Editorial: Building the Foundation

For many years, one of the first pieces of advice given to newly formed boards of supervisors in Loudoun came from a couple of retired politicians who previously occupied the seats.
Charlie Waddell, a Democrat, served only one term on the county board before representing Loudoun in the state Senate for three decades. Jim Brownell, a Republican, was a dairy farmer who represented the Blue Ridge district for just as long. They would appear together at the first board meeting and share lessons they learned during their time in public service. The most important of those was simply to get along with each other and to not put partisan politics ahead of their constituents’ needs.
Brownell celebrated his 98th birthday last week and it isn’t likely the pair will appear at this board’s first meeting on Wednesday. Their message, however, should not be missed as five members take their seats for the first time, including four serving in their first public elective office. We also have three Democrats joining the board after a first-ever shutout in the 2011 elections. A Democrat occupies the chairman’s seat for the first time since 1990; that was before voters countywide, rather than the sitting supervisors, got to make the choice. There will be an inclination among some to make waves quickly or to somehow signal that a new day has dawned. Local government veterans, perhaps including some of the returning supervisors who were new to the dais four years ago, would tell them that seldom works out well.
Also, it is important to recognize that little happens in government as quickly as one might wish. Despite the campaign-trail enthusiasm, there will not be universal full-day kindergarten next year, rewriting of the county’s development plans will takes years to accomplish, and growing the commercial tax base has been touted as a community goal for much of the county’s 258-year history.
To her credit, incoming County Chairman Phyllis Randall is working to set the right tone. Her emphasis on building a cooperative, non-partisan foundation has been evident in the weeks following her victory. However, the chairman is but one vote among nine, and nothing is achieved without a majority of five. Getting things accomplished in local government takes more than just good ideas; nothing gets done without five votes. And, of course, bad ideas get through with five votes, too.
The new board has been bequeathed the leadership of a government that is perceived to be well-run by residents who enjoy a quality of life unmatched by many other communities. If these nine members were simply to leave it in a little better shape for the next group, their terms would be viewed as successful.
Senator Waddell, Mr. Brownell and, especially, outgoing Chairman Scott K. York would tell them that meager goal is not easily achieved. It takes hard work and that starts now.

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