In Prince William County, where the landscape changes almost daily, the board of supervisors wants a citizens task force to look past today's bulldozers and traffic jams to focus on a distant issue: What should Prince William look like two decades in the future?
The Prince William Board of County Supervisors last week informally endorsed the creation of a commission on the future, a group charged with setting goals for how it would like the county to be in 20 years, and asking what could be done to make it so.
"This is a group that could step back," said board Chairman Kathleen K. Seefeldt (D-Occoquan), who proposed the idea. "Essentially they'll be asked to work backward," imagining themselves in the future and asking "what Prince William should be like."
Too often, Seefeldt said, elected officials become so enmeshed in day-to-day issues "and controversies that it is hard to focus "on a longer horizon."
The conclusions formed by the commission on such issues as land use and education could be used to guide the supervisors' future planning decisions, Seefeldt said.
A majority of the seven supervisors expressed enthusiasm for the idea of a commission at a board retreat Feb. 23 held in a cabin on the Potomac River at Virginia Power's Possum Point facility. Formally creating the body, however, will require a vote at a regular meeting. Also, Seefeldt said, money must be allocated during this spring's budget sessions to hire staff assistance for the commission.
As proposed, the commission would have 21 members picked from across the county. County Executive Robert S. Noe Jr. said he will ask for $75,000 to $100,000 in his budget proposal, which will be unveiled Tuesday, to pay for a staff assistant and provide other resources for the commission.
Commissions of the sort proposed in Prince William have worked in other Washington area localities, including Arlington and Alexandria, Seefeldt said.
Some board members said they are eager to appoint a commission as a way of blunting the Prince William government's problems with what one supervisor has called "public credibility."
The supervisors have been plagued with allegations from residents that politicians are unresponsive to public opinion and that important decisions about the future of Prince William are being made away from public scrutiny.
"If the citizens out there know that their neighbor had some input into shaping policy, then it will have credibility," said Supervisor Edwin C. King (D-Dumfries).
One reason that many residents eye the government suspiciously, King said, is the range of constituencies in Prince William, where longtime residents mix with suburbanites of recent vintage and residents tend to have vastly divergent expectations for elected officials.
The appointments to the commission on the future should reflect that diversity, the supervisors said, with members appointed from all geographic areas of the county and from the business, educational, civic, military and minority communities.
"The idea is to have a really good cross section," Seefeldt said. "What's important is that the members have a fairly high degree of credibility in the community."