Close to midnight on Nov. 18, after the public and media had left for the evening, supervisors came out of closed session and voted 2-1 to approve an addendum to the interjurisdictional agreement for the James River water project.  The vote was not on the agenda.  Supervisor Bob Ullenbruch was absent and Supervisor Mike Sheridan left when the topic arose, as he had recused himself from discussing or voting on a special use permit associated with the water project.

Ullenbruch expressed anger upon his return that the vote had been held without him.  Though the addendum had originally been on the agenda for that evening, it had been removed.  He said he had been assured the topic would not be discussed that evening.

If Ullenbruch had been present and if he had voted against the addendum, the vote would have tied at 2-2 and would have failed.

Supervisor Tony O’Brien stated that information discussed in closed session the evening of Nov. 18 prompted his decision to vote on the addendum immediately.  Having the addendum in place before the upcoming votes on the related special use permits was crucial to Fluvanna’s wellbeing, he said.

Another sticking point in the Nov. 18 vote had to do with the fact that no one seconded O’Brien’s motion to pass the addendum, yet the vote was still held.  Usually motions without seconds die on the floor.  County Attorney Fred Payne has explained that the chairperson of the Board can call a vote even without a second if she chooses, and on Dec. 2 another vote was taken in this manner.

Because of the controversy swarming over the vote, supervisors decided to place on the Dec. 16 agenda and ratify in open session the addendum approved Nov. 18.  Ullenbruch was present.  Sheridan was absent for health reasons.

Ratifying the addendum was not legally necessary, Payne told the Board, because its previous vote stood.  But the ratification would be “a demonstration of the Board’s continuing adhesion to that action,” he said.  Calling the modifications to the interjurisdictional agreement contained in the addendum “indisputably” in favor of Fluvanna, Payne said the ratification was “in order to dispel these, in my opinion, erroneous allegations that the original action was unlawful.”

Supervisor Don Weaver, who voted against the addendum on Nov. 18, called the ratification vote unnecessary, saying it would just be “stirring the pot.”

Explaining why he called for an immediate vote on Nov. 18, O’Brien said that he thought it was crucial to have the addendum in place before the Dec. 2 vote on the special use permits associated with the project.  If Fluvanna had passed those permits before the addendum was in place, he said, it would have given up all its bargaining power with Louisa County.

“It looks very strange to want to vote on the same thing that was voted on before,” maintained Weaver.

Describing his anger at the late-night vote, Ullenbruch said, “I thought my voice was taken away by that decision.”  If he hadn’t been told the issue was removed from the agenda, he said, he wouldn’t have minded the vote in his absence.  “That was my fault,” he said.  Ratifying the addendum gave him a chance to contribute his voice to the issue, he explained.

“I think it’s mighty strange that this is back in front of the Board when it doesn’t need to be,” said Weaver.  “That raises very suspicious circumstances.”

In response, Chairperson Mozell Booker pointed out that no one, including Weaver, objected to adding the ratification to the night’s agenda.

Weaver took issue with some of the language in the addendum, which states that Louisa “will consider” Fluvanna contributions toward a possible treatment plant expansion and, if Fluvanna does in fact contribute, “may…consider” reductions in the rate it charges Fluvanna for treated water.  Weaver didn’t find sufficient protection for Fluvanna in the wording.

County Administrator Steve Nichols said that Fluvanna can’t negotiate the future terms of a deal that may arise “10 years from now” especially in the absence of concrete information, such as whether Fluvanna would contribute to Louisa water plant expansions.

“So this means nothing, basically, what we’re doing right here,” Weaver said.

“No,” replied O’Brien.  “For public discussion it’s important for people to understand – ”

“Well yeah,” interrupted Weaver, “because nobody was here the last time.”

But Weaver went on to praise O’Brien for the work he did in negotiating the addendum with Louisa.  “You represented the county well and I was pleased that you stuck to your points, and you got more consideration than what we would have had if we had just approved it to begin with,” he said.  “But to me, this is just repetitious and the other vote’s legal, so I don’t follow really doing it again.  I’m not going to approve this.  Not that it makes a difference.”

Supervisors voted 3-1 to ratify the addendum.

After the meeting Ullenbruch explained why it was important to him to vote on the addendum.  “I feel that those four individual items [in the addendum] totally changed the original interjurisdictional agreement, which had no benefit to Fluvanna County,” he said.  “So for safety matters I agree on those four items.  And if Jan. 20 the Board finds that the two new special use permits are agreeable, the addendum is only going to strengthen Fluvanna County’s stand in the future.”

On Dec. 2 supervisors voted 2-2 to deny the two special use permits (Weaver and Ullenbruch dissenting).  After Louisa took the first step toward a lawsuit, supervisors decided to hold new public hearings and votes on Jan. 20.

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