Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Augusta BoS predictably tables decision on staggered terms

Monday's Augusta County Board of Supervisors staff meeting ended as many expected it would. With four items on the agenda, the issue of staggered board terms that had been broached to the Board by Supervisor Tracy Pyles (D-Pastures) ended up tabled until the June 21 work session.

Bob Stuart has a good article in today's Waynesboro News Virginian about what happened and how a decision was once again delayed.

When the meeting began, 10 members of the public were in the audience. By the time the last item came up, only two were left to hear what happened.

The issue of staggered supervisor terms -- three supervisors voted in, then the remaining four elected two years later, all to serve four-year terms --was clouded with additional issues thrown into the mix -- redistricting, number of supervisors (whether to increase, decrease, or keep the same), other items. It was decided to limit discussion to the issue at hand.

Tracy Pyles (D-Pastures) originally suggested the board consider going to staggered terms, something used by neighboring Staunton City Council, Waynesboro City Council, and Shenandoah County BoS. The public would have a better opportunity to be heard, he said, rather than wait four years every time for elections. Staggering would offer the possibility of a "course correction," a sort of report card between the public and the board. He proposed hosting a public hearing for feedback from the community, and suggested the new policy be in place by the next election in November of 2011.

Larry Howdyshell (R-North River) flip-flopped, disappointing by first saying he agreed and then backpedaling on having the lawyer draft an ordinance, suggesting instead that it be tabled. He backed that up by voting to do nothing before a June 21 meeting. The News Virginian wrote:
North River member Larry Howdyshell said he liked considering staggered terms because it means keeping “some consistency and knowledge in place.”

But when it came time to proceed with drawing an ordinance, Howdyshell preferred to wait, calling the move “a pretty big step.”
Mr. Pyles pointed out it was just an ordinance and, instead of doing nothing before addressing it again on June 21, the lawyer could draft the ordinance ... it didn't mean it would be voted on ... it was just a draft. But he was outvoted by those who did not want the issue to move forward.

David Beyeler (R-South River) was very vocal in his objection, citing the recent real estate assessment as an example of the public becoming angry and ousting their supervisors. Well, hello! A huge part of the public felt their voices were ignored in that issue. Many people have said they view the supervisors and those at the Government Center as arrogant ... and then they always follow it up by saying, "Except Mr. Pyles."

Wendell Coleman arrived late, just at the end of the staggered term discussion, and was asked his opinion. Some of his reasoning was questionable:
- Staggered terms could have a negative effect on businesses moving to the community. (Tell that to Waynesboro's staggered City Council ... business is booming in that part of SWAC Land with new restaurants and retail announced on a regular basis.)

- Something about not being able to lead because of worrying about reelections. (As opposed to worrying about reelections now? It will still be four-year terms so not quite sure what he meant by this.)

- He mentioned being concerned about the cost because he spent far more money when he ran for supervisor than he ever imagined and it was a rude awakening how much it cost. (A candidate will incur the cost of a campaign ... staggered terms have nothing to do with it.)

- He mentioned that the learning curve to become supervisor is steep. (Again, that has nothing to do with staggered terms.)
The News Virginian best covered the discussion and, bottom line, the issue had again been sidelined until the June 21 work session.

Work sessions are held the fourth Monday each month at 1:30 in the afternoon and are open to the public. The next one is June 21. It will be interesting to see if this issue is again pushed aside at that time.


Joy Jackson said...

This is such a no brainer, I don't understand why they won't just do it.

CraigOrn said...

In addition to Shenandoah, Page and Rockingham have staggered terms. In fact, I believe that if you go all the way north to Clarke and Roanoke to the south, only Clarke, Augusta, Bath and Rockbridge are not staggered. Highland is an interesting exception as it does not have districts but rather apportions seats to the top three vote geters.

I should also note the article in the NV incorrectly stating that board members would have faced election earlier this month. Board of Supervisor elections in Virginia are held in November (I believe without exception).

Although a case could be made that unstaggered terms are good enough for Congress and the state legislature, its nearly impossible to have 100% turnover, given the widely varying constituencies. Additionally, the Senate remains the same on the state level during the Gubernatorial election, and the US Senate has staggered terms. Consistency is built into those systems but voters still have choices.

Given the powers of the Board being an amalgam of executive and legislative functions, I think its very important for voters to be able to speak out while having institutional knowledge on the board. In fact, if I was a Board member, I would appreciate the heads up that three of my colleagues losing would represent.....and I think the people deserve the chance to give that warning.

SouthsideCentral said...

The best thing they could do is to make the local elections non-partisan.