Albemarle’s Community Councils Get New Name–Mission Creep Continues

By. Neil Williamson, President

As an organization, the Free Enterprise Forum is very active in many local public policy discussions.  I appreciated Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sunday (3/15) article regarding our comments to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors regarding community councils.

In the end, only the most tepid of reforms were passed (6-0).  The number of groups will be expanded.  Language discouraging voting was eliminated from the reforms at the request of the now renamed Community Committees.  I actually believe we may be worse off after the “reforms” than we were before.

I found it most interesting the Supervisors took issue with the concept of limiting the committees’ ability to vote.   This Board has applauded the US 29 Project Delivery Advisory Panel which seems to be functioning absent any voting or consensus.

On Tuesday, I received a call from a student at Monticello High School who was interested in our position on the issue.  In the interest of clarity, I have published our entire statement in the space below.

My name is Neil Williamson and I serve as the President of the Free Enterprise Forum a public policy organization focused on local government located in Albemarle County.

We have had serious concerns about the mission creeping community councils at least as far back as 2009. I have shared just two of our posts regarding these concerns.

https://freeenterpriseforum.wordpress.com/2015/02/02/eliminate-albemarles-mission-creeping-community-councils/

https://freeenterpriseforum.wordpress.com/2014/12/18/the-sheffield-shuffle-places29-citizen-council-suspended-by-bos/

While these entities may have been well intentioned at their formation, they have become an unelected mandated review sieve that provides planning commissioners and members of the Board of supervisors more than just a sounding board – they have become gatekeepers and defacto political cover for the Board of Supervisors.

Planning Commissioner Tom Loach is on the record stating he would have great difficulty supporting any project that does not have the support of the community council. This is not an issue about any community council or any particular decision, frankly I have seen some good things come out of community councils. This is a bad government by design.

I applaud your tepid changes to the councils because they are probably all that could politically pass muster but the Free Enterprise Forum believes citizens should be free to gather however they see fit and speak out on any policy or project but the government should not be directly involved in that assemblage.

We call on you as elected leaders to lead. Evaluate projects on their merits and with the input of the community do not promote some members of the community to unelected fiefdoms in control of which projects advance.

We ask that you disband the community councils if you fail to do that, we encourage you to reign in these unelected mission creeping bodies to their original intent as sounding boards.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak

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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, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

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One response

  1. Reblogged this on Tidbits & Tales and commented:
    As seniors from Monticello High School participating in the Citizen Action Plan Project (CAP Project), we spent some time researching the issues around the Albemarle County Community Councils. We delved into questions such as “What are Community Councils and are they a good idea? More specifically, should we continue utilising them to get community input or do they slow the decision-making process down too much?”

    The more we researched about these Community Councils, the more of a good idea we found them to be. For example, they allow for public input on projects that citizens wouldn’t normally be able to give ideas and opinions on as well as providing extra input for the people in charge who don’t know how the proposed project would affect the area as well as the residents of that area. One example of this is the 2007 Glenmore traffic light project, where community councils allowed the supervisors to adjust the developer’s plans to fit the citizen’s needs.

    As we researched, however, we discovered a community of people who oppose the idea of Community Councils as strongly as we support them, saying that they slow down the development process needlessly. A key player that we kept running into was Neil Williamson, the President of the Free Enterprise Forum and author of several blog posts where he states that “The Community Councils should be eliminated and Albemarle County Land Use and other development applications should follow the approval process as set in state code” as well as “The Free Enterprise Forum believes the Community Councils have (since at least 2009) exceeded their authority and failed to add significant value beyond the Master Plan reviews”.

    In rebuttal we offer some ideas and specific examples for improvement to make community councils and committees accessible to the community yet while still progressing in a timely manner. As the main argument was the inefficiency of the Councils, one particular improvement is to increase the time efficiency per major decision – which would also mean using the Council’s decision as more valuable and giving it some legal weight in the Supervisor’s final decision, since currently the votes mean very little and are merely advice given by the community. Another possible improvement would be a greater ease of access for the community (i.e more publicity, more participation) – as it took us a good amount of time to find any information on the Councils and a lot of organizations such as the League of Women Voters had not heard of them before.

    Nevertheless, the community councils are still the best way for the community to provide its input – and for the consent of the governed to have its voice in our modern community.

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