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Letter to the Editor: Reform County’s Appointment Process

To the Editor:

In August 2010, Supervisor Hyland constituted a visioning task force to study the Mount Vernon District and create a comprehensive report concerning the next 25 years. I was proud to be chosen as a member of its land use committee. At the first meeting of the task force, Supervisor Hyland compared and contrasted the "top down" governing style of our sister city Harbin in Communist China with what he described as his "bottom up" governing style in which he allegedly listens to his constituents and makes appropriate decisions for our District. That was the basis for the task force. (http://connection.membershipsoftware.org/article.asp?article=344284&paper=69&cat=104)

Fast forwarding to the present, I have sadly concluded that the manner by which our County Board of Supervisors (BOS) makes appointments to Boards, Authorities, and Commissions, is more closely aligned with the Chinese "top down" model. The end of December, Glenda Booth's term as a member of the Wetlands Board expired. There was no public announcement of this fact nor could one find out about it from the county website. Had I not made a specific inquiry with Supervisor Hyland's office, I couldn't have known about it. The Friday before the BOS meeting of Nov. 20, 2012, the agenda for that meeting was published on the county website and included over 70 nominations to positions on boards, authorities, and commissions the BOS indicated would be voted upon at that meeting. However, only a handful of those prospective appointments actually listed the name of the nominee. Among the names omitted was the nominee for Ms. Booth's seat on the Wetlands Board.

On Nov. 19, 2012, I sent the BOS a letter explaining why, in my opinion, Ms. Booth should not be reappointed (if in fact she was nominated). Supervisor Hyland deferred the nomination to the Dec. 4, 2012 BOS meeting. I met with him on Dec. 3, 2012, and he informed me of his intention to defer the nomination again so that he would have an opportunity to discuss possible reappointment with Ms. Booth. On Jan. 25, 2013, I checked the county website and found the nomination listed but still with no identification of the nominee. Over the weekend, I e-mailed Supervisor Hyland and asked him to (1) defer the nomination to the next BOS meeting, and (2) immediately announce the identity of his nominee so that his constituents could provide comments pro and con. Supervisor Hyland didn't respond and neither deferred the nomination nor identified the nominee.

On Jan. 28, 2013, the day before the BOS meeting, I telephoned the BOS clerk to determine whether a nominee had been identified. None had yet been identified. I telephoned Supervisor Hyland's office and found that he wasn't available. The morning of the BOS meeting, barely one hour before the meeting commenced, the BOS clerk was finally able to inform me that, in fact, Ms. Booth would be nominated for reappointment. This scenario thwarted any possibility of members of the public weighing in on this nomination one way or the other since it wasn't previously possible to find out who was nominated. Perhaps this is the way appointments are made in China, but it is disgraceful that this is the way they are made in Fairfax County. Sadly, this scenario is typical of county appointments.

On Dec. 17, 2012, I sent a letter to BOS Chairman Sharon Bulova decrying the manner by which the BOS makes appointments, devoid of transparency, and requesting reform. Subsequently, my letter to the Gazette was published addressing the same issue. I have yet to receive a reply from Chairman Bulova nor has the BOS's technique for making appointments changed. At the Jan. 29, 2013 BOS meeting, fully 100 appointments were ratified in the space of perhaps 30 seconds. The published board agenda identified fewer than 20 percent of the nominees. Not a single nominee was orally identified at the BOS meeting. Using governing techniques designed to shorten BOS meetings is no substitute for governing democratically. What likely passes for governance in China is unacceptable in Fairfax County.

One footnote: The Mount Vernon - Lee Chamber of Commerce got wind of the vacancy on the Wetlands Board and urged Supervisor Hyland "to change the composition of the Wetlands Board to better reflect the community." They also gave the supervisor the names of three alternate candidates. Recently, another Mount Vernon position on the Wetlands Board opened up through the resignation of Raymond Murphy. Supervisor Hyland nominated one of the three people recommended by the chamber to that position, Gavin Carter, and he was appointed by the BOS on Jan. 29. While this development is commendable, it does not change the fact that reform of the appointment process must occur. Now.

H. Jay Spiegel

Mount Vernon