Political bodies, like people, go through life cycles and the Prince William County Board of Supervisors is no exception.
The current seven-member board took office in January 1976 at a low point in county history. The previous board had developed a disastrous reputation for internal bickering and personal nastiness.
The once sleepy Manassas area had boomed, but the town itself had decided to take city status and get out of the county.
The east end of the county, along I 95, had turned into an ever-expanding bedroom for the metropolitan area, facing schools to expand and taxes to [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] A rural county was leaping, happily and without much thought, into its urban future, and the supervisors had to deal with it.
For the first two years of its four-year term, the board generally faced up to and dealt successfully with county problems. The county bond rating improved, day-to-day government was increasingly professional, planning and development became more orderly.
But by late 1977, by some subtle chemistry, the seemed to lose its willingness to address problems and to begin instead to place blame for the problems elsewhere.
Perhaps the catalyst was the bitter fight over moving the courthouse out of Manassas. It seemed to drive the members into themselves and, while the four-to-three board split that developed over the courthouse move does not hold on other issues, it left the members less willing to seek a rational compromise on any given issue.
The site of he county seat was a legitimate and important issue, but the quality of debate deteriorated from professional planning and cost benefit studies to personal invective. Despite a countywide referendum in which voters decided not to move the courthouse, the County Board has in practice refused to accept the referendum as binding by its continued unwillingness to build a new jail at the county seat in Manassas.
Along the way other things began to happen. The county executive was fired and the board began more and more frequently to overrule its staff on issues of development and grant exemptions to builders. The result may be a septic tank crisis in the not too distant future.
More and more often, problems were blamed on the state government and the federal government. A board majority seemed to feel that if the outside world would go away, Prince William's problems would go away - an odd outlook for a county whose economy depends on access to the Washington metropolitan job market.
The board refused to pay its full share to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, refused to fully fund the Occoquan watershed study and tried to get out of a long-planned regional sewage treatment facility.
In most instances the county found itself legally bound and eventually reversed itself. But the board's reaction to regional or state-federal programs has become a predictable attack with little attention to county needs.
A board majority, with James McCoart and Kathleen Seefeldt dissenting, has refused to compromise on an expansion of the Manassas Battlefield Park and has issued florid statements about the federal government taking over the entire county.
And with the county in desperate need of a new jail, the board has so far been unable to agree on a location.
Rather than make a decision, the board may wait until a court order dictates a site.
The conclusion to be drawn from the recent actions of the supervisors is that the board has reached a low point in performance with more than a year to go before facing an election in November 1979.
A new county executive, Robert S. Noe Jr., who has been town manager of Herndon since 1972, will start work in September. It is possible that he can rebuild an effective staff system capable of providing reasoned guidance to the board.
Whether or not, the Prince William Board of Supervisors is any longer capable of accepting information remains to be seen.
If not, it could be a long year for the county.