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Other supervisors say they don't know the source of the wording in Ed Elswick's property rights resolution.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Ed Elswick’s property rights resolution created controversy the day it first hit the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors’ agenda.
Now, in recasting it four months later, the supervisor this week kicked up concern about third-party influence on county policy.
An Aug. 26 email acquired by The Roanoke Times shows Elswick was fed text by someone outside county government — written in the first-person, as though it were by him — to forward along to the other supervisors. The email also included several attachments with an edited version of the proposal.
When asked about the correspondence, Elswick said the words had been written by Linda LaPrade, a volunteer with Elswick’s re-election campaign and outspoken activist with tea party ties. LaPrade routinely attends board of supervisors meetings to criticize the county’s partnership with an environmental group.
“What it is, is that I’m not a good typist — I don’t have time to essentially do all that secretarial work,” said Elswick, who is retired. “She provides input to it, she’s made changes to it, I’ve made changes to it, other people have made changes to it.”
Reached by phone, LaPrade said she typed the resolution and has offered input along with others, but insisted that Elswick has final say on the wording.
“I correct punctuation,” LaPrade said. “If I have a suggestion, I give it to him. Sometimes he throws them out, sometimes he takes them, just like any other citizen.”
Elswick said LaPrade’s husband, Terry, and other unidentified people also have read and edited the document before it hits the supervisors’ agenda. He said the end goal remains the same no matter who writes the resolution: create a draft that can win the confidence of the board.
But the outside influence has given at least two supervisors reason for pause as they consider the ethics of using a group of activist supporters — including some who live outside his district — to help write proposed changes to county policy.
“If someone’s feeding him the information, and he’s just the conduit for getting it onto the agenda, that might be a little unusual,” said Hollins District Supervisor Richard Flora.
Cave Spring District Supervisor Charlotte Moore echoed Flora’s concern.
“I don’t think it’s a gray area,” Moore said. “I’ve never known it to happen. If I had been in this situation, rather than let somebody completely do something, I probably would have had a community meeting on it.”
Elswick won election to the Windsor Hills seat in 2009 as a Republican but renounced his party tie in 2010 and turned independent. He is currently running for re-election against Republican Joe McNamara, whom Elswick defeated in a GOP primary in 2009. Reached this week, McNamara said Elswick’s method for drafting the property rights proposal struck him as abnormal.
“The entire time I was on the board, which was 12 years, no one ever wrote my resolutions,” he said. “You’re certainly misrepresenting what’s yours and what’s somebody else’s.”
In many situations, supervisors will draft a concept for policy changes, then work alongside County Attorney Paul Mahoney to compose the technical wording of a resolution. Elswick said that he approached and worked with Mahoney initially for help with the wording and concerns with the resolution.
“Paul just didn’t think that we needed to do it, but he did give us input to it,” he said.
Mahoney confirmed that he assisted Elswick with the resolution’s language at first, but has since been out of the loop.
The latest incarnation of the proposal was scheduled for an up-or-down vote Tuesday, but was moved to a late-September work session at the behest of Elswick, who has been trying to win the support of his fellow supervisors for months. The supervisors already have held one discussion , which yielded criticism that the language in the document was overreaching and unnecessary.
Members of the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce have denounced the resolution from the start, calling it anti-business.
At the heart of Elswick’s original proposal was the idea that a citizen’s property rights should be given the “highest priority” during zoning and planning discussions — which sparked concern that, if codified, the language would inject ambiguity into situations where two property owners were at odds. The proposal offered no guidance as to whose rights would get higher priority.
The latest round of edits show Elswick and his associates have abandoned that approach, focusing instead on altering the rezoning procedure used by the county planning commission.
The new proposal would create a Site Plan Review Committee consisting of citizens, civic groups and neighborhood associations, to give input prior to the public hearing process. The committee wouldn’t be used for all rezoning requests, only those where many property owners disputed the rezoning of property, Elswick said.
“The whole thrust is to make it more informative to citizens, and give them time to look at it and review it,” he said.
The resolution doesn’t specify how cases would be referred to the committee.
Critics already have emerged, claiming the change would add a new layer of bureaucracy to a system that functions well. Some said adding such a committee could extend the rezoning process well beyond the usual 60 to 90 days. Jason Peters, the chairman of the planning commission, estimated that organizing and waiting for the review committee to make a recommendation could increase the process by six months and harm economic development.
“I mean, this is what we have public hearings for,” said Peters, who is also running for the board of supervisors, as the unopposed candidate for the Vinton District seat. “I’m not really sure why you’re going to throw in these other groups. I understand where he’s coming from. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea. But he’s overshooting the runway.”