Our 9–0 all-Republican Loudoun Board of Supervisors has taken a completely consistent approach to public participation in government.
They’re against it.
Repeatedly since taking office in January 2012, the Board has taken major zoning and planning actions — actions that not coincidentally frequently directly benefit their major campaign contributors — without informing the public ahead of time and with an utter disregard for, and even contempt toward, public opinion.
The latest case in point is a motion slated for a vote this afternoon to initiate a zoning amendment that will remove all public input from decisions on siting of new elementary, middle, and high schools. Under current law, a public hearing before the Planning Commission and the Supervisors is required in selecting the site of a new school. The Board can still approve a special exception to put a school wherever they want to — but they at least have to inform the public ahead of time, give people a chance to air legitimate concerns and objections and propose alternatives, and carry out their deliberations in the full light of day.
The proposed change however would end all of that. It would make schools a “by right” use in virtually all zoning districts throughout the county, meaning that no hearings at all would henceforth be required: the supervisors can just dictate the decision, with no notice and no open discussion, and the public can lump it.
Needless to say, none of our supervisors bothered to mention this little proposed change to shut the public out of the process in any of their very chatty “news[sic]letters” they send out so frequently at taxpayer expense. I guess they think we needn’t worry our pretty little heads about it, and would much rather read a list of bake sales and look at pictures of our local politicians breaking ground at various private development projects they helped grease the ways for.
Challenged about the school zoning plan at a “Rural Town Hall” event last Friday, Supervisor Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge) adopted her usual contemptuous attitude, brushing aside the questioner’s concerns and “explaining” that the change was about “efficiency.” You’d think Clarke might have shown up at this first-ever effort to mend fences with their own constituents after a year and a half of giving the rural economy the shaft with a little more willingness to listen. (Her secretly drafted plan to abolish the Rural Economic Development Commission which blew up in her face a couple of weeks ago being the presumed reason she hastily agreed to participate in this “Town Hall” event.)
But apparently, to Clarke, a “Town Hall” is the place where the politicians do all the talking and give all the orders. And “efficiency” demands that extremely important elected officials like her not waste time their extremely valuable time on such frivolous and tedious matters as listening to what the public wants.