Winning an election sometimes is easier than governing.

Just ask the new Democratic members on the Prince William Board of County Supervisors.

County voters last fall elected a new board chair, Democrat Ann Wheeler, and four new board members, three of them Democrats. The turnover resulted in Democrats taking a 5-3 edge on the board for the first time in many years.

But rookies make mistakes, and the current board has been no exception, exacerbated of course by a virus that didn’t exist 12 months ago.

It began with a kerfuffle in late May over a hastily arranged informal meeting involving the five Democrats on the board and county police officials regarding law enforcement response to local protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The Republican board members who were not invited to the meeting cried foul, and three county residents have filed a lawsuit against the Democrats alleging the meeting was held in violation of Virginia open-meeting laws.

Then the board moved on to what has been its thorniest issue to date (other than the pandemic): whether to approve a bypass plan for Route 28. With $200 million in bond money approved by voters last fall and another $89 million from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority dedicated to the project, the road is nearly already paid for. Yet the board, swayed by pleas from residents who might lose their homes to the bypass, voted 8-0 in August to reject the plan.

Then reality set in. As InsideNoVa reported, the $89 million from the NVTA was tied to the bypass, not a widening of existing Route 28, which the board supported. And the widening would cost even more money, with worse results in terms of traffic mitigation.

So the Democrats on the board did an about-face, even though the homes affected are in the district of new Republican member Yesli Vega. On Sept. 8, they reversed their prior decision and approved the bypass along partisan lines, 5-3.

Ultimately, approving the bypass was the right decision for both Prince William and the region. But the manner in which the decision was handled was abysmal. Residents in the affected communities told InsideNoVa they were “crushed” after riding what must have been a roller-coaster of emotions. And now they must wait upward of two years to find out whether in fact their homes will be taken by eminent domain for the bypass.

To her credit, Wheeler took the blame for failing to fully understand and relay the ramifications of the original vote to reject the bypass. She was the first board member to put out a statement in support of it, signaling that the vote to reverse the decision was coming.

Good leaders acknowledge their mistakes and learn from them. Good leaders also make tough and unpopular decisions when necessary. Time will tell whether the Democratic rookies on the Prince William board will turn into MVPs.

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