I attended a Loudoun County Board of Supervisors meeting July 15 and saw a rather amazing violation of the Freedom of Information Act Open Meeting law. A Republican board member, Supervisor Anthony Buffington, was out at the Republican Convention in Cleveland and surreptitiously attended the board meeting by text messages. While a legislative item was being discussed, Buffington was lobbying his fellow board members by text message and participating in the debate electronically by texts sent to the members of the committee. Board members present were quoting from his text messages during legislative deliberations.
The county attorney was present and was horrified and required each board member present to read Buffington’s unpolished text messages into the record.
In sum, it was an amazing breach of the FOIA Open Meeting law letter and spirit. The rights of the public and press to know what their government was doing was badly compromised.
Legislation should be filed to correct this text message during meetings/surreptitious attendance problem that was on full display in Loudoun County.
In the fight against global poverty, the last few weeks have held plenty of reason to celebrate. Just recently, Congress passed two bills that will further foreign aid efforts in the fight against global poverty.
The first, the Global Food Security Act, is an impressive, bipartisan effort that will help increase food production and security for some of the world’s most vulnerable populations.
The other bill is the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act, which will add further guidelines and regulations that will help ensure that money going to foreign aid programs has an effect and is not lost, the great fear of taxpayers in regards to foreign aid spending.
Though fighting global poverty may seem like a distant and far-off problem, there are plenty of benefits to be enjoyed here in the U.S. due to our efforts. For one, there is a major economic benefit to be gained by fighting global poverty, since those out of global poverty end up consumers, which in turn tends to make them major consumers of U.S. goods.
The very nature of a global economy dictates that growth in economies’ elsewhere have a major, positive impact here at home. Beyond simply saving and improving lives, foreign aid helps to mitigate terrorism and improve our international standing.
The two most recently passed bills do two things for our commitment to foreign aid. The first, the Global Food Security Act, reinstates our commitment to food security and an economic presence abroad, while the second, the Foreign
Aid Transparency and Accountability Act, offers protections for taxpayers and makes sure that the money is not wasted, allowing for the biggest potential impact.
These efforts will have both a positive impact here and abroad and further the U.S. pledge to help the global poor.
It’s been a little over two weeks since the commission permit for the proposed AT&T facility on Short Hill was overruled by the Board of Supervisors. This is just about the right time to reflect on some important conclusions and observations.
I would like to thank the many citizens who came out and got involved, Catoctin Planning Commissioner Gene Scheel for sounding the alarm and my fellow board members for supporting me in denying this application.
A lot of things matter in a process like this. Ridgelines in Loudoun County matter. A 35-foot high, two-story, 160,000-square- foot structure does not belong on any of them, including Short Hill.
The voice of the residents matter. This is our home where we work and live our day-to-day lives. Being involved makes a difference. The Blue Ridge and Short Hill are the anchors of our community and should never be compromised.
The work of the planning commission matters – a lot. Take your time, there is no room to maneuver by the time a commission permit gets to the board. Adequate time must be afforded at the planning commission level to review an application as complex as this one.
The Comprehensive Plan matters. Although staff identified four areas supporting the commission permit’s compliance with the plan, I easily identified at least eight areas of non-compliance.
However, as important as the Comprehensive Plan is, it serves as a guideline and foundation for the board’s land use development policies. Findings for approval or denial of an application based on the Comprehensive Plan can be subjective and possibly go either way if litigated, especially since the current plan was adopted almost 15 years ago.
So, therefore, the law matters. No one wanted to provide a back door avenue for AT&T to litigate the board’s decision to overrule the commission permit and somehow proceed to build a 35-foot high structure. Denying the application based on the Comprehensive Plan would have done just that.
Monday morning quarterbacks always exist. This situation is no different. Some critics have personal agendas, some just don’t like the board and some don’t have all of the information, but the bottom line is that our goal was achieved.
The planning commission’s approval of the commission permit was overruled. Furthermore, the findings of the board to dismiss the commission permit based on withdraw of the application are on firm legal ground. This is a solid victory no matter how you look at it. This application did not go forward.
Where do we go from here? We stay right where we are – vigilant. No motion or board action can guarantee forever. As I mentioned on the night of the vote, this will not be the last we hear about this facility. AT&T still owns the property and the current facility will remain in operation.
I and my staff have spent numerous hours reviewing and researching this application and we are not about to stop now. AT&T’s submission of an updated site plan amendment for the existing permits on the facility should and will draw just as much scrutiny.
The Comprehensive Plan needs to be updated. Ridgelines, slopes, mountainside overlay, telecommunications and rural policy areas are critical areas that need to be strengthened and reflect the important lessons from Short Hill.
Geary M. Higgins
Loudoun County Supervisor, Catoctin District