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EDITORIAL: By limiting public input, supervisors quell citizen voices

In a representative democracy, participation by the people in the business of government is both a right and an obligation. But in Loudoun County, the right and the obligation have been restricted because governing is keeping the supervisors up past their bedtime.

At a time when the input of residents is vital in determining how growth is overtaking the county, the Board of Supervisors has voted to avert late-night voting sessions by limiting public input at its regular business meetings to 30 minutes.

This is the same board that, just a few months ago, voted to increase supervisors’ salaries by more than 60 percent.

It’s the same board that continually turns a deaf ear to to citizens who express their concerns and positions over a range of issues.

That makes the decision to limit public input at the county’s official business meeting both deaf and dumb.

By allowing unlimited speaking time, supervisors don’t get around to voting on items until late into the meetings, sometimes when many residents have already gone to bed, argues Vice Chairman Ralph Buona (R- Ashburn). Supervisors Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin), Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) and Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run) also supported the restriction on public input.

The four supervisors don’t get it. Citizens deserve every opportunity to address their government representatives. There should be more time for public comment, not less. Constituents with something to say gladly stay up late to be heard at the public meetings.

We don’t question that citizens have multiple ways to be heard. They can testify at public hearings, send an email, text or leave a message for a supervisor. Some choose to write an op-ed piece or letter to the editor to the Times-Mirror when their concerns are dismissed or when they feel they have not been heard. We encourage such submissions, and publish them, including those by supervisors.

Every supervisor should understand what it means for everyday citizens to have their voices heard. Public service starts with listening. There’s little that means more to a citizen than to participate meaningfully at the official business meeting of the county.

The right to be heard is a cherished American principle that should not be diminished in any form. Supervisors should encourage more input, not restrict the time it currently allots for it. More participation by residents is required at this moment in the county’s history to counter-balance the attention granted developers, land-use attorneys and special interests.

The supervisors should put a bad idea to bed. There’s a better way for the public to be heard and for decisions in the county’s interest to unfold before bedtime: Start earlier.

The people will come.

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