When the 28 churches that that make up the group Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations Together (IMPACT) gather at University Hall on Monday Night for the 2nd Annual Nehemiah Action, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will join the Charlottesville City Council in attendance. The Board had previously discussed the legalities and precedents of appearing on stage during a meeting convened by another group.
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Organizers are expecting to surpass last year’s attendance, which was capped at around 1300 after a capacity crowd filled the Martin Luther King Performing Arts Center at Charlottesville High School. In order for the elected officials to appear on stage, both the Council and the Board have to open a public meeting. The Board opted not to do so last year, and only Supervisors
(Rivanna) participated. Virginia open meeting laws require public advertisement of a meeting when more than two elected officials gather to discuss public business.
In February, Supervisors discussed whether to reconsider that policy for this year’s event. Supervisor
(Jack Jouett) brought the item up for discussion at the conclusion of the Board’s day meeting on March 5, 2008.
Last year, Supervisor
(Samuel Miller) had been opposed to convening a meeting during the IMPACT event. She said she changed her mind because IMPACT has changed the agenda for the meeting to address the Supervisors’ concerns. However, Thomas said she was still uncomfortable being asked to make a commitment on stage, especially during the budget cycle.
“Is anyone here in one week’s time going to be able and willing to say that you commit to adding half a million dollars to the housing fund, given that we’ll be just starting our budget work sessions?” Thomas asked. “I just think that that’s a process that’s better suited to some other government where you expect to have to use public humiliation in order to get commitments, and that doesn’t work in this community.”
At the meeting, each local elected official will have two minutes to address the crowd. They will then be asked to answer yes or no questions about whether they will support specific initiatives recommended by IMPACT.
Supervisor Rooker said he was willing to go along with the Board, but added he worried about the slippery slope of having to appear at similar events made by other groups. Rooker also said he had discussions with County Attorney Larry Davis about the possibility of violating church and state restrictions, and Davis said the Board’s appearance will be okay as long as the County Board does not endorse a particular religion. Rooker and Slutzky both suggested officially opening the meeting after all religious aspects of the meeting are over.
(Rivanna) said he was uncomfortable being asked the questions, and said he didn’t care for IMPACT’s “intimidating” tactics. Thomas said she would more than likely say “no” in response to the questions. Rooker said he would also say “no,” even though he supports IMPACT’s agenda and mission to address the needs of the area’s low-income citizens.
“I think those are issues we need to address, but committing to spend $500,000 of taxpayer money without a staff report, without discussion amongst ourselves, without comparing and looking at the budget and determining what things we can fund and can’t fund this year, that’s not a commitment I’m prepared to make at this time,” Rooker said.
Boyd said he was going to consider abstaining, but Slutzky said IMPACT has stated they would see that as a “no.”
“My inclination is to spend my two minutes explaining to [IMPACT] the inherent problem of their process, wherein they tell us they want to make a commitment but they choose not to suggest to us specifically how we’re supposed to accomplish it,” Slutzky said. He said he would support $500,000 in additional funds for affordable living choices, but that the funding would have to either be raised through additional taxes or by cutting the budget somewhere else.