The first move of the newly elected Democratic chair and Democratic members of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors set the tone for their governance style for the next four years.
Unfortunately, they chose a hyper-partisan issue. That may have delighted the progressive left wing of the Democratic party; however, it dismissed the wishes of many Prince William residents and those who hold conservative values, as well as Virginia’s culture of gun ownership.
The Democrats felt compelled to “do something, to “make a statement,” to start their reign with a bit of “political theater.” Previous Chairman Corey Stewart’s “Second Amendment sanctuary” resolution was just too much to resist. Their mistake, in my opinion, was to not consider the “do nothing” option.
The previous board actually worked together and agreed to a compromise that satisfied everyone. The Second Amendment crowd walked away with recognition of their rights. Progressive liberals walked away with what looks like a reasonable compromise that recognized the right to bear arms but did not commit Prince William to openly defy enforcement of legislation coming out of Richmond as other counties have done. That should have been “good enough.”
The resolution proposed at the Jan. 7 board meeting, in my opinion, offered nothing of substance to either side of the issue:
10. A. RES – Urge Members of the Virginia General Assembly to Address Gun Violence Prevention in Virginia by Passing Gun Safety Legislation; Urge Members of the Virginia General Assembly to Support Legislation and Increased Funding from the Commonwealth for Mental Health Screening and Services Throughout the Commonwealth; Modify 2020 Legislative Agenda – Chair Wheeler.
There is an “off ramp” for new Chair Ann Wheeler and the other Democrats. I suspect our legislators in Richmond are already aware of their preferred legislation. This bit of theater doesn’t contribute anything positive to the conversation. A press statement from the chair stating that she has shared her preferences with our legislative delegation, followed by removing the issue from the Jan. 21 board meeting, would put the issue to rest. It would allow our supervisors get back to the people’s business.
The board needs to stay in its lane. It needs to focus on core services. We all want good roads, police to show up when we need them, firefighters who show up on our house is burning, EMTs to take us to the hospital when we need the ride, and resolution of land use issues.
Anything beyond core services tends to be pure political theater. When faced with divisive issues only tangentially related to the people’s business, I advise our new board to always consider “do nothing” as an option, and to “do nothing” often.
The history of Prince William government is to feel compelled to “do something” for whichever side is represented by the most people showing up in matching t-shirts. Our elected officials must recognize that a couple of hundred people speaking about an issue represent a fraction of the county’s residents. The approximately 459,900 people who don’t show up are sharing their opinion: They don’t really care.
The proposed resolution has been deferred until Jan. 21. I predict we will go through the same theatrics from all parties involved once again, and the people’s business will be delayed. I strongly urge our board, particularly Wheeler and the Democrats, to consider the off-ramp I suggested and get back to the issues “the rest of us” really care about.
It’s time to “do nothing” and move on.
ADDENDUM: At the board meeting Tuesday, Jan. 14, the Prince William County Board of County Supervisors tabled the Gun Safety Resolution. Board Chair Ann Wheeler stated, "This is a state issue and it will be handled as a state issue." For more details: Prince William supervisors table gun safety resolution.
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.