Monthly Archives: June, 2012

Greene BOS Works With Citizens

By. Brent Wilson, Greene County Field Officer

The June 26 Greene County Board of Supervisors meeting provided several examples of how private citizens working with government can achieve community advancement.

Ethyle Cole Giuseppe, 92, was recognized for her continued generosity to the Greene County Park.  Last year, Giuseppe donated the funds for construction of a comfort station at the county park.  At this meeting she agreed to pay for a basketball court at the park which will allow Greene County to delay expenditures for the park until next fiscal year and start down the list of priorities to further enhance the park.

The renovation of the second story of the Greene County owned library building  is ahead of schedule and will be ready for Fall, 2012 semester of Piedmont Virginia Community College,  in the Eugene Giuseppe Center (this project, as well as the furnishings for the library, were also accomplished with significant private support).  While the second floor has remained vacant since the library opened in 2003, Chairman “Buggs” Peyton commended the foresight to construct the library building with the second floor that is now ready to provide PVCC classes in Stanardsville.

Roy Dye of Stanardsville Area Revitalization (*STAR*) reported thatstar logo grants to renovate the downtown Stanardsville streetscapes are making progress . All right of way required have been donated by property owners – some were only asking for 6 inches to allow wider sidewalks. Documents have been submitted to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) for review. After approval by VDOT, the project will be advertised to make selection of vendors with work scheduled to begin as early as this fall.

Considering recent discussions of an oversized reserve fund, it’s easy to forget that not long ago, Greene County was nearly bankrupt. In those days, Greene regularly borrowed funds in order to meet payroll and other obligations before the next property tax semiannual payment.  Strict financial controls were enacted to change this practice.  One BOS meeting during this time featured a constitutional officer requesting, and being denied, funds to replace a dying computer (>$1,000) outside the normal budget cycle.

The fiscal restraint that previous Boards of Supervisors utilized is evident as Greene now boasts a large financial reserve, far beyond the minimum recommended by their auditing firm.  Even as they accrued this reserve, Greene continued to continued to advance important capital projects at the same time.

The Greene County Board of Supervisors are successfully leveraging both corporate and private citizen support to enhance the quality of life for all citizens. While unfunded state mandates continue to negatively impact Greene’s budget, their strategic capital investments as well as a business friendly environment have created a new fiscal reality for local government.

How the Board will deal with this new reality will be the discussion in their next Board meeting on July 10th.  The Board has heard from some citizens advocating for maintaining a larger than required reserve, some wishing to spend down a portion of the reserve and still others that consider the reserve to be an indication they have been over taxed. 

Will Greene County create endorse a written financial reserve policy? 

How will that policy impact scheduled capital improvement projects? 

Will such a policy create a financial safety net to avoid raising taxes?

Once again the Free Enterprise Forum has more questions than answers.

Stay tuned.

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Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.

The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

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Albemarle’s Proposed ARB Solution is Worse than The Problem

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

The other afternoon, as the sky grew dark and I heard loud rumbling in the distance, I was reminded of Albemarle County’s proposed improvements to the development review process.

Just as the rumbling prior to a summer storm, last summer thunderstorm Ann Stromber Nelson County Lifeweek’s stakeholder roundtable  provided significant warning that the proposed revisions are not embraced by those whom will be impacted, and that the provisions regarding the Architectural Review Board (ARB) may make an existing bad problem exponentially worse.

Please let me explain.

By code, the ARB has very specific and limited powers.  The ARB has been concerned that by the time they get to see the project’s “final site plan” too many decisions have already been approved (including the location of buildings on a site).

In a May 2008 post, the Free Enterprise Forum highlighted the ARB’s desire to increase their purview:

After the staff presentations, Paul Wright of the Architectural Review Board presented a number of concerns the ARB has with the current processes.  These concerns included enforcement and an inability of the ARB under its current powers to control the skyline within the entrance corridors.

The resulting discussion changed the course of the meeting entirely.  Rather than looking for ways to streamline the development review process and improve public understanding, the members of the ARB pressed for more power.  In addition they expressed concerns that they were the last consulted regarding one of the County’s own projects Albemarle High School expansion.  One member of the ARB suggested they should be consulted on every building the County has an interest in.

Trapped in a regulatory box, Albemarle County staff has proposed placing an ARB  staff member on the site review committee.  The site review committee will review all by right site development and the ARB representative will only be consulted on projects in the entrance corridor.

In addition, as this is a by right development, the site review committee will be able to issue two types of direction – requirements and recommendations.  Most of the ARB work is directly written in the code so their comments will be recommendations.

As staff explained to the ARB last week, you would likely identify areas that, while not legally required for approval, might need additional landscaping to mitigate their impacts.

Taking this to its logical conclusion the ARB may wish to have a building on the rear of the parcel to better protect the streetscape in the entrance corridor, while the planning department may wish to have the building on the entrance corridor better to hide the sea of parking.  Since relegated parking is in the code, and ARB’s preference is not codified, the building would be placed on the front of the parcel and the site plan is approved.

Now it comes time for the final site plan approval and the required certificate of appropriateness from the ARB.  This applicant, who followed the prescribed plan clearly has ignored the ARB’s wishes because they did not move the building as ARB “recommended”.

How can the ARB move forward without malice on this application?  How can they not even if just subliminally believe the applicant is unwilling to work with them?

How exactly is this situation better than the current scenario?angry-bee.thumbnail

The angry bee theory — as a young boy, my mother told me not to swat at a bee unless I was sure I would kill it; otherwise you have an angry, focused and motivated opponent.

While understanding staff’s intent in including the ARB in the site review committee, the Free Enterprise Forum believes that since much of the ARB power is not codified, the end result would be an ARB even more ostracized (and angry) than the current approval construct.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credit: Ann Stober -Nelson County Life, Keenkid Blog

Fluvanna to Reexamine Amendment’s Impact on Economic Development

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

Despite coming late to the game, developer Charlie Armstrong and the Free Enterprise Forum persuaded Fluvanna’s Board of Supervisors to reexamine the implications of a proposed zoning text amendment for economic development.

At its June 20th meeting, supervisors agreed to defer consideration of the amendment until August after Mr. Armstrong pointed out potential flaws n the ordinance that could derail potential development in the Zion Crossroads area of the county. Specifically Armstrong pointed to draft setback requirements for riparian buffers, landscape requirements, and three-year bonding for landscaping.

Earlier in an editorial comment, the Free Enterprise Forum urged a ninety-day deferral so that staff could examine the economic development implications of the proposed zoning changes. While Supervisors unanimously agreed to send the draft back to the planning staff.

The Board however did not accede to the School Board’s request to reinstate nearly $540,000 to the school budget to supplement employee health benefit costs. School officials presented data that suggested that some lower level employees would actually have to pay to work since their month health insurance premiums would exceed their net income.

The Board also unanimously rejected sending a proposed four percent meals tax to a public referendum this November. Supervisors believed that the $300,000 annual projected income was not worth it. Fluvanna does not attract many out of county diners, and is not major restaurant magnet.

Supervisors did adopt a proposal to give county (non-school) employees a five percent pay raise to offset the new five percent employee contribution to the Virginia retirement system. The decision will cost the county an additional $79,000, money that county administrator Steven Nichols said would have to be found from existing budget lines.

Supervisors also received the sobering new that there is just $8.1 million in the county’s undesignated fund balance, or “savings account”. The required minimum balance, based upon county revenues and expenditures, is approximately $7.1 million, leaving county officials with just $1 million in liquid savings. Supervisor Don Weaver (Cunningham) noted that just a few years ago the balance exceeded $16 million.

In other matters, the supervisors:

· Approved incorporating the county’s new vision statement into the Comprehensive Plan; and,

· Endorsed the School Board’s decision to request a Commonwealth efficiency study of the school division’s operations and expenditures.

Supervisors will next meet on July 3rd, at 2:00 pm, rather than on Wednesday, July 4th.

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William Des Rochers is the Fluvanna County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.

The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Call for Proactive Policy Making in Fluvanna

By. Neil Williamson, President

Even a casual reader of the Free Enterprise Forum blog knows the last six to eight months in Fluvanna County have been eventful.  In addition to new Board of Supervisors members and significant staff turnover, Fluvanna’s budget cycle was filled with emotion.

Perhaps it is because of these “other” issues, we have failed to focus in on the sweeping Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) scheduled for public hearing on Wednesday June 20th.

During the year that the ZTA has moved through the Planning Commission, there was little engagement from the development community.  At the April meeting of the Planning Commission, not one person spoke at the public hearing (The May minutes are not yet posted).

The majority of the blame for this lack of engagement falls directly on the members of the development community (and the Free Enterprise Forum).  However, it is important to note in any ZTA process, County staff strongly encourages the applicant to be proactive in reaching out to impacted parties.

In this case the applicant is Fluvanna County, should the rules be different?

Make no mistake, we find many good things in the proposed ZTA including better definitions, improved flexibility and revised parking requirements.

We are however very concerned with the dramatic change in the stream buffer policy and how this may negatively impact Fluvanna’s economic development objectives.

The USDA Forest Service defines a riparian buffer as follows:

“the aquatic ecosystem and the portions of the adjacent terrestrial ecosystem that directly affect or are affected by the aquatic environment. This includes streams, rivers, lakes, and bays and their adjacent side channels, floodplain, and wetlands. In specific cases, the riparian buffer may also include a portion of the hillslope that directly serves as streamside habitats for wildlife.”

As we read the ZTA, intermittent streams shall be provided a fifty foot wide buffer along both sides; this buffer grows to seventy five feet on both sides of perennial streams and a hundred foot buffer on each side of the Hardware River, James River, and Rivanna River.  These stream buffers are not influenced by zoning or comprehensive plan designations.

Consider for example Hunters Branch which is classified by the U.S. Geological Survey as a perennial stream.  This stream runs through a number of developed and undeveloped portions of the industrially designated land in Zion Crossroads.

  • How much land will become undevelopable when the ZTA mandates a 150  foot swath surrounding the stream?
  • Have all impacted landowners been made aware of this potentiality?
  • How does this balance with Fluvanna’s economic development objectives for Zion Crossroads?
  • Could the same ecological benefit be achieved by another means?
  • Could the stream impacts be mitigated differently (and buffers reduced) in the Industrial zoning and large buffers maintained in the Agricultural zones?

We do not believe the community has a firm understanding of the stream buffer issue (or the majority of the ZTA).  We ask that Fluvanna’s Board of Supervisors hold their public hearing on June 20th then put off the vote for 90 days and direct staff to proactively reach out to the community.  Such a meeting would outline the costs and benefits of the proposed changes.  As the BOS would have already held the public hearing, the vote could be held without additional advertisement as a part of their regular October meeting agenda.

Such a delay is not required by law but would go a long way in gaining the buy in from the community and building their trust and understanding of government.

Ninety days seems like a small price to pay for such a rich citizen benefit.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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

Photo Credit: United States Department of Agricuture

Albemarle ARB Pushes Back on Neighborhood Model

By. Neil Williamson, President

This afternoon (6/18) Albemarle County’s Architectural Review Board (ARB) had an interesting tidbit on their agenda – a discussion of EC [Entrance Corridor] impacts of relegated parking.

The Free Enterprise Forum’s opposition to mandated relegated parking dates back to 2003 when it was first considered as a part of Albemarle County’s Neighborhood Model.  At that time we wrote to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors:

As written, it is anticipated that a significant number of businesses would establish the front of their shop as the “rear” and close all public access from the street side of the building. As architecture critic Craig Whitaker notes in his book Architecture and the American Dream, if cars are moved to the back, “the front doors would start following the cars.”

In an August 2011 post [The ARB vs. The Neighborhood Model] , we referenced the conflict between the ARB guidelines and the new urbanism theory of the Neighborhood Model.  As one example we mentioned Albemarle County’s challenges manning a front and rear door for the Crozet library. 

In perhaps the best local commercial example yet, this afternoon I shared the following images from the new buildings in the Hollymead Town Center with the ARB.

These photos, taken this morning, provide real world experience with creating a design that fails to function well.  The majority of the parking is on the opposite side thus that is Holly Nails’ front door.

As the ARB started their discussion, Member Paul Wright said, “Relegated Parking is the number one architectural problem we have in the entrance corridor…seems we are protecting people in cars from seeing cars” [emphasis added-nw].

Wright went further to describe the new urbanist concept of placing the parking to the rear results in the best architectural design is on the backs of buildings.  What we wind up with is canyons of parking behind buildings.

ARB Member Chuck Lebo suggested that, “I ‘d rather see roofs of cars than the back of buildings [facing the entrance corridor]”

In drafting a resolution to be recommended to the Board of Supervisors, Member Bruce Wardell said “The ARB strongly recommends the the Board of Supervisors that certain provisions of the neighborhood model regarding building frontage relegated parking and the possibility of limited parking on the entrance corridor side of buildings be reconsidered.

“The ARB has found on numerous occasions the quality of design responsiveness of architectural environment to the entrance corridor is compromised by needing to address frontage on the EC and relegated parking facades.”

The ARB supported the resolution 4-0.

Wright asked that staff attempt to get this item on the Board of Supervisors agenda as soon as possible so these changes could be part of the Comprehensive Plan discussion moving forward.

How will the Albemarle County staff, which has been very supportive of relegated parking and new urbanist design for over a decade, engage the Board of Supervisors now that the Architectural Review Board has expressed their displeasure?

Stay Tuned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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

Photo Credit: Free Enterprise Forum

Louisa Board Cancels EMS Mutual Aid with Fluvanna

By. John Haksch, Louisa Field Officer

Louisa County has had a long-standing mutual aid agreement covering the provision of emergency medical services with Fluvanna County. In the past five years, Louisa County rescue squad personnel have responded from the Zion Crossroads station to assist Fluvanna County residents – to calls as far away as Palmyra and Fork Union – an average of 10 times each month. In all that time, Fluvanna has failed to respond to Louisa County even once.

This is not surprising, since the county has repeatedly refused to form or fund any rescue squads beyond the single squad serving Lake Monticello – a squad that only responds to other areas of Fluvanna County with reluctance.

clip_image002 The matter came to a head after several years of discussion between the counties at the most recent Board of Supervisors meeting, at which Richard Havasy (Green Springs) moved to rescind the agreement, giving the Fluvanna administration 30 days’ notice before the action takes effect.  The supervisors discussed that the ‘mutual aid’ agreement suggested that the aid provided was mutual and that this is not the case and has not been for 5 years.  One supervisor questioned if Fluvanna residents were not willing to pay for adequate EMS service, why should Louisa citizens carry this cost?  The motion was approved on a 6-0 vote after some discussion.

clip_image004 Mr. Havasy’s stated that although the fiscal strain is a factor, it is more of a concern to his constituents that while their one ambulance is off assisting in Fluvanna (usually a 4 to 6 hour commitment) there is no EMS service available in the burgeoning growth area that the squad was formed to serve. According to Louisa County Administrator Robert Dubé, Louisa County is willing to revisit the issue if and when Fluvanna County expresses a willingness to bring something substantial to the table.

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John Haksch is the Louisa County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.

The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support our work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Who is Askin’ Who – The TJPDC Community Priorities Questionnaire

By. Neil Williamson, President

In an incredibly unscientific methodology, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) 1-Community project is conducting a resident survey regarding the community priorities.  The survey, which is available as a pdf, is being circulated by various advocacy groups to their members. 

Worried about an organization stuffing the ballot box?  Got it covered – Each and every anonymous survey will be require to initial a box that indicates to the best of their knowledge they have only filled out the survey once.

The Free Enterprise Forum is a very lean organization of modest means but when we conduct a survey we utilize outside professionals to guarantee an accurate and representative sample.  We are disappointed that given an almost one million dollar grant the TJPDC choose to conduct an unscientific citizen survey.

In addition the TJPDC choose not to select a survey instrument that could be easily submitted electronically (and possibly limit duplicative surveys) but instead requires respondents to print out the survey and then submit it to them either by mail or hand delivery.  A Senior Vice President in a direct response agency once told me, “The harder you make it to participate, the lower the number of responses”.

So before we even get to the survey instrument itself, we have made clear our questions about the methodology.

Interestingly, we actually like the survey document.  Citizens are required to rank their top ten issues in order and only 10.  There are an array of options including: Protect Property Rights, Diversify Regional Economy, Consider Economic Feasibility of Goals and many more.

So now the Free Enterprise Forum finds itself between a philosophical rock and a hard place; do we encourage participation in a survey that has flawed methodology or sit on the sidelines Monday morning quarterbacking?

After significant thought time, we are encouraging everyone to fill out the survey ASAP.  We know the answers will be suspect and we have questioned the validity of much of the public input the TJPDC has put forward as a part of this process.  rush

Nonetheless as the Canadian rock band Rush sang in their 1980 hit Freewill“Choosing not to choose you still have made a choice”.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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

Photo Credit: Serene Musings Blog

Fluvanna: Zion Waterline a Moneymaker?

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission  (TJPDC) presented its Return on Investment Study of the Zion Crossroads Water/Sewer lines to the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors at its June 6th meeting. The organization sees a positive financial return for the county should it be built.

Steve Williams TJPDC Photo Credit Greene County RecordTJPDC Executive Director Stephen Williams (photo right) provided a presentation indicating that even with slow growth in the Zion Crossroads area over the next ten years, the county will receive a positive net revenue stream in excess of $2 million. Without bringing water and sewer to the region, Fluvanna would suffer a financial loss of about $4.8 million over the same time period according to the TJPDC analysis. The financial losses stem from the excess of county expenditures over revenue from the region.

Under more optimistic growth scenarios, the county could see a return from $5.3 to $15.6 million over the ten year period. The study also assumed that if there were no water/sewer, the growth pattern for Zion Crossroads in Fluvanna would be the same as occurred in 2000-2010.

The study was requested by the previous Board of Supervisors and will buttress the efforts to bring water and sewer to the region. Currently Aqua Virginia is holding discussions with the county about constructing the water and sewer lines, and according to one source, informal conversations also have been renewed with Louisa officials.

In other developments:

· Supervisors were informed that Louisa County is suspending all mutual emergency medical services (EMS) aid to Fluvanna. Louisa increasingly has had to respond to assistance requests from Fluvanna’s overwhelmed EMS and contends that it has not received sufficient support in return;

· An independent review of Fluvanna’s Fire/EMS systems will begin at the end of June;

· The audit of county financial records has been delayed because of lack of county personnel, but according to the county administrator, the deadlines will be met; and,

· Supervisors passed out $16,500 in bonuses to staff members who had to assume additional duties because of the firings of staff directors – the funds come from salary savings; Mr. Robert Popowicz was named to be the Director of Community Planning and Development – previously he was the county’s economic development coordinator.

Many residents refuse to give up the school budget fight. At the first public comment session, which lasted nearly an hour and a half, twenty-two residents argued for restored school funding, while five supported the Board’s decision.

The next supervisors’ meeting will be held on June 20th at which time the Board will consider sending a proposed county meal tax (4 percent) to a November referendum.

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William Des Rochers is the Fluvanna County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.

The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credit: Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission

‘A Very Merry Unbirthday’

By. Neil Williamson, President

mad-hatter-1-300x240Yesterday’s (6/6) discussion of the approved US29 Western Bypass at the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors meeting  looked more like Allison in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter’s Tea Party than local governance.

The meeting opened with a large number of speakers (including this writer) sharing their thoughts about the Western Bypass project, under the “other matters from the public” portion of the meeting.  BOS Chair Ann Mallek (D-White Hall) (who has consistently been opposed to the project) made a motion to that the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors officially support the Western Bypass.  Her motion of support was seconded by Supervisor Christopher Dumler (D-Scottsville). 

Supervisor Ken Boyd (R-Rivanna) indicated he thought the 4-2 vote by the previous Board of Supervisors was indicative of Board policy on this issue and that a majority vote was needed to reconsider the decision.  Mallek countered that her motion was about this specific project and this Board had not voted on this specific proposal. 

County Attorney Larry Davis, in his new role as BOS referee determined the motion on the floor was different from the motion that was voted on last July and did not require a majority to consider.

In discussing the motion, Supervisor Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller) questioned the chair motives regarding the phrasing of the motion.  Charlottesville Tomorrow’s story in this morning’s Daily Progress includes the following quote:

“By having this motion put forward and then having it defeated, they hope they will tie the hands of us going forward because by the negative vote they hope to kill the bypass,” Snow said.

When the vote came forward, to no one’s surprise, it was deadlocked three to three with Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett) joining the Chair and Dumler in voting against the motion they brought forward.

Then sensing parliamentary positioning, Boyd made a motion (that he indicated he would be voting against) to direct the Board’s representatives on the Metropolitan Planning Organization not to support the Western Bypass.

In discussion, Rooker argued that Boyd’s motion was a new topic that was not announced and should wait to be placed on another agenda.  Boyd countered that the motion was directly related to the agenda item.  In this instance, Referee Davis sided with Boyd and the motion moved forward.

Boyd’s motion also failed on a 3-3 vote.

In a post last year, we explained the importance of counting to four in order to get anything accomplished by Albemarle’s six member Board of Supervisors.

A summary of yesterday’s activities:  bypass opponents made a motion to support the project that they then voted against; bypass supporters made a motion not to support the project that they then voted against.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes each of the motionAlice_in_Wonderlands were  politically motivated parliamentary pirouettes that never had a chance  of garnering a fourth vote.

As Alice said in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass :

“It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.”

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson

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

Image Credit: Walt Disney