Not political? Boyd names bypass terminus committee
Sometimes it seems there's nothing local governments love better than to set up citizen task forces. That's why it was so out of the ordinary to hear a rash of criticism when Rivanna District Supe Ken Boyd called a press conference to announce an advisory group for the soon-out-for-bid-yet-undesigned Western 29 bypass northern terminus.
"Today’s announcement by Ken Boyd is another bypass on public input," says Cynthia Neff, who is challenging Boyd for the Rivanna seat. "It is just the latest bad decision for the residents of Albemarle County since the late-night vote to approve the bypass on June 8."
Board Chairwoman Ann Mallek questioned the use of the county's spokeswoman to set up the news conference.
And fellow Supervisor Dennis Rooker challenged Boyd's standing to set up a committee on a project like the bypass, and says that should be done by the entire board. Two weeks later, Rooker named his own committee to represent the Jack Jouett District in planning the road.
Boyd says the committee came out of a town hall meeting with constituents in Forest Lakes, who are concerned because when the original bypass was designed 20 years ago, Forest Lakes South wasn't there.
The dozen members of the task force include former Rivanna supervisor Charles Martin, former School Board member Sue Friedman, and residents of Forest Lakes and Hollymead.
"This group has no authority to do anything but represent the citizens," says Boyd, who will chair the group.
Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton has said he's putting the bypass project out for bid in October, and VDOT recommended getting a committee together as soon as possible, says Boyd. When questioned about the speed with which the project is going out to bid without a final design and without citizen input, Boyd responded, "This road is going to get built. If we want input, we have to do it now."
The group's meetings will not be open to the public, he adds.
VDOT spokesman Lou Hatter was at the press conference and said his agency wants citizen input. He was unable to estimate how long the bid process will take.
Boyd rejected the idea that a single supervisor can't form a committee. "We do that all the time," he says.
Nor, says Boyd, did the timing of the press conference have anything to do with his reelection campaign. "Just because I'm running for office doesn't mean I can't do constituent services," he says. "It's not political. It's about doing the right thing for my district."
He suggests that accusing him of being political could be political on the part of his critics.
"Candidates call for press conferences all the time to get publicity," observes Mallek. "I think we have an explosion of communications issues."
Mallek, who says she's held town halls that are open to the public, calls the closed-door Boyd committee "just not the way I choose to do things." Says Mallek: "Everybody gets to talk at my meetings. It's messy to have a lot of people talking, but it's important to hear what they say."
She thinks there needs to be a bypass design committee for the whole project appointed by the Metropolitan Planning Organization. "Not to preclude any of these smaller discussions, but I shouldn't think this neighborhood process takes the place of that."
Jim Grace is a Forest Lakes resident on the committee and former engineer. He wonders what VDOT will do with the group's input, but considers the alternative. "What are you going to do– not be a part of it?
"My experience with VDOT has been fairly positive," says Grace. "Otherwise I wouldn't waste my time."
Updated September 19.