Commentary: A case against seven on board and the need for compromise

I want to begin by stating that I am writing this as a citizen and member of the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors and that this is my personal opinion. I am not writing it on behalf of the board.

Lately, there has been much discussion about the dysfunction of our board and our 3-to-3 votes. I have served on the board for a number of years, but only recently has a 3-to-3 tie stalemated our decisions so often. In past years, we did have some tie votes, but we promptly discussed the issue at hand and sought compromise. Even though no one individual got everything he or she wanted, we all achieved something for the districts we serve, thus enabling the board and the county to move forward.

When our forefathers wrote the Constitution, not everyone agreed on how to create our new nation, but they were willing to confer and to work together toward a collective vision for the future of our country. The Constitution is a package of compromises. With few exceptions, the individual members of the convention did not stubbornly cling to their original positions at the risk of scuttling the entire endeavor. Reflecting on this spirit, I believe those gentlemen would not be very happy with what is occurring in Washington today, as it has come to exhibit an attitude of “me against you” and “victory at any cost.” The 2016 election was not so much about individuals as it was about the electorate’s perceiving this crippling attitude and being tired of the resultant gridlock. I believe officials are elected to solve issues for our citizens, not create new ones.

Currently, we have board members who made campaign promises about critical issues. Their stance is tasty “red meat” for their avid supporters, but it hampers our ability to conduct Shenandoah County’s business in a normal way. After all, the Board of Supervisors is responsible for running over a $100 million-dollar business. When we have members who have cast their votes in the court of public opinion, gridlock and 3-to-3 votes become the norm. Routinely, we talk about the importance of job growth and economic development, but do you really think any new business would actually have a serious interest in investing in a county where such dysfunction is constantly on display?

In 2011, we looked at adding a seventh supervisor but soon discovered that the necessary redistricting thereafter would split the Town of Strasburg, dividing the community and presenting the awkward prospect of having one supervisor representing one side of the street and another the other side. Seeing this as impracticable and unwise, we abandoned the idea so that only one person would represent the entire town. Ninety-one percent of the population of District 6 resides in the Town of Strasburg. If we have a seven-member board, and the Town of Woodstock’s population continues to grow, it may also need to be split. If we have a seventh supervisor who is elected at-large, then one district will actually have two representatives. In theory, that individual would represent the entire county, but it is likely that he or she would be more sympathetic to the interests of his or her home district.

I am certainly not opposed to having an odd number of supervisors, but I think the more appropriate number would be five. The correct time to implement this change would be in 2021, after the next census. I note that Rockingham County has five supervisors representing 78,000 people. At five, each of the above-named towns would be represented by only one individual, one person dedicated to representing the whole community and to serving the interests of those residents.

In the meantime, I am hopeful that the current six supervisors will think deeply on the precedent set by the framers of the Constitution and, in this spirit, compromise on county issues. If this were to happen, I believe we will maintain and foster a bright future for Shenandoah County.

Conrad Helsley is a Strasburg resident.