Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) became chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors in January. She previously had a 26-year career as a mental health therapist, mostly in Prince William County, where she provided substance abuse services for offenders.
The Washington Post recently met with Randall, 51, to discuss her first five months in office and her goals for the rest of her term. The following are edited excerpts from that conversation.
Loudoun County Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) recently said that you have brought a level of civility to the Board of Supervisors. Has this been a priority of yours?
Local officials are the face of the county. So how we behave — how we treat one another, how we treat the staff and, most importantly, how we treat the public — is paramount.
I worked to make sure that my fellow board members knew that I would always listen to them, I would always respect them, I would always have an open-door policy, and that there would never be any berating or attempt to embarrass them in any way. And they responded to that.
So you’ve seen us disagree on the dais, but we have not been disagreeable, and that’s important.
Does the fact that you’re one of just three Democrats on a board with six Republicans affect your approach as chair?
Surprisingly, what has been a little more challenging has not been the partisan split. It’s been the split between new supervisors and returning supervisors. I really wanted the new supervisors, as fast as possible, to get up to speed on the issues that were going to be coming before us very quickly.
I set the dais very carefully, [with] a new supervisor sitting next to a returning supervisor, so that if someone new had a question, they could look to the left or the right and ask a question. I didn’t want people who were new to feel like they were at a huge disadvantage.
With your professional background in mental health and substance abuse services, do you see things that need to be done differently in those areas?
When we received our orientations, I said to [Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Developmental Services director] Margaret Graham, “Yours is the department I’m going to have to make myself stay out of.” Because I know the clientele and the staff, and how hard they work, and I know they don’t have enough resources.
So I’m aware of it, thus I want to bring that awareness to the county. But at the same time, it’s a balance, and I don’t want to overstep and put more resources there than I do in other departments.
You recently started an initiative called Voice for a Cause. Why?
There are a lot of nonprofits in the county, and they’re doing really good work. But a lot of people who need those nonprofits don’t know that they’re there. The need exists, and the nonprofit exists, but they’re not connected.
Voice for a Cause is my effort to connect the need with the service. Every month, I choose [a nonprofit], I highlight them in my newsletter and I bring them in the board room and introduce them and read their main mission.
I also want to highlight where we have duplication in our nonprofit services and where we have holes. There’s a very big hole for [services for] people who are from 18 to 25 years old.
What main goal do you hope to accomplish during your term?
The Comprehensive Plan is important. It really should be revisited in totality every five years, and it hasn’t for 15 years. We have such a dearth of diverse housing options in this county. You shouldn’t have to make $75,000 a year to live in the county. So the Comprehensive Plan, and housing diversity, is a big one.
I would also like to see a strategic plan around our social safety net. And, maybe most important, to make sure that the people in Loudoun County feel heard — because I’m not sure the people in the county always feel heard.
Does that fact that you’re the first African American woman to chair a county board of supervisors in Virginia give you an added sense of responsibility?
The added responsibility is just the awareness that I am blessed to be here because of what somebody else did. There are nameless and countless other people who sacrificed, some of them their very lives, to put me here today. And so it makes me want to make them proud.