Loudoun supervisors yesterday rejected a request by board Chairman Dale Polen Myers to ask the state attorney general whether her rival in the November election, Supervisor Scott K. York, improperly ejected Myers and others from a meeting of representatives from rapidly growing Virginia communities.
The vote was 4 to 4 with Supervisor Joan G. Rokus (R-Leesburg) absent. Because of the tie, Myers's request failed.
At issue was an Aug. 27 meeting of the Virginia Coalition of High Growth Communities, comprising localities that have banded together to press for legislation to assist communities struggling with rapid development. York, the coalition chairman, requested that people who were not appointed by their localities leave the meeting so that participants could hold a closed-door strategy session. Myers (R-At Large) and Supervisor Eleanore C. Towe (D-Blue Ridge) left the room.
Myers said that under Virginia law, the coalition cannot meet in private because it consists of elected officials and because tax money indirectly supports the group. York (R-Sterling) said that because the coalition is not an official government body and because it does not receive tax funding it could conduct private meetings.
Loudoun County Attorney John R. Roberts issued a written opinion saying that from Loudoun's perspective the coalition could close its doors because only one county supervisor--York--was participating in the meeting in an official capacity. He said that if the board's second appointee to the coalition--Supervisor Helen A. Marcum (R-Catoctin)--had been present, the meeting would have been considered public and could not have been closed.
After York defeated Myers for the Republican nomination for board chairman, she entered the race as an independent. Myers said her request for the legal opinion stemmed from a concern about good government--not her rivalry with York.
Myers told supervisors Wednesday that York goes to Richmond and "yells" that developers "meet behind closed doors" and "do slick deals the citizens don't get to hear about. . . . Well I'm sorry, your title's not developer, but you're doing the same thing you're accusing them of doing. You're closing your doors and deciding your priorities."
York said that he had consulted with Roberts before the coalition meeting and that no law was broken. "In no way was this an illegal meeting," York said. "No one person said, 'Mr. Chairman, I have a problem with this.' "
In an interview, York said Myers wanted the attorney general's opinion for political reasons. "She's just out to be nasty about it and trying to embarrass us," York said. "All she's doing is embarrassing herself."
Several supervisors who often support Myers--Steven D. Whitener (R-Sugarland Run), Lawrence S. Beerman II (R-Dulles) and Marcum--questioned York's decision to close the meeting and said they wanted the legal opinion to resolve the issue. Supervisors Towe, David G. McWatters (R-Broad Run), James G. Burton (I-Mercer) and York voted against asking for the opinion.
Whitener said Roberts's legal advice was flawed. "I'd be embarrassed to have a memo like this with my name on it," he said of Roberts's legal opinion.
Whitener said that because county staff members had been sent to the meeting and because a private group that sponsors the meeting is funded in part by dues from local governments, the meeting should be conducted in public view.
Beerman questioned the need to ask people to leave the meeting. "What could be so important that it has to be discussed in private?" he said.
Towe said she had no problem with leaving the meeting. She said she thought that there was nothing wrong with discussing strategy in private. In addition, Towe argued that asking for the attorney general's opinion could tar the coalition and make it difficult for the group to press its agenda in Richmond.
Members of the group "weren't doing anything Machiavellian or underhanded," Towe said. ". . . I don't see anything treacherous."
But Myers said that if two or more officials from another locality had been present, the meeting could have been illegal and that the attorney general's opinion would help clarify that issue.
Roberts told supervisors that his opinion applied only to Loudoun and allowed for the possibility that closing the meeting could have been illegal from the perspective of other jurisdictions.