Clarke’s arrogant power-grab

More dumbfounding details have emerged about the no-warning plan which Supervisor Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge) sprung a couple of days ago to immediately terminate the Rural Economic Development Commission, the Historic District Review Committee, and a dozen other county boards and commissions that just happen to represent interests which the all-Republican Board of Supervisors sees as a threat to its absolute control of local government:

Not only did Clarke or the Board fail to give the public any warning that such a sweeping government reorganization plan was being considered at all — much less that it will be taken up and voted on tomorrow — but she did not even talk to the committees affected or the constituencies they represent. The members of the REDC only learned about the proposal indirectly over the weekend: in other words three days before the Supervisors plan to move on the proposal.

Particularly offensive is Clarke’s attempt to conceal what the all-Republican Board is up to with all sorts of phoney-baloney spin about how innocuous or even beneficial the changes will be.

A chart showing all of the committees she has slated for axing offers the same boilerplate sentence over and over as a “reason for consideration”: that it will “release a great deal of staff resources.” Nowhere, of course, is any evidence presented as to exactly how much precious staff time is now consumed by the REDC or other committees; unsurprising since Clarke apparently just drew up her entire little plan without bothering to gather any facts whatsoever. (If you don’t actually know, just say “a great deal.”)

She also offers all sorts of corporate-PR-doublespeak to claim that these official boards are not being eliminated —  merely “merged” or “integrated” or (even more ludicrously) that they will  be “moved” to a “community-based organization.”

By “move to a community-based organization,” one learns on reading the details, Clarke means they will be eliminated as an official government board with any authority or standing or influence.

But don’t worry — on the one hand, true, they will cease to have any official function or role. But on the other hand, Clarke explains, this change offers the REDC the terrific plus that in the future it will be “able to meet when, where and however many times they want to.” (“Just think how much free time you’ll have, now that we’ve fired you!”)

Her other astonishing “argument” for axing the REDC is that since it already includes some members of the Chamber of Commerce, it is duplicative of the the job the Chamber does already in “providing advice and policy positions on BOS matters.” Actually, believe it or not, some Western Loudouners who are involved in promoting rural enterprises and who currently serve on the REDC are not members of the Chamber, and might even have a few questions about whether the Chamber (especially given its very cosy relationship with this Board) represents them.

Finally, in what is probably the real giveaway, however, her proposal explains that the real sore point is apparently that the REDC and several of these other boards nominate their own new members (shocking). Getting rid of the REDC, she explains, “would eliminate the need for the BOS to endorse their appointments, which they make independently without the BOS being able to appoint directly.” A piece of correspondence from the county’s chief of staff  included in the Board documents reveals that our all-Republican Board of Supervisors has been trying to consolidate its absolute control over all appointments as a key goal since last year; it states:

“Traditionally, some advisory bodies have taken the lead on making recommendations for new members to their groups. The process would include conducting interviews, vetting the interested member’s credentials, and then taking a formal position by recommending the person to the Board for nomination/confirmation.

“The Board of Supervisors has recently expressed its desire to retain control over the entire nomination/confirmation process. As such, except in cases where the process is mandated by code or Board-approved by-laws, any person interested in a position on an advisory body will be channeled directly to the Board for its consideration.”

No one doubts that boards and commissions from time to time outlive their usefulness and that rational change is needed on occasion. But all of these citizen committees represent important citizen interests: aging, transportation, the economy, youth, affordable housing, users of the commuter bus service, historic preservation, heritage, fire and rescue services, and so on. The idea of springing a proposal to eliminate many of these boards without even consulting the members of the boards, talking to them and understanding their jobs and role, and above all building a consensus for any genuinely needed change with the affected communities which these boards unquestionably represent is just astonishing, arrogant, and high-handed. No one who respects the democratic process in government, especially at the local level, behaves this way. No one.

This Board of Supervisors keeps talking about running things in a more “businesslike” manner. That’s fine if it means identifying efficiencies and saving money and making government more responsive. But it’s the opposite of what representative government is about if it means acting like a bunch of power-drunk corporate titans who think they know all the answers, refuse to listen to anyone else, keep everyone else in the dark, make decisions without consultation, bulldoze aside objections — then try to justify their fait accompli with a lot of BS happy talk.

In case you’ve forgotten, dear supervisors, you were elected not to be Donald Trump but to represent all of the people of Loudoun County. Responsible governance is not issuing edicts and rushing them through before anyone can say boo, but rather building consensus so that the course you finally choose with has the genuine support and understanding of the people it affects.

It starts with a bit of humility.

 

 

 

 

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