Members of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors were visibly surprised this week when Chairman Frank Raflo, reading from a prepared statement, suggested that the board call for the countywide election of a full-time chairman, a smaller board and a board staff.
Those moves, Raflo said, would give the board a greater voice in decision-making and would make the position of the board and its chairman a more visible one. Raflo said he would neither seek nor accept the position of full-time chairman.
The suggestions came, Raflo said later, after months of frustration he felt while trying to move a proposal through the board process and running into what he called "bureaucratic roadblocks." The proposal, which would have required developers to offer water, sewers and roads to get the density they want, was designed to improve public facilities countywide, Raflo said. He has been promoting the idea for 10 years.
The roadblock came, Raflo said, when he was told by county staff members that all requests for information must be funneled through the office of County Administrator Philip Bolen.
"If the board had its own staff we might come up with the same answers, but we'd save time," said Raflo. Board policy says that all information requests must be reported to the administrator. To actually get something done, a majority of the eight-member board must request it.
The position of full-time chairman, Raflo said, would answer a question he has asked since he was elected board chief in January: Who is running the county? In an attempt to get the answer, Raflo called a meeting earlier this year with Bolen, the county staff and the board. Although all board members attended, none really spoke to the issue, Raflo said. Most said later that they have no problem with the relationship between the board and staff and they support board policy.
Said Supervisor Andrew Bird, "I think Frank is finally finding out what it's like to be in the minority," a reference to the fact that the board is made up of four Democrats, of which Raflo is one, and three Republicans. Supervisor Steve Stockman lists himself as an independent; Bird is a Republican.
Board members polled after Tuesday's meeting said they were surprised at Raflo's suggestions and most said they could not support them without further study. Said Vice Chairman James Brownell, "The status quo is fine with me; our tradition going back to colonial times is that we are part-time legislators. But we are a county in transition and some day we'll have to do something."
Raflo said his remarks were not meant as criticism of Bolen and the county staff, which he said "work hard and do a good job." His suggestions were designed, said Raflo, to give the board more information and more time as well as some executive oversight.
Despite a recent board decision to consider reapportioning the county because of the accelerating growth of the eastern part, Raflo feels that the board should number fewer than its current eight members. This could be done, he said, with basic county charter changes by the General Assembly.
"We represent areas that are too small and we fight for concerns that are too limited," he said in his prepared statement. "A smaller board would broaden the scope of concern for each board member." Since a larger constituency would entail a bigger work load, Raflo said, the pay each member receives -- $9,000 annually; $10,000 for the chairman -- should be raised.
In addition to its own staff to handle the increased work load, he argues, the board should have an office. Currently the eight supervisors share a one-desk office across from the meeting room.
Democrat Anne Kavanagh said, "I'm concerned that for the low salary we could afford to pay, we couldn't get somebody with the expertise we need for not only dealing with our requests but dealing with all the personalities on the board and the staff." Kavanagh's proposal was that either each member gets one staff person, as is done in Fairfax County, or no one gets a staff person. "All or nothing at all," she said.