Prince William County’s controversial new logo, criticized by some for being too bland, is coming off the “Welcome to Prince William County” sign near Occoquan – but it’s not going away entirely.
The county’s Office of Economic Development, which developed the logo to unify the county’s visual image, will continue to use it in its efforts to attract new businesses to the area.
But members of the county Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday they don’t want the logo – a simple dark-blue square set inside the left-rear corner or a larger, light-blue square -- popping up on county signs, vehicles, uniforms or anything else that would routinely feature the county seal.
The move came after the logo – and the process used to develop and approve it -- was criticized by Supervisor John Jenkins, D-Neabsco, as well as community bloggers, some of whom dubbed the episode “logo-gate” after it was reported that the design was developed by a Michigan firm for $750.
In recent weeks, Jenkins has said repeatedly he doesn’t think much of the logo, calling it “two empty boxes.” His comments Tuesday focused not on the design itself – but rather how it was approved.
Supervisors never considered the logo in an open meeting but were presented with it informally by county staff members, a process Jenkins said “just bothers the dickens out of me.”
“This is not something that’s been approved by this board for use throughout the county,” he said. “And I think that if the board had the opportunity to have an open session on this and discussed it, we might not have come up with the same thing the Office of Economic Development has come up with.”
More importantly, Jenkins said, the board would not have developed the logo without input from county residents.
Toward that end, the board also agreed to hold a public work session July 16 to discuss whether members want to pursue a new logo – or simply continue to use the Prince William County seal as the official symbol for the county.
“We do want to hear from the public,” said Supervisor Corey Stewart, R-At-Large. “It is after all a county logo, not just a county government logo.”
Jenkins had introduced a resolution to scrap the logo altogether but withdrew it on the condition County Executive Melissa Peacor accept a directive to stop using it for anything outside of the Office of Economic Development.
“We’ve already started taking it down,” Peacor said.
No supervisors argued in favor of the logo, but Supervisor Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, pressed county Communications Director Jason Grant for details about how the design was selected and why the department didn’t hire a local firm.
“I just think it’s unfortunate, and maybe the wrong message, that our economic development office went out of the state to get somebody to develop our economic development logo,” Candland said. “I think we need to be more sensitive and supportive of our local businesses.”
The idea for a new county logo came from a 2010 Economic Development Task Force the board convened to suggest strategies for attracting more commercial interests to the county -- a longtime goal to diversify the mostly residential tax base and bring good-paying jobs closer to home, Grant said.
The task force included representatives from both George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College as well as business leaders, land developers and real estate professionals.
In its report, the group recommended the county develop a more consistent visual means of representing and promoting itself, Grant said.
Since then, the county communications office worked with marketing representatives from several county offices, including tourism, historic preservation and economic development, to compare data and gather input for a new logo. Staff members chose a modern “non-literal” design because it would be used to represent so many diverse interests and entities in the county, Grant said.
The Michigan firm was chosen for design work because it fit the task force’s recommendation that a “third-party, nonpartisan” partner be used to design a new logo, and because a county staff member had worked with the firm previously.
The $750 fee fell below the amount required for bids, Grant said.
“From a purchasing perspective, we followed exactly what the purchasing rules require,” Grant said in an interview earlier this week. “The driver [of this process] was how can we do this at the lowest available cost to us.”
The county Office of Economic Development will continue to use the new logo because “it’s adaptable, it’s very clean and crisp, and it’s easily incorporated into a lot of different media,” said Jeff Kaczmarek, its executive director.
“It shows up very well when you are doing a presentation,” he added. “It works well for us.”
The county has no policy requiring the use of local firms, but Peacor said she would work with Prince William Chamber of Commerce to try to make local firms more aware of county projects.
The new logo was never intended to replace the county seal and would not have been used to represent the Board of County Supervisors or by any county agency involved in public safety or enforcement, Peacor said.
Still, Jenkins has argued that the seal is the best representation of the county because its elements – a tobacco plant, the earth, a handheld scale and a star – better represent the county’s history.
Jenkins noted the county did extensive research into the history of the seal back in the 1980s and ‘90s and discovered the seal dates back to 1856. The current version, with slight variations, has been used since 1935.
According to Jenkins, the tobacco represents what was long the most important cash-crop of the region while the star reflects the area’s military history. The meanings of the scale, and the hand holding it, could represent the scales of justice or scales used to weigh tobacco for sale.
The hand, which is always displayed with a white skin tone, was not something for which the historians could find any particular meaning, Jenkins said.
“I just did not want to have a logo out there that has no meaning to the people of Prince William County,” Jenkins said.