At a recent joint meeting of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and the Economic Development Authority, Supervisor Liz Palmer asked if the authority had considered allowing public comments at its meetings (The Daily Progress, “Albemarle approves economic development grant policies,” June 19).
Authority member Rod Gentry replied, “It serves very little purpose for our body to sit and take up a lot of time hearing people complain about what we’re supposed to be doing.” And then: “It doesn’t further our work, it wastes our time and we are free to talk to anybody one-on-one if they want to.”
We might expect the Board of Supervisors, being elected by the community, to urge permitting public comments in Economic Development Authority meetings. However, since 2017 supervisors have themselves taken steps that limit public scrutiny of, and participation in, Board of Supervisor reviews of economic development proposals.
County work sessions on economic development proposals have routinely (and legally) been closed to the public. In addition, some votes on proposals that involve commitments of public money have been held without public hearings and at times before the “From the Public” general comment periods, leaving no chance for the public to comment on the proposals in meetings prior to votes.
In April, Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population, the League of Women Voters and the Sierra Club wrote jointly to the Albemarle supervisors expressing concerns about the lack of transparency and public participation opportunities in reviews of economic development proposals. We proposed measures to address these concerns.
Supervisor Liz Palmer brought up our letter for discussion near the end of the April 17 supervisors meeting. There was little additional interest in discussing our proposals, with Supervisor Rick Randolph stating that our letter presented the ridiculous arguments of a minority.
In fact, there is no reason to assume that environmental and quality-of-life consequences of economic development proposals are adequately considered when public scrutiny and testimony are excluded. The Albemarle County government needs to accept public concern in this area and figure out ways to make reviews of economic development proposals more accessible to the public.
Tom Olivier is president of Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population.
http://albemarle.granicus.com/player/clip/360?view_id=1 (see segment 19)