Board OKs new meeting schedule, officers

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County leaders have adopted a new schedule that eliminates a monthly meeting but shouldn’t cut public participation, officials say.

The Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 at its organizational meeting Tuesday to approve a new meeting schedule for the year. The board may call special meetings or change the schedule at any time during the year.

Supervisors denied one members’ attempt to put the proposed schedule on hold to give the public time to comment.

The board’s action moves its day meeting from the first Tuesday to the first Thursday of each month. Regular meetings allow the public two times to comment, first on new business agenda items and then old business. A proposed procedural change to the board’s meetings consolidates the two public comment sections. The night meeting includes any scheduled public hearings.

At the beginning of the organizational meeting, the board picked its officers for the year without debate or fanfare. The board voted 5-0 to elect District 6 Supervisor Conrad Helsley as chairman and District 1 Supervisor John R. “Dick” Neese as vice chairman. District 4 Supervisor Karl Roulston did not attend the meeting. Voters elected Roulston and re-elected Neese on Nov. 7.

Helsley commented about the previous year’s board debates that often involved members reaching stalemates on a number of matters. Similar situations occur with the U.S. Congress and in the Virginia General Assembly, Helsley added.

“I hope we don’t draw a line in the sand,” Helsley said. “I hope we can all work together and come together with a compromise.”

The board then discussed its proposed meeting schedule for 2018. County Administrator Mary T. Price said the new schedule eliminates the board’s meeting held in the morning on the second Tuesday of each month. The board’s work session scheduled for the afternoon on the first Thursday of the month would serve as a time members could “roll up their sleeves” and discuss county business. The meeting held at night on the fourth Tuesday of each month would serve as the time the board would conduct public hearings, Price said. The new schedule came about through discussions with individual supervisors, Price said.

Advantages of the new schedule include a more efficient use of members’ and employees’ time; the continuation of two opportunities for public participation; and acceleration of the public hearing process, Price said. The proposed schedule coincides with the Planning Commission, which meets on the first Thursday of the month.

Under the previous schedule, the board would discuss a tax-exemption request at a work session and schedule the public hearing at its next day meeting. The county must advertise the hearing at least two weeks prior to the board’s night meeting. Supervisors then can take action at its following day meeting. The process takes about 10 weeks, Price said. The new schedule eliminates two to three weeks of the process time.

Helsley reminded the board that members can schedule a special meeting at any time to handle items as needed.

District 3 Supervisor Richard Walker asked if the board could schedule the afternoon work session for the second Tuesday of the month when it previously held the day meeting. Walker also suggested that the board hear input from the residents who regularly attend the meetings. Walker then made a motion to table action on the proposed schedule until the board can take it up at its next meeting so they can allow the public a chance to comment. However, no other member seconded Walker’s motion.

Neese then made a motion to adopt the proposed schedule. The board can always change the schedule, Helsley noted. The board holds its next meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday. Baker, Helsley, Morris and Neese voted to adopt the new meeting schedule. Walker voted against the motion.

Also at the meeting, the board discussed proposed changes to its rules of procedure for meetings and work sessions. Price said she received an email that claimed the proposed change regarding public comment sections effectively cut that opportunity in half. The change actually combines the two opportunities to comment, Price said. The split sections confused the public at times, Price said. Assistant County Administrator Evan Vass said this proposal actually would give the public an increased opportunity to speak to the board.

Walker made a motion to delay action on the rules of procedure, continue discussion of the topic at the board’s work session Thursday and then vote on the matter at its next meeting. Walker said the entire board, noting Roulston’s absence, should discuss the matter. At County Attorney Jason Ham’s recommendation, the board adopted the 2017 rules of procedure with a modification. The board then plans to resume its discussion of the proposed rules of procedure at its work session Thursday and then can make changes on Tuesday.