Loudoun supervisors showed little interest in major changes to the way the county government operates after getting a report on the options April 20.
Loudoun’s traditional Board of Supervisors-led government, with five countywide constitutional officers, resembles the government that was set up for Virginia counties during Reconstruction in the late 1800s in terms of how power is distributed among elected officials. It has also been modified over time to account for Virginia’s growth and modernization since that era. It is also by far the most common form of county government in Virginia—according to county staff members’ research, 83 of Virginia’s 95 counties use the same system.
But Virginia law also offers other a few other ways to organize the county government, which Virginia’s larger counties are using. Loudoun supervisors in July 2020 set county staff to work looking into those governments, and the process for switching, as an outgrowth of a discussion around starting a county police department.
After hearing about the options, most supervisors seemed content to let the idea rest for now.
“The traditional form of government is malleable enough that we can do what we need to do even as we grow,” said County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large).
They were also dissuaded by the difficulty of getting public authorization to change the government. The types of local government that would bring major changes to Loudoun’s organization all require a petition signed by a number of voters equivalent to at least 20% of the total number of voters in the last presidential election—meaning in Loudoun, a petition signed by almost 45,000 people. That is only the beginning of a process that also involves the Circuit Court, at least two ballot questions and immediate local elections.
That would also lead, in many cases, to getting rid of the elected treasurer and commissioner of revenue.
“There is just, to me, not even close to being enough juice for the squeeze here,” said Supervisor Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn).
Leaving those options aside could narrow discussions back to where they started early in this board’s term, focusing around whether Loudoun should launch a police department to handle law enforcement functions, putting that work under a police chief under the county administrator. The county has contracted the National Association of Chiefs of Police for a report on that, with a preliminary report to county staff expected in November and a presentation to the Board of Supervisors anticipated in February 2022.
That work will include interviewing elected officials and Sheriff’s Office staff, and will present information including a comparison of costs. Even if supervisors decide to launch a police department, the county will still have to elect a sheriff, although that official’s duties could be limited to operation of the detention centers, court security and civil process while police officers handle most law enforcement.