by Timothy Dwyer, The Washington Post

18 January 2007, p. T1

“In what may have been a preview of coming attractions in this season of budget shortfalls, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors engaged in a spirited and sometimes contentious debate Tuesday before narrowly defeating a proposal by Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R) to televise meetings of the county Planning Commission.

“Every member of the board agreed that they would like to see meetings of the Planning Commission — and other county agencies — on Prince William’s government access station. But what stirred the debate was that this would cost $9,000 at a time when the board is facing an $18 million revenue shortfall for this fiscal year and is looking to cut about $22 million from next year’s operating budget.

“Stewart had proposed to pay for the new programming with $9,000 from his discretionary fund. Usually such expenditures are quickly approved by the board. But Democrats Hilda M. Barg (Woodbridge) and John D. Jenkins (Neabsco), along with Republican Maureen S. Caddigan (Dumfries) raised questions about who would pay for televising the meetings in subsequent years and suggested that the cost would eventually become part of the operating budget.

“‘We are down $18 million in revenues, and we need to be cutting,’ said Caddigan. ‘We don’t need to do it. If we approve it, it will obligate future boards. Right now, our employees are worried about whether they are going to get a raise, and they are worried that they are going to have a job.’

“Stewart said he would pledge to fund the cost of televising the Planning Commission hearings by using his discretionary funds as long as he was a member of the board. ‘This is not a budget issue,’ Stewart said. ‘This is a principle of open government.’  He said that if the members of the board didn’t agree that he could use his discretionary funds to pay for televising the hearings, then maybe the board should review the concept of discretionary funds.

“Supervisor John T. Stirrup Jr. (R-Gainesville) at one point praised the ‘fiscal conservatism’ of the Democrats on the board and said he looked forward to working with them in the coming months.

“Jenkins retorted: ‘You haven’t seen anything yet.’

“Jenkins, who has been a member of the board for 25 years, said he went through one other budget crisis during his tenure that ‘devastated’ the county. ‘What this does is add $9,000 to the operating budget when we are looking at maybe adding a few police officers and firefighters. This is, at least, a third of a [full-time] position. I, for one, have reservations about adding things to the budget.’

“Stewart said that during his campaign last fall in the special election for the chairman’s job, he heard from voters that their No. 1 concern was land use and finding a way to slow down residential development. He said televising the Planning Commission hearings would be a way to keep residents informed on development issues without their having to attend the meetings.

“Supervisor Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles) — who was elected vice chairman of the board — said that he favored televising the hearings, but that he was concerned about ‘how it was brought up.’ He said the board had to find a way to make the televised hearings permanent because once the programming began, it would be difficult to pull the plug. ‘If we are going to do this, we need to do it on an ongoing basis. We need to figure out a way to get the thing as a budget item. I think we should take a look at the funding mechanism.’

“Jenkins, Caddigan, Barg and Nohe voted against the funding. Stewart, Stirrup and Supervisor W. S. Covington III (R-Brentsville) voted for it.

“The tenor of the debate on how or whether to fund the new television programming carried over to other items on the supervisors’ discretionary fund agenda. When Stewart got to a proposal by Caddigan to donate $200 from her discretionary funds to Project Mend-A-House, he said he believed that Jenkins would be opposed to it, too, for fiscal reasons.

“‘Nobody speaks for John Jenkins except John Jenkins,’ Jenkins said in a booming voice. He said he would support it because the program performs services that save the county’s Department of Social Services money.

“When the vote was taken — with Stewart and Stirrup voting against Caddigan’s proposal — Caddigan said in a stage whisper that could be heard throughout the chambers: ‘We’re back in high school.'”