Fellow citizens, taxpayers, voters:
Chair Wheeler kicks the can down the road — Here’s how the Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) Democratic majority closed the door on bipartisan requests to fix major defects in the residential developer/Stanley-Martin Homes’ Devlin Rd. rezoning request on 10 and 31 March, and how the BOCS majority thus unnecessarily kicked the can down the road, leaving a major mess for others to clean up after them — homeowners, taxpayers, commuters, schools, flood control officials, lawyers, etc. We’ll also discuss the longer-term implications of that and other BOCS-majority tendencies that have become increasingly noticeable in the last three months, following strong initial indications that we warned about repeatedly during the 2019 election campaign. (One example: All eight Dem BOCS candidates’ refusal to be held accountable by concrete measures to protect and preserve the Rural Crescent from residential development, as well as their refusal to accept any other concrete limits whatsoever on residential development. See: https://pwcbg.org/2019/10/beware-preserving-rural-crescent-limits-on-residential-developers-no-longer-supported-by-both-parties-in-5-nov-elections/ )
BOCS majority’s contempt for citizens too loud & clear to be misunderstood — Late 31 March, we received the following message from one of our colleagues regarding the BOCS hearing earlier that day, the last chance to file a motion to reconsider the BOCS’ deeply-flawed and negligent 10 March rezoning decision: “None of the Democrats even acknowledged the petition [with over 1,070 citizen signatures so far requesting reconsideration of the Devlin rezoning] or Supervisor Lawson’s plea for a motion to reconsider. It was like they voted for it all over again. Like [instead of not kicking the can down the road, in Chair Wheeler’s ill-considered phrase] “they ‘kicked the can in our faces.”
Why did this happen?
Slow to learn their real jobs while making major decisions — This happened partly because so far most of the BOCS Dems, all of whom are new or nearly-new to county service, have been slow to learn their new jobs even while making major decisions. (The county budget is up next.) Perhaps this is because most of them, starting with Chair Wheeler, focused during the 2019 campaign and from their bully pulpits of power, once elected, on things that have nothing to do with land use, budget, and taxes — other than to raise the real estate tax as high as possible. (Note the BOCS majority’s apparent resentment about having to actually do the land use part of their jobs when complaining about the previous BOCS being unable to reach a majority decision on some complex land use cases, such as Devlin, and thus “kicking the can down the road” to this BOCS. See, for example: https://pwcbg.org/2020/03/second-chance-for-5-new-bocs-members-deceived-by-developers-on-devlin2-pwcbg-suggests-tax-relief-for-local-employers-employees-facing-layoffs/ )
Distracted from their core responsibilities by favored causes and social issues over which the BOCS has no jurisdiction — Perhaps members of the BOCS majority originally sought office because they simply want power and/or to share their favored causes with the entire county, whether it’s relevant to their jobs or not. Examples of these causes include gun control, ignoring immigration restrictions, and other social issues — all things over which the BOCS has little or no power. (See: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/corey-stewarts-county-no-more-virginia-county-aims-to-become-liberal-model/2019/11/14/6edefc48-0653-11ea-8292-c46ee8cb3dce_story.html ) However, we are glad the BOCS majority, under intense public pressure, and led by Vice Chair Angry, at least temporarily got in touch with reason and good sense sufficiently to eliminate one such distraction from their real responsibilities. (See: https://www.princewilliamtimes.com/news/in-a-surprise-move-prince-william-supervisors-table-controversial-gun/article_b6f59bfe-3709-11ea-ab26-af4334b0a44f.html ) This was a current BOCS reaction to a previous BOCS’ reaction to the incoming Virginia legislature’s reaction to ongoing national news on a national debate on guns — intractable nationally and legally meaningless locally, meaning that any action by county government to issue resolutions about it, in and of itself, is purely ceremonial. We are also glad the entire BOCS, once again under intense public pressure, rejected Chair Wheeler’s sneaky attempt to permanently curtail or eliminate the public’s free speech at BOCS meetings. Wheeler tried to do so by inserting a proposal into the fine print of county Covid-19 emergency procedures and then reportedly denying all knowledge when caught. (See: https://pwcbg.org/2020/03/chair-wheeler-holding-semi-public-31-mar-bocs-meeting-to-implement-greatly-increased-emergency-powers-suspension-of-public-comment/ and https://pwcbg.org/2020/03/bocs-urged-to-ensure-banning-of-public-comment-does-not-become-permanent/ and https://pwcbg.org/2020/03/civic-associations-holding-public-hearings-during-pandemic-with-greatly-reduced-public-participation-will-undermine-the-public-process/ )
Economic illiteracy and incompetence — Tyrants rarely miss an opportunity to use public tragedies as an excuse to increase their power. Extremely thin-skinned Chair Wheeler may be remembered as the first BOCS chair to try to limit or abolish citizens’ free speech at BOCS public meetings, cynically using a major tragedy as an opportunity to eliminate other viewpoints and criticism she doesn’t want to hear. She may also be remembered as the only BOCS chair who tried to raise property taxes 4% in the middle of a business and jobs meltdown already looking far worse than the Great Recession that started 12-13 years ago. She certainly will be remembered for doing both at the same time. (See Bull Run Observer 6 March 2020, page 1 and county’s advertised tax rate for 2020: 1.17, up from 1.125 in 2019.)
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported 2 April that “6% of the U.S. labor force has filed for jobless benefits in the last two weeks,” a total of 9.9 million people. “ ‘The speed and magnitude of the labor market’s decline is unprecedented,’ said Constance Hunter, chief economist at KPMG LLP. Ms. Hunter said she expected that millions more claims will be filed in the coming weeks and projects 20 million jobs will be lost. ‘We didn’t see this in the global financial crisis. We didn’t see this in the Great Depression. There’s been a total decimation of consumption.’ ” The WSJ adds that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) on 2 April said “it expects U.S. unemployment to exceed 10% in the second quarter and gross domestic product to fall by more than 7%, or an annualized 28%. ‘Those declines could be much larger, however,’ the CBO said, adding that its estimates are ‘highly uncertain at this time. ‘ “
But Chair Wheeler is apparently not alone as a business climate denier, not alone in her obliviousness to the danger of the current economic situation. Last we heard, she and other members of the BOCS majority still support a 4% real estate tax increase on homeowners and businesses, small and large. Furthermore, at the 31 March BOCS hearing, Potomac Supervisor Andrea Bailey, apparently also a business climate denier, repeatedly stressed that the economic situation should not be a factor, “a fear factor” in her words, in county budget deliberations. In other words, exploding unemployment and looming unprecedented levels of business failures need not be a call for economic prudence and frugality by local government to protect small and large businesses and individual households — the engines of the economy — helping them survive this time of extreme peril so they can provide tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes to the county in the future. Instead, we should raise taxes on businesses and households, significantly increasing their vulnerability to failure, so we can increase the county government’s budget by, say, $40 million or so. After all, Chair Wheeler informs us, the county government is the real “backbone of our community.” And what right have fearmongers and doomsayers to ruin the tax-and-spend party the BOCS majority has been planning since the election, anyway? (See https://pwcgov.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=23&clip_id=2695 at 3:16 (3 hours 16 minutes) thru 3:37 and 4:28 thru 4:29:30) …. Also, see: https://thederecho.blogspot.com/2020/04/wheeler-and-martino-are-whistling-past.html )
So much for Chair Wheeler’s professed desire to attract more businesses to the county and increase the commercial (vs. residential) share of county real estate tax revenues from its anemic, longstanding 15% rate. (See: https://pwcbg.org/2020/03/bocs-chair-wheelers-7-jan-2020-state-of-the-county-address/ ) You can’t increase commercial tax revenues in the long term if you unwittingly destroy businesses during a crisis. At any rate, such economic illiteracy and incompetence is inexcusable, unworthy of people making important economic and land use decisions that affect the entire county. Starting with Chair Wheeler, it should result in several members of the BOCS majority, in embarrassment, voluntarily signing up for remedial economics and business courses.
What do you, the reader, think will happen to many perhaps most small businesses and homeowners in the county, already reeling from catastrophically reduced income in the last month with no end in sight, when they are also hit with a 4% county real estate tax increase? If you know the answer to that question, you apparently already know more about economics, finance, and business than Chair Wheeler and some in the BOCS majority. Why isn’t the county temporarily furloughing non-essential employees, like businesses are being forced to do? (Would county lawyers, parks & recreation personnel, and planning staff working on residential development plans, even with no BOCS land use hearings for the foreseeable future, be considered essential employees right now?)
And with the county’s looming financial problems, how likely is it now that Devlin Road will be widened from Jennell Rd. to Linton Hall Rd. — despite emphatic assurances from Chair Wheeler and the other Dems at the 10 March Devlin rezoning hearing? Note that we and Supervisor Lawson repeatedly questioned such assurances before, during, and after the 10 March hearing. (See, for example: https://pwcbg.org/2020/02/secrets-of-devlin-road-that-developers-will-never-tell-you/ and https://pwcbg.org/2020/04/urgent-plea-to-bocs-dem-majority-regarding-31-march-chance-to-fix-defects-in-devlin-rezoning/ )
Democratic payback? — Now let’s return from tax to land use issues. We now know for a fact that the BOCS majority was, ultimately, intentionally reckless and negligent in its first major land use decision, Devlin, and refused to hear and learn from Devlin area Supervisor Lawson and citizens who live in the area. At the 10 March Devlin rezoning hearing, all five of the Dems expressed concerns about unresolved problems surrounding the Devlin proposal and said they wanted to see these problems fixed. We and others stated the case very clearly in writing and shared it with them, we know that at least some of them read what we wrote, and we very clearly outlined what had to be done to fix the problems. We and others, during the 10 March hearing and later, including Supervisor Lawson, pointed out that the problems could not be fixed without the developer agreeing to them in writing. But the BOCS majority at the 31 March BOCS meeting continued to ignore us and over 1,070 citizen petitioners so far (see http://chng.it/57d9SJBQyf ), proving BOCS majority supervisors’ concerns expressed at the 10 March hearing to ultimately be phony and hypocritical, merely a pose for the cameras. (See: https://pwcbg.org/2020/03/second-chance-for-5-new-bocs-members-deceived-by-developers-on-devlin2-pwcbg-suggests-tax-relief-for-local-employers-employees-facing-layoffs/ and https://pwcbg.org/2020/04/urgent-plea-to-bocs-dem-majority-regarding-31-march-chance-to-fix-defects-in-devlin-rezoning/ )
It seems there could be another dimension to this as well, which might explain the wanton disregard for and indifference to West County residents displayed at the 10 March Devlin rezoning hearing and the 31 March meeting: Could this be the beginning of at least four years of payback for West County not voting majority Democratic in the 2019 BOCS election? What else explains the unwillingness to fix an extremely flawed agreement with the developer, without a defensible explanation, where the county has by far the greater leverage? What else, other than false pride and their newfound power going to their heads, explains the BOCS majority’s stubborn unwillingness to acknowledge and reverse clearly negligent decisions, without a defensible explanation — decisions that will harm thousands who live along or near Devlin? Even after being given a second chance (at the 31 March BOCS hearing), with the way forward clearly spelled out and laid before them? Can you, the reader, think of another explanation for this clearly intentional derelection of duty by an important elected body — an explanation other than retaliation against its own citizens? We can’t. Whenever possible, authoritarian leaders punish citizens too ungrateful to unquestioningly accept their superior wisdom and elitist wondrousness.
At any rate, so far most of the BOCS Dems have repeatedly demonstrated neither the training, skill, and expertise, nor apparently the inclination (and that’s the greater failing) to be competent on land use, budget, and taxes. Nor, in their ignorance, arrogance, and apparent disregard for democratic principle, have they demonstrated the ability or willingness to listen to and learn from the citizenry (the greatest failing of all).
If there is anything that could be done to help the BOCS avoid serial land use, budget, and tax policy train wrecks in the future, it would be relentless and widespread public pressure as well as persuasion by Dem insiders of recalcitrant members of the BOCS majority — persuading them to become responsible, accountable, competent public servants, and to teach them how, if they’re willing to listen to anyone…. Before it’s too late, and great, irreversible land use and economic damage is done throughout the county.
Citizens: Keep a close eye on the BOCS on taxes, land use, and the budget. And be sure to regularly report to voters/taxpayers via social media and elsewhere what the BOCS is up to. Contact the BOCS regularly at BOCS@pwcgov.org to keep them focused on citizens, not their own empire building and the interests of residential developers. As always, feel free to share this post and other information from https://pwcbg.org/ (This message is posted here: https://pwcbg.org/2020/04/bocs-majoritys-incompetence-vindictiveness-false-pride-devlined-west-county-tax-increases-despite-growing-business-jobs-meltdown/ ) We completely agree with Supervisor Bailey’s comments to citizens after the 2019 election: “…Help us to do good. When we’re not doing good, tell us what to do to be better.” (See: https://www.insidenova.com/news/election/with-new-majority-democrats-say-theyre-ready-to-get-to-work-on-prince-william-board/article_9f11e24e-0172-11ea-8a56-cbfdc6d7c6f3.html )
Your only defense from the BOCS majority, in some cases, may be to file lawsuits. Maybe that will get the County Attorney and the county’s 24 extremely expensive lawyers (and who knows how many others who didn’t make the >$100,000 per lawyer list totalling $3.7 million) to earn their keep doing something involving the citizens for once — even if only in direct, but at least more honest face-to-face opposition to them, under Chair Wheeler’s direction. By the way, we’ve been informed that the County Attorney will not be responding to our and Doug Widener’s questions and is in no way accountable to taxpayers or ordinary citizens. (See: https://pwcbg.org/2020/03/open-letter-holding-pw-county-attorney-accountable-on-land-use-covid-19/ )
Brentswood, Stone Haven, and Devlin — Looking back over the last 15 years, we did all we could to protect our neighbors along the Devlin corridor from harmful land use policy. You may not know this, but the previous attempts to develop the two square miles bounded by Wellington on the north, Devlin on the east, and Linton Hall on the south were many orders of magnitude more abusive than the final Devlin 2020 rezoning — as bad as it is — and would have made much of the already-inhabited parts of Gainesville and Brentsville Districts unlivable: Brentswood, 2005-06 = 6,800 houses + commercial; and Stone Haven1, 2014 = 1650 houses + over 1 million sq ft commercial. Both Brentswood and Stone Haven came within a whisker of passage by the BOCS; the only thing that stopped them was citizen uproar, subsequent united official county Republican and Democratic bipartisan opposition in the case of Brentswood (imagine that), and some sympathetic BOCS members, both Republican and Democrat, including Brentsville Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, who generated enough opposition to prevent passage.
But the days of BOCS bipartisanship, for good and bad, on land use are apparently over. The Democrats have completely gone to the dark side on land use, as their election campaign stances indicated they probably would, while the Republicans so far in 2020 have not.
How the Dem majority has failed you — For those of you who live along Devlin, we are sorry you and we failed to get a better deal than this very bad one. But remember that the greater failure — a complete failure of conscience, good government, and maturity — is that the current BOCS majority made no attempt whatsoever to get you a better deal. In fact, they did everything possible to undermine every attempt we and many others — including West County BOCS supervisors Lawson, Vega, and Candland — made to get a better deal. It appears that the BOCS majority is not on your side on land use or tax issues — their main responsibilities. Walking in lockstep with autocratic Chair Wheeler, they are demonstrably on the side of bigger government and the residential developers, who have no interest whatsoever in citizens’ rights or well-being and of course favor high real estate taxes for you that indirectly subsidize their mostly tax-negative residential developments.
While the Devlin result is disgraceful and the BOCS majority’s anti-citizen behavior unconscionable, inexcusable, and perverse, still, our regards and best hopes for all of you in all that you face. Life goes on. Most importantly, we love you, our prayers are with you, and stay safe.
Ralph & Kathy Stephenson
Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth
Only in the bright light of public scrutiny can the common good be secured,
while in darkness and obscurity the interests of the powerful and affluent prevail.