Priscilla Nabs Plum Planning Commission Post

Appointment Shocks Many

On January 3 Supervisor Tony R. Buffington Jr. (R-Blue Ridge) nominated Tom Priscilla for the Loudoun County Planning Commission to represent the Blue Ridge District. Priscilla was confirmed on January 19. This appointment took many current Purcellville Town Council Members by surprise. Said Council Member Kelli Grim, “I knew there was a temporary appointment, but I am surprised that Supervisor Buffington didn’t reach out to us before he made a permanent appointment. The person he selected is exactly the opposite of what the new Town Council elected in May stands for.”

In an email to Supervisor Buffington Council Member Ryan Cool said, “There is too much at stake for the future of all of Loudoun County, especially Western Loudoun, to allow a position to be filled with an individual whose prior decisions directly contradict the vision of Western Loudoun as expressed in both Town leadership, and the clear sentiment presented in Western Loudoun Envision [County Comp Plan review] workshops.”

Vice Mayor Karen Jimmerson in an email to Supervisor Buffington said, “Your appointment of Mr. Priscilla is completely at odds with your stated positions during your campaign for Supervisor.”

The seat had been vacated by Charles Douglas in October 2016, who resigned for health reasons. He was temporarily replaced by Chad Campbell who agreed to serve until January.

Priscilla’s History
Tom Priscilla served on the Purcellville Town Council for approximately nine years, appointed January 11, 2005. He also served on the Purcellville Planning Commission for 12 years. Working closely with Mayor Bob Lazaro, Priscilla’s record is one of higher debt, higher taxes, questionable Town expenditures and runaway growth, including:

Debt: When Priscilla took office, the Town debt was $10 million. By the time he left in 2014, the Town’s debt had grown by approximately $60 million. To make matters worse, the Town’s citizens were saddled with enormous balloon payments due in 2020 and 2021.

Wasted Millions: While on council, he voted to purchase a vacant boarded-up building for a new Town Hall, appraised for approximately $750,000. The Town purchased the building for $2 million and with renovations the entire project cost $8.5 million; a project originally estimated at $3.5 million.

Runaway Lawsuits: Priscilla voted consistently as a member of the Purcellville Town Council to delay the building of a much needed second western Loudoun High School – suing the County 6 times, suing Purcellville’s own Board of Zoning Appeals and taking the cases all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court. Even though Purcellville lost the cases, the Town, in negotiations with the County, said they would continue the lawsuits regardless of their merit unless the County paid the Town $5.78 million. As a new high school was so desperately needed due to overcrowding, the County settled. In the end, the Town of Purcellville also incurred $500,000 in legal fees and the County, $1 million.

Raising Taxes: Due to the lawsuits Priscilla and fellow Council Members raised the Town’s meals tax 1 percent and earmarked it to pay for the lawsuits. He also voted to create the Fireman’s Field Tax District, which raised real estate taxes 17 percent.

Developer Favors: Priscilla voted along with the Council to make zoning use changes to Purcellville’s downtown area, on the National Register of Historic Places. Due to the advocacy of one developer, he voted to raise the height limit from 35 feet to 65 feet, allowing for a 6-story building which would overshadow the existing two story structures. When the Board of Architectural Review voted to preserve a lower height – because the scope and mass of the building did not fit in with the area – he voted to overrule the decision.

Breaking Contracts: While on Council, Priscilla violated the Purcellville Urban Growth Area Management Plan and annexed property out of phase, ignoring the process and the Town’s contract with the County.

Didn’t Follow Comprehensive Plan: Priscilla voted for many land use decisions that were against the will of the residents, and in direct conflict with the Comprehensive Plan and multiple charrettes.

Roads Over Farms: He voted to condemn by eminent domain a portion of a historic 90 acre working farm – Crooked Run Orchard, a Virginia Century Farm – to build the Southern Collector Road. This action was without consent of the farm’s owners. Along with the Town Council, he changed the original alignment of the road, dividing the farm in two and making access to orchards very difficult.

Wasting Proffers: The Harris Teeter development at the gateway of Purcellville proffered a traffic circle. The circle was built, immediately torn down, and then a new one was built just 90 feet west of the original one. This happened because Priscilla, along with the rest of the Town Council, changed the original alignment of the Southern Collector Road. The second roundabout was paid for by the citizens of Purcellville.

Loudoun Pays More: Along with Town Council, Priscilla created 17 water rate tiers that charged Loudoun County facilities in Purcellville the highest rates.

More Developer Favors: In 2012, Priscilla voted to create a “Tourism District” solely for one developer’s property, allowing for multiple tax breaks over a period of 9 years. None of the other properties in the area received this designation.

Runaway Development: Priscilla and Council approved the largest development in the history of Purcellville – Mayfair (formerly known as Autumn Hill). With this action, Purcellville broke through its longstanding northernmost boundary.

Appointments Have Consequences Priscilla’s appointment is particularly important given that Loudoun County is now reviewing its Comprehensive Plan through the Envision Loudoun process.

The Blue Ridge Leader reached out to Supervisor Buffington and asked what criteria he used for his selection, and as of the publication deadline, he has not responded. But on the Tony Buffington, Blue Ridge Supervisor Facebook page he stated the following: “Congratulations to Mr. Tom Priscilla for having been sworn in as Blue Ridge District Planning Commissioner for Loudoun County! As a long time western Loudoun resident, former Purcellville Town Councilman, former Purcellville Planning Commissioner, and certified Planner by trade, Tom is well qualified for the position and I look forward to working with him to ensure the rural, historic, and scenic character of western Loudoun County for generations to come.”

On the surface, Priscilla’s credentials are impressive, but his record reflects reckless spending, developer favor, working against the County and ignoring the citizens’ voice. For those of us who know his record, this is hardly someone who will protect “western Loudoun County for generations to come.”




Big Decisions Ahead for O’Toole Property

Packie Crown of Bowman Consulting presented her company’s conceptual architectural design proposal for the rezoning of the O’Toole property at the Jan. 17 Board of Architectural Review.

The O’Toole property was annexed into the Town of Purcellville in 2008 by the previous Lazaro Town Council. Located at the southeast corner of Rt. 287 and Business Rt. 7, near the traffic circle on Main Street, the property consists of two lots totaling 12.46 acres. When under County zoning, the property had one residence on it. Now under Purcellville’s control, the property is zoned Transition X – and located within the Historic Corridor Overlay District. A portion of the site is also located within the minor flood plain – a Federal Emergency Management Agency flood zone.

Through Bowman Consulting, the owner of the property is asking for one of the most dense zonings – MC – Mixed Use Commercial, to consist of 72,000 square feet of commercial, to include restaurants, retail offices, an assisted living facility, and a three-story hotel.

Access to this site would be from the existing entrance on Business Rt. 7, with a secondary entrance from the Southern Collector Road. A memo from the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Transportation stated, “It should be noted that most of the left-outs from the site are turning right at the roundabout after crossing two opposing lanes of traffic, and then weaving through two lanes in a short distance, which would create not only congestion but safety problems as well.”

In addition to potential traffic safety problems, water resources are also being raised as a concern.

In a memo to the Purcellville Planning staff, Purcellville Capital Projects and Engineering Manager Dale Lehnig said, “Although the mass balance for water shows that using a peak factor of 1.2, there is sufficient water, the Town will need to work towards developing additional water sources. With the addition of the O’Toole property, the Town is at 93-95 percent capacity.”

Town Council Member Nedim Ogelman, the liaison to the BAR said, “I just want to make clear for the record that this review of architectural design for a mixed use commercial complex with a three-story hotel on the O’Toole property is happening before the Town Council has even considered the rezoning necessary to pursue this project. So, there have been no public hearings, no votes on this proposed rezoning.”

Town Planner Daniel Galindo said that it’s a good idea for the applicant to get an idea for the design guidelines before the project could be approved, and the Town has allowed for pre-submission meetings. Ogelman’s responded by saying, “The exercise at the BAR seems to put the cart before the horse. I am not sure it’s right for taxpayer dollars to spend all the time that you are spending on this. This discussion is based on the assumption that there is going to be a rezoning. There need to be public hearings. There needs to be input from citizens. There need to be deliberations on that part of the discussion … I would suggest that you be selective on hearing these things before they are approved or denied. I am thinking about our Town’s resources.”




Grief and Greed

By Matthew Parse

What would drive a single individual to cause so much emotional stress and financial burden on hundreds, if not, thousands of families? What would drive the Town of Purcellville to do the same? The answer is simple and most likely you already know the answer; however, please keep reading.

The purpose of this editorial is to draw attention to proposed, multiple large-scale developments on the northern border of Purcellville; specifically, Purcellville Crossroads and Warner Brook. The need to draw attention to these developments is critical, as they will have a negative impact on the entire Northern Virginia region and beyond. The Town of Purcellville is making decisions that are irreversible – with no analysis of the impacts, positive or negative. The only report on the impacts is one based upon the developer’s analysis … the developer’s point of view.

Negative Impacts – Financial Burden
Existing Town businesses will be negatively impacted due to the limited number of potential customers in our geographic region. History has repeatedly shown, throughout the world, that development outside of a Central Business District has dire financial consequences to the original town. As a local example, downtown Leesburg businesses regularly struggle to keep pace with the surrounding developments.

Homes directly adjacent to these developments have and will lose substantial value. A good example of the impacts can be found within the town itself. The homes next to Chick-fil-A once looked out at a beautiful farm, now experience the loud speaker of a two lane drive-thru. Property values are difficult to calculate, but a quick check of assessments shows an almost 30 percent decrease in value from when the project changed to a drive through fast food restaurant.

Home values in the Town of Purcellville will also be negatively impacted because of the additional traffic. Wise potential buyers will quickly realize how bad the traffic is getting into town, which can exceed 15 minutes.

Quality of life. Purcellville is still a small town. Purcellville is still rural. Purcellville is still unique. We don’t need another strip center like the ones we already have in the town’s CBDs.

Negative Impacts – Traffic
Purcellville Crossroads’ proposed plan has 74 homes, and 75,000 square feet of retail, entertainment, hotel space and more. There has been no traffic study, but the estimate that was provided is over 6,000 additional trips per day on St. Francis Court, which intersects with Rt. 287 directly across from the John Deere tractor facility. This intersection is already well beyond capacity with no land to expand the road. An additional constraint in this area is the W&OD trail, which has proven to have a powerful voice when the trail’s route has needed to be modified.

No VDOT consultation. The Town of Purcellville has not consulted with VDOT about the impacts of these projects. I have personally worked with VDOT and can state with experience that VDOT has a lengthy and rigorous process for any road changes. Even the possibility of the developments is in question because of the road configuration at the aforementioned intersection might not meet VDOT standards.

Negative Impacts – School enrollment 
Loudoun Valley High School and Woodgrove High School are nearing maximum capacity. The Town has not even factored in the repercussions of the Mayfair development, which consists of 262 homes that range from 3-7 bedrooms.   Parents that have children in middle and elementary school should be very concerned.  

Negative Impacts – Increased Taxes
Statistics show that residential development and the taxes that are generated from new homes do not pay for the services needed. The demographic profile of families moving to Loudoun County/Purcellville is typically young, and the average cost to send one child through school is over $12,000 per year. As an example, I have 5 children. The cost to Loudoun County is approximately $60,000 per year, yet I pay less than $7,000 in taxes.

Infrastructure needs. There has been no study analyzing the Town’s ability to provide utilities to existing consumers, newly processed developments (Mayfair and Catoctin Corner), the undeveloped land within the current Town’s boundary, and the additional ones out of town now being contemplated. The cost of building the infrastructure to support these developments will be shared by all citizens of Purcellville.

Positive Impacts
The potential positive impacts of the developments have only been defined by the developers. The Town of Purcellville has absolutely no idea if there are any positive impacts to the citizenry because there has been no detailed financial analysis. This will grow the town – we all know, but will it benefit current residents? Do the current residents of the Town and Western Loudoun County want more development?
The answer to the questions … Greed! Greed of several individuals and the Town. Why is it acceptable for several individuals and the Town to cause so much emotional stress and financial burden? Fortunately, I do not have an answer because I do not understand the complete lack of caring, research, planning, and common sense. I encourage the residents of Purcellville and beyond to ask this question to the Town Council of Purcellville and Loudoun County’s Board of Supervisors.

Matthew Parse is a long-term resident of Loudoun County. He holds 2 degrees in Geography with Urban Planning and is a former member of the Hillsboro Town Council.




Good Government Reinforces the Family – Another Perspective

By Malcolm Baldwin

Who can disagree with the title to Dave LaRock’s September article in the Blue Ridge Journal – “Good Government Reinforces the Family”? But sadly he largely misunderstands what government has done and ought to do for such reinforcement. Many of his prescriptions would harm families while others would forestall any improvement in family conditions. His conclusions become more puzzling because he states, without any supporting data (as usual) that “poverty, social welfare programs, drug abuse and poor health are some of the many hardships” connected with family failures caused by government.

Of course poverty and unemployment strain every family they touch. Should we therefore do away with social welfare programs – unemployment insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start and the Earned Income Tax Credit, subsidized housing, job training programs, drug treatment programs, Pell Grants for college students and free public school lunches (and breakfasts) – that clearly alleviate poverty and improve conditions for the children LaRock so clearly encourages us all to produce?

Dave LaRock would, we know, like to eliminate Obamacare, just as he has voted against its program to extend Medicaid to 400,000 Virginia citizens who are uninsured, despite available federal funding. How do families benefit from this denial of medical insurance? He ignores the fact that the Census Bureau reported in mid-September that the number of people without health insurance dropped last year by 8.8 million, to a total of 33 million, thanks to Obamacare. How can that not strengthen families and improve lives of children, adults and the elderly?

Good government strengthens families if it provides child care to hard-pressed mothers and fathers who must both work for a living. Public education helps those who cannot afford, as Mr. LaRock apparently can, to have one spouse stay at home to provide home schooling. School choice can be provided through charter and magnet schools, such as Loudoun’s Academy of Science. Good government would also provide full-day kindergarten and support birth control services that poor families seek who cannot afford a family of six or seven children, like Mr. LaRock’s. Good government should provide paid family and medical leave, but, as Senator Bernie Sanders noted when speaking to Liberty College students, the U.S. is “the only major country on Earth” that does not provide it.

The notion that families suffer from our immigration policies, as Mr. LaRock alleges, is ludicrous. Should we deport young children not born in America while their younger siblings can remain because they were born here? (Or does he adopt Donald Trump’s position that even American citizen children should be deported with their illegal immigrant parents?) Should we eliminate constitutionally guaranteed citizenship for those born here that has been a hallmark of America’s strength and diversity? Would he support the crazy notion that we spend billions, with incalculable damage to our labor force and economic output, to send back the 11 million undocumented aliens in this country? Does he understand that how much these immigrants pay in state and federal taxes? A number of studies find that immigrants pay between $90 and $140 billion a year in federal, state, and local taxes. According to Stephen Goss, chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, “Unauthorized workers are paying an estimated $13 billion a year in social security taxes and only getting around $1 billion back.” Moreover, unauthorized workers provide services to dairies, vineyards and others businesses that other Americans choose not to do.

Mr. LaRock also cites energy policies adversely affecting families! Presumably he is among the climate change deniers, or those who somehow ignore the fact that government programs to mandate increasing use of clean fuels that reduce pollution and discourage use of highly polluting protect the health of families, and children in particular. Requirements for ethanol in gasoline also support millions of farm families, and gasoline taxes pay for repairs to our increasingly decrepit roads and bridges.

Finally he offers the unsupported notion that, somehow, same-sex marriages harm all families. He, like others who espouse freedom and liberty would deny those values to others with whom he disagrees, without showing that their freedom diminishes his.

Government has, of course, always regulated marriage, for sound policy reasons (prohibiting polygamy or marrying one’s close relatives). That the Supreme Court has decreed that same sex marriage is a Constitutional right is a holding that Mr. LaRock chooses to ignore because he would impose upon all his narrow belief that this somehow will “undermine the traditional family.” Mr. LaRock’s family and those who believe as he does, will not suffer from others’ same-sex marriages, but countless children raised in loving homes with same-sex parents will benefit from family stability.

Good government works to promote equal opportunity in America that will give all individuals, and their families, the ability to maintain their health, to obtain an education, to find rewarding employment, to establish relationships of their choosing, and to express their religious and political views freely. With today’s growing wealth inequality, drug abuse, and an overcrowded prison system that all require attention, additional government efforts – with some reforms to improve effectiveness – are much needed. What we need in Richmond is a legislature that understands that.




Getting Purcellville Out of the Conflicts of Interest Trap

Three Virginia laws address openness in government: the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (VFOIA), The Virginia Public Records Act (VPRA) and The Virginia State & Local Government Conflict of Interests Act (VCOIA).

VFOIA guides how public bodies conduct their meetings and regulates access to government records. VPRA establishes basic rules about what constitutes a public record and what the government’s responsibility towards that record is. VCOA regulates how involved a government official may be in an item being considered in their official duties if he or she has a financial interest in that item.

Locally, Virginia’s conflict of interest law has garnered much attention in recent months as weeks as Purcellville grapples with major zoning change proposals. It’s time to make these conflicts transparent to the public, and get Purcellville out of the conflicts of interest trap.

Is The BZA Compromised?

On June 9, the Purcellville Town Council appointed former Purcellville mayor and attorney Eric Zimmerman to the town’s Board of Zoning Appeals. The 4-2-1 vote saw Mayor Kwasi Fraser and town council member Karen Jimmerson voting against Zimmerman’s appointment, with council members Doug McCollum, Ben Packard, Joan Lehr and Patrick McConville voting yes, and John Nave abstaining.
Fraser and Jimmerson’s no votes focused on Zimmerman’s potential conflict of interest regarding local businesswoman Mary Ellen Stover’s challenge to the Vineyard Square project.

A week after his appointment, it was disclosed that Zimmerman is the attorney for one of the parties that has a substantial financial interest in Vineyard Square, meaning that, Zimmerman would, in effect, serve as the attorney for a Vineyard Square investor and a member of the BZA as it heard Stover’s legal challenge.

During his interview for the post, in responding to a question from town council member Karen Jimmerson about “Having close relationships with developers, people in land use” while Zimmerman noted at the time that “obviously if I’ve represented that party any time in the recent time, I would recuse myself … “ he did not mention the Vineyard Square connection and his representation of one of the note holders, accepting the BZA post anyway.

Zimmerman went on to remove himself as representative of one of the Vineyard Square note holders – but only after the attorney confirmed it was a conflict of interest.

In another appeal to the BZA, Rogan, Miller, Zimmerman, PLLC is the legal representative of James Alfred and Barbara T. Mason for a commercial occupancy permit on behalf of Green Acres. Zimmerman was required to recuse himself on this appeal as well.

Serving Two Masters

As reported in a recent Blue Ridge Leader, Town Council member Patrick McConville has served the town of Purcellville for many years. However, McConville recently accepted a position at Bowman Consulting, a company with several major development projects/proposals under consideration by the Purcellville Planning Commission and Town Council, including the Purcellville Crossroads annexation, Vineyard Square, the Cottages at 32nd Street, and the 262-unit residential Autumn Hill Mayfair development to name a few.

We reprint Mr. McConville’s recent financial disclosure letter in full:

“On tonight’s agenda is a report from the Town’s Community Development Department regarding the Purcellville Crossroads Annexation application, for which the applicant is Pleasants Kline, LLC, and an item concerning approval of the Meter Size and Availability Fees for the Vineyard Square project, for which the applicant is Chapman Group LC.

As I announced at our Council meeting on June 9, 2015, I have accepted full-time employment as a Land Survey Technician with Bowman Consulting Group. Bowman provides engineering and consulting services, which may include survey work, to Pleasants Kline LLC concerning the Purcellville Crossroads Annexation application, and to Chapman Group LC, concerning the Vineyard Square Project.
Because of my position as a Member of Town Council, I do not, and will not, personally work on the Purcellville Crossroads Annexation application or the Vineyard Square application, nor will I work for Bowman on any project within the jurisdictional limits of the Town of Purcellville.

I am fully committed first and foremost to serving the interests of the citizens of Purcellville. I am confident in my ability to participate fairly, objectively, and in the public interest in the Purcellville Crossroads Annexation application and the Vineyard Square application, as well as in other land development applications for which Bowman provides its consulting services. For these reasons, I plan to participate as a Council Member in those discussions and decisions.
Thank you.”

Who Is Representing The Citizens?

Small town politics is bound to involve elected officials, neighbors and business owners who know each other, work together, and do their part to weigh in on the big-picture issues facing the community’s future.
But, at some point, the process needs to be opened up. At some point the playing filed needs to be leveled so that everyone’s interests are defended.

Purcellville is at a crossroads with respect to how get out of the special interests trap. Citizens need to be given the power to take their community back.




How Did We Get Here And How Do We Get Out?? A Summary Of Purcellville’s Sewer Debt And Strategic Solutions

– By Kwasi Fraser, Mayor of Purcellville

Many of our fellow citizens are baffled by the proposed increase in our already high water and sewer rates, and not just about the increase that was proposed for the Fiscal Year 2016 but also about the proposed increases over the next nine years. This quote from one of our citizens to a council member sums up the shock and frustration of many, “You mean to tell me if I’m still living in Purcellville ten years from now I could have a water bill for over $600 dollars.” Well, if we continue with yearly compounded increases, a $600 bill will become a reality, but there are alternative strategies. Before presenting alternative solutions to address our water and sewer rates, I owe it to our citizens to at least explain the situation.

In 2008, the town council approved the upgrades and expansion of Purcellville’s Basham Simms Wastewater Treatment Facility. The upgrades and expansion were to address the following:

Compliance with the Department of Environmental Quality 2005 Chesapeake Bay Clean Air and Water Act mandate on nutrient limits.

Future anticipated growth of Purcellville resulting in increasing demand for wastewater treatment.

The upgrades and expansion totaled an estimated $30.5 million, with $24.9 million from a Virginia Resources Authority Bond, $5.2 million from a Water Quality Improvement Fund Grant, $286,400 from a Bank of America Bond, and $105,500 from cash.

As shown in Table 1, prior to the upgrades and expansion to the Basham Simms Wastewater Treatment Facility in 2010, the treatment capacity was 1 million gallons per day (MGD) with average actual treatment of 504,000 gallons per day (GD) or 50 percent of the total treatment capacity at that time. At completion of the plant in 2010, the treatment capacity increased to 1.5 MGD with average actual treatment of 528,000 GD. In 2014, with an estimated population of 7,975 residents, the average actual treatment was 601,000 GD, which was just 40 percent of the total treatment capacity.

The fifth column on Table 1 shows how many more treated gallons per day the plant can support before requiring additional upgrade or expansion. This further illustrates how much population growth the existing plant can support before needing an upgrade or expansion.

kwasitable1

In 2014, with an estimated population of 7,975, along with business and institutional users generating 601,000 GD treatment, the plant could have treated an additional 500,000 GD before requiring an upgrade. This is the reason why some individuals estimate that our wastewater treatment plant can easily support all of the surrounding smaller towns whose combined population is less than 2,500 individuals with a smaller business and institutional base.

This brings us to our current state. With the combined water and sewer debt of $41.6 million, as shown in Table 2, and not having enough users to consume the significant excess capacity at the wastewater facility, our estimated 2015 population of 8,200 residents, schools, and businesses are left to service that debt.

kwasitable2

In our fiscal year 2016 budget workshops, two of our council members strongly advocated increasing the water rate by 3 percent and the sewer rate by 5 percent. Their reasoning was that the decreases that were made last year set us back and the increases will bring us back in line and enable us to ensure more funds will be available to address the future Utility Enterprise Debt Service including the balloon payment in 2021 as shown in Figure 1.

kwasifigure1

Our consultant, based on their water and sewer rate models, recommended that we make no increases in Fiscal Year 2016, but a 3 percent increase in water rates for each of the next nine years, a 5 percent increase in sewer rates in the next three years and 4 percent in each of the subsequent six years. I agreed with our consultant not to increase the rate this year, to give our citizens and businesses a break from the prior years of significant increases in water and sewer, while implementing initiatives to bring in outside revenue to service the debt.

One such initiative is the pilot program to sell our excess water to out-of-town companies, which I anticipate will result in $130,000 in revenue over the next 12 months. My goal was to use this additional revenue to go towards both water and sewer funds, but our accounting policy will not allow for any of that money to go towards the sewer fund since it is generated from just the sale of water. Due to that accounting restriction the revenue will be going towards the water debt alone and as such I voted for no increase in water and a 5 percent in sewer. I firmly believe we should not pursue any reduction if there is not a clear way to pay for it.

The 5 percent increase in sewer goes back to not being allowed to use any of the estimated $130,000 of new water revenue towards the sewer fund and the significant debt burden from our sewer plant and its excess capacity. My commitment to the citizens of Purcellville is that we will pursue initiatives to generate new revenue sources to reduce our significant sewer debt. One such strategy that is being evaluated is the lease or sale of underperforming real estate assets in and around the vicinity of the waste water treatment plant. This initiative may result in significant revenue that will go a long way in reducing our debt and relieving our taxpayers from the burden of substantial rate increases.




It’s Time We Invest in Public Education

By Chuck Hedges

Delegate David LaRock believes in school choice. So do I. Delegate David LaRock is concerned about children with special needs. So am I. But that’s where our agreement ends.

I have worked with children with special needs for some two years. I know the joy that comes with offering an effective program for these children. For 95 percent of the children in Loudoun, Clark and Frederick counties, the best – indeed, the only – opportunity for children to learn, grow and thrive is through strong public schools. That is why our citizens and taxpayers need to place their highest priority on ensuring that public schools are well funded and that they offer all children – including those with special needs—the services and learning opportunities they need and deserve. The 17 percent reduction in the state’s education budget since 2009 must come to an end.

School choice can and should be expanded within the public schools—and there is evidence that that is already happening. Loudoun County needs—and in some areas is already beginning—to expand services for special-needs kids, as well as offerings of magnet schools, charter schools, special permission for families to enroll their children in schools of their choice outside their assigned districts (space permitting), and enhanced STEM (and even STEAM, with the addition of the arts) programs. Similar efforts are underway in Clarke and Frederick counties. Quality full-day kindergarten must be offered to all of our children.

Del. LaRock introduced a bill last year to award parents tax credits for opting out of the public schools in favor of private and home-schooled education. It went nowhere in the House of Delegates, but this year LaRock tried again, this time focusing the tax credits on special-needs children. In an opinion piece published simultaneously by both Leesburg Today and the Blue Ridge Leader, he cites cases in Lynchburg and unnamed other Virginia jurisdictions where children with autism were treated unduly harshly. One should certainly condemn such actions, but there is no indication that such cases are the norm in the state, or in Loudoun, Clark or Frederick Counties.

Most importantly, however, LaRock’s bill would do little or nothing significant to help such children or their parents because the value of the tax credits proposed is miniscule relative to the cost of private education. Nor is home schooling a low-cost solution available to many parents, because so many families rely on two incomes to make ends meet, and thus cannot consider the home schooling option.

What we need is full funding for our public schools and a strong mandate and financial support for excellence in services to all children, including those with special needs. And that is exactly what I plan to work for when elected to the 33rd District in the Virginia House of Delegates, replacing David LaRock.

Chuck Hedges and his wife Betty have lived in Lovettsville for 15 years.  They have two sons and five grandchildren.  Hedges is running to represent the 33rd in the House of Delegates.




Special Needs Children vs Special Interests

By Delegate Dave LaRock

This past week, I read that a Lynchburg, Virginia, middle school student with autism was found guilty of disorderly conduct and felony assault of a school resource officer– for knocking over a trash can and then pushing the officer who was trying to restrain him.

During this past session in Richmond, the legislature passed a bill that would require the Virginia Board of Education to adopt statewide regulations on seclusion and restraint of pupils. Legislators heard testimony from dozens of parents about harrowing examples of children being physically restrained for acting up. One parent told about how their autistic child was locked in a closet for hours for offenses like tearing paper and banging on the door. Another special needs child was literally locked in what the school called a “scream room,” a concrete room with metal doors and a fan the staff would turn on to drown out the sound of screams. This child’s hand was broken when the staff slammed the door shut on him.

The truth is that many special needs children simply do not do well in the public school they are assigned, and even though they don’t do well, they are stuck there.

This past session, I proposed a bill that would give school choice in the form of a Parental Choice Savings Account to special needs kids in Virginia (and save the Commonwealth and school districts money at the same time). The bill proposed giving parents the option of taking control of their child’s education. It passed the House with bipartisan support and came within one vote of passing the Senate.

We cannot turn our backs on the kids who are stuck in a system that is failing them. Our lieutenant governor cast the deciding vote against school choice for special needs kids, siding with special interest groups like the Virginia School Boards Association and the Virginia Education Association. These groups reject any proposal that allows dollars to follow a child. They see it as a direct threat to what they consider their turf.

The tug of war between parents and the education bureaucracy can leave special needs kids in a bad place, as with the 11-year-old from Lynchburg.

Recently, I met with a father from Purcellville who has tried every possible avenue to get his autistic daughter the education she needs before she ages out of the public school system. He and his wife have appealed at all levels and won, but little has changed as to how his daughter is treated. Litigation, which he cannot afford, is the only option left. I asked him what success for his daughter would look like and his answer was simple; success would simply be learning to be self-sufficient and avoid being institutionalized for her adult life; the latter would impose costs on the public far beyond the cost of educating this child.

Christy, a mom from Frederick County, had this to say when asked if a Parental Choice Education Account would help her: “We are facing an epidemic of treating and educating children on the spectrum. The public schools cannot handle it and either they deny services, provide inadequate IEP’s (Individual Education Plan) to get the student through the system, or frustrate the parents enough that they seek alternative ways to educate their children.” Christy went on to say, “Having my son’s educational resources at my fingertips could allow me to seek a specialized private school setting.”

School choice for special needs children will help by opening up an alternative to dangerous, often violent cycles of behavior and response. School choice is a long-term solution to the real problem at hand. Next year, I hope we’ll succeed with this program and protect special needs kids, not special interests.




May 2015 Cartoon

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Par Three in Purcellville

By Nick Pelchar

The Town of Purcellville has a tremendous opportunity to provide recreation, the reclamation of used water, the recharge of town wells, increase revenue and to lessen environmental impacts on Catoctin Creek with a par three golf course.

Proffers from the annexations of Locust Grove (1992) and Hirst Farm (2001) resulted in town ownership of 50.4 acres of land bounded by Route 611, including approximately 22 acres housing the Basham Simms Wastewater Plant and the maintenance facility. The remaining 28 acres and its topography lends itself to a great site for a 9 or 10-hole par three golf course.

Sometime in 2003, I walked this land with a golf course architect who told me there was plenty of space for this concept.

Over the past 10 years, municipalities in the American west and south have been using reclaimed water for reuse as irrigation for their own or private golf courses. Places in Texas are recycling their reclaimed water for potable use.

Because of the close proximity to our own reclaimed water, pond sites on the higher elevation of the 28 acres could be constructed, allowing for gravity-fed irrigation of the course and drain field recharging of town wells. Pumping our reclaimed water to the ponds could act as golf course hazards such as a sand trap, and lessen the impact of releasing this water into Catoctin Creek. Purcellville can begin its use of reclaimed water like Naples, Florida, which waters its golf courses and beautiful streetscapes in this way.

This would be the only par three course in Loudoun County, and it will get plenty of play – with revenue to help pay for the course and wastewater plant. This new amenity will raise the value of our homes in Purcellville, increase business activity and attract tourism. Purcellville could be the first place in Virginia to use reclaimed water for its golf course.

For fourteen years we have made no improvements on the 28 acres, and it produces no revenue or recreation. This project deserves serious consideration, and I hope the Purcellville Town Council will explore the request.

Perhaps a joint effort with Loudoun County or the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority would be a good solution. There might be grants available, or perhaps a public/private partnership. Revenue generated by could eventually help replace the need for available funds to hold down sewer/ water rates. More children will have the opportunity to discover golf and seniors can enjoy the sport. Purcellville’s value as a community would be increased.

Nick Pelchar served on the Purcellville Town Council from 2002 to 2006.




Special Opinion: Should Loudoun Bring Back the Drug Court?

By Robert Ohneiser

In 2012, the Board of Supervisors (BOS) eliminated funding for the Loudoun County Drug Court. Supervised and administered by Loudoun County Circuit Court judges, Drug Court gave serious drug offenders the option of entering an intensive rehabilitation program as an alternative to trial, under the condition that they submit to frequent drug testing, appear in court weekly for at least one year and meet other stringent financial and employment criteria. Drug Court detractors cited the program’s low graduation rate as the reason why funding should be eliminated, while proponents of the program, including judges Burke McCaHill and Thomas Horne described it as, not only the most intensive form of supervision in Virginia’s criminal justice system, but potentially life changing – even for repeat offenders who failed to complete the program.

So, should the Drug Court be brought back? And, if so, in what form?

The answer to the first question is yes. Loudoun County and its citizens should minimize the high cost of incarceration for all victimless crimes especially young adult drug possession offenders. We should no longer condone the waging of such an ineffective battle against the human toll that repeat offenders – including substance abusers – visit on themselves, our families and our roads.
On the second question, my vision is that the commonwealth attorney – our jurisdiction’s top legal officer – be put in charge of designing, managing and securing funding for a refocused and revitalized Drug Court, in cooperation our county’s sherriff’s and probation’s departments, judges, the clerk of the court and the public. The Drug Court should also be reorganized to include alcohol-related addictions and victimless offenses.

When the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors eliminated funding for the Drug Court it made the proverbial mistake of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” going back to the old way of doing things without taking responsibility for the recidivism and enormous public safety problems the Drug Court was designed to address.

Criminality is a term loosely used to justify punishment. Those of us who have been wronged by others – including persons driving under the influence of alcohol – tend to have a harsher view of the punishment the person should receive. Both from a family perspective – my brother died due to an alcohol-related auto accident – and as a criminal defense lawyer, I understand both sides of the criminality and punishment debate.

Some of my clients are veterans with numerous military honors, yet the court system does little to assist them with drug and alcohol-related problems other than cutting down their punishment and forgiving a bit of jail time in exchange for participating in AA. When there is no victim, why do we choose to punish a Loudoun resident who is more an addict than a criminal? And, when there is a victim, why do we so easily trade away a just punishment?

And, let’s think outside the box. If we are serious about stopping drunk driving, why not consider having our Sheriff’s Department detain drunk drivers outside of bars … rather than randomly pulling citizens over if they are driving a few miles over the speed limit? Isn’t that really where the issue of profiling is most obvious?

I believe we need to take drunk drivers off the road, period – regardless of how we handle their rehabilitation or punishment. Wouldn’t Loudoun benefit by having a reputation that it has no tolerance for drunk driving? Does anyone believe we have that reputation now?

In addition to looking more closely at the issue of crime and punishment – and how to set up a system that rewards personal responsibility as a tool for encouraging recovery – I am looking for a Drug Court more focused on young adults. I think there is far more relevance and effectiveness in a program which helps an addicted person before it becomes their chosen way of life. How many times have we seen this prosecutor allow police charges against a young person to stand even though the evidence would never pass court muster? Do we really want to send messages to our young adults that the system is based on a “gotcha” mechanism followed by expensive plea bargaining instead of a caring community that expects responsibility yet understands reality – and is willing to help the individual address underlying conditions such as depression, for example.

Loudoun needs to address the related issue of negative budget impacts on mental health support services as well. Mental health support services and drug and alcohol offences are two sides of the same coin.

If the Nancy Reagan approach of “Just Say No” actually worked, we wouldn’t see so much addiction and associated crime, would we? Let’s reopen up the discussion and bring back a better Drug Court.

Robert Ohneiser is a former Loudoun County School Board member and current candidate for commonwealth attorney. He can be reached at ohneiserlaw@gmail.com, 703-729-3735. (ohneiserlaw.com.s3-website-us-east.1.amazonaws.com/)




Who Is In Charge Here?

Five Questions The Public Should Ask Purcellville About Town Zoning And Development

In different periods of American history state, local and the Federal governments have considered it easier to proceed with the business of governing without the involvement of the governed.

All levels of government have in place rules about how government officials, commissions, legislatures, agencies and the like are required to act in relationship to the people they represent.

Due to the huge amounts of money involved in the decisions local governments make with respect to zoning and development, these calculations are at particular risk for being made out of sight of the public.

In Purcellville, citizens have been effectively shut out of the planning process, sometimes in blatant ways and sometimes in more subtle ways for years. The problem is coming to a head right now as the town council and the planning commission debate a series of massive re-zonings that would open the door to, among other things, the development of dense residential and commercial “mini communities” … floating zoning districts that could go anywhere – near an established residential community, in an historic overlay district, in places where most of the surrounding land is zoned for agriculture/ rural development.

Many members of the town council, including Joan Lehr have argued that the public is always invited to participate when zoning issues like this are discussed. But, basically, they say, the public doesn’t show up, and so the process goes on – with or without the public’s support.

This is the very definition of a town planning process gone amuck. And, this is particularly true when the zoning changes being proposed conflict with the town’s Comprehensive Plan.

Here are five questions the public should put to the Purcellville Town Council and Purcellville Planning Commission to get things back on track.

Question 1: How Does The Comprehensive Plan Relate To Zoning Regulations?

Purcellville’s Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 2006, based upon an intensive period of design and planning activity. Organizers sought and succeeded in getting broad participation in a series of very public input sessions, hearings and presentations.

The formal Town Comprehensive Plan was then adopted, complete with the zoning regulations designed to implement the plan.

Today, given the mounting pressure from property owners, developers and others to make major changes to the zoning regulations that implement the plan, Mayor Kwasi Fraser, along with Town Council member Karen Jimmerson are in favor of an immediate and thorough comp plan review. Both campaigned as change agents – elected officials intent on challenging the status quo, which had, over time, reduced the public’s influence over town zoning changes. Both want zoning changes to take place only after such a review is completed, with the full participation of the public.

Said Mayor Fraser during a recent town council session, “I [recently] attended the town sponsored 83rd Certified Planning Commission Program (CPCP) in Richmond … [The program reinforced for me that] a fundamental flaw exists in our current approach to the zoning use changes in absence of a revised Comprehensive Plan … the Comprehensive Plan was referred to as the ‘bible’ and guide … [and] Tonight, in fairness to the citizens who have appointed us to serve them, I must state that our planning commission’s current approach contradicts the Planning Commission Program’s dictates and must be stopped now if we are to meet the needs of our citizens.”

The CPCP is the most thorough and comprehensive tutorial of its kind, covering the zoning law principles that guide a municipality’s planning practices. It is designed to inform public officials – including town staff and elected leaders – of the “hows and whys” of handling the matters, requests and conflicts that come before a planning commission. The goal? Confirm the techniques that make zoning decisions and other actions taken by planning commissions, staff and towns both legally defensible and compatible with a municipality’s duly debated and adopted comprehensive plan.

Question 2: How Do The Various Zoning Changes Being Proposed Relate To The Opportunities For Citizen Input?

Individuals and corporations investing in land in a town such as Purcellville first and foremost seek maximum return on their investment, which means going for the greatest density – the maximum number of units a zoning district allows per acre, and the most profitable use given the market – adding commercial to a residentially zoned property, for example.

This push/pull – where a particular property is zoned for 50 houses and the developer wants to build 100 – is not unusual. But, the way the Purcellville Planning Commission and Town Council have approached the potential conflict between what citizens expect and developers want, is still wrong. As previously reported:

At a planning commission meeting in January, developer and attorney Mark Nelis asked to change the town’s “big box ordinance” to allow buildings up to 30,000 or 40,000 square feet vs. the 10,000 square feet currently allowed. He also asked that the zoning limits on restaurant size be increased from 4,000 feet to 10,000 feet.

At this same meeting, developer John Chapman asked that minimum acreage for PDH districts (Planned Development Housing) be reduced from 10 acres to 5 acres. He made this request to help maximize his return on a specific property he owns along Hirst Road, which is currently zoned for CM-1 zoning/office light industrial.

Both the size limits that apply to big box stores and restaurants – which address the appropriateness of large scale national chains, and the acreage limits that apply to PDH districts are zoning regulations written to deliver on the public’s intent to maintain Purcellville’s small town feel and create distinctions between residential and commercial areas. However, should changes to the PDH districts be approved in the manner proposed, the most that the citizens would get would be two brief hearings – one at the planning commission level and one at the town council level.

Most members of the town council and planning commission – siding with developers – are pushing to have such issues dealt with quickly. The public will have some input, but the question of whether zoning changes conflict with the comp plan – and they do- will never be addressed. Nelis in fact has previously asked the planning commission to effectively eliminate special use permits, also his clients do not want to have to apply for a comprehensive plan amendment nor a zoning use amendment, both of which have much more rigorous public input requirements.

This is what Mayor Fraser was referring to when he said that “a fundamental flaw exists in our current approach to the zoning use changes in absence of a revised Comprehensive Plan … “

Question 3: What Other Development Projects Have Weakened The Citizen-Driven Comprehensive Plan?

The most striking example of a project whose approval is in stark contrast to the comp plan is the yet to be built Vineyard Square complex in historic downtown Purcellville.

As previously reported, Vineyard Square is an approximately 100,000 sq. ft. mixed-use residential/commercial project, complete with underground and above ground parking to be located in the heart of the Purcellville Historic District. A highly valued area, the district is within Purcellville’s Historic Corridor Overlay District and is also on the National Register of Historic Places, the Virginia Landmarks Registry, and the U.S. Historic Districts listing.

The comprise to the citizens’ intent as reflected in the comp plan was the move by the Lazaro Administration, in 2008, to rezone the property, giving the Vineyard Square developers (John Chapman and Mark Nelis) “by right” permission to move forward with a mixed-use residential/ commercial project at this site.

As former councilman Karl Phillips said at the time, “What came out of the charrette was protecting the historic buildings and historic character of that part of town. There was never a mention of dramatic or otherwise increases in height.” Countered Mayor Lazaro years later – defending the project, “We have put this zoning in place to see [Vineyard Square] occur …”

As town council member Karen Jimmerson previously noted, “If you give someone carte blanche zoning, you are sanctioning his or her ability to disregard the integrity of the property, the character of the town, and the voting rights of which people have a say about what transpires in and around their community. ..[this is] similar to back room Washington D.C. deals in which lobbyists write laws that benefit them and then Congressmen submit and vote to approve these laws. Purcellville’s zoning in recent years seems to benefit the developers and not the community as a whole, and this sets a terrible precedent for this town and our reputation.”

Question 4: Where Do Other Zoning Professionals, And Purcellville’s Leadership Stand On The Level Of Public Input Needed?

At least one high level court – the Oregon Supreme Court – has ruled that since a city had adopted a plan, it was required to zone in accordance with that plan. A plan, said the court, as a constitutional document for land-use planning, is superior to zoning regulations.

Purcellville Planning Commissioner Nedim Ogelman, agrees. In a recent memo to the Town Council Ogelman said: “… I disagree with the decision making process we on the Planning Commission are pursuing with respect to sweeping changes to zoning uses – mostly [by] adding significant by-right uses because we are excluding most citizens from parts of a process that could dramatically alter town development… ” Ogelman went on to say: “Citizens should know that we are in the process of proposing sweeping changes … These by-right use changes would limit the ability of Purcellville residents to shape, control, or drive future development and would give limited special interests a blank check to dramatically alter the character and feel of Purcellville … [they] are tantamount to rezoning at best and de-zoning at worst [and] do not ring true to the vision outlined in the Comprehensive Plan to value the town’s ‘natural beauty, its history and tradition, and its home town feel, … to ‘strive to sustain and enhance the quality of life in Purcellville by reflecting on the unique aspects of the Town’s location, history, and people’ … “

In a recent letter to the editor in this newspaper town council member Ben Packard, who has also served on the Planning Commission challenged the notion that the public was being excluded from zoning decisions saying, “ … all planning commission recommendations and council consideration thereof have been, and will be, open to citizen comment before recommendation or action…” He later said, “We will take it to public hearing and see what happens.”

Council member Doug McCollum, who also serves on the Planning Commission downplays the significance of the changes being made, saying “The [current] set of uses are outdated, and don’t make a whole lot of sense … “ McCollum gave the example of how in one district auto repair is allowed, but lawn mower or boat repairs are not. However, the zoning changes being proposed are clearly more consequential than whether it is logical to allow auto repair businesses in an area, but not lawn mower or boat repair.

Said Mayor Fraser at the January town council meeting, “After listening to the audio discussion of the last Planning Commission meeting, I [see that] … clarification from this Council to the Planning Commissioners is clearly needed. This Town Council has never voted to direct you to continue with this two-year effort regarding the zoning use changes. What should be occurring is directing all of our resources to complete the Comprehensive Plan review and then to approach the zoning use changes in an assessed and managed fashion with full citizen engagement and participation. This is not about stopping government, as some of my esteemed council members might suggest … I view our current path as directionless, and I urge my fellow council members to apply the brakes tonight to zoning use changes and to … engage our citizens in the process to review the Comprehensive Plan.”

Question 5: What Does Purcellville Intend To “Look Like” In 10 Years?

The short answer to this question is that not even the most in tuned citizen – the one that reviews the transcripts of every town council meeting, every Planning Commission session and every back and forth between developers and town staff – can be expected to understand where the town is going.

It is fair to say that few people would have expected a 100,000 square foot multi-use complex to dominate historic downtown Purcellville, or that Purcellville would be bringing into town a huge swath of land north of Rt. 7 (Autumn Hill/Mayfair).

On the issue of zoning changes vs. a comp plan review, the pendulum has been swinging for about eight months now, with local developers and developer representatives on the side of fast action, and more prudent planners pleading with all to apply the brakes.

“I have listened to many of the planning commission meetings and there has been much discussion on collapsing/combining zoning and uses as that is what they have been tasked with doing. I agree with the need to eliminate outdated uses or duplicative uses, but I am concerned when I hear discussion about rezoning an entire zoning district and the need to change zoning and uses in an area since any zoning use changes should only take place after a comprehensive review has taken place,” said Councilmember Karen Jimmerson.

In order to determine their future, the citizens must regain control of both the Comprehensive Plan and the ways in which it is implemented. For that reason, this newspaper stands firmly on the side of putting a halt to piecemeal zoning changes.




Liberty in the 21st Century

By Malcolm F. Baldwin

Our elected leaders frequently express thanks for the “blessings of liberty,” reminding us of the importance of adhering to our founding fathers’ “original intent” as expressed in the Constitution. But what, exactly, is “liberty,” and what guidance would the founders offer us in facing today’s complex issues?

Within only a few years of independence from Britain and governed by the separate and diverse authorities of the sovereign states under the Articles of Confederation, Virginia’s James Madison and George Washington (among others) expressed grave concern – especially after an uprising in Massachusetts known as Shay’s Rebellion — that the decentralized powers of the Confederation lacked coherence in economic matters and the authority to quell unrest. And so they sought to spur the development of a national government that would supersede the powers of each state in key areas, while maintaining state authority in others.

We hear a lot these days from our state leaders about “the Virginia way,” a concept not well defined that seems in practice to rely mainly on private back-room debate and deal-making among politicians as the path to decision-making on complex 21st-century issues and an era of open government never envisioned by the founders.

Perhaps Madison should be credited with the first expression of a “Virginia way” when he came to the Constitutional convention with his “Virginia Plan” that might surprise today’s state legislators: It recommended giving the federal government the power to veto any state law, and to appoint state governors – both positions well beyond what was eventually written into the Constitution. The state militias – the only military forces that existed in the 1780s after Congress disbanded Washington’s Revolutionary Army – were to be controlled by the national government. (These were, of course, the citizen militias that were later referred to in the Second Amendment as the basis for the right to bear arms.) Liberty – to Madison, Washington and the signers of the Constitution – meant measured restraints upon discordant states, their fractured financial systems, citizen rebellion and restrictions on interstate trade and commerce. Enacted after much debate and discord, the Constitution embodied compromise on many issues and failed to resolve others – including slavery – leading to ongoing struggles and the need for multiple later amendments.

Today, many vocal advocates of protecting liberty and adhering to the “original intent” of the constitutional framers invoke the views of one Virginian who declined to attend the Constitutional Convention: Patrick Henry. He is now famous mainly for “Give me liberty or give me death!” – a cry aimed specifically at freedom from the yoke of King George III. As a former governor of Virginia in 1787, Henry saw the Constitutional Convention as a dangerous step toward establishment of an American monarchy, and in 1789 he argued against ratification of the Constitution. But later he participated in drafting the 10 amendments of the Bill of Rights, and after the French Revolution he came to fear unfettered mob rule and favored John Adams and the Federalist Party against what he considered to be the dangerous states-rights resolutions of Kentucky and Virginia during the Washington administration. One wonders how many Patrick Henry devotees are aware of this interesting evolution of his positions.

What does this history mean for Virginia today as constitutional debates continue amidst pious declarations about liberty? Clearly, concepts of liberty have expanded. We at last freed the slaves with the 13th amendment, and by enacting the 14th amendment guaranteed all citizens protection from state as well as federal denial of the rights of life, liberty, property without due process and equal protection. Much later, we granted women the right to vote. Finally, with several Supreme Court cases and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, we began to make real the rights of African Americans that for a century after the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation had been barred in the South and more subtly discouraged in the North.

Today, debates about “liberty” continue to incite passions on both the left and the right over such wide-ranging issues as election finance and voting rights, health care, education, taxation, guns, environmental protection, public works, marriage equality, reproductive rights and religious expression. These issues, largely unforeseeable to our founders, evolved amid expanding knowledge, technological change, globalization and vastly increased population diversity. Addressing them requires thoughtful political leaders to engage in principled and respectful discussion of tough and complex issues, not just vague expressions of support for abstract notions of “liberty.”

In Virginia a new legislative session will soon begin, with expanding Medicaid near the top of the governor’s legislative agenda. Unlike 28 states, including eight states with Republican governors (and three more considering it), in Virginia our 33rd District Delegate David LaRock and his Republican colleagues have thus far voted against allowing 400,000 uninsured citizens the benefits of health insurance that would be largely paid for by the federal government. (In most countries – including many with far less liberty and prosperity than ours – access to basic health care is considered a fundamental human right and a public function.) Parsimonious support for public schools and Delegate LaRock’s proposed tax credits for home and private schooling families would diminish state funds available for public education. How “liberated” do daily commuters feel when our Delegate tries to reduce funding for public transportation? (Will we be visited this year once again by that big pig Mr. LaRock drove around to illustrate his opposition to Metro?) And did his support for that notorious requirement for medically unnecessary trans-vaginal ultrasounds further the liberty of our women?

Let’s put real meaning into our regard for liberty through concrete action grounded in the human values that our founders so ably began to advance more than two centuries ago. That, surely, is the “Virginia way” we should all endorse.