Note: Since the 2007 local government elections, I have moved from the Hunter Mill District of Fairfax County, Virginia, to the Dulles District of Loudoun County, Virginia.
Many, many, many local offices are up for election this year in Loudoun County. We will be voting for the Board of Supervisors (Chairman and District), the School Board (At-Large and District), the Commonwealth’s Attorney, the Sheriff, the Commissioner of Revenue, the Treasurer, and the Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Directors. While they lack the glamour of federal (or even state) offices, these elections are very important and have a significant impact on local quality of life.
Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, Chairman (At-Large)
In the race for Chairman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors (at-large), incumbent Scott York (R) faces off against challenger Tom Bellanca (D). York has been Chairman since 2000 and is seeking a fourth four-year term.
Loudoun County is a unique place. The eastern half of the county is quickly developing into a bustling, vibrant suburb of Washington, DC, while the western half remains a picturesque rural area dotted with farms and wineries. Our Board of Supervisors is faced with the difficult task of balancing the needs of these disparate areas. They must support growth and investment, while also representing the needs of the county’s more rural areas and ensuring that urban sprawl does not out-pace infrastructure and road development.
York has presided over a boom time in Loudoun. Our diversified local economy—supported by a robust mix of agricultural, corporate, and government concerns—has managed to avoid the worst of the destruction wrought by the Bush/Obama spending policies. It is no surprise that we are now the richest county in the United States, as measured by median family income. All-in-all, there is relatively little for Loudoun citizens to complain about.
Bellanca identifies three areas that he would focus on if elected Chairman: school overcrowding, improved economic development (especially in the route-28 corridor), and transportation improvements (completing the Loudoun County Parkway and supporting MetroRail’s extension to Dulles Airport and beyond). He will get little argument from me on the transportation issue, although there is much more to be done than the few items he lists. His other proposals are, at best, vague.
Pointing out that office buildings in the route-28 corridor are suffering from vacancy rates well over 15 percent, Ballanca proposes that ‘solving this challenge’ would increase the county’s corporate tax base and, thus, reduce the tax burden on individuals. This is likely true, but the actual means by which Ballanca intends to entice businesses to fill these office vacancies is left unexplained. Ballanca also says that he intends to solve our schools’ overcrowding problems—”I will make this the number one agenda item of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors.” Again, he leaves the details unexplained.
York, on the other hand, presents a logical, pro-business, pro-citizen platform. He would keep our local taxes low, keep government spending under control, and try to reduce the mountain of red-tape for small businesses in the county. We must continue to be a business-friendly county if we intend to continue growing our local economy and maintaining our low rates of unemployment. He also points out, rightfully, that our schools receive nearly 70 percent of the entire Loudoun County budget, and it is imperative that we figure out where all that money is going (hint: toilet). York calls for a detailed review of the schools budget, and calls for ‘systemic change’ to our schools (although he, also, is very vague about exactly what he intends to do).
Lastly, York has been successful as chairman in bringing desperately-needed transportation funding to the county, and has not hesitated to stand up to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) as they have grossly mismanaged the project to bring MetroRail to Dulles Airport and beyond. The project is already 1 billion dollars over-budget, and WMAA is threatening to impose absurdly-high tolls on the Dulles Toll Road to cover its mismanagement. MWAA deserves all the dogged opposition that our Board of Supervisors can muster.
If reelected, I call on York to fight WMAA even harder and demand accountability in the MetroRail to Dulles project. I also call on him to demand that the Commonwealth of Virginia (or even Loudoun County itself) purchase the Dulles Greenway (which is currently privately owned). The Greenway, a six-lane freeway with an insultingly-high fixed-fee toll, is essentially deserted at all times of day—even at the height of rush hour. As a public asset, available to the taxpayers toll-free like all our other highways, it would instead distribute much of the traffic loads off routes 28 and 7 and improve traffic flow throughout the entirety of eastern Loudoun. As it stands today, the Greenway is a beautiful piece of highway infrastructure that most citizens can’t afford to use. It is time for our state and local governments to fix that.
With these caveats, I endorse the reelection of Scott York (R) as Chairman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors (at-large). His platform is pro-business, pro-citizen, and pro-accountability. He has served Loudoun well and deserves another term.
Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, Dulles District
In the race to represent the Dulles District on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, candidates Matt Letourneau (R) and Larry Roeder (D) are vying for an open seat. The Dulles District is located in southeastern Loudoun County, encompassing much of Dulles Airport and the South Riding area. Members of the Board of Supervisors serve four-year terms.
For many years, the Loudoun County government (and, for that matter, the Commonwealth’s government in Richmond) has focused much of its local efforts on the routes 28 and 7 corridors—and with good effect. These corridors have developed into economic powerhouses, supported by a robust and well-developed road infrastructure. While there is still more to do, it is also time for these governments to turn their attention to the Dulles South area. South Riding and the surrounding areas are seeing rapid growth, but the County and Commonwealth have done a poor job of building up our infrastructure to support it. This is most evident in our roads; while 28 and 7 have been widened and built-up to near freeway-grade thoroughfares, routes 50 and 606—serving Dulles South—remain narrow, ill-kept highways that are each long-overdue for upgrades. Likewise, our governments have invested in building the Loudoun County Parkway through Ashburn and Broadlands, but have failed to complete its long-planned connection to South Riding.
We are very lucky in Dulles District to have two candidates vying for our votes who both take these same positions. It is imperative that these key elements of the Dulles South transportation infrastructure be completed. Roeder, in particular, calls for these improvements, as well as building-up access to Dulles Airport from the west (to alleviate traffic on 28 and 50 by offloading some of it onto an improved 606 and/or Loudoun County Parkway). Some of Roeder’s ideas are somewhat unorthodox, such as utilizing grocery store parking lots as satellite ‘kiss & ride’ lots for commuters, but I appreciate that he is thinking creatively.
On the subject of education, Letourneau rightly points out that “tax dollars are being diverted from the classroom and into the Central Office, Administration, and elsewhere” in our schools. He calls instead for a ‘common sense’ schools budget that focuses on core subjects and academics. Roeder, on the other hand, says that, “The school budget alone is single largest piece of the county budget. Instead of raising taxes, Mr. Roeder proposes trying to broaden the tax base by investing in economic development, using a pro-business policy as an engine.” While I appreciate that he does not intend to raise taxes, I am troubled by the fact that he supports increasing funding to our schools (even through ‘broadening the tax base’). Does he really believe that the nearly-70 percent of the county budget that our schools get already is insufficient? Does he really believe that outspending almost every other industrialized nation on K-12 education isn’t enough?
All-in-all, the Dulles District has two strong candidates . . . but Letourneau’s pro-business platform, promise to keep property taxes as low as possible, consistent focus on fiscal accountability (at the county level and in the school system), and rational views on school funding makes him the stronger choice. I endorse Matt Letourneau (R) to represent the Dulles District on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. However, if elected Letourneau should seriously consider adopting some of Roeder’s inventive ideas for improving the transportation system in the Dulles South area.
Loudoun County School Board, At-Large
In the race for the at-large seat on the Loudoun County School Board, incumbent Tom Reed (R-endorsed) is facing-off against Jay Bose (no known party endorsement) and Bob Ohneiser (D-endorsed). By law, school board elections are non-partisan and all candidates run as independents, however political parties often make endorsements. Board members serve four-year terms.
Our public school system, like virtually all of its peers across the Commonwealth of Virginia and throughout the United States, is a failed experiment. We will be spending $11,250 per-pupil this year, a whopping 746 million dollars total, for an education system that simply does not perform at an acceptable level. Our public schools in the U.S. lag further and further behind those in other industrialized nations, which almost invariably operate with a lower average per-pupil cost. For FY2012, a mind-boggling 68.7 percent of the Loudoun County budget is earmarked for schools-related expenses—more than every other county service combined.
The argument that our schools are under-funded is an absurdity on its face; on average, U.S. schools are funded at a level nearly four-times higher per-student (even after adjusting for inflation!) than they were fifty years ago. When you spend four-times more for something, you expect it to be four-times better . . . not incrementally worse. We are not receiving an appropriate return on our investment in public schools.
Reed and Ohneiser’s campaigns each focus on the nitty-gritty, day-to-day operation of Loudoun County Public Schools—teacher salary levels and recruiting, implementing vaguely-defined ‘best practices,’ school boundaries, and so on. Bose, on the other hand, takes a stab at some of the deeper issues. He calls for a grading system that reflects actual performance, for increasing availability of vocational programs, and for broadening curricula to include important subjects like money management, law, and world affairs. He also calls for teaching foreign language at a younger age—you know, when it might actually stick.
I applaud Bose for taking much more meaningful positions on these and other subjects than any of his opponents, but he still does not address the fundamental problems facing our schools. None of the candidates seems willing to forthrightly address the patent mismanagement, waste, fraud, and abuse that have led to the astronomical costs of operating our schools. None mentions the expensive union-guaranteed benefit packages, or the poor performance of too many post-tenure teachers. None will tackle the needless administrative overhead and politicization of education that has been the inevitable outcome of elective school boards (as opposed to Board of Supervisors-appointed leadership).
For these reasons, I can make no endorsement for the Loudoun County School Board, at-large seat.
Loudoun County School Board, Dulles District
In the race for the Dulles District seat on the Loudoun County School Board, candidates Anjan Chimaladinne (no known party endorsement), Margaret Michaud (no known party endorsement; no known web site), and Jeff Morse (R-endorsed) are vying for an open seat. The Dulles District is located in southeastern Loudoun County, encompassing much of Dulles Airport and the South Riding area. By law, school board elections are non-partisan and all candidates run as independents, however political parties often make endorsements. Board members serve four-year terms.
Neither Chimaladinne or Morse addresses any of the fundamental issues that I mentioned above in the at-large seat [non-]endorsement. Michaud addresses no issues at all; she does not appear to have created a campaign web site. For these reasons, I can make no endorsement for the Loudoun County School Board, Dulles District seat.
Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney
In the race for Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney, incumbent Jim Plowman (R) is challenged by Jennifer Wexton (D). The commonwealth’s attorney serves a four-year term as the chief criminal prosecutor in the county, a role similar to that of a ‘district attorney’ in other states. Plowman has been Commonwealth’s Attorney since 2004 and is seeking a third term.
Plowman claims that he has managed to operate the Commonwealth’s Attorney office with only 3 percent more staff than he had at the beginning of his term, and that he has trimmed his operating budget by 12 percent. However, a review of public financial information reveals that his office’s budget has actually skyrocketed over 40 percent. Today, the Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney office has an annual budget of over $3.1 million. For comparison, three-times more populous Fairfax County has a smaller $2.5 million budget for its Commonwealth’s Attorney office.
In addition, Plowman has made a number of very serious, high-profile missteps. Plowman brought frivolous criminal charges against Freedom High School assistant principal Ting-Yi Oei because, in the process of investigating student ‘sexting,’ he found a pornographic image of a student and kept it as evidence (after notifying the Principal, as required by law). For this legitimate step in his investigation, Oei was charged with possession of child pornography. The charges were later dismissed by the judge in the case, who determined that they had no merit. While Oei has been reinstated, the damage to his reputation and the trauma of having been wrongly accused of a serious sex crime is irreparable.
Additionally, improprieties in Plowman’s investigation of Mark Tate campaign finance irregularities led to that investigation being dropped and started anew without his involvement. Meanwhile, allegations that Loudoun Sheriff Steve Simpson (I) has engaged in campaign finance abuses and possibly even a bribery scandal have been met with an eerie silence from Plowman’s office. Perhaps Simpson has done nothing wrong, but in this case it is obvious that an investigation is warranted, and it is the Commonwealth’s Attorney who is supposed to be doing it.
Wexton, a former Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney and defense attorney, brands herself as “a prosecutor, not a politician.” As she has worked on both sides of the legal profession, it is likely that she will be well-suited to the precarious balance demanded of a Commonwealth’s Attorney. A prosecutor must be able to decide when it is appropriate to bring charges, and when it is appropriate not to. A prosecutor must constantly balance the dogged prosecution of criminals against the protection of the innocent.
In this essential area, I simply cannot trust Plowman’s judgement. Any prosecutor will make occasional missteps in maintaining this precarious balance . . . but errors of this magnitude—branding a dedicated educational professional as a child pornographer without any cause whatsoever, and completely ignoring a legitimate accusation against a follow elected official—are inexcusable. Wexton is right; it is time for a change. I endorse the election of Jennifer Wexton (D) as Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney.
Ed. Note, 10/11/2011: This endorsement originally cited a claim from Plowman’s campaign that he had reduced his office’s budget by 12 percent, which is inaccurate. In fact, the Commonwealth’s Attorney office’s budget has increased by over 40 percent during Plowman’s tenure. Thanks to Andrew Wexton of the Wexton campaign for calling this error to my attention. I have independently verified the correct numbers and corrected the text of my endorsement.
Loudoun County Sheriff
In the race for Loudoun County Sheriff, incumbent Steve Simpson (I) is challenged by Mike Chapman (R) and Ron Speakman (I). The county sheriff serves a four-year term as the chief law-enforcement officer in the county, and has responsibility for providing law enforcement services, investigating crimes, making arrests, and maintaining the local jail and corrections programs. Simpson has been Sheriff since 1996 and is seeking a fifth term.
One expects political races to be rife with mudslinging and controversy, but it is somewhat surprising that one of the most controversial races this year would be the one for County Sheriff. Simpson, the incumbent, has come under fire for possible campaign finance violations, and for his office releasing Osama El-Atari (who had been charged with driving on a suspended license and sentenced to two days in jail) after he had served just over one hour of his sentence. El-Atari had donated $5,000 to Simpson’s reelection campaign one day prior. Meanwhile, challenger Speakman—who lost the Republican nomination to Chapman and is now running as an independent—has been accused of residency irregularities. Speakman owns a home in Potomac, Maryland, and it is unclear whether it, or a much more recently declared residence in Loudoun County, is his actual primary residence.
Addressing Simpson first, it is true that non-violent offenders are routinely released early depending on how crowded jail facilities are on a particular day, and there is no evidence that Simpson had any direct involvement in El-Atari’s release. However, this combined with other allegations of campaign finance irregularities warrants an investigation. Also troubling is the fact that Simpson—who receives a $167,000 annual salary from the county—is also the president and CEO of Performance Beverage Group Inc., an energy drink company. He claims that this venture takes very little of his time, but this seems far-fetched and is contradicted by (anonymous) sources in the county government. As Loudoun’s crime rate increases, a natural side effect of its increasing urbanization, we need more than a part-time Sheriff, and the Sheriff must be far above any appearance of corruption. As to how Simpson intends to address the actual law-enforcement issues facing the county, well, he has not bothered to create a campaign web site or engage in any substantive campaigning . . . so your guess is as good as mine.
Speakman, on the other hand, intends to provide strong leadership in the Sheriff’s Office, provide deputies with more training on modern police issues (e.g., warrants and wiretaps), defend individuals’ rights to defend themselves and their property, take a stronger stance against illegal immigration (and its associated criminal activity), and take a more ‘proactive’ approach to law enforcement. There is little to object to here, though it is unclear exactly what impact ‘proactive’ law enforcement will have on citizens’ civil liberties. But Speakman’s residency issues warrant serious attention. There is no doubt that he has close ties to Loudoun County, having lived and worked here at different times in his life, but it is also somewhat obvious that his home in Potomac, Maryland, is not a vacation getaway . . . no, it is a primary residence, unlike the Leesburg, Virginia, business office where he registered to vote in 2008, or the residence he has registered at since 2010 (which is apparently owned by one of his associates). Stretching the definition of residency is nothing new in politics, but that doesn’t make it right.
Chapman, running as the official Republican nominee, intends to increase the Sheriff’s Office accountability with greater communication with the county’s citizens, civic groups, homeowners’ associations, and businesses. He also intends to improve the Sheriff’s Office’s ability to handle ‘white collar crime,’ which is increasingly common in Loudoun but has gone largely un-addressed by the incumbent. Chapman intends to focus much of the office’s efforts on drug enforcement, immigration enforcement (by expanding existing programs), and anti-gang activity. As drugs, illegal immigration, and gangs are the three biggest sources of property and violent crime in the county, it is clear that Chapman is focusing in the right areas.
Given Simpson’s lackadaisical approach to campaigning (which would seem to match his approach to being Sheriff) and allegations of corruption, and Speakman’s questionable residency and suspiciously ill-defined ‘proactive’ enforcement proposals, citizens of Loudoun are left with only one viable choice. I endorse the election of Mike Chapman (R) as Loudoun County Sheriff.
Loudoun County Commissioner of Revenue
Incumbent Loudoun County Commissioner of Revenue Bob Wertz (R) is seeking reelection uncontested. The county commissioner of revenue serves a four-year term as the chief tax assessing officer in the county, and has responsibility over individual and business property assessment, business licensing, and franchise taxes. Wertz has been Commissioner of Revenue since 2003 and is seeking a third term. Under Wertz, Loudoun became the first county in the Commonwealth of Virginia to offer online car-tax account maintenance. Also, despite astronomical population growth in the county, the revenue office staffing is the same as it was in 2004—and for this, Wertz is to be applauded. I endorse the reelection of Bob Wertz (R) as Loudoun County Commissioner of Revenue.
Loudoun County Treasurer
Incumbent Loudoun County Treasurer Roger Zurn (R) is seeking reelection uncontested. The county treasurer serves a four-year term as the chief financial officer for the county, and has responsibility over tax collection, payments on behalf of the government, fund investment, and financial record-keeping. Zurn has been Treasurer since 1996 and is seeking a fifth term. During Zurn’s tenure, Loudoun has had a clean audit every year and maintains a AAA bond rating. Loudoun also became the first county in the Commonwealth of Virginia to provide an online tax payment service to its citizens. It would appear that Zurn has been operating with the quiet, apolitical professionalism I would expect from a county treasurer. I endorse the reelection of Roger Zurn (R) as Loudoun County Treasurer.
Loudoun County Soil & Water Conservation District Board of Directors
The Loudoun County Soil & Water Conservation District (LCSWCD) is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia with borders identical to the borders of Loudoun County. The district’s operations are managed by a Board of Directors, two of whom are appointed by the Virginia Soil & Water Conservation Board and three of whom are elected at-large by the citizens of the district. By law, LCSWCD elections are non-partisan and all candidates run as independents, however political parties often make endorsements. LCSWCD board members serve four-year terms.
Voters will be presented with a bank of three candidates and may vote for “no more than three.” The three candidates with the highest total number of votes will be elected. All three candidates appearing on the ballot are incumbents: Peter Rush (D-endorsed), Chris Simmons (G-endorsed), and James Wylie (no known party endorsement).
The LCSWCD is not a regulatory body, and serves no apparent purpose beyond producing a newsletter and an annual report. It is the quintessential example of an unnecessary government agency; the purpose it supposedly exists to serve, the conservation of our natural resources, is already well served by countless other agencies at all levels of government. It is redundancy layered on redundancy. For this reason, I can make no endorsement for the Loudoun County Soil & Water Conservation District Board of Directors.