Over the decades in Leesburg, the town’s advisory committees have demonstrated the ability to have an impact beyond that of any individual Town Council.
In the late 1980s, it was the members of the town’s Parks and Recreation Commission that pushed the vision for the development of Ida Lee Park, still today among Leesburg’s crown jewels. More recently, it has been the town’s Commission on Public Arts that has championed a creative revisioning of the town’s streetscapes.
But the longest and most impactful of all the advisory panels has been the Airport Commission. Today, Leesburg Executive Airport is well established as an important asset not just for the town but more broadly for the commonwealth. It is no longer a primitive airstrip serving local hobby pilots. It’s an important employment center, link in the commerce chain, and training hub. The airport’s new master plan lays out a long-term strategy to bring even more services and activity. And the recent addition of the second fixed-base operator brings the promise of more improvements in the short term. In short, things are going fairly well.
That hasn’t always been the case. There have been times when town councils would have been happy to close the operation, when members opposed investments requested for improvements, and when they painted the airport as a public nuisance. It was at those times that the commission performed at its best, continuing to work toward the long-term vision despite bureaucratic short-sightedness.
At this juncture, it may very well be time to restructure the Airport Commission—or other town advisory panels for that matter. There are always opportunities to improve efficiency or to tailor operations to address new needs and challenges.
However, the path the mayor has chosen to begin those conversations is unproductive, at best. It also is uncharacteristic of her decades of leadership based on bringing people together to solve problems, not dictating outcomes. Not only has she proposed a restructuring without even a pretense of seeking feedback from current members, the mayor also has proposed excluding them from the discussions as the council considers her plan.
This should be a collaborative, not combative, exercise.
This is an important opportunity for the community—and the council—to better understand the airport’s operations and the plans for its future. It also is time to put smart people around the table—including those who have worked in the trenches for years—to devise the most effective way to achieve the airport’s promise. That, after all, is the common goal.