In January 2019, I interviewed Corey Stewart about what would be next for him after he left the office of chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. So it was only natural for me to interview his successor, Ann Wheeler, as she completes her eighth week in office.
Wheeler led a dramatic change in the Prince William board as it transitioned from majority Republican to majority Democrat following November’s elections.
We discussed the cultural change county residents might expect with the shift from red to blue behind the dais. Wheeler said we can look forward to more funding for schools, improvements in mental health services, and more support for those among us who need help. She mentioned the need for more beds for psychiatric patients and for an unsheltered homeless facility in western Prince William.
Wheeler’s vision of increased support for county schools and expanding services costs money. Economic development is an engine for creating tax revenue and jobs and reducing our traffic problem by offering local employment opportunities.
Wheeler is interested in technology, medical and biotechnology and helping George Mason University expand here. She recognizes economic development isn’t just about trying to attract big companies; it’s also about helping the small companies and start-ups that service them.
Wheeler is focused on GMU’s plan to expand its science and technology campus near Manassas and its study regarding where to locate a new medical center – she wants that to be on GMU’s Prince William campus. Wheeler is planning to actively lobby GMU’s incoming president, Dr. Gregory Washington, when he assumes the position this summer.
The Washington Redskins’ new stadium is also on Wheeler’s radar. She believes Prince William is the best place for the team’s new stadium and plans to convince Redskins management they should be here.
Transportation issues are high on her list. She counts as a win the $2 million study of extending Metro’s Blue Line to Prince William, approved by the Virginia legislature. Wheeler talked about the employment growth in Loudoun County and the necessity of expanding transportation options for Prince William workers to get to the jobs there. An express bus is among the options.
Wheeler understands that Prince William government has a lot of moving parts and employees to move those parts. She is counting on those people to evaluate and propose solutions to public policy issues and handle the day-to-day machinery, while she focuses on a vision of what the county should look like in the future. The next strategic plan will be her roadmap. She is also anticipating staff’s latest proposal for the Rural Crescent as an update to the land use section of the comprehensive plan.
Wheeler is doing what the best commanding officers I had in the Army do during her first eight weeks: listening and gathering situational intelligence. Like the better commanders under whom I served, she is taking the long view while leveraging county staff to fill in the details.
Wheeler is starting a lot of conversations with a lot of groups and individuals to understand what is going on in our community. Some of her conversations might turn into working groups to explore areas where county government can help improve services or change the way it does business.
Prince William is evolving. Wheeler is listening. Now would be a good time to talk to her.
Al Alborn is a political and social activist in Prince William County. His column appears every other week. You can learn more about Al at www.alborn.net.