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Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.

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Landfill Industry Process and Code of Ethics

The county’s effort to amend its zoning ordinance to allow landfill industry in A-3 zoning is drawing attention from a few people. I say only a few people because the way the county has conducted this process has been so secretive that only a few people have caught on to what is really happening. And those who have caught on are saying what the Board of Supervisors is doing is unethical.

I’ll reveal the facts as they are and you can decide for yourself if the county supervisors need to let the cat out of the bag.

You can read the first installment of this process in this blog.

As you read, this “landfill industry” started out as a rezoning of 70 acres of a total of 580 acres surrounding the Livingston Landfill.

Then with very little notice and NO DISCUSSION, the rezoning turned into a zoning amendment, which is much different than a rezoning.

A rezoning is usually for a piece of property and has its own process that includes public inspection and hearings.

A zoning amendment can impact the entire zoning category and most of this process has taken place behind closed doors with very little public input.

In this case, A-3 is one of the most common zoning categories in the rural parts of the county.

The change from a rezoning to a zoning amendment was done on the CONSENT AGENDA, which in itself drew the ire of the few residents near the landfill who know about the county’s intentions. Instead of rezoning 70 acres, the county is looking to turn the entire 580 acres surrounding the landfill into “landfill industry.”

What is bothering people about this process is the process itself. Cloaked in secrecy, the Board of Supervisors has been able to avoid informing the public about what its complete intentions are with this “landfill industry” by meeting behind closed doors using the “prospective business” exemption.

Someone has presented a plan to the county behind closed doors for some type of “landfill industry” and the county is VERY QUICKLY moving ahead to cater to this person’s plans by doing the expensive work for them. And the county government is able to do this without telling the public anything about who this company is and what it wants to do.

Well, apparently what a local businessman wants to do is use the methane gas at the landfill to create power to manufacture solar panels. Do a search on this type of industry and you will find that it is very lucrative. In fact, I found this:

A key aspect of Solar Energy is its potential to have significant local economic impact on cities and communities. This takes the form of local capital investment and the creation of long term jobs in a rapidly growing, high technology industry. The governments, cities and utilities that move earliest to encourage local markets have the most to capture from its economic potential.

The county has a funding crisis and supervisors fear raising the real estate tax rate to a level that is needed to meet its own level of service guidelines.

So, by using the “prospective business” clause, the supervisors have met in closed session an unknown number of times to discuss this project proposed by a well-liked local businessman. Now, all of this sounds nifty and green and safe and $$$$$lucrative. Yet, no one is laying out the truth. No one is telling people what the plan is for the land.

There hasn’t been a bidding process. There hasn’t been a public procurement process.

Heck, even if this turns into a PPTA-PPEA or whatever you want to call it, and there is notice in the newspaper that one has been offered and that competitive offers will be accepted for up to 45 days, the chances of someone outside of this area seeing the newspaper advertisement or the county’s procurement Web page is about as rare as winning the lottery. In other words, this could be as competitive as watching a muscle car race a Pinto.

  • On Jan. 12, this was presented to supervisors as a rezoning and a Comprehensive Plan Amendment, which are serious changes in their own right because they are taking a detour from the vision in that growth guide called the comprehensive plan, which says agriculturally zoned land should be preserved. But more importantly, this land is marked for a county park. The zoning change was for 70 county-owned acres of A-3 zoned land to Industrial 1. County staff said the intent was to allow for green industries to locate on county-owned property at the landfill.
  • This county-owned land surrounding the landfill has long been promised to the people who live in that area, and in rural Spotsy as a whole, as a PARK. The county is in desperate need of more park land–so desperate that the county would like to claim water and school land are parks, which boosts its level of service grade to portray that there is more park land in the county than there really is. The county’s spending per capita on parks and recreation is well below the state average and ranks fourth in this region, behind Fredericksburg, Stafford and Fauquier County. It’s so bad that supervisors wanted to claim reservoirs and school sports fields as parks. True story.
  • Six weeks later, the entire project is quietly changed to a zoning amendment and it is placed on the consent agenda with NO DISCUSSION and one quick vote. 7-0. Staff says in the report that taking this path is an alternative approach to the same end. No it is not. This is now a process that keeps secret important details of why this is happening in the first place. With a rezoning, numerous documents must be filed, including full plans of what/who/why/and when. And secondly, if a businessman proposed this project to county supervisors, why isn’t the businessman filing for a rezoning instead of your local government doing the legwork?
  • There was not initially going to be a public meeting for the zoning amendment. One would have been  required if this were a rezoning. Did a county staff member come up with this alternative approach to keep important details from the public? Is someone in county government making the decision of what is best for the public instead of letting the public make that decision? Who is this secret businessman?
  • Planning Director Wanda Parish insisted a community meeting take place. Letters were not sent to everyone who should have gotten one about this meeting and 15 people showed up. Those 15 people were not happy and some lambasted county staff for the way in which this entire process has moved forward.
  • Then there is a joint meeting with the Planning Commission that suddenly appeared on the county’s agenda. Yes, this thing is moving in light speed. Obviously, supervisors and staff even kept their intentions from planning commissioners because the planning commissioners had the project tabled at the joint meeting. They had no idea what was going on.
  • The Planning Commission meets a few weeks later and votes 7-0 not to recommend using a zoning amendment to allow for landfill industry in A-3.
  • A resident who lives in the area of this project says the local government is not being transparent. One can objectively say this man is correct; the local government is not being transparent about this at all.

May I refer you all to the county board’s CODE OF ETHICS.  The very first part of the code is:

  1. Act in the Public Interest

Recognizing that stewardship of the public interest must be their primary concern, members will work for the common good of the people of Spotsylvania County and not for any private or personal interest, and they will assure fair and equal treatment of all persons, claims, and transactions coming before the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors, boards, commissions, and committees.

7. Communication

Members shall publicly share substantive information that is relevant to a matter under consideration by the Board of Supervisors or boards, committees and commissions, which they may have received from sources outside of the public decision-making process.

There has not been a board meeting at which a supervisor or staff member has asked the public: Do you prefer a new park or “landfill industry?” No one has asked the public that question.

The definition of “landfill industry” is not really a definition. It could mean a lot of things. Here is one idea. Here is another.

Every piece of this has been discussed behind closed doors. When the public is invited to the show, they get this , this and this. Oh, and here is what the few residents got in the mail.

There are places in the county that supervisors like to call parks, but they are not true parks with official ballfields that can handle the huge need the county has for such facilities. One is the sloped hayfield called Belmont Park. That’s not a park. Chewing Park is not a park. Mary Lee Carter Park is not a park.

What was planned for the land by the landfill was going to be the next Patriot Park. Now, that’s a park. What is planned for that acreage is something that could be similar to this park called Mount Trashmore.

Do you prefer a new park there or a parking lot and an industrial building? Let the supervisors know even though they are not asking.

Maybe the direction county supervisors are taking is exactly what the general public wants.

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/spotsygovt/2010/03/31/landfill-industry-process-and-code-of-ethics/

  • bhaas

    Thank you Dan for a very interesting post. I hope you plan a front page “splash” about this.

    IF what has been going on is legitimate, WHY the closed sessions and all the secrecy? IT IS PAST time that the BOS, CA and their attorney come clean here. If there is a completely innocent explanation; no harm, no foul. If not, well…the answer is obvious; we need new leadership EVERYWHERE.

  • LarryG

    Well. they’ve had multiple closed sessions on this and by law when they reconvene each one certifies that they have conformed to the law in their deliberations – all 7 of them, multiple meetings – say aye – right?

  • bhaas

    Here’s the thing…the Planning Commission initially tabled this thing at the JOINT meeting with the BOS. Then, at a later meeting, the PC voted 7-0 AGAINST the Zone amendment approach being pushed by the BOS.

    I understand the legal aspects of closed door meetings and their rationale. However, the BOS can and should explain why they are pushing the amendment approach; especially since the PC is against it unanimously. The BOS can make this explanation without publicizing the sensitive details about the entity wanting this change.

  • dtelvock

    As a journalist covering the BOS, I really didn’t quite understand why this was switched from a rezoning to a zoning amendment on the consent agenda. I’ve spoken with a few people with knowledge of government processes, and they all said that changes of this type should never have shown up on a consent agenda, which is typically used for items such as recognizing a school for winning a football championship or recognizing Miss Virginia is from the county. The staff report says this alternative process gets them to the same end. How does rezoning 70 acres, which requires a different public process, turn into a zoning amendment for 600 acres and that’s the “same end?”

    And why isn’t Supervisor T.C. Waddy telling his constituents during his two town hall meetings that the county plans to use land that was going to be his district’s only park for an industrial park? Are the people of the Livingston and Berkeley districts supportive of this effort? Do they know it is happening?

    And why is this on such a fast track for approval? It is moving so fast I cannot even catch up to it. The last story in the paper was that this was a rezoning.

  • LarryG

    re fast track – govt tax credits for green technologies that expire soon?

    just a guess. I’m not going to staunchly defend the behavior. It’s risky and usually when things are hidden – more gets hidden that ought to be and if this was a really such a good idea then share a little of it.

    I’m still influenced by the fact that all 7 are solid on the legality of their actions but I’ll admit that letter of the law is sometimes not the spirit.

  • bhaas

    Not sure this is so much a legal issue as it is a policy and public relations issue. Do the citizens of Spotsy, particularly those directly affected, not have the right to information, not of a nature protected by confidentiality agreements, that affects their property.

    Dan raised another point that I see as pertinenet. Why is Mr. Waddy participating here without informing his constituents that are directly affected. Additionally, what about the “promises” made to those residents about a park?

    Finally, Mr. Connors revealed certain information to Dan that had not been openly discussed before. That would tend to support my argument that this should have been handled quite differently.

  • LarryG

    I know I have to get over this problem but when 7 guys say ‘aye” – one at a time.. it just stops me in my tracks… Now if it turns out they done wrong an they try to blame someone for “bad advise” then I’m going to throw the BS FLAG.

  • bhaas

    Fair enough. Perhaps the 7-0 against vote by the PC has captured my attention. And they did not reach their decision behind closed doors. In any event, it all may be a moot point now.

  • MGWORK (Marty)

    I believe the Spotsylvania County Government is trying to say with their silence and complete shut-down of credible information, for public consumption, they really don’t give a damn what the public thinks about their work and business ethics. What they serve up for public consumption and labeled good, responsible, accountable and transparent government doesn’t get any better than sitting in a room with all the lights cut off.

    Larry, you’re going to get your wish and you will get to throw your BS FLAG. What’s the penalty for being off sides? How about delay of GAME? How about hitting the quarterback from his blindside, just a little too hard and using his face guard as leverage to bring him down?

    Since Dan or the Free Lance-Star can’t get across the line of scrimmage, for want of knowing what really goes on behind closed doors, what chance do any of us have with a playbook that ends at the ballot box.? The price of being found out only goes up as we get closer to the truth. Sort of like tying Wall Street up with another way of conductiing business and Wall Street is fighting back. They don’t want anyone or anything looking over their shoulder or questioning their version a fiduciary accountability.

    So, here we are, making more excuses about what is and not doing anything about it.