Friday, January 6, 2012

The realities of governance

New board gets to work

Trust, a previously foreign concept to the Goochland Board of Supervisors, was the new buzzword at its inaugural meeting on January 3.

The atmosphere in the board room was positive and upbeat as the supervisors chatted cordially before the start of the session. County administrator Rebecca T. Dickson looked happy and relaxed a nice change from her "bravely preparing for a root canal" expression in the bad old days.

Newly elected supervisors: Susan Lascollete, District 1;Manuel Alvarez, Jr., District 2; R. H. “Bob” Minnick, District 4 and Ken Petersen, District 5 got right to work by electing Ned Creasey, District 3, the only returning incumbent, as their chairman. Petersen was chosen for vice chair. None of the 2012 Board of Supervisors was born in Goochland, a first for the county.

Creasey’s elevation is a delicious irony. Last year an entrenched triumvirate ignored a decade long custom of chair rotation to keep control of the board agenda and essentially muzzle Creasey. Now, he’s in charge and they’re gone.

The organizational portion of the meeting also included adoption of a revised code of ethics, which includes a process to address allegations of questionable conduct by a supervisor. This is a long overdue development and illustrates the character of the new supervisors.

Our new leaders got elected by planning their work and working their plan. Except for Minnick, who ran as an independent, the candidates worked together. They all executed successful campaign strategies, which portends well for the future operation of Goochland government. Minnick too crafted and executed a well-organized campaign that included a successful challenge to a faulty recount request.

The meeting began with an invocation by Rev. Dr. Jeffery B. Spence, who thanked the supervisors for the privilege of being to be the first to pray over them. He also thanked God for the fact that the American system works.
Lascollete moved to accept a resolution that voided one made last year authorizing an increase in annual salary for supervisors to $15,000 from the current $12,000 and increase the chairman’s salary from the current $15,000 to $18,000. The board unanimously approved the motion starting the year by keeping a campaign promise and acknowledging lean economic times.

Creasey said that he was humbled by the citizen support that resulted in his reelection. He pledged to work hard to earn that trust.

Lascollete thanked the District 1 citizens who supported her and said that the election was about them, not her. Great government, she said, does not happen by itself, but is the result of hard work. She urged citizens to remain vigilant and engaged in government action.

Alvarez thanked the citizens who put their trust in him. He said that during his campaign, he learned that Goochland’s citizens are very well informed, contrary to public perception. Never again, he pledged, will anyone sit on a board for 40 years.

Minnick said that he owes a huge debt to the voters of District 4 and the whole county. He said that Goochland’s staff is the best group of government he has ever seen and expressed his thanks for staff support.

Petersen congratulated all Goochland citizens for participating in the November elections. “Citizen Involvement is critical for our form of government to function and bring about this watershed transfer of power in Goochland with no bullets or thrown bottles but ballots,” he said.

Creasey said that the citizens of Goochland now have five servants who will serve them well and county staff better than before to acknowledge their contribution to excellence in public service and provide opportunity for advancement. That will reverse the pattern of people leaving county employment to go elsewhere for better opportunity.

Each new supervisor urged citizens to remain engaged and interested in local government and said that they want feedback from their constituents, whether positive or negative.

All of these comments illustrate a paradigm shift in attitude among those who guide our county’s government. (A recording of the entire meeting is available on the county website:

After many effusive and congratulatory citizen comments, the sobering reality of governance set in as county assessor Glenn Branham reported on the latest property valuations. These will be mailed to landowners on January 13 and will include details on the appeal process.

Property valuations declined by another four percent in the latest assessment, said Branham. The latest county reassessment found that rural land values declined by 5.8 percent. This he said was caused by the exit of speculators, who deal in large tracts of land, from the real estate market.

Commercial real estate activity, which represents 16.2 percent of the tax base, was flat for the year, said Branham. Of the 741 parcels of land in Goochland zoned for commercial use, 300 are vacant.

Branham said that 51 percent of land in the county is in land use taxation. Property tax rates for land use are $613 per acre for forestry use; $280 per acre for agricultural use and $400 per acre for horticultural use. Of the 14,837 parcels of land in the county, 2,000 are in land use.

The county is in the final stages of installing a new online land valuation database. Branham expects it to be operational in the near future.

On a motion made by Lascollete and seconded by Alvarez, the board unanimously approved deferral of a public hearing on compliance with the state mandated urban development area legislation until May. By then, the intent, if any, of the General Assembly to modify or repeal the mandate will be clear.

The last presentation at the meeting, held after many of the citizens who came to see the new board in action departed, was an environmental update on efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed, which includes Goochland.

The federal clean water act, put into place to ensure that all waters are fishable and swimmable includes, has found that the Bay is still too dirty and mandates stricter controls over pollutants.

Dickson explained that the county must adopt a local storm water control strategy to be included in a regional plan. Failure to adopt such a strategy could result in the county being forced to do its own monitoring, essentially hiring fertilizer police.

Leigh Dunn, the county’s environmental planner said that permissible nutrient loads (the amount of bad stuff that finds its way into our rivers and streams) for Goochland were not calibrated from real data and made faulty assumptions using a model for the Bay.

Dunn said that the EPA found collecting real data too expensive. She said that the model works well for the Bay but problems arise when its data is interpolated for local conditions.

Dickson said that these requirements will increase the cost of development and add yet another layer of complication and expense to local government.

No one is in favor of polluted water, especially not in a county that depends heavily on private wells for drinking water, but there has to be a better way to get a handle on this issue than mandating more regulations and accompanying bureaucracy.

Our new supervisors face daunting challenges in the weeks and years ahead. One of their first tasks is to craft a budget. They will hold informal workshop sessions with all department heads on January 19 and February 7 and work closely with the new school board.

Bringing a set of complementary skills and a can do attitude to the job, our new board will blaze new trails as it guides Goochland down the perilous road ahead. The next year will be very interesting indeed.

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