For those hoping to see a new spirit of collaboration on the Prince William Board of County Supervisors after a tumultuous and partisan 2020, the board’s first 2021 meeting probably only brought disappointment.
Within the opening 10 minutes of the meeting, argument over nothing other than a new seating arrangement broke out, with Republicans seated on the edges of the dais and Democratic Board Chair Ann Wheeler engaged in a familiar back-and-forth with Republican Supervisor Pete Candland of the Gainesville District.
The new arrangement, which Wheeler said she’d settled on and informed the board of before the meeting, placed Republican Yesli Vega (Coles District) on one end of the board with Candland and Republican Jeanine Lawson (Brentsville District) on the other, though Lawson was attending the meeting remotely. All five of the board’s Democrats were seated together in between.
Candland quickly raised an objection to the seating chart, noting that the supervisors weren’t seated in alphabetical order or seniority. Wheeler said she’d never heard of the board taking a vote on the seating arrangement and that previous chairs had done so at the start of each new year.
“All of those were done with unanimous consent. There wasn’t an issue; there wasn’t a concern. I’ve got a concern with the structure on how this is set up,” Candland said. “It does seem like Republicans are being pushed to the side while all the Democrats on the board are consolidated and put in one group. I don’t really see the rationale.”
Wheeler didn’t offer any particular reason for the positioning, saying that she wanted to “shake it up so we could start on a better foot this year.”
Ultimately, though, two members of the board found the spirit of compromise, with Lawson offering her seat up to one of the Democrats for future meetings and Neabsco Supervisor Victor Angry taking her up on it, moving to the far-right end of the board.
The board also tried to address the length of meetings and floated holding more meetings if they continue to run late into the night as they did at times in 2020. Wheeler proposed that once a motion is on the floor, each supervisor be limited to just two turns speaking. Initially, she suggested two three-minute slots, but Vega and Lawson suggested that they make each turn five minutes.
Candland said he would rather instruct county staff to cut down their presentations to the board, and Vega proposed that with significant land-use cases involving the Rural Crescent on the horizon, that land-use discussions be exempt from any limits.
Wheeler argued that land use was too often the subject of drawn out back-and-forths, while Woodbridge Supervisor Margaret Franklin said the public and the board would be better served if supervisors edited themselves.
“We do have to keep these meetings moving. I would much rather limit myself than limit the public,” Franklin said. “We go back and forth making the same point.”
Ultimately, Wheeler’s proposal for 10 minutes of total speaking time for each supervisor passed by a 4-2 vote, with Vega siding with Wheeler and Potomac District Supervisor Andrea Bailey abstaining.