The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday night to begin the process of studying changing the county’s form of government.
The board directed staff to study changing the Loudoun County form of government, develop a list of governing and law enforcement options, specifically including the establishment of a Loudoun County Police Department in all options.
The board approved the measure 6-3, with supervisors Caleb Kershner (R-Catoctin), Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) and Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) opposing.
A report to the board will be provided no later than Jan. 31, 2021.
If Loudoun voters were to approve a referendum for a county police department in 2021 and the General Assembly finalized the shift in the winter 2022 session, the Loudoun County Police Department would become operational by Jan. 1, 2024.
The county is currently under a “traditional” form of government, which does not require a police department. However, under “county executive” and “urban county executive” forms of government, having a police department is required.
Another distinction in the non-traditional forms of government is that two constitutional officers, treasurer and commissioner of revenue, are not required. In Loudoun, those offices are currently held by Roger Zurn (R) and Robert Wertz (R), respectively.
Buffington’s move to table fails, Turner withdraws second motion
Buffington, who said "we don't have a problem" with regards to law enforcement, attempted to table the discussion, with a second by Umstattd. The motion failed 3-6, with only Umstattd and Kershner supporting the attempt.
Supervisor Turner also withdrew his motion to direct staff to place an item on the agenda calling for a vote to petition the Circuit Court for a referendum to be placed on the Nov. 2, 2021, General Election ballot.
Turner made the decision after five supervisors said they didn’t favor the motion before a vote was cast. Opponents said the motion was "political."
“The reason I wanted this motion is because I want a point in time, because realistically we cannot do this and put it off too long and so that's why I'm establishing it," Turner said. “However, the motion is clearly going to fail at this point.”
More about the conflict
Some members of the board have voiced support for implementing a county police department out of concern for deputies’ job security and the office’s transparency. They believe the fast-growing county would be better served by a police chief who reports to the county administrator.
A county police department would dramatically reduce the reach and scope of the county sheriff’s office, though it would not completely eliminate it. Neighboring Fairfax County operates with a police department taking primary law enforcement duties across the county, while the sheriff’s office oversees courthouse security and oversight of the jail. It’s expected Loudoun would operate similarly, with a county police chief hired by the county administrator. The sheriff, in their reduced role, would still be elected.
Sheriff Chapman has fervently opposed the idea, touting the success of the sheriff’s office in the process and stating that replacing the sheriff’s office with a police department would cost at least $20 million for personnel and equipment start-up costs, though those figures were compiled by the LCSO and have been called into question by Randall.
Chapman says a police department would waste millions of dollars in subsequent maintenance and personnel costs and divide a “unified” and “highly successful” organization.
Sheriff does not object to the study
Chapman said what concerned him about the process to establish a county police department was the board’s attempts to go straight to a voter referendum in November without further information being provided to the public. The sheriff said he looks forward to the study.
"I just want to make sure that the study is done professionally [and] independently, and it will give everybody all the information they need to make the appropriate decision on where we go,” Chapman said. “I really don't object to a comprehensive, well-done study that has input from law enforcement, not just from the county.”
The board’s take
Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) on including law enforcement in collective bargaining: “I want our law enforcement to be able to — to use a ‘Hamilton’ term — 'be in the room where it happens,' and right now ... it is no fault of anyone, it's just how the law was passed ... law enforcement cannot take part in any of those discussions.
“I don't think it's OK to have literally every other county employee, except constitutional officers ... not be allowed to talk about their own careers, their own lives, how they are paid, what their benefits look like, what their retirement looks like, that's not OK. And that's not respectful to law enforcement to me," Randall said.
Catoctin Supervisor Caleb Kershner (R): “Would a new study make a difference or does the sheriff's existing study answer our questions? Given that the sheriff has over 87% satisfaction, why change something that's not broken? But in the end, this motion really is about who controls the reins of power. That's really what this is about.”
Ashburn Supervisor Mike Turner (D): “The intent is to preemptively look at these things in a serious way and have the hard discussion — as painful as they probably will be — and get some analysis and some cost-based analysis. Then when all that discussion is done, let's put it to the people and let the people decide what they want to do.”
Algonkian Supervisor Juli Briskman (D): “It is beyond time to review our local governmental operations, and it is beyond time take partisan politics out of one of the largest departments that operates with your hard-earned tax dollars. To say that this is a move to inject politics into our county systems is a red herring, and it is false. Having a top law enforcement officer who must campaign and raise money for a campaign by calling donors is exactly what [currently] makes this a political position.”
Leesburg Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D): “I think that at this time of massive instability, governmental instability, social instability, we need to be stable in Loudoun County. This is not an action that will increase stability, it's going to decrease stability, and I worry very much about destabilizing government, even though there's a process.”
Blue Ridge Supervisor Tony Buffington (R): “I did not print every email, but if I stack them up, it's going to be very lopsided and very one-sided on the side of not doing this. And so, I feel to vote in favor of this is absolutely against the constituents of my district, the Blue Ridge district ... "
David Simpson, mayor of Hamilton: “The truth of the matter is that I think, for the long term, the police department is the way to go.”
Joshua Lowder, deputy with the sheriff’s office: “Given the inherent if not obvious complexities that lie at the heart of such a proposal for revolutionary change, any move to expedite such a decision is ... deceptive and manipulative. Chair, the way you submitted this agenda item is deeply concerning.”
Maria Stanton, member of the Loudoun County Republican Women's Club: “I'm not one to say that if something's not broke, we don't fix it, but at this time it isn't necessary to spend the money on [a study].” Stanton noted the financial uncertainties that have come along with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Victoria Whelan: "[The sheriff] works for us, not the Board of Supervisors.”