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A panel of Stafford County residents said this week that there is no need for an elected at-large chairman, but the Board of Supervisors will still discuss the idea at its next meeting.
Supervisor Paul Milde has long pushed for county voters to choose who will sit at the head of the dais.
A seven-member committee, appointed by supervisors in April, was tasked with studying the creation of such a seat and whether it's appropriate for Stafford. Currently, the chairman is elected by the seven members of the board in January of each year.
Committee Chairwoman Linda Musselman, a former county supervisor, presented the report at Tuesday's board meeting. She said there were "no compelling data" to warrant asking for a referendum on changing Stafford's form of government.
The General Assembly would need to pass special legislation that would let the board put the question on a ballot. Another option is for 10 percent of registered voters to request the referendum via petition.
In 2009, about 6,000 voters signed such a petition, Milde said.
"Yet four years later, the requests for serious consideration have consistently been thwarted," he said.
The committee's recommendation came after four meetings, interviews and research.
Ferris Belman was one of those interviewed. He served as Stafford's at-large supervisor from 1985 to 2001, and pushed to remove the position during the 2000 redistricting process, according to the committee's report. The at-large supervisor seat was created as a "tie-breaker" in 1985 when the board had six members.
Belman, who lives in Falmouth, told the the committee that an at-large chairman could create "unnecessary conflict and strife among board members."
The committee cited several reasons why an at-large chairman is not necessary, including that Stafford County's government reports lower costs per capita than similar localities.
If the board does decide at its Nov. 20 meeting to ask for special legislation, the committee recommended following the model used by Loudoun County. A citizen-led movement pushed for the change there.
During a heated discussion that could have rivaled Tuesday night's national presidential debate, supervisors sparred over how committee members handled their job.
Supervisor Gary Snellings called the public finger-pointing over the committee's work "reprehensible."
"I'm extremely upset and would be very surprised if I went to someone and asked them to serve on a committee and, after seeing this, they agreed to do it," Snellings said.
Read into the public record were emails to the board from three committee members expressing concerns that minds were made up before the committee even met. The members had been appointed by the three supervisors who have previously expressed support for an at-large chairman--Milde, Cord Sterling and Jack Cavalier.
Supervisor Ty Schieber said he thinks the traditional form of government suits the county well.
"I keep going back to my gut reflection when the issue was first brought to me--what problem is it that we're trying to solve?" Schieber said.
Snellings said the position would just increase the size of the government.
"That's all we're going to do. I'm going to vote against sending forward, unless someone can give me a compelling reason, other than that certain members of the board want to run for this office," Snellings said.
He said that if voters create a grass-roots effort, they can still ask for the issue to be put to the ballot with signatures from 10 percent of the more than 80,000 registered voters in the county.
Committee member Scott Mayausky, the county's commissioner of revenue, was appointed by board Chairwoman Susan Stimpson.
Crunching the government-cost numbers, he said, "Clearly there's something that's going on with boards that have elected chairmen."
Stimpson apologized to Mayausky for putting him into the conflict, after he said he was disappointed by the comments.
"I really do appreciate your work on this," she said.
The board will vote next month on whether to send the request to the General Assembly.
Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975