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By now you have likely heard or read about the June 17th meeting of the Rappahannock County Planning Commission during which four members who were physically present in the courthouse voted to prevent three members who had joined online — myself included — from participating in the meeting.
Much of the conversation about this event has focused on its legality. While the legality of the vote is certainly important, to focus exclusively on whether the commission had the legal right to vote as they did is to overlook a broader and important question that I and our elected and appointed public servants should be asked. Why did they do it? What interests of the public were served by the vote to exclude us?
During the meeting the vote was explained as being necessary to assure that other actions taken during the meeting would be legally defensible under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This reason seems suspect given that (1) the matter of defensibility of decisions was discussed only after the vote was taken to exclude us when Mr. Henry raised it, and, (2) as Mr. Currey has clearly explained, FOIA compliance would have been assured regardless of the outcome of the vote.
Curry: ‘It was clear that Mr. Konick . . . was bypassing me as the FOIA officer’; Konick: ‘All I’m trying to do is follow the law’
In other words, in the eyes of FOIA, the vote to exclude the “online” commissioners was no more defensible than the vote to include them would have been. So, suffice it to say, the four voting commissioners chose to vote the way they did when voting otherwise would have presented no greater legal risk to their other actions.
In an email to commissioners, supervisors, and others on the topic of electronic participation, Chairman Konick offers clues of a different explanation for the vote.
“The easiest solution to this ‘issue’,” Konick writes, “is for the commissioners to attend the meetings and stop trying to obstruct the work of the commission.” Maybe we were voted out of participating to prevent us from obstructing the commission’s work.
And what was the work of the commission on June 17th? Once getting down to business, the self-selected sub-commission took the following actions:
They recommended to approve a brightly lighted sign that currently shines all night long without even discussing whether the sign might be dimmed or whether the owner of the sign might reasonably adopt any measures to support Rappahannock’s objective of preserving dark skies;
They voted to recommend approval or denial of four permit applications without holding public hearings on the applications; and
They voted against holding a hearing or making any recommendation whatsoever on one permit application for a tourist home.
Having spent an inordinate amount of time and energy (and emails) to exclude three commissioners from the meeting, the commission took these actions with very little evident deliberation. Most of the questions they asked were either irrelevant to the matter at hand or could have been answered by simply reading the application or relevant code sections before the meeting.
Perhaps Mr. Konick considers thoughtful and inclusive deliberation by commissioners who don’t always agree with him to be a form of obstruction. Perhaps his idea of “work” requires only to show up in the courthouse and cast votes that agree with his views without research, deliberation, or public input.
Regardless of what he means, none of his words or actions have yet explained a clear and rational reason that four commissioners voted to exclude the other three. Instead, they raise questions about the reasons that have been offered to date.
Let’s not be overly distracted by the question of whether the commission had the right to vote the way they did. Let’s also make sure to keep asking them . . . what purpose or interest of Rappahannock citizens did you mean to serve with your vote?
As you consider their answers, I ask you also to consider . . . who is working and who is obstructing?
A resident of Castleton, the writer is Vice-Chairman of the Rappahannock County Planning Commission representing the Stonewall Hawthorne District.
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