The Prince William Board of County Supervisors voted along party lines Tuesday evening to deny a resolution that would ban the board from voting on land-use and budget issues after midnight.
The board voted down the resolution in a 3-5 vote, with all five of the board’s Democrats voting against it, and the board’s three Republicans voting in favor.
The resolution was brought forward by Supervisor Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, following several controversial land-use cases approved in the early hours of the morning. High-profile land use cases are typically discussed and voted upon during the board’s evening meetings, which begin at 7:30 p.m., to allow more people to attend.
Candland alleged that at-large Chair Ann Wheeler (D) has “mismanaged” board meetings, which have led to some meetings running past midnight and sometimes as late as 4 a.m.
“This is an acknowledgement to our citizens that it is not good to have votes in the middle of the night. I don’t think anyone here thinks that’s a good idea,” Candland said.
Democrats on the board acknowledged late-night votes have become an issue. But several supervisors, including Wheeler, said the reason some land-use cases run so late is not intentional, but rather the result of public hearing and public comment running for several hours followed by another few hours of board discussion.
“On those evenings that we had those meetings that were controversial, even before we started, we had an hour to two hours of public comment time,” Wheeler said.
Supervisor Kenny Boddye, D-Occoquan, said he believed the resolution, if approved, could be abused by some supervisors seeking to delay land-use votes if they believe they are on the losing side.
Boddye specifically referenced two instances in which the board’s Republican supervisors abruptly left meetings. Most recently, Supervisors Yesli Vega, R-Coles, and Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, exited a meeting during a controversial land-use hearing in an apparent attempt to break the board’s quorum and delay the vote.
“I have concerns about how this could be abused. We’ve already had instances where three of our colleagues walked out of meetings, most recently with the express purpose of breaking quorum to delay a vote that they believed they would be on the losing side of,” Boddye said. “I could see such tactics being used to run out the clock to unnecessarily delay votes. That is not transparency, that is obstruction.”
Wheeler’s office did an analysis of several high-profile land use cases on which the board voted after midnight: a residential rezoning on Devlin Road in Bristow; a 99-home residential development in the “rural crescent” called the “Preserve at Long Branch;” and the Independent Hill Small Area Plan.
The analysis shows that, in the three evening meetings Candland mentioned, public comment time and public hearings took up an average of three hours and 15 minutes. Another two hours and 50 minutes were spent on board discussion and debate, on average, for each of the three cases.
During the meeting, some bipartisan agreement formed around the possibility of starting board meetings at an earlier time. Both Supervisor Margaret Franklin, D-Woodbridge, Lawson and Candland said they are open to beginning meetings earlier in the day.
Lawson said she would be in favor of beginning meetings as early as 12 p.m., two hours before afternoon meetings begin under the current schedule. But she said the board would need to further discuss the issue to make sure it doesn’t conflict with supervisors’ day jobs.
In addition to starting meetings earlier, the board could be more efficient during closed session; better tailor staff presentations; and adhere to the board’s current policy of limiting discussion on the dais to 10 minutes per supervisor on any public hearing.
“I think we can do other things so that we don’t get into the early hours,” Franklin said.
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