:

During meetings of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (BOS), appointments are made to Boards, Authorities and Commissions. The BOS agenda available on the Fairfax County website lists all of the positions for which the BOS intends to fill vacancies or, perhaps, to reappoint incumbents.

Typical of this process is what occurred on Dec. 4. The agenda included fully 79 proposed appointments. Even though there is a column specifically designated as the place where the “Nominee” is to be identified, in only three of those 79 proposed appointments was the nominee actually named. In the other 76 cases, over 96 percent, no nominee was identified. As a result, the general public had little idea who the BOS was proposing to appoint to a variety of important positions.

I observed the meeting on Dec. 4 on Channel 16. The procedure the BOS followed was typical of others I have observed. When the time came to address appointments, BOS members were asked by Chairman Bulova if they had the updated list of nominees (without identifying those nominees to those present in the Board room or watching on television). A few BOS members identified a small handful of changes including deferrals. Then, without any effort to identify who was being nominated (other than the three names identified in the agenda), the BOS voted to appoint everyone on the list by a voice vote without dissent. While this may be an efficient way of making appointments, sometimes a properly run democracy can’t be made to be efficient while at the same time remaining fair and transparent.

To my knowledge, there is no mechanism in place by which a member of the public can easily ascertain pending appointments by position or by chosen nominee. As a result, on several occasions, I have been surprised to discover the identities of appointees only after the fact, under circumstances in which, in my opinion, those appointees were not suitable to be appointed for any one of a variety of reasons. Had I known of the prospective appointments in advance, I surely would have weighed in. The same goes for my fellow citizens as well as civic organizations and the press.

In my opinion, the BOS needs to adopt a procedure that more effectively allows members of the public to quickly and easily ascertain who the BOS intends to appoint to various positions and with sufficient notice that comments can be furnished to the BOS far enough in advance of the appointment date so that concerns about a prospective appointment as well as endorsements of a prospective appointee can be furnished to BOS members. In this vein, I suggest that the BOS provide a separate page on the County website on which all prospective appointments are provided with two weeks advance notice so that members of the public and the press can review the list in advance of the appointment date and provide necessary and/or desired comments. In this way, no one would be able to complain that they were unaware of prospective appointments and the BOS would be saved from the potential embarrassment of appointing people who are not suitable for the positions they seek.

BOS members would not hire members of their staff without a thorough vetting process. Taxpayers should not be put in a position of having their Boards, Authorities and Commissions populated by people unsuitable for those positions. The BOS must recognize that it is sometimes better to leave a position vacant rather than appointing an unsuitable candidate just because they happen to be willing to volunteer.

I have addressed this issue directly with BOS Chairman Sharon Bulova and Mount Vernon Supervisor Gerry Hyland. I hope the issue is resolved at the BOS meeting on Jan. 8 in the best interests of democracy and transparency.

H. Jay Spiegel

Mount Vernon