In 2016, a new Board of Supervisors took the oath of office, bringing in a majority of new members. Now, two years into that term, board leadership is looking back and looking ahead at serving in one of the most consequential terms in Loudoun’s history.
“I didn’t have any idea how rewarding it would be to be chair of the county,” County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said. “I had some things I wanted to accomplish, and I think that I as the chair and the board as a whole, we have been a very productive board and we’re accomplishing a lot.”
During this board’s term, the county will near completion of Metrorail into Ashburn—by which time the various players will need to have figured out how they’re going to pay to keep Metro going—and an overhaul of the county’s comprehensive plan, all as the county continues its breakneck pace of development, growth, and costs and wrestles with state mandates that shackle the board’s ability to negotiate with developers and contractors.
Board meetings beginning at 5 or 6 p.m. often stretch into the late night or early morning hours, and the board has already tackled major decisions like mapping out how to rewrite the comprehensive plan, expanding the county government by hundreds of jobs after years of lagging behind population growth, legislative pushes for affordable housing, and allowing a data center on the banks of Goose Creek. By the time the board ends its term, the county will likely have attracted its second professional sports team—DC United—and could be tagged as the home of Amazon’s second headquarters.
Randall, who has often focused on the interpersonal, said the board members “are not supposed to agree on everything, because we are nine different people.”
“It’s a strange statement, but I’ve been very happy with how we disagree,” Randall said.
She said she has tackled many of the topics she set out to handle in her tenure—like a restructuring how county government contributions to nonprofits funding—and turns now to the second half of her term. That, she hopes, will include building better and more consistent relationships with the towns. It “does not behoove Loudoun to have any of our towns not thriving.”
“We have to remember that the towns don’t have the staff that we do, and they don’t have two and three levels down of expertise, and we do,” Randall said. “We’re not supposed to run the towns, but we can certainly advise and help where appropriate.”
The county has recently launched a program to bill and collect taxes for the towns, centralizing that operation and—hopefully—saving the towns and their taxpayers money.
She also wants to turn attention to Loudoun’s aging population, and make sure Loudouners can grow old without having to leave the county.
“There are very few communities, Falcons Landing being one of them, where you can actually age in place,” Randall said. “… I think that‘s the discussion we should start having now. We cannot wait for 20 years to start having the discussion about how to age in place in Loudoun County.”
And while the county has already made big changes to how it funds nonprofits—including taking five of the large organizations out of the competitive process and funding them directly—Randall said there is yet work to be done, such as exploring public-private partnerships.
Finance committee Chairman Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) was one of the board’s returning members, a relative veteran with six years in elected office. “Given the nature of what the committee does, some of what our achievements are, are not going to be that sexy,” he said.
“I think the biggest thing is, I think we have a very orderly process,” Letourneau said.
His committee oversees the daily business of the county government, its capital projects, and has been preparing for the next budget by meeting with department heads to gauge their needs and preparing for the capital improvements program. Much of this work, Letourneau said, has been with the aim of a more strategic vision from the board during budget season.
“In the past, that process was a little bit like the wild west, where board members would have changes on the fly,” Letourneau said. “There’d be last-minute things that would come up, and staff was really stuck in a difficult position because the nature of this type of work is such that they just can’t make changes on the fly.”
2016 also marked the year the board’s Economic Development Committee was absorbed into the finance committee. Letourneau said that restructuring the Department of Economic Development and laying out the county’s strategy last term has “really paid dividends” this term.
Now, he said, the committee must continue the work on public transit and a massive overhaul of the county’s pay bands and job descriptions. Letourneau’s committee has also been a forum for frustrations and debate about the costs and delays in big county construction projects, and in the state-mandated procurement process that supervisors say puts the county at a disadvantage when negotiating with contractors.
Both Letourneau and Randall worry about Envision Loudoun, the project to rewrite and update the comprehensive plan. Randall listed getting that work wrong top among her concerns for the county’s future.
Letourneau said he, too, is “pretty concerned about our trajectory at this point.”
And both board leaders will be center stage as Loudoun takes its place in the larger region.
“I want us to be part of the state conversation, and regional conversation, and national conversation that we haven’t really been a part of the in the past,” Randall said.
She represents the county on the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, and is serving as the council’s corporate vice president for 2018. She was elected vice chair of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority for 2018.
She also represents Loudoun on the Northern Virginia Regional Commission and the Dulles Area Transportation Association, among other organizations.
Letourneau this year is chairing the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments as it wrestles with funding Metro—and the varying ideas from each jurisdiction and state about how to do that.
“I picked a great year to be COG chairman, because it’ll be my job to try to nail those things together,” Letourneau said.
Letourneau is the first Loudoun Board of Supervisors member to serve in that role since 1983.
He also serves as vice chairman of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission for 2018 and on the Route 28 Transportation Improvement District Commission.
The current Board of Supervisors will serve through 2019.