New view? Supe-elect Thomas eyes water plan for ax
In a first for a key official in Albemarle, Supervisor-elect Rodney Thomas–- who refused to sign a campaign-time pledge to support the controversial $200 million water plan propounded by the Nature Conservancy–- indicated on Coy Barefoot's WINA radio show November 6 that he's willing to modify or kill the plan due to the County's dire financial straits.
"We don't have the money," said Thomas, who, along with fellow Republican victor Duane Snow campaigned on the idea of "zero-based budgeting," i.e. starting from zero and taking no spending for granted.
Thomas revealed his thinking November 6 in an unplanned telephone call to the program after Barefoot wondered aloud how frugal the new Supervisors would be.
"We need to buckle down and be conservative with our pennies," opined Thomas, recalling his refusal to sign the plan-supporting pledge. "To me it wasn't a plan; it wasn't set in stone."
Some folks wanted it set in stone–- or actually set in millions of tons of concrete. Two appointed members of the Albemarle County Service Authority, Don Wagner and Liz Palmer, were circulating the pre-election pledge to their would-be bosses, and Thomas notes that Palmer, in particular, seemed "determined" to get his signature endorsing the controversial Conservancy plan to create a single mega-reservoir. He stood firm.
While Palmer defends the pledge as "completely appropriate" for what she calls "a great plan," Charlottesville officials, such as Mayor Dave Norris, have long expressed plan dissatisfaction–- even standing up to career bureaucrats and County-dominated boards to block dam construction until certain conditions get met.
Yet Thomas' radio remarks mark the first break in County unanimity on the plan, which critics have faulted for household cost and environmental destruction. Supporters say it will renew aging infrastructure and help the Moormans River.
Thomas's opponent in Rio District Supervisor races was David Slutzky, who raised the most money, who aligned himself with the plan, and who has been serving as the Chairman of the Board. He joined fellow Democrat Madison Cummings, the protege of retiring reservoir-backing Supervisor Sally Thomas (no relation to Rodney), in going down to defeat.
Both pledge propounders, Palmer and Wagner, will see their seats up for renewal in January, and Rodney Thomas–- who holds all the appointment power for Wagner's seat–- says in a recent interview he plans to advertise for applicants. Informed of this by telephone, Wagner says he won't submit an application for reappointment.
"If he'd like me," says Wagner, "I'm happy to serve, but I don't plan to apply."
The person in charge of Palmer's seat is Duane Snow, who says, "Liz Palmer's definitely not out of it, but I am running an ad through the County, so I can see who's out there and what their qualifications might be."
A potentially far more powerful board, the one with the power over the Conservancy plan, is the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority. There, the leader of the pro-plan/anti-dredging movement, Sally Thomas, will lose her seat December 31 when she retires as a County Supervisor. So the newly reconstituted Supervisors must choose her replacement from amongst themselves at the year's first Supes meeting on January 6.
Rodney Thomas points out that, with his power to influence the water authorities limited to board appointments, his primary budgetary role will remain with the County government, which recently revealed a $5.7 million deficit.
"I'm absolutely petrified about the money situation," he says.
–last updated 11:14am, November 17 with quotes from Snow, Wagner, and Palmer