By Neil Williamson, President
In Wednesday’s (2/1) meeting, without so much as a formal public hearing, Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors plans to send a $1.4 million dollar piggy bank to the unelected Citizen Advisory Councils so that the elected officials don’t have to make the hard budget choices.
Nothing they are doing is illegal, it’s just not right. Please let me explain.
Albemarle’s annual Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) Budget is laborious and involves significant number of staff hours to determine the staff priority for Capital projects such as vehicles, buildings and renovations.
Over the last 13 years the Free Enterprise Forum has been impressed with the level of detail and careful consideration the CIP committee (including citizen representation and 2 elected BOS members) have put into these discussions. There have been times when one geographic portion of the development areas had CIP projects that garnered higher scores by the committee and these were funded rather than less urgent projects.
The new “Neighborhood Funding Initiative” would siphon off $1.4 million of the annual CIP budget and allocate it geographically and by population. The staff has proposed a formula to accomplish this task:
Staff has simply developed this Board driven concept. In fact, the staff report hints at a better manner to utilize citizen involvement along with the elected officials within the current CIP process.
staff has conducted best practices research which is summarized as Attachment A that revealed that the majority of these types of community focused improvement funding programs fall into three basic categories: neighborhood matching grants; formal citizen involvement in capital planning; and citizen-driven Capital Improvement Programs. After hearing the Board’s discussion, staff thinks that the third category may most clearly align with the Board’s preferences, so the program has been designed along those lines. If the Board would like this program to be more closely incorporated in the already existing CIP review, evaluation and ranking process that would be another viable approach.
The Free Enterprise Forum has long been a critic of the unelected CACs.
In 2009 we wrote:
The Free Enterprise Forum believes citizen groups (including us) should have the ability to be active participants in the workings of local government. That being said, we are increasingly concerned that the leadership function of some Boards and Commissions may be inappropriately delegating to community organizations.
With the proposed policy change, beyond effective regulatory veto power over development projects that would advance the community vetted comprehensive plan, Albemarle now seems poised to give these unelected “mission creeping” Citizen Advisory Councils the county purse strings as well.
As the Supervisors continue to delegate, I wonder what will be left for them to do … besides run for reelection.
As we said in 2009:
In the end, elected leaders must lead, not delegate, if citizens don’t like the direction they should replace the leaders.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. 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 and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org
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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