By. Neil Williamson, President
Late in their evening meeting last week, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors effectively suspended the currently appointed Places29 Citizen Advisory Council and asked staff to consider eliminating the Council and perhaps replacing it with two councils with a smaller geographic footprint. The group’s members were informed of the Board’s decision via e-mail earlier this week [full text below].
Supervisor Brad Sheffield (Rio) brought the item up in other matters from the Board. He mentioned a number of recent resignations from the group and suggested in the year he has been a part of the panel it seems to struggle to make decisions. In his comments, Sheffield said this was not an indictment of the members of the Council, he said, “I have respect for a lot of them”.
Supervisor Diantha McKeel (Jack Jouett) agreed saying that it might be better to break into two groups and focused on their charge.
The charge of the group according to the Albemarle County Website is:
The Places 29 Community Advisory Council (P29CAC) is an advisory committee that provides assistance to County staff and the Board of Supervisors on civic/community issues related to implementation of the Places 29 Master Plan in accordance with established County procedures. Members will communicate with their constituencies to increase understanding of and support for successful implementation of the Master Plan. The membership is broad-based to incorporate a variety of perspectives and ideas and to provide citizens, businesspersons and representatives of active community groups a chance to be engaged and be heard in a constructive and meaningful way. Emphasis added-nw
The Free Enterprise Forum sees this “Sheffield Shuffle” as a legislative slight of hand designed to change the composition of Citizen Councils that do not philosophically agree with the current Board. While we agree this group has not been successful in reaching consensus, we do not think that means it has not been successful. We believe this community is conflicted. Sometimes, recognizing that there is not a community consensus is more important than a false agreement.
In communicating the consensus decision of the Board, Sheffield suggested panel members will have the opportunity to comment on the proposed “adjustments” that will come forward from the county staff. The full content of the “Dear John” e-mail is reprinted below:
On behalf of the Board of Supervisors, I wanted to check in with you all on the status of the Places29 Community Advisory Council. As I know you all are aware, there is a significant amount of activity occurring now, and in the short and long term future of this area of the County. All of this will require a very high level of community engagement in planning and decision making, such as prioritization of capital infrastructure improvements. The Board is anxious to make sure that the Places29 Community Advisory Council is well positioned to be a successful partner and is considering some adjustments to the Council. For example, the size and number of residents and businesses in the area is much larger than that of the other councils, which makes it difficult for the group to focus in on issues of shared neighborhood concern. A majority of the Board feels that a reformation of the Places29 CAC, perhaps considering two councils or other adjustments, would help the Council meet its intended mission, so we have asked staff to assess the situation and bring forward a recommendation in February. Emphasis added-nw
We very much value your service to the Places29 CAC, and staff will ask you, as members, for your insights as part of their assessment. Out of respect for your time and in light of this assessment, the Board will cancel the next two regular meetings of the Places29 CAC (January and February) and ask the Places29 members to be ready to receive further information after a discussion in February. We hope each of you will take this time to prepare and share your thoughts with staff on how best to make the Places29 CAC a productive community group.
Albemarle County Board of Supervisors
The Free Enterprise Forum believes this is a strategic move to eliminate the palpable dissent on the Places29 CAC and will be watching closely at who the Board chooses to sit on these newly formed “Citizen representative” groups.
It will be most interesting if those members that continue to challenge the current Board philosophy will find themselves without a seat at the table.
As always, we have more questions than answers. Stay tuned.
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, Louisa and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org
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