Firmly putting in their place those citizens who had the sheer effrontery to suggest that citizens ought to continue to have a chance to express their views about where new schools are built in the county, the all-Republican Loudoun Board of Supervisors voted last week to proceed with its intent to amend the county’s zoning laws so that citizens no longer get to express their views about where new schools are built.
This, of course, is to improve “efficiency,” explained Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin), an argument that places our little county in such august company as Mussolini, who as we all know made the trains run on time.
Our very media-savvy Board is, however, learning from its past mistakes. Since taking office, the Board has rammed through a series of very developer-friendly changes in programs, policies, and laws. Mostly they accomplished this by trying to call as little attention as possible to what they were doing: eliminating a good half of the public comment periods, cutting the time citizens could speak at hearings and meetings of the Board from 3 minutes to 2 minutes (except for developers who have proposals before the Board, that is: they get to speak much longer), passing controversial motions with minimal or no public notice and unanimously without debate, and above all never, ever, ever mentioning any of these controversial changes (eliminating the volunteer illegal-sign cleanup program, packing advisory boards with developer reps, letting commercial developers build big-box stores by right, bouncing still-under-investigation supervisor Eugene Delgaudio from his committee assignments, granting One Loudoun an unprecedented exception to zoning regulations that ban video billboards . . .) in their perky constituent taxpayer-funded “news[sic]letters.”
Of course, governing on the “we hope no one will notice” principle occasionally runs into problems, even when you work as hard as Chairman Scott York (R) and his fellow supervisors do to keep the public in the dark. (You have to give York high marks for creativity on this score, though, as when he argued earlier this year that the “record low turnout” of citizens requesting to speak at the Board’s budget hearings “is to the Board’s credit.”)
So the new bit of PR savvy the Board is attempting goes like this: (a) pass a motion on a controversial matter on a unanimous or near-unanimous vote with minimal public notice or debate, never, ever mentioning it in your “news[sic]letter”; and (b) if citizens scream in protest despite your best efforts to keep it all a secret, claim after passing the motion that it is merely a “starting point” or a way to “air” the issue, and pretend you really haven’t made up your mind yet.
This is what York did last week on the schools motion. What the Board passed, on a 7–2 vote, was an official intent to amend the county zoning ordinance so that schools could henceforth be built virtually anywhere in the county without the current requirement for a public hearing first. This Board has never failed to give final approval to any zoning change it has similarly initiated (the Hounds stadium switcheroo, the big-box giveaway, the One Loudoun flashing sign loophole, etc etc etc). It is safe to say that it is thus a completely foregone conclusion that the end result of this latest “intent to amend” will be the final passage of the amendment, almost certainly on the same 7–2 vote.
But York, sensing the heat, is now trying to claim that in voting for the motion he was not taking “a firm position on the measure,” as the Loudoun Times-Mirror reported. “I just want to get to the point where we’re having a discussion,” York boldly explained.
Gee, don’t you normally have the discussion before you vote to pass something? Not on this Board, apparently. Then again, perhaps only Chairman York could offer indecisiveness, wishy-washiness, and “not taking a firm position” as an excuse to vote for a really bad idea.