In just under a month, the group
Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations Together
(IMPACT) will hold its second annual “
” event at University Hall to find out if members of the Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors support initiatives to increase affordable living choices in our region.
However, state law on meetings by public bodies restricts the ability of elected officials to participate in such meetings. The on-stage appearance of more than two Supervisors, or more than two Councilors, would constitute a public meeting. Members of the Board of Supervisors would have to vote on a motion to either schedule or adjourn to a special meeting. A similar process would have to be held for City Council. City Council chose last year to make it an open meeting, and could do so again this year, according to Mayor
On March 10, IMPACT officials are hoping to seat all 11 elected officials on the state at University Hall. Each has been invited to speak for two minutes on either affordable housing initiatives or dental care issues, the two topics of discussion at the meeting. The term “Nehemiah Action” comes from a passage in the Bible where a man demands action from a large public assembly for wrong-doing by money lenders.
After each elected official has spoken, a representative from IMPACT will ask a yes-or-no question to gauge their support on proposals that will be made available by IMPACT before the event. Any “yes” answer deemed to have too many qualifications will be recorded as a no.
The Board of Supervisors discussed the IMPACT meeting during their regular meeting on February 13, 2008. At IMPACT’s first action event in March 2007, only two members of the Board were allowed up on stage in order to satisfy the open meetings law. Representing the Board were Supervisor
(Rio) and Chairman
(Rivanna). Four City Councilors were able to be on stage because Council decided to hold a special meeting.
“If more than two Board members are going to be there, and there’s going to be participation by Board members, that would constitute a meeting, and you would have to…call a special meeting of the Board,” said County Attorney Larry Davis. The Board opted not to take that approach last year out of a concern they would set a precedent for community organization’s dictating the agenda and meeting times of a public body.
(Scottsville) said anything less than full Board participation would be seen as the County ducking its responsibility on social issues. Supervisor Slutzky said he would be fine scheduling a special meeting on March 10, 2008.
Other supervisors expressed reservations. Supervisor
(Jack Jouett) said he agreed with many of IMPACT’s goals, and would plan to attend the meeting in whatever capacity he could.
“I do not think it is a good precedent to get into a mode of in effect having other groups set an agenda for a Board meeting,” Rooker said. “I don’t think it’s a wise approach to… give answers on matters that involve perhaps millions of dollars of taxpayer money with no staff report, with no interaction among Board members, without hearing from the public. Granted, this group is a component of the public but what they have put together is not a public hearing where people that might not agree with their agenda can get up and speak.”
(Samuel Miller) said it was awkward to be only able to attend a brief portion of last year’s meeting before her colleagues on the Board were called on-stage, and said she might be open to a special meeting.
Supervisor Slutzky asked if it were possible to convene a special meeting of the Board at U-Hall for the purposes of allowing all to take part. He said that thousands of people would be attending the event, far out-numbering attendance at any Board of Supervisors event. “Is there a process way in which we can go to this meeting, and open it up as a public hearing of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, hear all the things that are said during the course of the evening, and then close the public hearing, and come home?”
Davis said that would be possible, if IMPACT was willing to give space in the event’s agenda to allow the Board to conduct its meeting. But Rooker said that IMPACT’s meeting would not be a public meeting, and that the Board would not be in charge. Slutzky disagreed, and said he thought IMPACT’s meeting was just a different format to a regular Board meeting, where Board members receive public input. Thomas said the difference, however, is that IMPACT expects commitments.
“I think we would have to say we’re not making a commitment, and if they would be happy with that, then that’s one way to proceed,” Thomas said.
Slutzky said he was comfortable saying “yes” to IMPACT’s questions last year, but said he told the crowd that the Board is a six-member body. “I’m not uncomfortable giving them that hedged commitment,” he said. Boyd said he would likely not give a yes or no answer at the meeting, because he said he would not be able to. “The whole idea here is to get us on the record as saying yes or no,” Boyd said.
Davis said the Board could temporarily waive its rule about how it opens and closes meetings in order to participate at the event as a public hearing. If the Board chooses to go this route, they can simply adjourn from the March 5 meeting and agree to reconvene at U-Hall for the special meeting. Minutes would need to taken.
Rooker said part of the problem is that two minutes is not a sufficient amount of time to explain to the public what the Board is doing, and has done. “Some of the issues that IMPACT is dealing with are complex issues that require much more than a two minute discussion in order to properly educate the people who are in the room for the first time,” Rooker said. “In this meeting you’re going to end up having two minutes.”
Rooker said last year’s event was run “like a game show” and at one point, Councilor David Brown’s refusal to say yes led one IMPACT member to jokingly threaten Charlottesville with Biblical destruction. That prompted Slutzky to remark that he thought of IMPACT as a “public voice” and not necessarily as representing a religious viewpoint.
After the Board’s discussion, members of IMPACT spoke during Matters Before the Public to repeat their call for full Board attendance. IMPACT member Susan Bremer said the group is interested in improving the process, and has formed a committee to help the March 10 meeting run more smoothly. “It is our intention to always be respectful and to ultimately present realistic proposals,” Bremer said. These proposals, she said, have been developed “in dialog” with elected officials, and they will get the chance to see the proposals before the March 10 event.
“We understand that this is not an official vote in anyway, rather an indication of a particular decision-maker’s position,” Bremer said. Her comments were followed by IMPACT member and Albemarle County resident Eugene Rader who encouraged Board members to attend. “I urge you, each of you, to be present and to express your stance on affordable housing. Not necessarily money, but how you feel about it,” Rader said.
That prompted Rooker to point out that he could not easily give a two-minute answer to explain that the County has been doing to address the issue. “We are one of the few counties in the state that actually has an affordable housing plan, and has embodied in our Comprehensive Plan affordable housing goals, requiring 15% of [housing units in a rezoning] to be either affordable housing or that comparable contributions be made to affordable housing,” Rooker said. “This Board is very committed to [affordable housing] and I want you to know that.”