Chairman of the board: Fuhgeddaboudit when 29 bypass involved
If tradition had been upheld on the Albemarle Board of Supervisors, Duane Snow would be chairman. Instead, at its first meeting of the year, the usually decorous board got testy over election of the chairman– and who would hold the real position of power: a seat on the transportation-controlling Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Supervisor Ken Boyd accused his anti-29-bypass colleagues of "politicizing" the longstanding tradition of rotating the chair every two years and passing it on to the vice-chair. In this case, Snow would have succeeded Ann Mallek in 2012– if the wounds weren't still fresh over the notorious midnight vote that brought the 29 bypass roaring back to life.
"This is pretty much a rerun of last year," said Supervisor Dennis Rooker, who made it clear at the January 9 meeting the only way Snow would get a majority vote for board chair would be if he gave up his seat on the MPO.
Republican supes Boyd, Snow, and Rodney Thomas, who is Albemarle's other rep on the MPO, favor the bypass; independent Rooker and Dems Mallek and Christopher Dumler don't. The Board of Supervisors had long opposed the 6.2-mile road until a former supervisor changed his position in a June 8, 2011, midnight vote and paved the way for the resurrection of the bypass.
"I think there's some hard feelings for Lindsay Dorrier's changed vote," says Snow.
"Being chairman is ceremonial," explains Snow. "You can't make policy. Whereas the MPO has options to get things done in the community that need to be done." And the five-person regional board can greenlight transportation projects like the 29 bypass.
When he ran for election in 2009, says Snow, he was told no new roads had been built in Albemarle in 30 years, including BOS-approved projects like the Hillsdale Connector and widening the bottleneck on U.S. 29 north, where it drops to two lanes.
"We've had these projects, but there was no money," says Snow. "If we supported the bypass, these other things would be funded. That's why being on the MPO is so important. If you have someone on it who wants to kill the bypass, these other projects would die, too."
Snow notes that Rooker served on the MPO for 10 years, and when Snow was elected to the board, they flipped a coin for the position. Rooker won and stayed on the MPO for an additional year, then turned the position over to Snow. At that time, the BOS was split 3-3 on the bypass– until Dorrier changed his vote.
Ann Mallek, who by default becomes the board's longest serving chair in recent history as she enters her fourth year, is unrepentant about tying the chairmanship to an MPO seat. "The MPO decides what's going to be done with federal funds," she says. "That makes it an important position."
As for the custom of serving as chair for two years then stepping aside, she points out another tradition: Supporting the Board of Supervisors' 20 years of opposition to the bypass.
"Dennis was on the MPO for 10 years, but he went along with the board's position," she says. "[Snow and Thomas] went off on their own to talk to the secretary of transportation– the opposite of the board's position."
Mallek says she asked Snow for his preference– the chair or the MPO seat– and he chose the MPO. And with the board's bitter 3-3 split on the bypass spilling over, Snow will remain on the MPO indefinitely, assuming he's reelected to his Samuel Miller District seat in November.
"We work very well on most issues," says Mallek. "We clearly don't find any middle ground on this bypass issue. That's why I've drawn a line in the sand."
"We get along well, we play well together," agrees Snow. "That was different on Wednesday. It was politics at its worst. It was like children."
Despite being twice denied the chairmanship, says Snow, "I don't hold a grudge and I don't feel cheated. I'm not crying."