The unsuccessful attempt to move the Prince William County seat out of the independent city of Manassas split the county's voters between east and west and sharpened an already bitter division on the Board of Supervisors.
Four supervisors from the eastern part of the county had sought to move the courthouse, jail and administration building to Independent Hill, but the move was rejected by 8,613 to 6,551 in Thursday's referendum Bond issues to finance the new buildings also lost.
The completion of the campaign also cleared the way for the departure of County Executive Clinton Mullen after nearly four years in the job.
Supervisor James Byrd, whose Coles District includes Independent Hill, said yesterday. "This represents the blackest day in Prince William County's history. The opposition distorted the facts. We are not going to take this lying down.
"I myself will not vote to spend one red cent of taxpayers' money to enchance the tax base of another jurisdiction," Bryd said. Manassas does not pay county taxes. It does share in the costs of the court and jail system and reaps the benefits of taxes on business that have located near the courthouse.
The county's Circuit Court judges have told the supervisors that the jail is inadequate. The board majority also had argued that new court and administrative facilities were needed. The courthouse was built in 1898 and the county now operates out of 24 seperate buildings.
But yesterday, Supervisor Alice Humphries said, "I'd like to help the minority keep their promise to the voters. They said we had perfectly adequate facilities." Supervisor Kathleen Seefeldt, from the eastern district of Occoquan, said "I won't back a new jail at this point."
Under state law, another attempt to move the courthouse cannot be made for 10 years, but the eastern supervisors seem unlikely at this point to go ahead with new facilities in Manassas.
The board minority now is eager to go ahead with the jail. "We have to build that jail, and we need to put aside this east-west split," said Board Chairman Donald White.
That split turned out to be the key to the election. White's Gainesville District in Western Prince William had a 52 percent turnout, the highest in the county, and cast 96 percent of its votes against moving the county seat.
Brentsville, the other western district, had a 50 percent turnout and an 85 percent vote against the move. That, too, would have been more than 90 percent except for a single precinct near Independent Hill.
In the eastern end of the county, which has about 62 percent of the county's population, only 39 percent of registered voters turned out and the percentages in favor of the shift ranged from 64 in Coles district to 75 in Dumfries and Occoquan. The higher turnout and cohesiveness in the west was enough to keep the county seat in Manassas instead of moving it closer to the more rapidly developing eastern districts.
"People are not willing to pay additional tax dollars just for the purpose of moving," said Brentsville Supervisor T. Clay Wood. "It was primarily economics. They related it back to taxes."
Wood and Bryd confirmed that the supervisors would make an announcement at next Tuesday's board meeting on Mullen's status.
Bryd, who has been actively seeking Mullen's ouster, described the announcement as "to my liking." Wood said that several supervisors had wanted Mullen out immediately but that "we are not going to pull anything very short on him." He indicated that Mullen might stay on until summer.
Mullen's ouster is not directly tied to the county seat referendum, but the bitter battle crystalized the grievances which had grown up between him and various supervisors during his tenure.