Manassas Park City Council members were a model of efficiency Tuesday night as they approved bonds to fund a new wing for the high school and gave the go-ahead to market land at Park Center, the 25.2 acres set aside as a future Main Street.
For someone observing the occasional jokes and smiles, there would have been little to suggest that only a month ago, such meetings were fraught with disagreements, usually lasting into the late hours of the night.
Such change has been a welcome development for Councilman William Wren, who sees the council tackling a wide variety of issues ranging from Park Center to the city budget, in coming months. Wren says Saturday work sessions, at which council members have worked through differences, as well as strong words from Mayor William J. Treuting Jr., have helped smooth over tensions.
“There’re some newcomers to the council. And they’re learning the ropes. It’s not something that’s going to fracture the whole governing body,” he said.
As Councilman I. Allen Correll puts it, the council is “moving on.”
The new spirit of cooperation comes at the same time that the city, the second smallest in Virginia, continues to experience rapid growth. A 350-unit apartment complex is under construction next to the city’s Virginia Railway Express station. Another 148 dwellings for senior citizens are under construction farther to the east.
It was only a little under a month and a half ago, near the end of September, that Assistant City Manager Brett Shorter announced he was leaving the city, only days after a City Council meeting at which residents of the Belmont Station subdivision, upset about the cutting down of trees next to their homes, called for the resignation of City Manager David Reynal.
By Oct. 1, former councilwoman Fran Kassinger was criticizing the council for the way that meeting was handled. With Treuting absent, Vice Mayor Kevin Brendel had allowed extended speeches, sometimes loud and threatening, to be made against Reynal and Planning Director Dan Painter, Kassinger said.
The situation had gotten to the point where city staff were asking for job recommendations, she said.
“The reaction from the city staff is to exit it rather than fight it,” she said.
A few weeks later, Roger Costello, who served as town mayor from 1963 to 1976, told the City Council that it was micromanaging the way city staff were doing their jobs.
“Give the people the light. And they will find the way. I believe you are not providing the light when you hold your little meetings,” he said.
It was in this general situation that Treuting sent an e-mail to City Council members on Oct. 2, telling them that they needed to shape up the way they were acting.
“About all I will say about your conduct while I was out of town is how petty can you be,” he said.
Treuting wrote that negative comments, bashing of city staff and the initiation of a new crisis every week had to stop.
“If any of us do not think they can work to improve the situation, then I suggest they resign. The pettiness, half-truths and out-of-context comments have to stop,” he said.
The e-mail, Wren says, was the beginning of the change.
“That’s when it really started to settle down. The guy shows good leadership,” Wren said.
Councilman Michael Bunner isn’t sure how much the mayor’s e-mail really helped. But he has noticed that council members are now more willing to agree to disagree.
“Everyone has their own opinion. And we’re not going to agree on all issues,” he said.
One of the new members of the council, Bunner has already begun to make his mark in the city by meeting on street corners with city residents over the weekend.
“I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from the citizens,” he said.
Since the tree-cutting dispute in September, small groups of council members have been presiding over forums with Belmont Station residents. In an e-mail to fellow council members, Brendel described the first such forum, held Oct. 3, as informative.
“The overwhelming majority of residents commented that the interactive dialog was a much better forum than citizen time and encouraged the governing body to do more of this type of meeting,” he said.
At the council meeting Tuesday night, Tonya Mills, a representative of the homeowners’ association in Belmont Station, credited the forums as helping in the writing of proposed changes to the city’s zoning ordinance, changes that she said will make the city more “neighborhood friendly.”
Councilwoman Vonna Privett described the meeting as one of the positive things the council has been able to do over the past month.
“I think council needs to work together,” she said.
Staff writer Chris Newmarker can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 119.