2016 Year in Review: A new Loudoun County Board of Supervisors
Randall’s election came when she characterized the county as “us and them,” highlighting what she felt was a years-running disconnect between county government and the people it served.
The chairwoman's first year in office has been characterized by the ever-present issues of growth and transparency, as well as a broader definition of the board's role in the community.
Growth and development
Since taking office, Randall and new board members have delved into the arduous process of managing growth and development.
Over the past year the board’s primary focus has been working on putting together the county’s new comprehensive plan, which will serve as the blueprint for development throughout Loudoun for the next decade and beyond. Supervisors have also been preparing for Loudoun’s new Silver Line Metro stations by crafting a small area land use plan around the area.
As more applications for high-density residential housing have come before the board, overcrowding of communities and schools has been a challenge for supervisors. Balancing economic development while still maintaining the rural character of western Loudoun has been another focus – one Randall has advocated for.
The board’s vote to overturn a county commission permit for a controversial "telephone transmission utility substation" proposed by AT&T in western Loudoun highlighted the board’s commitment to the county’s current comprehensive plan and protection of rural western Loudoun.
However, the board also approved over a dozen rural uses in western Loudoun for new business and tourism opportunities, as well as a special events facility in Middleburg.
The social cost of growth
In a county that has nearly doubled in size in the last 20 years, Randall has been quick to acknowledge that with tremendous growth comes a wealth of other challenges, as the needs of the people in the community grow too.
As a corporate board, the role of supervisors has been largely considered one solely responsible for adopting ordinances, appropriating funds, approving land use and rezoning applications and building infrastructure.
Randall has tried to redefine that role.
The chairwoman has admitted that because of the county’s rapid growth, Loudoun’s focus has been overwhelmingly on transportation and economic development. She contends the county has lacked focus on resources for the county's less fortunate population.
“There is no doubt Loudoun is a county that is thriving – making its mark on the national, and even international, stage,” Randall said at her first State of the County address in May. “However, it is equally clear that the success story that is Loudoun is not enjoyed or felt by all of Loudoun’s residents. In Loudoun, we have not just pockets, but entire communities of people who don't feel heard, seen or valued.”
Domestic violence, teen suicide, inequality, racism and discrimination and gun violence have been issues Randall has attempted to tackle as the new chairwoman of that board – issues that previous chairs had not always prioritized.
Despite her efforts, political ideologies often stood in the way of Randall's attempts.
“If we, who are the leaders of the county, can't have the discussion, then who does?” Randall told the Times-Mirror following a highly politicized vote on a gun a violence awareness day resolution. The board's three Democrats voted in favor of the resolution while the six Republicans opted to table the measure.
Following a deadly mass shooting at a gay-friendly nightclub in Orlando, Florida, over the summer, the board attempted to take up a resolution introduced by Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) to recognize the month of June as LGBT pride month.
Consideration on that resolution, however, was pushed back to a later meeting and subsequently changed to a substitute proclamation by Supervisor Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run) to recognize the month of July as “Love Loudoun Month” -- a broad proclamation that honored citizens of all faiths, ethnic groups and sexual orientation in Loudoun.
Before they could vote on the resolution, Republican supervisors argued it was not their job as a corporate body to discuss such controversial and political issues.
“I don’t see these discussions as being a bad thing, I see these discussions as being the way the community talks to the board and talks to each other,” Randall said from the dais in July during discussion of Meyer’s resolution. “Perhaps you didn’t have any resolutions that were controversial because when someone in the county asked somebody on the board to bring it up on last the board, no one brought it forward, thus it wasn’t any controversy.”
Meyer’s resolution ultimately passed, and Randall said the board would not revisit Umstattd's LGBT resolution.
Less than a month into office, supervisors approved an ethics code at the recommendation of Randall -- a policy that had been at the core of her campaign for chairwoman.
Over the years Loudoun boards have been criticized for their cozy dealings with land and real estate developers as well as political donors.
The ethics code, crafted by supervisors in a bipartisan manner, included avoiding the appearance of any conflicts of interest, not granting political favors and using county resources wisely.
The board continues to come under scrutiny for its dealings on economic development ventures, approvals of land use applications and groups they appoint that help craft county policy.
Randall recently offered a chair’s prerogative directing land use and development applicants to have all materials and adjustments to their applications in before the board’s packets are made public. Randall's proposal is a bid to prevent applicants from making last-minute changes to their applications without giving the public or supervisors time to understand the information.
“This is my first term as chair, and it bothers me. So if it bothers me I’m thinking it might bother the public also,” Randall told the Times Mirror.
Supervisors and county staff still hold closed-door, executive sessions at nearly every business meeting.
In November, Loudoun’s Department of Economic Development, Visit Loudoun, Randall and Congresswoman Barbara Comstock (R) joined a high-level delegation of Chinese and U.S. officials on a tour of local eateries and breweries without the knowledge of the public or the local media.
Loudoun has over 40 advisory boards, commissions and committees, whose membership largely consists of board appointees.
The Zoning Ordinance Action Group is one of those groups. It considers consequential zoning and planning decisions that impact the county's growth. The members consist largely of development and building industry insiders, some of whom have applications directly before the board.
“I am, to be honest, a little concerned that there are members of ZOAG who ... actually have applications that come before our board and that some of the recommendations they make on ZOAG could impact their own application,” Randall told the Times-Mirror.
Randall said although she would like to see more citizen representation on ZOAG, it is up to supervisors to choose its leadership.
Supervisors held their final business meeting on Dec. 6 and will reconvene for its first business meeting of the year on Jan. 3.
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