By Valerie Cury
The newly elected members of the Purcellville Town Council wasted no time moving forward on more open government measures and transparency measures during the month of September.
The town council voted to approved the purchase of OpenGov, a financial transparency software used by many localities in Virginia.
With the easy-to-use, collaborative, OpenGov software, citizens will be able to see how every dollar is spent. This system gives the residents the opportunity to view data, analyze charts and also track information other than budgets. Said Council Member Nedim Ogelman, “Citizens will come up with creative ideas based on looking at things and actually find savings.” Mayor Fraser said, “It is an investment in trust.”
The town will pay $26,932.50 for the software, over a three-year period.
Council also discussed doing an efficiency audit, with three different kinds of audits laid out by staff. One would be organized by the employees of each department, another would be run by staff and a commission of citizens and the third would be conducted by an outside firm.
Council Member Nedim Ogelman said, “The one word that stands out to me is independent. It has to be independent of us. I think we need to embrace and look for opportunities of improvement.”
Said Council Member Chris Bledsoe, “There is a lot of value to having an independent set of eyes on it.”
Mayor Fraser said, “The goal is to first establish a base line, and provide the entity with what the current state is and what … your major challenges [are] and how you can get to a future state. So all I am hearing from our council members is a need for us to improve. There is always room for improvement.” He continued, “From a board prospective, at least sitting as your mayor, I don’t want to be surprised again by a $400,000-dollar software. And, I don’t know what the next surprise would be. From my prospective we need to get someone that is independent, and it will be councils’ decision – it will not be the [town’s] CEO Rob Lohr’s decision. This council needs to decide if it will be an end-to-end operational audit with all of our departments, or just finance – because that’s where the buck stops.”
Real Parties In Interest
The town council moved forward with the Real Parties In Interest legislation, which requires land development applicants to disclose a list of firms, individuals and organizations – everyone – with an interest in a project. Council Member Kelli Grim has been trying to get council to pass this for over 5 years. However, it was not supported by a majority of previous councils, because it lacked support of the Purcellville Business Association – at the time PBA board member developer John Chapman said he did not want anyone to know who his investors were. RPI would require a zoning ordinance amendment, going to the Planning Commission and then Town Council.
Council Member Nedim Ogelman has been working with staff to implement what is known as POLCO – a civic-engagement platform connecting citizens and their local governments.
With POLCO, the company takes the voter roll and ensures that only verified addresses are used in town citizen involvement processes. It prevents users from creating multiple accounts and voting multiple times. “Real-time questions would be asked and the citizens would answer yes or no,” said Ogelman. “The beauty of this kind of work is … the things coming up – you have real-time feedback or close to real-time. The biggest issue is introducing it to citizens and making sure they are comfortable using it.” The monthly cost of POLCO is $100.
Live Streaming Of Meetings
Council Member Kelli Grim is working to implement live streaming of town meetings. The town already has camera equipment in the council chambers, but to date, it has not been used.
Zoning Ordinance Revisions
At the September 27 Town Council Meeting Grim asked the Town Council to move forward with zoning ordinances revisions:
Stream and Creek Buffer Zoning Text Amendments, which govern the construction of structures and parking adjacent to major stream areas. This would promote water quality and help preserve significant environmental resource areas. (The issue was previously brought before the Planning Commission by Commissioner Chip Paciulli.)
Building Height Limits in the C-4 District. This addresses 21st Street, part of Main Street and Hatcher Avenue – the Downtown Central Commercial District. In 2008, the Lazaro Council raised the building heights allowed in this district from 35 ft. to 65 ft. (or six stories), based on the advocacy of developers John Chapman and Mark Nelis.?This Sept. 27 effort would lower the height limit from six stories, and keep building heights in line with the purpose of the district, which states in part: “New buildings should be designed and constructed to be compatible with and in context with adjacent buildings.”
Limited Civil Penalties. This effort would provide for enforcement for violations ordinances relating to signage, landscaping, commencing a building project without a permit, offending noise and outside storage of vehicles on commercial property to name a few.
Screening And Buffering Requirements. This effort would provide for barriers, buffering and screening between commercial and residential properties to minimize harmful impacts.
Tree Clearing. This effort would require some mature trees to be preserved on commercial development properties.
The revisions were presented for consideration so the town council can direct the planning commission to weigh in before issues go to a public hearing and back to the town council for a public hearing and vote. “These are critical issues that need to be considered to preserve the quality of life and protect our small town charm,” said Grim.