Look in the Mirror

Regarding Marcia de Garmo's letter ["Board Should Go Public in Zoning Lawsuit Debate," Loudoun Extra, Aug. 15] in which she protests the "Board of Supervisors' private sessions, ongoing for months" in relation to the myriad lawsuits faced by the county, I must say I find her indignant statements sardonically humorous.

Where was her outrage when the preceding board was implementing the wishes of the special interest groups to which she contributes and belongs, when the board entered nine executive sessions in seven meetings between February and the first week of May 2000, culminating in the purchase of the Shellhorn and Fields properties?

She gives a nod to the current board meetings in stating that they are technically legal but by implication places them in the category of a loophole-only permission. There are two problems with this position. First, Section 2.2-3711 (A)(7) of the Code of Virginia provides for the convention of a closed session to discuss actual or pending litigation.

"Smart growth" takes advantage of this to imply that such a process is being used improperly by using an option that is not required. They apparently skipped subsection (A)(6) in quoting subsection (7), in which the board is allowed to close a meeting to discuss the use of public funds where bargaining may be an issue.

I would imagine bargaining at a settlement session could become a major issue if open discussion of possible settlement turned into the usual "smart growth" drama, particularly since their beloved Comprehensive Plan hasn't fared too well in court challenges to date. The transition team was deposed in the Route 659 suits, so that must have some legs, and the vesting matrix and overlay districts lost. How much do they want the government to waste on this, when settlement might reach a workable solution?

Second, de Garmo seems to be unaware that, until July 2000, when the preceding board went back and recertified only one of its multiple executive sessions in that brief period between February and May out of many over its term, that all of the sessions in question were in fact not properly convened under state law and not properly certified under state law.

A generous soul might say that maybe, as volunteer legislators, they were unfamiliar with the intricacies of proper procedure. A thorough one might look up the law and see that ignorance of the law is not considered an excuse for public bodies and that the law is furnished to all members of public bodies in the state when taking office.

A suspicious mind might conclude that the April 17 closed meeting so belatedly certified (twice, and still not in full concurrence with procedure) was the one in which the board voted to purchase the two mentioned properties, at higher than their listed value. If so, this was also not in concordance with law and in a much more serious way.

This gets legs of its own in a strict reading of the meeting minutes in relation to the executive sessions convened May 15 and June 19 of that year, in which Supervisor Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling) stated for the record that he would be voting "no" in session and in June that "he did not vote yes" in session. This can be dismissed by those who would view it as political grandstanding by the member who made up the one in many 8 to 1 votes.

Or, if one reads the law, specifically Code of Virginia 2.2-3712 (D), one will find that during procedure for certification of a closed session, any member who feels there has been a departure from proper procedure and does not wish to vote to certify "shall state prior to the vote, indicating the substance of the departure" from proper procedure, and the statement shall be recorded in the minutes.

Maybe that is what is recorded there. In which case, "smart growth" advocates shouldn't be throwing stones in a glass house of their own making, regarding fanning flames over "improper," "secret" meetings.

Barbara Munsey

South Riding