Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland has introduced a resolution to ban the Prince William Board of County Supervisors from voting on land-use and budget issues after midnight following several controversial 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 said his resolution, which he introduced Tuesday, would not restrict public comment but rather require the board to “conduct its business with the greatest amount of transparency.”
“We have many folks living here in Prince William County whose day-to-day lives are greatly impacted by the decisions we make up here. They are working jobs, sometimes two, raising children and have busy lives that probably don’t allow them an opportunity to stay up past midnight, much less 1, 2, or 3 o’clock in the morning,” Candland (R) said.
Candland pointed to several controversial land use cases approved after midnight in the last year, including a residential rezoning on Devlin Road; a 99-home residential development in the “rural crescent,” called the “Preserve at Long Branch;” and the Independent Hill Small Area Plan. All were approved in party-line votes with the board’s Democratic majority voting in favor and the three Republican supervisors opposed.
All three public hearings began well before midnight but were prolonged because many people spoke either for or against the measures and then were further delayed by lengthy board debates that followed the public hearings.
Each evening meeting also includes a general public comment time where anyone can speak on any topic. They also sometimes include multiple public hearings.
In the case of the Independent Hill Small Area Plan, the vote was delayed even further after two supervisors – Supervisor Yesli Vega, R-Coles, and Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville – abruptly left the meeting at 1 a.m. in an attempt to break the quorum needed to approve the project, forcing the meeting into recess.
The meeting resumed after Supervisor Victor Angry, D-Neabsco, drove to the James J. McCoart building to cast his vote in person after initially participating in the meeting virtually.
Chair Ann Wheeler (D) said Thursday she would not support Candland’s proposal. Wheeler called it a “knee-jerk reaction” to the issue, and said she is looking for ways to ensure meetings run more efficiently and quickly.
“I appreciate that he doesn't want to have votes in the middle of the night. No one does. But we need to look at some of the underlying issues,” Wheeler said.
After Candland put forth his resolution, Wheeler said her office analyzed the meetings in question. Her office sent the results of their analysis to the Prince William Times. The report 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 land use cases.
“Public hearings are going so late is because we're actually hearing from the public more, which is good,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler said limiting public input is not an option. But she said she may consider limiting the discussion by supervisors or scheduling additional weekday or weekend meetings, with the board’s consent, to make sure meetings are not going too late.
Candland said in an email Thursday that he is open to discussing and finding consensus on solving the issue. Fixes could include holding additional meetings, starting meetings earlier or adjusting how the board’s agendas are put together ahead of its meetings, he said.
“While more meetings may be a solution, I would hope we take a holistic approach to also consider our agendas and the inefficiencies there,” Candland said.
The Prince William Board of County Supervisors will vote on Candland’s proposal at their next meeting on Tuesday, April 13.
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