The Brave Bureaucrat Who Tells The PC “No”


By. Neil Williamson, President

There has been much talk lately about changing the culture inside local government.  While the lofty rhetoric has been about “cutting red tape” and making government more friendly to business, more specifics are needed.

One Example:  On December 8th, 2009, the Albemarle County Planning Commission had an application before it to add a communications equipment shed [24’ X 30’] within an existing fenced site.  Staff highlighted two factors favorable and no factors unfavorable for the application.

The 13 page staff report was exhaustive.  Staff visited the site a number of times and included photography from those visits.  In addition, staff pulled the original special use permit notification letter (1990) signed by then (and now) Planning Director V. Wayne Cilimberg. 

Members of the Planning Commission complemented the in depth analysis completed by staff in the report.  The Free Enterprise Forum was struck by the level of detail and believes this application is helpful in understanding the incessant expansion of applicant “requirements”.  To be clear, this is not a critique of the planner on this project [nor an opinion in favor or opposed to this project] but of the “requirements” being handed down from Planning Commissioners.

In time difficult economic times, organizations wishing to survive, must review their priorities and procedures.  As our our local governments prepare for their budgets, choices and decisions must be made.  One area for procedural improvements is the brave bureaucrat who will tell the Planning Commission [or Board of Supervisors] “No”.

Today, planning commissioners often meet independently with applicants and indicate they would “really like it” if the applicant would provide some data point that is not required by any statute. 

In addition, in many of the localities we cover, Planning Commissioners (and Board Members) will often ask staff lengthy tangential questions that require significant research.  How many staff hours are lost in this exercise?

When will someone stand up and say “stop the madness”?

Local ordinances go to great lengths to specify the information required for an application to be considered.  The current practices go far beyond that which is codified.

Albemarle County has a series of checklists some are delineated by ordinance but many have simply become common practice based on activist planning commissions [and Boards].  When the Free Enterprise Forum raised this issue we were told “Once the wasn’t a checklist”.

In any decision there is always more information available, but what specific information do you need it to evaluate the application?

The Free Enterprise Forum calls on all localities to review their procedures to limit the scope of review to only that information delineated by ordinance to be required to render a decision. 

If the code does not require enough data, change the code.

The brave bureaucrat who says “no” to the ever endless requests for tangential application information (from applicants and staff) will be taking the first steps toward creating a more predictable and positive local government culture. 


20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website


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