By Dusty Smith, Ashburn Rising
Over the past decade, significant changes have come to the leadership that directs those who turn the gears in Loudoun County’s government.
The defeat of Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large) by Democrat Phyllis Randall on Election Day marks the near completion of a cycle of leadership in the county.
“You have lots of new actors and lots of new perspectives,” said Gem Bingol, the Piedmont Environmental Council’s land use officer for Loudoun and Clarke counties.
Bingol and Tony Howard, the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce’s president and CEO, both said the changes in Loudoun over the years have been significant. But they also pointed out that the new crop of leaders has inherited a stable base. For example, Howard referenced the county’s high incomes, cultural amenities, great schools and thriving business community.
“All the results of previous leadership. It’s a human endeavor, so it hasn’t been perfect,” he said, but overall what past leaders have left for the next generation “ain’t bad.”
“There is a lot that has happened that is good,” Bingol said, agreeing that overall past leaders have made the county an attractive place to live and work. “But it’s easy to slip out of balance.”
Changing of the Guard
During the past six years, the county has seen new people take over power in a range of top government positions, influencing virtually every aspect of Loudoun life: school decisions, business decisions, land use decisions, taxes, transportation, and more.
• Chairman of the Loudoun Board of Supervisors—in 2016, Randall replaces York, who served on the board since 1995.
• County Administrator—in 2009, Tim Himstreet replaced Kirby Bowers, who retired after serving as a top county government manager for more than 30 years, including 17 in the top spot.
• County Attorney—in 2014, Leo Rogers replaced John R. “Jack” Roberts who retired after 30 years of service.
• Superintendent of Loudoun County Public Schools—in 2014, Eric Williams replaced Edgar B. Hatrick, who retired after more than 47 years with the school system, including 23 as superintendent.
• Planning Director—in 2015, Ricky Barker replaced Julie Pastor, who served in the position for 22 years before her retirement.
• Sheriff—in 2011, Mike Chapman was elected, replacing Stephen O. Simpson, who had held the post since 1999.
In addition, every seat on both the Board of Supervisors and the School Board will have changed by Jan. 1, 2016. This year’s changes include the retirement of School Board member Thomas Reed (At Large), who has served since 2003, and Supervisor Eugene Delgauldio (R-Sterling), whose failed re-election bid ended his board service that began in 1999.
While the change has been significant, Christine Windle, the public policy and communications director for the Dulles Area Association of Realtors, said it’s not particularly unusual.
“A changing of the guard is normal,” she said. “We’ve got to move forward in a positive direction. Everyone will rise to the occasion.”
But the transition into such a role can be difficult. For many, such as new supervisors, there will be mountains of paperwork to sort through, rules and regulations to learn, multiple boards to become familiar with, and many relationships to build.
“It’s a steep learning curve,” said Bingol, who has watched several new board of supervisors take on the new challenge. “It’s like drinking from a fire hose and the budget is the first thing that whacks them on the head.”
Incoming leaders have a vast pool of past experience upon which to rely and, most would likely agree, they should take advantage of it. Among the keys to settling into a new leadership role is listening.
“Being able to listen, to truly listen,” Howard offered as advice, as well as being able to identify a range of good advisors who have a wealth of knowledge. “To reach out to those people you need to hear from. Understand who those people are, get advice and counsel, and listen.”
Bingol offered similar sentiments.
“It’s an important skill to be able to listen to people and extract the core of their message,” she said. “And listening to many different perspectives before you make your final decision.”
Community involvement plays a significant role as well, Windle said.
“It would be wonderful if the community got engaged as we move forward,” she said, explaining that decisions are best made when leaders understand how residents feel.
Much of county government leadership centers on economic development, Howard said, pointing to decisions that impact jobs, taxes, education and the balance of commercial and residential tax burdens. However, in recent years, federal government terms such as sequestration, budget reconciliation and continuing resolutions have had an impact on Loudoun’s economic development, which in the past has relied heavily on government contracting.
“We are in a changing environment,” Howard said, adding that many businesses are not sure whether they’ll have work from year to year as a result. “The enemy of business is not necessarily a negative economic environment … uncertainty is your greatest enemy because you just don’t know.”
Furthermore, Loudoun faces more national and global competition today than it has in the past and cannot rely on doing the same thing it has done in the past to succeed.
“What’s important is the type of leadership that realizes that,” Howards said.
Bingol asserts that those in power also must recognize the need to protect valuable resources, while driving economic development.
“Leadership is a balancing act,” she said.
Dusty Smith is the owner and editor of Ashburn Rising, a local news website focused on the Ashburn community. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.