Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Crafting more effective government
The imminent departure of Goochland Superintendent of Schools Dr. Linda Underwood is the latest of many in the school system and county government in the past three years.
Even before last November’s election, which replaced the entire school board and 80 percent of the board of supervisors, new faces had become the norm rather than the exception.
These new folks are dramatically, and for the better, bringing new attitudes and expectations to Goochland. This is a good thing. However, all of that new blood makes citizen collaboration with public servants more important than ever.
Now that the budget is done, our new supervisors, who campaigned on promises of more effective yet responsive government, have turned their attention to appointed internal boards and commissions.
At their last meeting, the supervisors learned about these ancillary bodies from County Attorney Norman Sales. Once again, the new supervisors were well prepared for the discussion and asked pertinent questions. The cordial demeanor among the supervisors was a nice change from the past.
Board vice chair Ken Peterson District 5 pointed out that there are around 100 positions on the ancillary boards and commissions and wanted to ensure that they all currently have enough members to conduct ongoing business. County administrator Rebecca Dickson stated that this is not an issue.
(A list of these boards and commissions is part of the May 1 board packet, which is available in its entirety on the county website www.goochland.va.us on the supervisors’ page.)
Some of these groups, like the planning commission, are mandated by the state. The Board of Equalization and Board of Zoning Appeals are appointed by the Circuit Court, while other groups are appointed by the supervisors.
The matrix used by Sales includes the duties of each group and skill sets needed to ensure that its goals can be achieved.
Basic qualifications, county residency, for instance, and desired skills are listed for each body. Some require professional qualifications, others an interest and willingness to serve. Some of these groups provide specific training for their members.
Many citizen appointees have given countless and extremely productive hours serving the county in a wide range of functions from the Social Services Board to the Recreation Advisory Commission.
Goochland is blessed with a gracious plenty of talented, skilled and generous people willing and able to contribute their abilities to the public good. Too bad in the past, few of them were recruited to these boards and commissions.
Recent appointments to the planning commission and a temporary committee formed to study the broadband issue have tapped some of this talent. This bodes well for the future.
Some, like the Design Review Committee, charged with ensuring adherence to standards in the county’s overlay districts and the Tuckahoe Creek Service District Advisory Committee (TCSDAC) have generated controversy.
For much of its existence, most of the five members of the DRC have been concurrently planning commissioners. While this gives them greater understanding of the details of an application, some contend that planning commission attitudes spill over on the DRC.
Property owners believe, with some justification that the DRC exists to increase costs and slow completion of any project. It rules on matters from signage to colors, materials, architectural design, landscaping and setbacks.
Others feel that the DRC simply rubber stamps whatever comes along.
Some folks believe that the DRC should be eliminated and its function folded into the plan of development review and the building permit process, which is done at the staff level by county employees.
Everyone seems to agree that the requirement to obtain a certificate of appropriateness impedes development in overlay districts. Developers also contend that it makes doing business in Goochland cumbersome and expensive and take their business elsewhere.
But what about input from the citizens who must live with the result? That needs to be a part of the process.
The TCSDAC, which is comprised of major TCSD landowners, has also drawn flak. The old regime treated the TCSDAC like mushrooms —kept in the dark and fed manure. Most of the previous board believed that the TCSD had outlived its usefulness once the TCSD was completed and refused to even discuss filling vacancies.
That lack of trust and communication served no one, except those trying to hide their incompetence.
It makes sense to add representatives from the TCSDAC to the Economic Development Authority because both groups are focused on attracting growth to eastern Goochland. Adding TCSD homeowner representatives to this group would add input from those who will live with the consequences of development there.
The question here is how much regulation and citizen input is too much? We’re still dealing with the results of a dearth of professional detachment in county government. However, leaving everything to the hired hands that live elsewhere may be going too far in the other direction.
The supervisors will need to make that call. They’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Also, if you are interested in serving on a board or commission, an application is on the county website under the “Serving Goochland” tab.