FREE ENTERPRISE FORUM EDITORIAL
By. Neil Williamson, President
In our annual break from public meetings, the Free Enterprise Forum asks if the time come to popularly elect an at-large member of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors?
This would break the 3-3 tie situations where nothing moves forward due to the even number of supervisors. But why stop there? Perhaps the public, rater than the supervisors, could even directly elect the Chair of the Board of Supervisors?
Please let me explain.
Currently, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has six members and the members work, or don’t work, amongst themselves to elect a Chair. According to Charlottesville Tomorrow:
In a tradition dating back to the late 1980s , supervisors have rotated through the chairmanship with the newest members getting in line for their chance to lead the board for a two-year term. By custom, Snow would become chairman and Thomas would become vice chairman.
But a funny thing happened on the way to Duane Snow’s 2012 Chairmanship; the politics of the US 29 Western Bypass. If Snow wanted to be Chair, three of the supervisors (Chris Dumler, Ann Mallek, Dennis Rooker) insisted they have representation on the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). Dueling motions failed 3-3 and the two sides did not agree to a solution, therefore according to Robert’s Rules of Order the previous chair and MPO representation would continue until such a time when the Board could elect a new chair.
The Albemarle County Board is scheduled to vote again on chairmanship on January 9th. It is unclear what, if anything, has changed since last January. We very likely could witness the same 3-3 dueling motions.
The Free Enterprise Forum has written about the importance of counting to four on a six member board. In the past, Supervisor Rooker has mentioned the benefits of a six member board including the need to develop coalitions and work together. Supervisor Boyd regularly mentions that such split votes are the anomaly and the vast number of votes the Board takes are 6-0.
Interestingly, in the same Charlottesville Tomorrow post regarding the leadership vote in January 2012, Boyd said:
“There are other things looming, like the Crozet library and the land swap for athletic fields at Biscuit Run, that people will need support from a majority,” Boyd added. “Let’s don’t set up this 3-3 split as the table we are sitting at for the rest of the year. That wouldn’t be good for the county or anyone.”
The Free Enterprise Forum researched the sixteen localities in Virginia that are frequently used by Albemarle County for benchmarking purposes. Of these localities, all but one (Prince William) have an odd number construct of their governing body. Less decisive is the concept of a chair that is elected at large.
|Locality||Population||Number of Board Members||Elected Chair|
It is important to note that having an odd number also creates the propensity for significant ideological swings in your Board. This is especially true in Loudoun County where they do not have staggered terms for Board members.
If an at large “Super Supervisor” was in place today, this man or woman would represent the entire county and would likely be the swing vote on many contentious issues. If the “Super Supervisor” was also the chair, they would control the agenda of the meeting as well as preside over the Board of Supervisors meetings.
In both private and non profit Board governance, many consider an odd numbered Board to be a sound business practice that can help speed decision making. The Free Enterprise Forum recognizes that there are times that such increased speed is not desirous in local government.
It is illuminating that the Albemarle County Planning Commission has seven voting members one from each magisterial district and one that is appointed by the entire Board of Supervisors. If at large representation is good enough for the PC why not the Board itself?
Considering the 3-3 logjam at the Board, the time has come for the community to debate the merits of both an odd numbered Board and an at-large elected Chairman of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.
The Free Enterprise Forum believes such a decision could increase citizen representation as everyone would be represented by their magisterial district as well as the Chair. We also believe such a decision could create an incredibly powerful voting block, that could go either way, on the Board.
If this is the will of the voters, would an organizational structure designed to create a voting majority on the Board of Supervisors be a bad thing?
Or do Albemarle citizens prefer the current structure with its structural flaws as this design promotes collaboration and coalition building.
That can only be answered by the community discussion; but if Albemarle citizens choose not to to discuss the obvious structural issues in their current government construct, we may spend at least another year counting to three.
Neil Williamson, President
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: NBC29
“All this has happened before, and it will all happen again.” –
Peter Pan Walt Disney Pictures 1953
Last week, utilizing a Freedom of Information Act request, Charlottesville Tomorrow obtained an Army Corps of Engineers letter to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) critical of the US 29 Western Bypass moving forward without additional study up to perhaps, a new full Environmental Impact Statement.
Rather than citing specific data lapses and specific federal wetlands concerns, the Army Corps of Engineers letter relies on data provided by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and the Charlottesville/Albemarle Transportation Coalition (CATCO). That these two organizations were called out, in SELC’s case cited four times by name, suggests the Army Corps of Engineers was heavily lobbied.
The letter, which missed the processes required deadline due to “workload …and the complexity of the matters at hand”, suggests that the Environmental Assessment (EA) process be rewound to start and reconsider all the alternative routes and solutions.
The past is clearly prologue here because on this specific road this matter was heard and addressed in Piedmont Environmental and Sierra Club v. United States Department of Transportation lawsuit. The suit was returned supporting FHWA decision on all but one count and this was supported in the appellate decision. The final count, which could have been legally defended was mitigated and removed in 2003.
Interestingly on page 20 of Federal Judge Norman Moon’s 40 page decision the court found the contention regarding a lack of consideration of alternatives was “completely without merit”.
Fast forward just under a decade and you see the Army Corps of Engineers, under significant lobbing from the left, utilizing many of the same facts as were decided in the PEC case. Recognizing the Army Corps self identified “workload” issues, it is easy to see how legal language from well placed letters with cut and paste legal language may have found their way into the Corps letter.
While we were disappointed in the Army Corps letter, both in content and timing, the Free Enterprise Forum believes FHWA still retains the ability to approve the roadway with a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). Most if not all of the concerns raised in the Army Corps letter were dealt with as a part of the 2001 Moon decision. Any new regulatory requirements could be mitigated as the project applies for and receives permits from the Corps.
Perhaps Yogi Berra said it best, “It’s déjà vu all over again”
Neil Williamson, President
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.
By. Brent Wilson, Greene County Field Officer
Typically a rezoning request brings up concerns, both pro and con. However, the Greene County Board of Supervisors had nothing but compliments and positive comments for the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety’s (IIHS) request for a rezoning from A-1 Agricultural to M-1 Industrial at their December 11th meeting.
IIHS’s Chief Administrative Officer Joe Nolan and VP of Operations of the Vehicle Research Center Raul Arbelaez requested that an additional 25.4 acres be rezoned from the 135.4 acres that IIHS has on Dairy Road.
The main reason for the $30 million expansion is to construct a year round domed testing facility so that crash avoidance tests can be performed. The new structure would be similar to the Charlottesville Amphitheater on the Downtown Mall, IIHS would construct a 5 section structure covering 5 acres.
In addition, a 20,000 square foot facility housing 20 offices and a conference facility along with 2 trackside buildings would be constructed. Ten new positions are to be added to the current 35 employees consisting of engineers, research scientists and test drivers plus IIHS is looking to transfer some of their 66 employees in Arlington, Va. to Greene. Construction is targeted to begin in 2013.
Bart Svoboda, Greene’s Zoning Official, outlined in his presentation the project and described the impact to the surroundings as minimal. The operation sits back from Dairy Road and the property slopes away from the highway and therefore there is little visual impact and the noise level would be similar to that of a parking lot.
Chairman Buggs Peyton was excited that IIHS is expanding in Greene County. He was encouraged by the opportunity for new employment and that the tax base may increase with no additional services from the county. The remaining four supervisors all had complimentary remarks for IIHS.
Supervisor Jim Frydl commended IIHS for being a very good corporate neighbor and a great asset to Greene County. Supervisor Davis Lamb appreciated the fact that the business is friendly to the environment and thanked IIHS for being in Greene.
Supervisor Eddie Deane said it’s always good to see reports on the national news from their facility in Ruckersville, Virginia. Supervisor David Cox also appreciates what IIHS has done for Greene County and encouraged the county to pursue more businesses to relocate to Greene similar to IIHS.
While Chairman Peyton indicated IIHS will require no additional direct services from Greene County, the additional employees living in Greene for any business add to the demand for services such as education, police, fire, rescue, etc. These individuals also add to a growing Greene consumer base that supports other economic development in the County.
While no fiscal impact study was completed, it is anticipated that the types of positions being added/relocated by IIHS will have income to support homes that would generate significant property tax revenue. In addition, any improvements to the land at the current facility would also increase not only the property tax rolls but also the machine and tool taxes.
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