Palmyra Political “Power Play”?– Fluvanna’s Late Night Water Vote

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

As the meeting waned on Nov. 18, the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors passed an amendment to the agreement between Louisa County, Louisa County Water Authority (LCWA) and the James River Water Authority (JRWA).

The vote was 2-1 with Don Weaver (Cunningham District) dissenting. Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) has recused himself from all LCWA related votes and discussion. Bob Ullenburch (Palmyra District) was not at the meeting.

The amendment requires LCWA to provide 400,000 gallons of treated water to Fluvanna at Zion Crossroads by the end of 2018. Fluvanna will pay the commercial rate for the water. Fluvanna can ask for more water, if possible. If additional capacity isn’t possible because of infrastructure limitations, Louisa can consider Fluvanna’s capital contributions to make it possible and a rate reduction could occur.

After a lengthy closed session, the supervisors reconvened to certify the closed session. After certification and before a motion to adjourn could be offered, Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) started the supervisors down a path to vote for the amendment.

No public nor any media members were present by this time. The audio recording, available on the county website, helped shed light on the proceedings.

OBrien2014 photo credit Fluvanna County

Fluvanna Supervisor Tony O’Brien

“I think there is an opportunity to get something done. It may not be the best timing but I also think it may eliminate some headaches,” said O’Brien.

Weaver, confused asked what he was talking about. To which the recording hears O’Brien shuffle a paper and say, “I’m taking about this”, presumably the amendment.

“As far as I’m concerned the meeting is over,” replied Weaver.

O’Brien said, ““Well, it isn’t, because we haven’t adjourned yet. Think about what I’m asking. There is a controllable situation right now and there is not a controllable situation, potentially not a controllable situation. That’s why I’m asking the question.”

Weaver said it didn’t matter because O’Brien couldn’t get a second without his support.

O’Brien said, “I don’t necessarily have to have one. But again, that’s why I’m asking.”

Weaver raised objection because someone (Ullenbruch) wasn’t present for the vote. He said he wouldn’t be a proponent of it.

O’Brien asked what was Weaver’s major objection. Weaver replied, “Midnight.”

It is important to note the vote happened before midnight because supervisors extended the meeting until midnight. Each meeting has a time limit of 11 p.m., for the sake of meetings not dragging along. However, supervisors can extend meetings if they last past 11 p.m. After certifying the closed session on Nov. 18, the meeting was extended until midnight and never extended again.

O’Brien asked besides the late hour, Weaver said he wasn’t comfortable of voting on something not on the agenda. He consistently requests items be on the agenda, even ones he’s in favor of.

O’Brien then went into a short speech on the merits of the amendment. One part he said, “And you looked at it strictly at the standpoint we’re voting on is this a good thing for Fluvanna County, regardless of how the other two votes turn out, I think one will argue this is a good thing.”

He also noted that agreeing to the amendment did not force any vote on the two special use permits to be voted on Dec. 2.


Fluvanna Supervisor Don Weaver

Weaver still countered it should have been on the agenda. That is when Nichols says it was on the agenda but he was “threatened” to take it off.

Weaver still stays with the position he won’t vote on it because it wasn’t on the agenda.

O’Brien says, “I understand your position there. Procedurally these are, one could say, these will be one of the largest votes Fluvanna county will take in years to come that shapes the future of the county for years to come, whether you agree with that or not. Whether you agree it is shaping it in the right direction or wrong direction, it definitely shapes it.”

Weaver won’t budge.

O’Brien asks chairwoman Mozell Booker (Cunningham District) what she feels about the amendment. She says she wants to get it over with.

Booker said, “I don’t know his personal things but it is too many times he’s out and we have been considerate of not taking votes when he’s out. When you are out two and three and four and five and six times, and we have to delay our business because we don’t have a full board, I’m here all the time. I never miss. Don, you don’t miss any days. So why are we being so considerate of Bob because he’s chosen to take off at this very important time.”

Weaver won’t budge.

O’Brien then moved the board pass the amendment. Booker asked if she can give up the gavel and if Weaver could be chairman. He replied, “I don’t want to be chair.”

Fred Payne, county attorney, said the Chair (Booker) could recognize the motion without a second. She recognized it, O’Brien voted for it along with Booker. Weaver dissented.

After the meeting people keeping up with Palmyra politics were abuzz. First few questions were how this occurred without it being on the agenda and who threatened Nichols.

The amendment was not on the public version of the agenda. It was previously included in the agenda sent to supervisors on Nov. 13 but taken off once Ullenbruch saw the agenda, per Ullenbruch who gave a phone interview to the Free Enterprise Forum on Nov. 19.


Fluvanna Supervisor Bob Ullenbruch

Ullenbruch said he announced his planned absence two months prior to the meeting. The board has scheduled its agendas to hear bigger items for when the full board convenes.

When he received the agenda on Nov. 13 he was surprised the amendment was slated to be voted. He contacted Steve Nichols, county administrator, and he said he told him, “Do so at your own peril.”

Ullenbruch said of his comment, “If that is a threat, that happens every day in politics.”

The item was removed for the agenda and new supervisor packets were issued.

“[I] felt very safe I could head out and take care of the business I am taking care of,” said Ullenbruch about receiving an updated agenda without the amendment.


Fluvanna County Administrator Steve Nichols

When asked about his comment on being threatened and Ullenbruch’s quoted ‘peril’ comment, Nichols said, “[My remark] was a not very elegant comment at the end of 17 hour day, after three hours of closed session, that could’ve been worded a lot differently. The point was, it had been on the agenda.”
Ullenbruch was not happy about the amendment passing, regardless.

“There was no need to do a power play at midnight,” said Ullenbruch.

He said the special use permits to be voted on Dec. 2, one for the JRWA intake facility and another for the LCWA raw water pipeline, could get conditions attached to them during the meeting. The amendment has no use if the SUPs aren’t approved.

“It just smells funny. It is just desperation,” said Ullenbruch.

When asked if he will not vote in favor of the LCWA pipeline, he wouldn’t comment one way or another because the public hearing hasn’t occurred.

“If I have already made a decision, what’s the point of the public hearing?” said Ullenbruch. “Anyone who weighs in right now how they are going to vote is not listening to the public.”

The two public hearings will be at a special 7 p.m. session on Dec. 2. Supervisors will have a regular 4 p.m. session on the same day


bryan-rothamelThe Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum

Photo Credits: Fluvanna County


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