At a recent Prince William County supervisors meeting, board member Donald E. Kidwell slapped his hand on the board table and snapped that he was sick and tired of the staff bringing up proposals they favored again and again until the board finally relented and passed them.
It was an unusual scene for the board room, where rarely a harsh word is exchanged between the bright, professional staff and the attentive, courteous board.
The supervisors' excrutiatingly correct behavior is reinforced by soft-spoken Chairman Kathleen K. Seefeldt, who insists fellow board members follow her example. One supervisor likened her style to that of a football coach--you can give the players hell in the locker room but pat them on the back in the stadium.
The staff's behavior, on the other hand, is set by the low-key chief executive Robert Noe, who insists it follow his example as well--give your opinions privately to the supervisors, but never issue them publically.
Even behind the scenes, however, almost all say the relationship between the board and the staff is remarkably free of conflict. "Maybe it does seem a little too hunky-dory to be true," said Supervisor G. Richard Pfitzner. "We've got a staff of bright young professionals who are going places. They're getting their ticket to the top punched here. Most of the board have that same young, professional attitude so the conflicts are bound to be at a minimum."
The county's staff includes such department heads as planning's Roger Snyder, 40, who whizzes through the county Sunday mornings on his motorcycle with a camera and an eye out for zoning violations; And 31-year-old Diane Lingle, of economic development, who packed up her household of baby and husband and moved up to Prince William from Florida after being assured the fast growing county would do wonders for her career.
County attorney John Foote, 37, a Vietnam veteran who helped draw up President Ford's draft dodger clemency program, dropped his promising career in the U.S. Justice Department the second he was offered a job in the county six years ago. He moved to his now-beloved Prince William, married another county worker and says he never looks back to the high-powered world of Washington.
And when Deputy County Executive Rick Noble, 39, left his job in the Fairfax County government three years ago to become a manager in Prince William, his colleagues gave him a plaque reading "on to the cows." He chuckles about it fondly, having been kicked upstairs to the deputy executive slot six months after he started work.
Finance Director Connie Bawcum, 31, who left Knoxville for Northern Virginia because she thought it the perfect place to live, came to work for the county after she met Noe through a mutual friend and accepted his challenge to run a professionally managed finance department.
Martin E. Crahan, the 40-year-old di- rector of Development Administration, spent his childhood playing with building blocks, went on to study architecture at Ohio State and was hired away from Fairfax County three years ago to head the Prince William development department, which reviews all buildings proposed for the county.
They are part of the inner circle surrounding chief executive Noe, who runs the 761-member county staff from behind the stone sculpture of a bulldog perched on his desk.
The circle of advisers meets with him twice-monthly at round table sessions where, the staff says, everyone's opinion is listened to, no matter what their area of expertise.
He also meets with them privately to listen to problems and solicit advice.
"He has a great knack for seeing the forest as well as the trees," says Snyder, who keeps a steno pad marked "Noe Notebook" full of items to pass on to the chief executive. "We come to him with our ideas and concerns and he puts them into the perspective of the whole county."
From there Noe makes his staff recommendations to the board, where they are followed more often than not.
"My job is to say what I think," says Noe.
"The board can listen to me or not. They have the ultimate authority and responsibility."
Many of the county's staff members once worked in Fairfax, but they say they do not consider that neighboring county to be a role model as much as a living textbook for Prince William to study.
"Fairfax is wonderful because we can look at all their problems and then avoid them ourselves," said Noble. "Sure Prince William is like Fairfax was 20 years ago, but that doesn't mean we will be Fairfax 20 years from now."
In Prince William, the future is discussed more frequently than the present, which is under control, say the staff, with property taxes recently lowered and the budget healthy. With the aid of a long-range zoning plan, the county is trying to control the number of houses and town homes growing like grass in the eastern end of the county so that it can control the number of new residents demanding schools, fire protection and water lines.
Instead the staff has been working every avenue in an effort to get businesses and industry--read jobs and tax revenues--into the county. Full color advertisements heralding Prince William as "the place to be" are tucked into business magazines throughout the country and a copy of one of the ads is thumbtacked to the otherwise bare walls in Noe's office.
This summer, as soon as Gov. Charles S. Robb announced the creation of a Center for Innovative Technology to be located in Northern Virginia, the Prince William staff swung into action, locating possible sites, signing up land donors, writing reports on why the center should be in Prince William.
"It was a pleasure to see how quickly and efficiently everyone pulled together," said Snyder.
This was not always the case in fast growing Prince William, which saw its population double to approximately 150,000 in the 1970s. The county was once noted for the viscious fights between supervisor and supervisor, supervisors and staff, staff member and staff member.
By the end of the '70's, though, the make-up of the board had changed from a majority of four rural old-timers to a majority of five cosmopolitan newcomers. It was then Noe, now 44, was hired away from Herndon and made chief executive. In the last few years board members and Noe say they have trimmed the dead wood in the county staff, easing out one high-level employe with a penchant for old-style back room lobbying and another who lacked the aggressive creativity of the new staff.
"He (Noe) believes the county should be managed correctly, in a professional manner," said Bawcum. Noble said the county is intentionally trying to keep the government streamlined, with as little staff as possible, unlike what they believe is going on in neighboring Fairfax.
Not everyone is pleased with the changes.
Some say anonymously that, under Noe, the staff has become too powerful--leading the board instead of the other way around. And they say the emphasis on a young, bright, professional outlook is changing the county's rural charactor, which once formed the core of its identity.
Staff and supervisors say the county will someday have a compatible mix of housing, businesses and farms and will have both busy town centers and back road lanes.
"It is hard to say to a farmer, 'no you can't sell your land for a housing development and retire to Florida--your land must remain a farm for the common good,' " said Snyder. "But we are interested in looking forward to what will benefit the county as a whole. That takes courage . . . but I think what we do here today will remain long after we're gone."
"We have a vested interest in doing right by this county because we live here and love it," said Foote. "These people are literally our neighbors. They might not always agree with specific decisions regarding schools or development but most seem to agree with the direction the county is going."