Loudoun County residents have two new forums in which to voice their opinions and concerns, each sponsored by a member of the Board of Supervisors.
Since his election as County Board chairman in January, Frank Raflo has taken calls from residents at a special number (777-0203) in the county administration building for 1 1/2 hours on the Thursday after each board meeting. Raflo said that he averages one call every half-hour during his designated time slot, a number he considers "very good -- about what I expected."
The other outlet is town meetings held by Supervisor Steve Stockman. The first one scheduled for Jan. 29 was canceled because of an ice storm. But last week's meeting, held at the Sugarland Run community center, brought out 45 residents who filled the small community meeting room to voice complaints and worries about that night's topic -- roads.
Despite a disparity in participation, both board members have pronounced their fledgling efforts successful.
Stockman's meeting, slated to run from 8 to 10 p.m., went on until 11:30 p.m. while residents, angry about the lack of adequate road funding and worried about safety concerns, threw questions at Stockman, Supervisor Andrew Bird, state highway officials and county staff.
Said legislative liaison Memory Porter, "I thought it was fascinating. The people dealt with immediate road problems in their daily lives -- not with theory. I learned a lot and I think VDH&T Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation did, too."
When a resident at the meeting would suggest a solution to a problem about a dangerous left-turn lane or a badly timed traffic light, highway officials made such comments as, "That's a good idea" or "I never thought of that." When one resident suggested that the single-lane turn from Hechinger's onto Rte. 7 be made into a double lane, highway officials promised to study the suggestion and come back with an answer.
Some residents also said they considered the meeting a success. "We usually complain about roads only to each other," said Sugarland resident Virginia Kulik. "It was great to be able to talk directly to the people in charge."
Stockman, who was pleased with the turnout, has invited his colleagues on the board to join him at the town meeting. Bird came, he said, because his Sterling district does not have a good meeting place.
Said Bird, "I had an idea the road question would bring out a crowd. Roads are the most critical issue we've got in this county. I know we need schools, but if you can't get to them, what good are they?"
Raflo's "phone-in" usually elicits a smorgasbord of concerns, ranging from landfills to taxes. Often, he said, callers will tell him that they have tried to handle their own problems by dealing directly with county officials, only to find themselves stymied by red tape.
"I tell them to submit the complaint to me in writing to make sure I have the story straight. But I try not to interfere with the staff unless I have to," Raflo said.
Raflo is used to listening to Loudoun citizens air their concerns. For nearly 13 years he has paid $600 annually to local radio station WAGE for his own five-minute weekly report on what's going on in county government. People stop him on the street, he said, to tell him how they feel about the issues he raises. Now they stop him on the street to thank him for the opportunity to be heard by a supervisor. "You won't get a secretary saying I'm in a meeting; you won't get a recording saying I'm out to lunch," he said. "You'll get me. And I listen."
Some supervisors have held their own town meetings. Frank Lambert said he held meetings from January to June last year on the second and third Tuesdays of the month in Lovettsville and Lucketts, at opposite ends of his Catoctin district. "I gave it up because of my own schedule," he said. "But I'm thinking of starting it up again. Holding town meetings is a valuable idea."
Meanwhile, will he join Stockman at his town meetings? "Why should I?" Lambert rejoined. "He never came to mine."