Spotsylvania Transportation Process Lacks Transparency
Some citizens might be surprised to learn that Spotsylvania County has a Transportation Committee (TC) that exists “to provide a plan for the Board of Supervisors (BoS) to address transportation issues with various internal and external organizations; to provide the BoS with a long term plan to enhance safety, improve roadway capacity, and reduce motorist delay on Spotsylvania County’s roads and intersections; to help ensure that all resources are implemented in the most cost effective and efficient manner to address solutions to Spotsylvania County’s transportation issues; and to make recommendations to the BoS regarding transportation needs.” ~ Transportation Committee By-laws
The TC is comprised of “2-3 Supervisors, 1 or 2 representatives from each of the election districts, a representative from the Spotsylvania County School District, the Chair of the Planning Commission, at large business representatives as deemed necessary by the BoS, all of which must be County residents.” ~ Transportation Committee By-laws
The TC meets the second Thursday of each month at the Economic Development Conference Room located on the 3rd floor of the Merchant Square Building located at 9019 Old Battlefield Blvd, Spotsylvania, Va. 22553.
A current shortcoming is the lack of citizen participation. Of the ten current members, six serve in an official position with the County. Of those six, five are elected officials. As of July 17, 2018, four of those five are Spotsylvania Supervisors. While portrayed as a citizen committee, the TC appears to operate more as a Supervisor-run transportation working group.
There are several transparency concerns. First, no meeting minutes have been uploaded to the County website since September 14, 2017. This leaves no mechanism for citizens to review what issues were discussed at these meetings. These meetings are often cancelled, sometimes at the last minute, and there is no way for a citizen to verify how many meetings have actually taken place since September 2017. What we can confirm is this: Based on the County website, since March 10, 2016, four meeting minutes have been posted. Since May 19, 2016, only one agenda was posted. Are we expected to believe that the TC met only once since May 2016?
The BoS created the TC and its by-laws, which allows them to appoint themselves as their district representative, as Supervisor Ross did. It also allows three Supervisors to serve as at-large members, as Supervisors Benton, McLaughlin, and Skinner did. Supervisors Trampe and Yakabouski serve as alternates for these at-large positions. The TC operates at the pleasure of the BoS and is not a state-mandated committee. This allows the BoS greater latitude to administer the TC as they see fit.
On May 22, 2018, the BoS approved Spotsylvania’s four transportation projects for submission via SMARTSCALE for state funding. At this BoS meeting, Supervisors Skinner and McLaughlin appeared to get into a disagreement over the project list. They both referenced an understanding they believed they reached at a recent TC meeting. This would indicate that BoS decisions are being determined at TC meetings, not open session of an actual Board meeting. The TC meetings are open to the public and announced on the County website. There is nothing technically improper about it, but to not have those discussions at a more widely watched meeting degrades transparency, especially without records of those discussions.
The conflict here is that each Supervisor claims to be the champion of transparency, and in some areas they are, but they would have difficulty defending the current way the Board is deliberating over and approving transportation projects. The easiest way to resolve this shortcoming is to begin to televise the TC meetings so that citizens have an opportunity to learn and better understand transportation issues. It would also provide insights into the Board’s vision on how to best resolve these issues, since a majority of the Board serves on the Committee.
On February 13, 2018, the BoS discussed TC membership qualifications. Their reason for allowing Board members on the TC was to allow members the opportunity to provide information and insights into the process. Their participation could also benefit a wider audience if these meetings were televised. As a leading concern of most Spotsylvania residents, certainly there would be interest in following transportation issues. The costs of televising the TC meetings could be off-set by stopping the broadcasting of the Citizens Budget Review Committee (CBRC) meetings, which were originally televised for the purpose of creating a more civil committee atmosphere.
If you would like to learn more about what your local Supervisors are planning for future transportation fixes or want to see more transparency in the process, their contact information can be found here.
- Click here to review the Transportation Committee membership.
- Click here to find more information about the TC from the County website.