Thursday, August 7, 2014

Muddy waters

The current Goochland County Board of Supervisors regularly uses the term “transparency” to describe its brand of good government. The proposed county strategic plan announces that Goochland will be governed with integrity in a respectful and transparent manner.

Events at the August 5 Board meeting, however, could be interpreted as a return to the opacity of the previous regime, that acted as though citizens were too stupid to understand most matters.

Denise Doetzer of Rock Castle, who is a Master Naturalist and retired state conservationist, made a presentation about designating a portion of the James River a scenic river. Doetzer said that she was asked not to bring supporters of the measure to the meeting as it was for information only.

At the conclusion of her presentation, Doetzer asked the board if it would request that the state Department of Conservation and Recreation perform a study to see if the designation was appropriate. According to the Board packet (available in its entirety on the county website similar presentation was made in July 2012, at which time no action was taken.
Supervisor Susan Lascolette, District 1, stridently contended that the request for the study will essentially result in an automatic designation and Goochland will lose control over this section of the river.

The Board, still smarting from the infringement of its authority over local land use during the General Assembly brewery kerfuffle, and facing imposition of expensive and cumbersome state mandated storm water control regulations, is understandably leery of any more outside governmental interference. As the federal government seems to be wresting control of every puddle from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River in the name of cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, this caution is warranted.
Opponents of the designation used citizen comment time before the Board’s evening session to contend that the designation would reduce the taxable value of land along the river, and cede control to the state.

Baird Stokes, who spoke against the designation, contended that the supervisors were not getting the whole story.

Stu Doetzer said that the request for the study would be made through 65th District Delegate Lee Ware and the county can decline the designation up until the measure is signed by the governor. He contended that the board needs to hear all sides of the matter and gather information before any decision is made. During his remarks, the opponents snickered audibly.

It could well be that designating any part of the James River in Goochland has dreadful consequences and should be avoided at all costs.

Facts supporting or refuting that point of view were notably absent. It seemed like a decision on the matter had been reached in private with limited citizen input.

That is not transparent. It is way too reminiscent of the previous regime that rewarded friends and silenced opponents without justification.

This board is not afraid to make hard decisions; doing so “behind the curtain” is disappointing at best. Given all the time and effort put into a strategic plan whose core values are integrity, respect, and courage, the board can take a little time to hear all sides on this issue. Surely it has the courage to respect all viewpoints and the integrity to openly explain its motives for a decision.

Goochland has come to expect better of our supervisors. They should have the “courage” and “integrity” to “respect” all points of view and “transparently” explain their reasons for reaching any decision. If not, they are no better than the bunch they swept out of office in 2011.


Manuel said...

Sandie, I'm not sure where to start. I must not have made the next steps clear after Denise's presentation. I'll start with your comment that we made a decision "in private with limited citizen input". I'm not sure how that could happen since NO decision was made. Denise had asked for an opportunity to present the Master Naturalists' proposal to seek a scenic river designation for a 12 mile stretch of the James river. This was not a public hearing, so no decision was expected from us and no decision was made. Nothing has changed, we will not make a decision until we hear both sides.

Denise and I had discussed her presentation earlier in the day and she reiterated her wishes that it be only an information sharing presentation. Denise even stated at least once during her presentation that she expected us to take more time and hear both sides. I don't think I ever asked Denise not to bring supporters, but I also didn't expect she would need them if no decision from us was expected.

I am not surprised that there is opposition to this proposal, but was surprised that the opponents came to speak, since it wasn't a public hearing and was not advertised as such. I certainly cannot, nor would I ever attempt to stop folks from coming to hear or express their opinion on a topic. I am glad that people are paying attention. Seeing that folks were gesturing to be allowed to present their opposition I encouraged them to come later and speak during the public comment period. I consider Denise and Stu friends and would have never purposely set them up.

The next steps are that we will try to verity some of the comments made and get more facts, then at a future date we will setup a public hearing to make a decision on the matter.

That said, this board has consistently stood against outside interference in zoning matters or laws or regulations that impact our citizens' rights. We feel that zoning decisions and decisions that impact our citizens are best made locally. We believe strongly in protecting property rights. Our new visions says "where the citizens rights and freedoms are protected". During our Strategic Plan community meeting someone questioned why we use "protected" instead of "respected". This may be a perfect example. I am leery of giving any outside agency authority to rule over our citizens' rights or freedoms, they too often take them away without our help.

While the Scenic River program at this time is voluntary and does not seem to impose any restrictions, that could change with the stroke of a pen or a few General Assembly votes. So as I review this proposal, for my personal perspective, the facts will have to show that the value of having a Scenic River designation trumps the risk to our citizens' rights. I'm not sure that is possible based on what I've seen so far, but that's why I need more facts.

I hope this is transparent enough. I don't think past board members would have responded.

Manuel Alvarez Jr.
Chairman, Goochland BOS

Baird Stokes said...

No one at this meeting acted in a disrespectful matter, I don't understand people who want to yell fire when there isn't? I guess when you are trying to make money from a blog one finds the need to do so, in an effort to get new readers! That's just sad, making up and printing thing's that never happened. Let's just stay with the fact as the old TV show used to say all the time, "Just the fact and only the fact"!

Baird Stokes said...

FYI, Denise stated in her presentation, that her group that numbered at least half a dozen choose not to invite other supporters. Never once did I hear her say she was asked not to bring supporter!

S. E. Warwick said...

Audible snickering while another person is speaking is disrespectful, regardless of the circumstances.