Loudoun Supervisors Look Back on Turbulent First Year

A drastically reshaped Loudoun County Board of Supervisors took office in January 2020, with a new party in the majority and four new faces on the dais—but those changes were nothing compared to the ones that began in March.

County supervisors were in their first budget deliberations of the new term—a steep learning curve for many to begin with—when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The first case of COVID-19 in Loudoun was reported on March 10. And from then on, nothing would be the same for many people in Loudoun, including public servants and elected leaders.

One of those new supervisors, Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn), said the county’s initial response to the pandemic was “exemplary.”

“I really think we led the nation in a lot of ways,” Turner said. “In retrospect, we shut our schools down—we were one of the first to shut our schools down and go to 100% distance learning—and that was probably a prudent move at the time.” And, he said, the decision by the governor that Loudoun and the rest of Northern Virginia would delay entering the first phases of reopening also was a good decision.

“I think the pandemic has just uncovered things that we’ve all known to be true but we just never stopped and really had the discussion about,” said County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large). “… Loudoun has the highest median income in the country, and the fact that we saw hundreds of people every week added to the roles of who was getting food from Loudoun Hunger Relief and other food pantries—so many of those things have been exposed, and I think it started a conversation that says it’s OK to ask for help, it’s OK to not be OK all the time. And I do believe that those conversations will continue, and that’s a very good thing.”

Then in the summer, protesters took to the streets in droves across the country—including in Loudoun—after a series of headline-making killings of Black people by police.

Supervisors had already added an equity officer to the government, although that position was frozen along with all other new spending in the current year’s budget. And it was in 2020 that supervisors used their new authority to move war monuments to start the process of taking down the Confederate statue in front of the old courthouse, which the Daughters of the Confederacy hastened along by reclaiming the statue. Randall said that was part of a nationwide, long-overdue discussion.

“This year, besides COVID, has been a whole year on discussion of racial recognition of the issues that we’ve had,” she said. “And you know, the Confederate statue, for me, after over a decade of talking and working on that issue, was important.”

But supervisors also had to continue leading the operations of the county government, even as administrators and staff members hurried to adapt to the pandemic. Turner said that went well, too.

“One of the things I’m most impressed with is how much critical work we’ve been able to get done under these conditions,” Turner said. “I think we adapted very quickly. We found ways to get the county’s work done.”

He pointed in particular to a reorganization of the Zoning Ordinance Action Group into the Zoning Ordinance Committee, with new membership rules and reporting to the Planning Commission rather than the Board of Supervisors.

Supervisors are also looking ahead to what they’ll do as Loudoun works to return to normalcy—including a lot of work that was deferred while the pandemic took up all the time, attention and money.

“As soon as budget was over, my mind was like, ‘OK, now I want to work on the priorities that I talked about on the campaign trail,’ and there just has not been a lot of room to do that, to be honest,” said first-term supervisor Supervisor Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian). She said her biggest priorities next will be equity and affordable housing in Loudoun—particularly as many areas of her district are ripe for redevelopment, which she said can have a role in addressing those topics.

“I want to be very careful about how we plan and revitalize and redevelop those areas, and of course my constituents are very, very concerned about how that happens as well,” Briskman said. She added: “It’s how do we build to something that’s really good for the community, but also helps with our unmet housing needs.”

“In many ways I don’t know what normal looks like yet, and I’m very much looking forward to just being in the office, because I feel like we in many ways have not been able to kind of coalesce as a board,” she said. “A lot of what gets accomplished when you’re running a business, and when you’re running county government, a lot gets accomplished in the hallways, and we’re kind of missing a lot of that communication and camaraderie.”

There is one thing supervisors repeated, as they often have from the dais:

“The first year as very much a learning process, and one thing I have to say: I have been so impressed with the way the county government operates and the way that the staff operates,” Briskman said. “And how well-organized and detail-oriented our staff is, and you’ve got to credit [County Administrator] Tim Hemstreet for that. It comes from the top.”

4 thoughts on “Loudoun Supervisors Look Back on Turbulent First Year

  • 2021-01-06 at 10:47 am
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    No mention of hiking taxes on Loudoun homeowners? No talk of secret meetings and telling the press to step off? Nothing about shifty corporate welfare for developers? Not a peep about screwing over Loudoun small business owners with their politically motivated shutdowns? Have we forgotten the entire ongoing kids out of school disaster?

    These three people are trying to tell us how great they are, and how we should admire their dopey decision making? This has to be a paid advert?

  • 2021-01-06 at 11:30 am
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    What have they built for the community- businesses have closed a record pace, our taxes have not gone down, the citizens of Loudoun County are struggling, parents are frustrated that schools aren’t open, the quality of education has been reduced and our Board of Supervisors is proud of this? Oh my!

  • 2021-01-06 at 6:38 pm
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    Once again, Loudoun residents are left to just shake our heads.

    2020 will go down in the books as the year that the School Board and Bd of Supervisors failed miserably.

    No one blames them for the virus. Leadership arises out of hardships and chaos. Our elected officials did NOT step up to the challenges that Loudoun residents faced. They made it WORSE.

    Let’s start with failing grades, kids mental health issues and teachers that refuse to go back to work.

    Then let’s discuss where all the money went that was NOT used within the school budgets (parked busses as just one example) . Paying a developer a super premium price for a land deal in the Aldie Village. Thatwould be another great discussion point while noting that Chair Randall is excited about the water wells already drilled in St Louis.

    I bet other posters could continue this list and then someone could write a realistic article on the “successes” from 2020.

    Despite this, we have elected officials patting themselves on the back.

    Shameful.

  • 2021-01-07 at 1:32 pm
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    Ditto to all 3 above.

    When the Library Trustees pushed back against an idiotic plan to confiscate the libraries from the public for use by overpaid LoCo bureaucrats (who are so privileged, they refuse to pay for childcare when LCPS lets them babysit instead of doing their real jobs -> teaching), these Supervisors want to purge the very same Library Trustees. Completely incompetent autocrats with apparently unlimited influence over the sycophant press here in Loudoun.

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