A Defeat for Due Process

I recently looked into the faces of seven ordinary Americans on the Fairfax County water authority board and saw with profound sadness how fragile democracy is. It was all the more dispiriting because it wasn't Iraq or some other struggling place unschooled in our ways, but here in our own community.

At the board's meeting on that day, a majority of the members of the water authority board took action on a matter of public concern, as evidenced by numerous communications from the public and by an article that appeared in The Washington Post ["Utility Seeks Pension Boost; Fairfax Water Chief Would Get Double," Metro, July 24].

But you won't find any reference to the pension in the public agenda, nor likely in the minutes when they are produced. Nor was there any debate or discussion in an open meeting that the public could have attended. The issue was increasing the retirement benefits for a public official -- the authority's general manager, Charlie C. Crowder Jr., who is about to retire -- beyond the benefits provided by the retirement plan in effect during his employment. In fact, beyond any salary and benefits he had himself negotiated and willingly accepted throughout his tenure.

No doubt, those who supported the action thought they were doing the right thing, perhaps even the noble thing. That, however, is largely beside the point. What does matter is that a group of American citizens was charged with disposing of a small piece of civic business and found themselves unable to do it within the constraints of public notice and an opportunity for the public to be heard and have its views taken into account.

Instead of identifying the issue on its public agenda and giving notice of its intention to act, the authority closed its meeting on the vague grounds of "considering compensation for certain individuals." Of course, the only actual individual whose benefits were considered was the general manager.

Even after it came back into open session to take official action, the board did not openly declare its intention to increase the general manager's retirement benefits. Instead it adopted an amendment to its retirement plan that affects precisely one actual person, the general manager, together with any future, theoretical general managers whose circumstances may be the same as the present general manager's.

The majority, of course, is entitled to have its will carried out. But the devious course it took to ensure its desired outcome is a shame. In our democracy, process does matter -- a lot. That's because much of what the founders gave us -- liberty, freedom, participatory government -- is largely aspirational. What has always been most tangible and real has been due process, the citizen's right to be heard. You may not be able to fight city hall, but by golly you can sure make them sit there and listen to you. So, in taking the action it did, the Fairfax Water board made one man's retirement a little richer, but its entire community a whole lot poorer.

Burton Jay Rubin

Burke

Rubin is a member

of the Fairfax Water board.

Save on School Bus Routes

I recently read that the Fairfax County school budget is expected to increase by more than $1 million because of the high cost of fuel needed for its fleet of 1,547 buses.

Recently I was behind a school bus that was transporting high school students in the Chancellor Farms section of West Springfield. Even though it was a sunny day in the 80s, the bus driver discharged two teenagers at Mulberry Bottom Lane and Mineral Spring Court, just one short block after its previous stop at Mulberry Bottom and Chancellor Way.

If the School Board is interested in minimizing the cost increase, it should order the transportation department to eliminate every other stop on routes serving middle and high school students in residential areas. Less stopping and idling would not only conserve fuel but would also save wear and tear on brakes and other parts.

During World War II when gasoline was rationed, public buses all over the country eliminated every other stop. If riders who were too young or too old for military service at that time could walk an extra block, teenagers in today's athletically oriented society should be able to handle that "strenuous" exercise.

Gene Osolinsky

Springfield

Leave Hunter Mill Alone

I attended a meeting Sept. 20 at Lake Anne Elementary School in Reston about future plans for the Hunter Mill Road area between Reston and Tysons Corner.

I am opposed to the county's wish to change the comprehensive land-use plan. I feel strongly that the county's wish for public participation in this process is illusory at best.

Hunter Mill Road is a lovely scenic byway in a congested and hectic metropolitan area. I believe that it is worth saving. A high-density housing development and shopping center placed at Hunter Mill and Sunset Hills roads would increase the traffic congestion, necessitate the widening of Hunter Mill Road from two to four lanes and turn this area into just another generic, overbuilt metropolitan area.

Sara Sanders-Buell

Vienna