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