The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has elected new leadership as it prepares to tackle a long list of priorities — a list so long that the board’s new vice chair had to laugh when asked to name them.
The Samuel Miller District’s Jim Andrews, first elected in 2021, was named chair at the all-Democrat board’s Jan. 3 meeting. The Jack Jouett District’s Diantha McKeel, first elected in 2013, was named his vice chair.
McKeel takes her position with several years of experience under her belt: She served 16 years on the Albemarle County School Board, serving two terms as chair, and in her decade on the Board of Supervisors she has been named chair and vice chair. This marks Andrews first time serving as chair; he served as vice chair last year under Chair Donna Price, who retired last year and whose Scottsville District seat now belongs to freshman Supervisor Mike Pruitt.
In Albemarle’s county executive form of government, it is County Executive Jeff Richardson who is the administrative head of the county. The Board of Supervisors guides his work by setting policies and the chair of the board presides over meetings and works with county staff to review agenda items and ensure there is enough time scheduled to adequately address each item.
Planning ahead and working together will be key, Andrews and McKeel told The Daily Progress, especially as the county enters the busy budget season in the first few months of the year.
“It’s a tight schedule and full workload while ensuring everyone around the dais has the opportunity to be heard,” Andrews said.
“In the county executive form of government, the role of board is to establish public policy,” said McKeel. “The raising of local funds is of course critical to our work, because we can’t implement the Comprehensive Plan or any of the other items that come before us without financial resources to do it.”
Reviewing and ultimately passing the budget will be a key focus of the board through February, March and April.
“Our county executive will be rolling out the budget in February, and the Board of Supervisors will work to get it approved hopefully sometime in early May,” McKeel estimated.
After that, much of the focus will turn to building and passing a Comprehensive Plan, the governing document that regulates land use in the county. It will also be important in building affordable housing and improving the county’s transportation system. The board is aiming to have the plan completed by the end of 2024.
“That is probably right now one of the priorities we are really working the hardest towards along with our affordable housing work, transportation and transit work, economic development, trying to diversify our tax base with that economic development work, and we always have land use proposals coming to us, and we’re trying to prioritize all of that with our work with equity, and we can’t leave out climate change,” McKeel said, pausing to a laugh at the length of the agenda ahead of her. “So there’s a lot of work to be done.”
Andrews was nominated by longtime White Hall Supervisor Ann Mallek and unanimously elected to the board’s top post.
“I’m happy to do my best in the role, and very grateful for the trust placed in me by the full board,” he said. “I serve at the board’s pleasure.”
Andrews said he looks forward to working with supervisors who have served as long as Mallek, who is entering her 16th year on the board, and as short as Pruitt, whose first meeting was last week.
“I think we have six very talented, dedicated, hardworking people with a wide variety of experience levels and fresh ideas,” Andrews said. “We need new faces to sometimes bring in fresh ideas, and it’s also very helpful to have people with a lot of experience to remind us where we’ve been.”
Andrews added that he hopes to follow in the footsteps of two specific former chairs: Price and Ned Gallaway.
“They adhered to very open processes that allowed everyone to weigh in to make sure that decisions by the board were conveyed in ways the public could understand and otherwise promoted hallmarks of good government,” he said. “I’ll do my best.”