Candland Proposes Transparency Reforms For PWC Board

Supervisor Candland Proposes Reforms to BOCS Rules

Gainesville, VA – During the January 7, 2014, Prince William Board of County Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Pete Candland proposed several reforms to the current Rules of Procedure by which the Board conducts its official business.

The proposed initiatives would facilitate transparency and promote more citizen engagement. Supervisor Candland proposed the following measures:
* The primary BOCS meeting times would be changed from 2:00pm to 7:30 pm in order to allow greater public participation. The vast majority of items would be voted on during the evening sessions to allow more citizen input.
* BOCS meetings would expand “Citizen’s Time” to accommodate increased participation.
* Citizens would be able to subscribe through the County website to automatically receive the BOCS agendas and supporting material at the time that these materials are made public.
* The County website would offer a section for public comment on agenda matters.
* Supervisors must provide a written resolution and supporting materials to the Clerk for inclusion in the published agenda to allow appropriate review by other BOCS members.
* Any waiver of the Rules of Procedure would require a 2/3 majority vote of the BOCS instead of the current simple majority vote threshold.

“These simple and straightforward reforms will go a long way towards increasing government transparency and restoring trust in our local government,” said Candland. “We serve at the will of the people, and as such, it is important that we take every step possible to provide them with adequate information about the work of their elected representatives.”

To see more details on these reforms and to read Supervisor Candland’s letter to other Board members, visit http://www.SupervisorCandland.com, where the letter and presentation to the Board has been posted. Supervisor Candland’s proposal will be discussed at the next Board meeting on January 14, 2014.

I could not agree more with these proposed reforms. Our Board of Supervisors is supposed to be a part-time position and represent the typical county citizen. Due to the county’s lack of quality employment, many residents must travel to other parts of Northern Virginia or into Washington, DC for their jobs. Most people have 9-to-5 types of jobs, yet too often our county supervisors hide in broad daylight by way of afternoon meetings that citizens cannot attend without taking time off from work. As a result, a majority of current supervisors are either self-employed or retired because they are the only ones who can participate. In order to encourage better civic involvement, both in terms of residents attending meetings to have their voices heard as well as encouraging them to serve on the board themselves, these meetings should be held during the evening.

Kudos to you, Pete, for raising this basic issue of transparency.

Jeanine Lawson Declares Candidacy for PWC Board

Virtucon’s long-time friend Jeanine Lawson has made it official – she will run once again for the Prince William County Board of Supervisors in 2015 to represent the Brentsville Dist. according to Potomac Local.

The full text of the email to her supporters follows:

Season’s Greetings,

Wow, It’s Christmas time and here we are saying goodbye to 2013 and on to a new year. No doubt you are busier than normal with shopping, decorating, and celebrating the season. I am also, so I’ll keep this as short as possible.

I have (with Dan’s encouragement) recently decided to make another run for the Prince William Board of Supervisors (BOCS), Brentsville District. Last July marked 18 years in our home, and Dan and I would not choose to raise Catherine and Luke anywhere else than here in Western Prince William County. We love our community! From the beautiful rural landscape of the Nokesville area to the Linton Hall Corridor where we live and the kids attend school, I’m so thankful to call Brentsville District our home. Even after all these years of living in Western PWC, I am still often times moved by the beautiful scenery and historical landscape of Prince William County.

Since my primary loss in 2011, I have remained very active with the community. In the last year I have been elected to president of the Patriot High School Advanced Placement (AP) Development Association. Catherine is a sophomore at Patriot and in the AP Program. Essentially this new organization is a booster club to support the 800+ students and staff of this specialty program. Also, in September I was voted by my fellow members of the Safe Schools Advisory Council to serve as chairman in the 2013-14 school year. With over 85,000 students in PWC schools, you can imagine the range of issues concerning safety. I have enjoyed both of these new leadership roles serving the community. I am also still very active with the Republican Party and continue to serve in state party leadership on the State Central Committee of the Republican Party of Virginia. Last, but certainly not least, much of my time in 2013 has been spent working with state and local elected officials and hundreds of citizens who oppose the Bi-County Parkway. This proposed road alignment raises a lot of concerns and I believe our state and local government should spend our taxpayer funds on more meaningful transportation solutions.

So why am I running again? Because I remain very committed to our community.

We learned from the 2010 census that PWC grew 43% from 2000-2010 with Brentsville District alone growing at 102%. Well, as we know, with all these new residents come serious demands to our infrastructure and that has lagged behind. Therefore our students attend schools well over capacity, sitting in traffic has become a way of life, and normal levels of service provided by local government are under achieved. Also, two-third of our workers commute outside the county to their jobs, and taxpayers continue to watch their property tax bills climb. We can do better!

Some of my vision for Prince William County and more specifically the Brentsville District includes:

* School Capacity and Class Size Reduction: We simply cannot build public schools fast enough to keep up with the growth. Currently, there are tens of thousands of additional homes approved to be built countywide. And to make matters worse, our class sizes are at the highest state allowed numbers. I am committed to working with Mr. Gil Trenum,(and honored to have his endorsement) Brentsville representative to the PWC School Board and his colleagues to bring resolution to this problem. Our kids and teachers deserve better!

* Attracting Business Growth: Clearly, we need to shift our focus to attracting business job growth which will also result in a healthier tax base. Right now, less than 20% of the county’s property tax revenue is from commercial and/or industrial property. It is the BOCS who is responsible for voting to rezone business property to residential property. This trend needs to stop. We need to do a better job of marketing our County’s assets to the business community. Virginia is known to be a very business-friendly state. We must take advantage of that, our location to our nation’s capital, and the high quality of our skilled work force. This is a trio of rare assets to many localities across the nation. We can do better because of these!

*Conservative Fiscal Policy: PWC has the highest tax rate in Virginia when you include the real estate tax rate and other levies. I expect all levels of government to be wise stewards of the people’s money. Property owners have watched their tax bills climb and the County’s five year plan calls for tax increases for each of the next five years. We can do better!

*Meaningful Transportation Solutions: As I stated earlier, I am committed to continue the fight against the infamous Bi-County Parkway. Property rights are under attack from VDOT’s over-reaching power grab, the historic Manassas Battlefield will forever be changed, local road closures will wreak havoc on our secondary roads, the Rural Crescent character and policy will be compromised and hundreds of millions of tax dollars will be wasted to serve one special interest group. We can do better!

This is where I stand.

The Elections for the BOCS are not until 2015, however I am announcing my candidacy and asking for your support at this time for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to let you know I am a candidate. Secondly, there is a strong likelihood the incumbent Brentsville board member will resign sometime in 2014 which will require a special election for this seat in 2014 and also another election in November of 2015.

In 2011, I chose to keep my campaign account open not knowing the certainty of my political future. Well, I’m glad I did.
Unfortunately raising money is a necessity of campaigns. The sole purpose is to market your message to the electorate while showing a base of financial donors who support the candidacy. I am asking for your help to achieve this goal.

I need to raise funds by December 31st to move this campaign forward. My next report is due in January. This means I need to disclose donations received by the end of the year. I’d like to post a healthy amount raised to show I already have a broad base of supporters. I recognize it’s Christmas time and possibly the worst time to ask for a political contribution, but whether you can contribute $15, $25, $100 or $250, all of the money raised will make a difference!

Checks can be made payable to “Lawson for Supervisor” and mailed to my treasurer Carolyn Ruwe at 13724 Bridlewood Drive, Gainesville, VA 20155. ( I am also working to reactivate my PayPal account and website) Again, just a reminder, all donations must be dated and received by December 31st (not deposited) in order to meet this first and crucial reporting deadline. I truly am grateful for your consideration.

As the local political grapevine shakes with questions of who might be the next Brentsville Supervisor?? My reply to all who ask is: “I’m in!”

I’d be honored to have your support however you are able.

Merry Christmas!

Jeanine Lawson

PS Please “Like” my Facebook page Jeanine Lawson for Brentsville

She joins Virtucon’s own Terrence Boulden who has already declared his candidacy for the Woodbridge Dist. seat on the PWC Board.  These two are the first in what will likely be a team of reform-minded Republicans seeking to offer solutions to the problems facing the county, candidates who are proactive in addressing the issues instead of merely responding to them after they have reached crisis proportions as some current board members do.

Lawson and Boulden know that the answer is applying conservative principles to come up with creative solutions and that means replacing both Democrats and those Republicans who have lost their way and begun acting like Democrats.  Both of these candidates would certainly be welcome reinforcements for Gainesville Dist. Supervisor Pete Candland who has waged a lonely war for good government the past two years.

Kudos To Corey and Candland

We here at Virtucon have been pretty hard on our local elected leaders in Prince William County as of late (and deservedly so.) But never say that we don’t tout the good as well when we see it. County Chairman Corey Stewart has put forward a proposal to keep taxes flat for the FY 2014 budget.  This comes on the heels of Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland’s similar call for a flat tax bill.

There really is no reason why this cannot be achieved.  All it takes is the right political will-power.  The biggest part of this will be for supervisors to get off the bandwagon of giving out “free stuff.”  Eliminating the district slush funds earlier this year was a good start.  Now they need to eliminate the so-called “carry over” fund process that makes the slush funds look like chump change.  If something needs to be funded, then fund it through an honest budgeting process — don’t hide it and then figure that you’ll just use carry over funds to pay for it later.

If we are to truly make county government cost-efficient and more effective, we need to go to a zero-based budgeting method to ensure that the needs of all of our county’s residents are properly met while taxpayers are protected.

We’ll be watching to see who agrees with us…

PWC Supervisors Stonewall Public On Police Chief Search

Shouldn’t the first thing about Prince William County’s search for a new top law enforcement officer be that it conforms with the law?  Sadly, that is apparently not even a consideration for 7 of the 8 sitting supervisors with Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland being the lone exception.

PWC blogger Al Alborn made what he thought was a simple request of his supervisor, Marty Nohe, asking him who the Board had appointed to the citizens panel that was formed to help with the search for a new police chief.  Before he knew it, his friendly email to his longtime supervisor was being treated like a formal Freedom of Information Act request and the county attorney’s office had become involved.  Needless to say, Mr. Alborn was given the runaround.  He, however, was persistent and was not about to take “no” for an answer.  Alborn contested the county’s interpretation of the law which they relied upon for the denial.

Typically, appointments to boards and commissions take place during the open portion of a BOCS meeting and the members of such bodies are publicly disclosed – not only at the time of appointment and included in the meeting minutes, but also listed on the county website (as when I served as the At-Large Representative on Prince William County’s Housing Board and was listed on its webpage.)

Of course there are instances allowed by Virginia law that permit bodies to go into executive (a.k.a. closed) session, but there is no provision in Virginia law to keep secret the members of a public body.  Let’s take a quick look at some basic provisions of the Virginia Open Meetings Law.

An Exception: Closed Meetings or Sessions

The general rule is that all meetings of public bodies must be open to the public. If a public body wants to hold a closed or “executive” session, it must identify a specific statutory exemption. Under Virginia FOIA, a public body may hold a closed session when it is dealing with one of forty-four subject-area exemptions found in Va. Code § 2.2-3711. If a governing body is dealing with one of these enumerated subject areas, then it may hold a closed session, but it must also meet the following procedural requirements:

  • The public body must affirmatively vote during an open meeting on a motion that
  1. identifies the subject matter of the closed meeting;
  2. states the purpose of the closed meeting; and
  3. makes explicit reference to the statutory exemption relied on to close the meeting.
  • At the end of the closed meeting, the public body must reconvene in an open meeting and take a vote certifying that that they discussed only exempt subject matters identified in the previous motion.
  • Decisions made in a closed meeting do not become official until the public body reconvenes in an open meeting following the proper procedure, reasonably identifies the substance of the decision, and takes a recorded vote on the decision agreed to in the closed meeting. Va Code § 2.2-3711(B). Any and all votes taken to authorize the transaction of any public business must be taken and recorded in an open meeting. Va. Code § 2.2-3710(A).

Public bodies are not required to record minutes for closed meetings.

For more information on the exemptions to the Virginia open-meetings requirements, see the Access to Public Meetings Guide and the Open Government Guide: Virginia.

In other words, while this body can hold closed meetings, it must still have at least a public opening and closing.  In order to do that, however, the public would have to know who was on the panel as well as when and where they were meeting.  (The PWC Board has shown no regard for Virginia’s Open Meetings Law, so why should we expect them to start now with a creation of their own?)

According to Potomac Local:

[Prince William County Chairman Corey] Stewart was not in favor of releasing the names of anyone on the interview panel keeping with concern aired by county officials that if the names get out, those on the panel, and their decision, may be unduly influenced by friends and neighbors.

Is that a legitimate concern?  I’ll let you decide that for yourselves.  (I have my own opinion that I will share at some point.)  It is not, however, a legal justification.  Similar non sequitur responses have been given by other supervisors including John Jenkins and Frank Principi.

All of this raises the simple question — why?  Speculation has abounded by commenters on the Sheriff of Nottingham in PWC’s blog with people claiming that this panel is being kept secret because one or more of the appointees may be controversial.  The Derecho also has a nice summary of the proceedings to date.

All I know is that for the past six months or so, nearly every time the PWC Board could make a wrong decision, they either did so or were dragged kicking and screaming into making the right one.  (Is someone feeding these people lead paint chips for snacks during meetings or something?)

This decision is too important to the future of the county for it to be made in such a secretive manner.  I have long expressed my frustration with former Chief Deane (as well as with former County Exec. Craig Gerhart) and advocated for wide-open national searches to be conducted in order to find top-notch people who can guide Virginia’s second largest county and one of America’s top ten wealthiest ones.  We did not get that with the selection of Melissa Peacor as County Executive who was promoted from within and merely compounded the problems wrought by her predecessor.  We certainly cannot afford for the same thing to happen in this instance.

Lest We Forget There Are Still Things Going On Locally

With just 18 days until Election Day, it is easy to get caught up in the presidential and senate races to the exclusion of what is going on locally.  Fortunately, Prince William County has seen an increase in blogs focused almost exclusively on local happenings — The Sheriff of Nottingham of Prince William County, The Derecho and The (Al) Alborn Foundation are doing great work in this arena in addition to our colleague Greg Letiecq at Black Velvet Bruce Li.

The three former ones have been on top of the county’s FY 2014 budget process, which has proven to be more open this year, but not without issues.  The main topic of discussion comes down to what the county really needs and what it wants.  I encourage anyone from PWC to visit these sites for fuller discussions about this and how the decisions that will be made over the coming months will impact your wallet for years to come.

Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland has launched his own blog and taken to it to discuss his ideas on how to rein in spending and protect the taxpayers.  Key among them are:

* Every dollar in increased revenue from rising assessments should be dedicated to a reduction in the Flat Tax Bill tax rate.  The County needs to stop being the beneficiary of increases in home values when they did not share in the pain individual homeowners have experienced in declining home values over the past five years; and

* Eliminate unnecessary program spending and cut overfunded programs;

* Eliminate Community Partner funding for all but those non-profits who clearly demonstrate they provide a mandated service more efficiently and more cost effectively than the government can.  We need to get County government out of the business of picking winners and losers among private charities that receive taxpayer money; and

* Target budget cuts on specific agencies equal to the average “agency returns” from each of these agencies over the past three years to the carryover fund.

These proposals are worthy of discussion, particularly taking a hard look at the “carryover funds.”  If agencies have been allocated too much money on a consistent basis that is then left over at the end of each fiscal year, doesn’t it make sense to dial back on the amounts they are being given in the first place instead of treating it each year like new found money that they can then spend however they like?  As more than one of the aforementioned bloggers have pointed out, the carryover fund process is an even bigger disgrace than the supervisors’ now-defunct slush funds were.

Meanwhile, BVBL has been tracking the story of the federal government cutting off their agreement with the county on 287(g) immigration enforcement as of Dec. 31st.  This has been a true success with former Gainesville Supervisor John Stirrup and Chairman Corey Stewart deserving credit for proposing and championing it respectively.  One can only hope that the new Romney /Ryan administration reverses course on this and reinstates the agreement upon assuming office.

THIS Is What 7 PWC Supervisors Couldn’t Even Offer A Second To The Motion For?

I have just been provided a copy of the revised resolution offered by Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland on Tuesday that not one other member of the Prince William County BOCS would even offer a second to his motion. (And that they went into hiding to kill so there wouldn’t be any video of the awkward silence when no one would speak up to second it.)  Decide for yourself…

MOTION:

SECOND:

RE: ESTABLISHMENT OF ENHANCED RULES OF PROCEDURES FOR CONFLICT OF INTERESTS BY MEMBERS OF THE PRINCE WILLIAM BOARD OF COUNTY SUPERVISORS AND THE CHAIRMAN

ACTION:

WHEREAS, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and the Chairman are obligated to avoid and disclose ethical, legal, financial, or other conflict of interests involving their public duties as public officials; and

WHEREAS, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and the Chairman are fully committed to the highest levels of integrity and seek at all times to maintain the highest trust of the public in the full transparency of its official actions to assure that the judgment of public officers and their employees is guided by strict adherence to a comprehensive written conflict of interests policy; and

WHEREAS, the general practice of individual Supervisors and/or the Chairman participating in official actions that provide a financial or other benefit to themselves or to organizations with which they have an actual or appearance of a conflict without disclosure or without removing themselves from votes where such conflicts exist could potentially cast doubt on the integrity of that process and undermine citizens’ trust of the Board of County Supervisors; and

WHEREAS, the citizens of Prince William County have the absolute right to expect their elected officials to conduct their relationships with each other, County agencies and departments, their personal business interests, outside organizations, community partners, and the general public in a transparent and honest manner;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Prince William Board of County Supervisors hereby amends its Rules of Procedure to add a new section “J: Disclosure of Board Member Interests” containing the following provisions, effective on the date of adoption of this resolution.

In addition to the applicable provisions of the Conflict of Interests Act in the Code of Virginia,
§ 2.2-3100, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors enacts the following rules of conduct:
1. The disclosure statement of personal interests, required by Virginia Code § 2.2-3115 filed by the Prince William County Supervisors and the Chairman shall be published on the Prince William County website under the section entitled “Board of County Supervisors” or within a newly created subsection entitled “Personal Interest Disclosures of Supervisors,” with appropriate identifiers to allow the public to easily navigate to the location of and to easily review these documents for each Supervisor or Chairman; and
2. When a Supervisor or the Chairman has a personal interest in any action before the Board, that individual is required to provide a written statement to the Clerk disclosing this personal interest and shall make a verbal declaration on the existence of this personal interest immediately prior to the vote being taken in the meeting; provided
(a) A Supervisor or the Chairman is deemed to have a personal interest in a transaction when that individual or a member of his or her immediate family, defined as (i) a spouse or (ii) any other person residing in the same household of the Supervisor or Chairman, serves as an officer, board member, or on an advisory committee of any entity that is involved in any proposed appropriation of taxpayer funds by the Board, provided however;
(1) When the individual holds a position with such an entity by appointment of the Board to represent the Board in the official performance of duties and serving the interests of the County, no disclosure is required.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the County Attorney and the Clerk are hereby directed to update the Rules of Procedure promptly to include these provisions.

If not one other supervisor had the courage to stand up and second this motion, then none of them even belong there.