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County Board Candidates Address Homeless Shelter, Accountability at Forum

by Katie Pyzyk | March 14, 2012 at 9:50 am | 2,761 views | 71 Comments

The three candidates for Arlington County Board squared off last night at a forum hosted by the Radnor/Ft. Myer Heights Civic Association. Green Party candidate Audrey Clement, Democrat Libby Garvey and Republican Mark Kelly advanced cases for why they each should get voter support.

Garvey’s main push is for more communication and transparency in government.

“I think we’re having a little trouble keeping our priorities straight. Is it all about education, infrastructure, public safety? Or is it all about Artispheres and street cars and that sort of thing,” Garvey said. “I think we need to be very clear about our priorities and make them our core services.”

Kelly’s focus is on greater fiscal discipline. He’s also interested in getting the current board members to think outside the box.

“They talk a lot about the Arlington Way and including communities. But sometimes when the rubber meets the road, it’s a lot of talk,” said Kelly. “Someone needs to be presenting alternative plans and offering amendments even if they lose.”

Clement touted her fiscal responsibility as well. She distinguishes herself from Kelly by saying their ideologies are different, and cost reduction doesn’t have to mean sacrificing the welfare of residents. She advocates eliminating what she calls wasteful spending projects like Artisphere, the planned Long Bridge Park aquatics and fitness center and the planned Columbia Pike streetcar. She said a bus system would provide the same service at one-fifth the cost of the streetcar’s estimated $250 million dollar price tag.

Kelly also stated opposition to the streetcar project. Garvey, on the other hand, wouldn’t offer a firm opinion on the idea. She did, however, express interest in examining expanded bus service instead. Like other issues raised throughout the night, the streetcar is something she said she “questions.”

“I’m not taking a stand on it right yet, but I have lots of questions about whether it makes sense for the amount of money that we need to put in,” Garvey said.

A topic referred to throughout the forum is the Board green-lighting the purchase of an office building in the Courthouse neighborhood for a homeless shelter. The candidates assert that regardless of whether or not a year-round homeless shelter a good idea, the process for approving the deal was faulty. Garvey, while again stating she has questions about the project, reiterated the need for transparency. She said although the board may have had good reasons for their decision, residents don’t like it.

“I don’t think the county makes huge errors all the time, but you have to wonder about this one. I’m very uncomfortable with how uncomfortable people are with it,” she said. “We need to have the community on board with it because of the costs.”

Kelly said the way the county went about the approval process is unacceptable. He contends it was rushed, and the building purchase shouldn’t have gone through when so many citizens oppose it.

“The Board needs to realize that in talking with people throughout the county, people don’t feel like their concerns are being heard,” he said.

Clement said the purchase is outrageous due to the $25 million purchase price and the $10 million price tag for renovations.

“It represents a terrible burden on the taxpayers of this county, and is probably one of the worst decisions ever to come down,” she said.

Clement backs a shelter that would require an investment of no more than $2 million dollars, which she believes could be easily achieved by renovating the existing A-SPAN winter shelter. She added that her party wanted a year-round shelter no matter what the cost, but she doesn’t support that viewpoint.

“I am willing to deviate from my party, if need be, on issues. Particularly as they pertain to fiscal responsibility,” said Clement.

Garvey highlighted her own ability to deviate from her party, stating that no sitting member of the County Board endorsed her in the primary, despite all being Democrats. Kelly advanced the need for getting a fresh face on the Board, namely not another Democrat. He contends the current members sometimes fall into a state of groupthink.

“When you have one party that dominates every single elected office in Arlington, it creates an insular environment where no one’s accountable,” Kelly said. “If we really want to let the existing members of the County Board know that we’re watching them closely, we’ve got to elect someone that’s not part of the club.”

Kelly wants to hold board members accountable by publishing the county’s expenditures online. He also supports hiring an inspector general to perform annual audits. Garvey agrees with the need for annual audits, but prefers bringing in an outsider for evaluation instead of making it a county position. Clement likes the idea of an inspector general looking at the books in order to cut down on discrepancies.

“People are not so much concerned about some of the decisions the county makes, but rather the inaccuracies that have been reported,” Clement said. “I think an inspector general is needed basically to keep the county board honest.”

The special election to fill the county board position vacated when Barbara Favola was elected to the state Senate will take place on March 27.

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  • change

    I’m going to wait and see who the current board endorses and vote the other way. They are a disaster.

    • Missing the Obvious

      I don’t think that you have to hold your breath on that one….(hint: Garvey has the democrat’s nomination).

    • Piker

      The best thing to come out of this is that one of these people will be elected to the county board, and none of them are really liked by the current board members.

      Garvey is the least of the evils to the current board, but she seems willing to keep holding their feet to the fire on the vanity issues, which seem to be the issues that this election is hinging on.

      Of course, if she manages to win, she will be virtually untouchable in November, so she has little incentive to walk the walk once she gets in.

      So in the end, same old same old for Arlington.

      • Piker

        So I guess what I am saying is, if you want change in Arlington, vote anti-Garvey, and don’t fall for her current rhetoric.

        • Elmer

          100 % correct.
          If she wins, Garvey will soon be brought to heel by the machine and whimp out on us.
          Don’t waste your vote on her.

  • GreaterClarendon

    Kelly would definitely have my vote, but is he electable in Arlington. Clement is talking like a fiscal conservative, but is that just talk? We need new faces, so I may just try for the Republican. Get rid of the Artisphere and trolley, and focus on needed infrastructure and not pet projects that make you feel good.

    • Josh S

      A Republican is a new face? And regardless, this is a slender reed upon which to base your decision.

    • Independent

      He, or any Republican is very electable in this interim election just like the last Republican that sat on the Board (Mike Lane). He will be destroyed in the Nov election however due it being a presidential year.

  • Roquer

    I doubt that Kelly will win. Too many folks in this county have always been Democrat and go into an election blind to anyone else.However, if Kelly keeps running, and talking, then maybe some day…..

  • Tabs

    “She said a bus system would provide the same service at one-fifth the cost of the streetcar’s estimated $250 million dollar price tag.”

    Hahaha, she obviously never takes the 16 buses. They are PACKED and slooow.

  • Jennifer

    I’m about as fall out of your chair liberal as they come, and I like the things Clement has to say. I don’t believe in the ‘same old Arlington, why bother?’ logic. I read about their voting records (boring, but necessary), and use their mailers to fan myself after a hot walk home from the broken Metro.

    Pleasantly surprised at the turn the shelter is taking–I’m all for having a shelter, but if the residents are bugging out over it, I’m glad to see they aren’t being completely steamrolled. Well, let’s hope.

  • novasteve

    Do people still not realize the problem of having one political party completely dominating a system?

    • drax

      So do you often vote for candidates in both parties, Steve?

      • novasteve

        I’ve never lived in a place where it has been entirely republicans like you have here with being entirely democrat.

        • Boss Tweed

          So I’ll take that as a no.

  • PotentialSlacker

    Homeless Shelter: I work one block over from the newly purchased building also known as the year-round homeless shelter. I’ve been in the area for several years so the homeless population is nothing new here. But, a colleague says they saw stacks of matresses being moved in a month or so ago. Since then, we have had our first unwanted guest – a homeless man stumbling around the halls of our office, peering into cubicles and hacking along the way. The offices are not near the ground floor but we have recently instituted increased security measures which are a bit annoying to say the least.

    I’m told the ARLnow coverage paints a rosie picture of the final open-public board meeting to discuss this which I was surprised to hear…but now I just regret not being there to voice what should be obvious reasons to object of the location and expendature.

    • db

      Those mattresses were new ones for the Hilton Garden Inn not the shelter.

      • geezer

        Thos bums how dare they!

    • Elmer

      If this county board had to live with their decisions- like putting the year-round homeless shelter virtually in their backyard -I assure you their perspective (and vote) would be different.
      The epitome of “limousine liberal”.

    • AllenB

      The county doesn’t own the building yet. Hard to believe mattresses are being moved into it, unless it’s for another tenant.

      • novasteve

        Something tells me that it would violate zoning rules to have people sleep in an office building.

    • ArlRes

      The county doesn’t even own the building yet and it is still just the current tenants in the building. If you’re making up lies, at least make up believable ones :)

      • PotentialSlacker

        The matress is hearsay (as mentioned) and some random guy was creeping people out…pretty straighforward so what’s not to believe? OH and he did have a unicorn with him.

        • Russell’s Teapot

          But it was an invisible unicorn (and it had double rows of very sharp teeth).

  • Josh S

    Curious that everyone seems to be falling over one another in their rush to declare their opposition to the streetcar. Sounds like pandering to me. Garvey especially is likely talking out of the side of her mouth on that one. Her quote: “I think we’re having a little trouble keeping our priorities straight. Is it all about education, infrastructure, public safety? Or is it all about Artispheres and street cars and that sort of thing” when she knows darn well that a street car *is* infrastructure.

    And mentioning Artisphere? I’d wager that A) a sizeable chunk of the electorate doesn’t even know what it is and B) a majority wouldn’t even place it in the top five of their local concerns. But she brings it up because there are the rabid few (especially here, so it seems) who turn this molehill into a mountain any chance they get and try to spread the disinformation that the Artisphere is some sort of budget breaker in Arlington. I’m not going to do the math, but is annual spending on the Artisphere even 1% of the county budget?

    As the Democratic candidate, she obviously is the odds on favorite to win. It also seems unlikely that she would actually be a strong voice to do things differently than the county board has been doing them. I suspect that if she just ran on a status quo platform (which probably will be closer to her actual voting record), she’d still win comfortably.

    • VotersForChange

      The streetcar and Artisphere are valid election issues. It’s hardly pandering. Unless you are among the rabid few who support either, then I guess you would feel threatened by opposing views.

    • Elmer

      Defending the Artisphere as not even being 1% of the county budget? The county budget is over 1 billion dollars-that’s billion with a B.
      1% of a billion is $10,000,000.00
      Why bother? That’s just chump change to a Dem.

  • Arlington Democrat

    Garvey needs to decide who she is. Pandering on issues like the homeless shelter and streetcar is not helpful and not good leadership. Garvey unfortunately has reached the point in her career where it is more important to be an elected official than to do the work. What is her platform? What does she want to do as a county board member? How does she plan to do it? This is why I did not support her in the caucus. I think streetcar and the aquatic center are good ideas and Arlington will be better for it. I think the Artisphere was a good idea with bad execution. If she disagrees, then come out swinging and explain why these aren’t good ideas, and why after all this planning they should be shelved, and shelved for what exactly? It’s really easy to whine about cost in the abstract. I hope that Garvey as board member will actually study the issues and take a position. I have my doubts.

    • Elmer

      To Arl. Dem. “Whine about cost in the abstract”?
      Oh yea, I get it: A few hundred million here and a few hundred million there, then pretty soon your talking about real money.

      • Josh S

        Don’t think you’re getting the point.

        • nom de guerre

          I think he nailed it right on the head. It seems like the only point that you get is your own.

          • CourthouseChris

            Nope. Josh S. was accurate in that Elmer identified “abstract” as magnitude of cost; rather than the manner in which cost is whined about. Elmer indeed missed the point.

    • Arlington Independent

      I tend to agree with you analysis entirely. I don’t know much about the aquatic center, but the streetcar seems like a good investment to me. But in any case, it is a major decision and the information is out there so she should be informed enough to give a less wishy-washy answer.

  • KalashniKEV

    It is good to know that a few of the candidates are shedding light on the corrupt practices of the County Board. I live near the proposed homeless shelter and it is nice (in a not so nice way) that the community has become united in violent opposition.

    This will not be allowed to progress and- mark my words- “someone” involved in this criminal activity WILL see jail time over this.

    • CourthouseChris

      Words marked. Care to make a wager?

      • KalashniKEV

        I’m not a betting man, but when there is the appearance of criminal activity on the surface, you usually don’t have to dig deep. I’ll bet Jack Johnson never thought he’d have a room in the booty house either…

        • CourthouseChris

          “I’m not a betting man [...] I’l bet Jack Johnson never [...]”

          I know, figure of speech, but it’s still funny.

          • KalashniKEV

            Ya got me!!!

  • Jade

    Having talked to Garvey about a school board issue, I can tell you I wouldn’t vote for her. She refuses to give a straight answer about anything. In one conversation she used the word “cool” six times. Yes I counted, because it was annoying!

    • Parent

      I agree. She is dismissive of parent concerns and talks in platitudes. She won’t get a vote from this Democrat.

      • VotersForChange

        We welcome your votes in the upcoming special election.

  • JamesE

    I would replace the homeless shelter with a year round chicken coop.

    • KalashniKEV

      How about we focus on *reducing* the risks to our Health and Safety- though the chicken coop is still a better “ridiculous use” for such valuable real estate… if that’s what you’re going for.

      • geezer

        sleeping in the streets is a pretty significant risk to health and safety no? or did you only mean your own heath and safety?

        • KalashniKEV

          I meant the health and safety of those who own land and pay taxes.

          • Josh S

            I got mine, don’t worry about his. Sentiments upon which a great nation was founded.

          • FrenchyB

            Sadly, the second part is true – only white, male property owners could vote back then.

          • Always Right

            and now you don’t have to show proper identification to vote.

          • FeudalLord

            Here, here ! Bow down you serfs!

          • feudal serf

            very well master

          • FeudalLord

            An extra crust of black bread with your gruel tonight for your snap-to attitude! :)

    • Mr. T

      would definitely yield more return for the investment!

      … while you’re at it, set aside a percentage of earnings from said chicken coop to renovate the existing A-SPAN shelter….

  • Transplant

    I think a new aquatics center is a great idea. The current Arlington pools are over capacity. When they are not being used for classes or competitions you have to share lanes with at least 4 people!

  • Missing the Obvious

    It is important that the vote not get split….those of us who would like to have a county board that would at least pretend to believe that they might lose an election, needs to get behind either Clements or Kelly.
    If the vote get split then Garvey will win and it will be business as usual for the board.

    • Transplant

      Not sure, Garvey and Clements might split the Democrat vote, which would help Kelly.

      • Missing the Obvious

        You would think that, but it does not seem to work that way in Arlington.

        And I really don’t know why.

    • Suburban Not Urban

      I agree – I wish there were some kind of reliable poll that would indicate who is leading – I could live with them both and we might get a better candidate in Nov. Garvey needs to be judged on her actions rather than her verbage – leading the school system into a dire capacity crisis does not provide any confidence that she could or would stand up for the issues she’s bringing forward now.

      • Arlwhenver

        I agree on voting for the candidate who has the best chance to win. When Kelly ran against Zimmerman two years ago he got about six times as many votes as the Green Party candidate, so you (and I) can safely assume he has the best chance for an upset in the special election. My projection, is that putting Kelly on the Board in watchdog status, raising questions, challenging assumptions, exposing inside machinations and putting forward alternatives for vote, would lead to annual budget savings, ultimately, of at least 5 percent, or $50 million a year. Arlington County citizens are giving money away by having tax and spending decisions uniformly made by cozy, unaccountable, non-transparent insiders..

        • Lloyd

          You hit the nail right on the head. The need for a separate IG would really be substantially mitigated if there was just one non-Democrat voice on the Board to talk from the inside.

          It has got to be Kelly.

          • John Cocteau

            but – but – but. I created the *perfect* society. San Angeles – I mean Arlington – is a utopia where no independent thought is needed. You sound like that hooligan Edgar Friendly.

            So the vote still ends up 4-1 on everything, which only makes Kelly out to be the bad guy even if he is providing a voice of reason.

        • Time for a move toward divided gov’t

          +1….Kelly or Clement is indeed the question. Either of them may be out-voted on the Board but it’s time for a non-Democrat. I’m leaning Kelly since he’s probably the strongest advocate for fiscal sanity, which Arlington desperately needs (though I don’t agree with his position on social issues).

          $320k for a ‘public art fence’ and a $250M+ streetcar that’s 5x the cost but that offers no improvement in carrying capacity or travel times over articulated buses were the last straw for me.

          I’m glad Clement is anti-streetcar, and I support affordable housing, but I think the County is spending too many taxpayer dollars to subsidize housing; it doesn’t even require folks to already work or live in Arlington! Fourteen percent of rental units in the county — over 6,000 units — are committed affordable housing, and 67 percent of those units are in North Arlington; I think that’s more than sufficient!

          Lastly, one only needs to look at Buckingham to see that the recent push to greatly increase the density of committed affordable housing on the Pike is not a good idea. Since most of the remaining market rate affordable housing is in South Arlington, the county could save money, vastly improve transit, and let the market continue to preserve affordable housing by investing $40M in articulated buses along with the lighting, streetscape, and other improvements already in the works for the Pike. We can shoot for Metro down the Pike later.

  • JimPB

    Setting priorities should be the priority. Best if done by category label, e.g., public safety, public health, transparency and accountability for effectiveness and cost-efficiency, fiscal constraint, parks and recreation, public transportation, zoning to (fill in).

    What are your top five priorities for ARLCo government?

    • Missing the Obvious

      1. Getting someone other than an ACDC sycophant on the board.
      2. see one

  • Juan Doe Taxpayer

    Dp they realize that with this stupid shelter that every freakin homeless person will be coming here and suck the life out of wallets. An all Democratic board with NOTHING but YES votes makes me sick to live in this county, spend spend spend…………

  • Savarese

    I think Clement would bring some fresh perspective to the board. At least she is thoughtful in her perspective, instead of just being the anti-current board vote. She is the one who initiated the conversation on vanity projects, opening the door to everyone that is getting on the bandwagon. Hopefully the candidates speak to alternative ways to improve the Pike. We need to enhance the cooridor before installing a major investment like the streetcar. I am still undecided about the benefits of an investment like that, but I think both residents that live on the pike and elsewhere will agree that it is time to spend in that area. Hopefully, the upcoming community meeting will speak to that. If the board wants to bring the streetcar to my neighborhood, I hope they can demonstrate their commitment by continuing and expanding on the incremental improvements to the streetscape and in our neighborhoods.

  • Ho Hm

    These three candidates are boring. I’m voting for Bondi as a write-in! Now THAT was a campaign.

  • APSNumberone

    I have personally had it with Garvey. She brought about some good things for the schools earlier in her tenure, but recently has been very complacent. She will not listen to any criticism of the superintendent, even though most APS staff find him incredibly incompetent. Why? Who knows–maybe because she chose him and can’t admit her mistake. At least the County Board cut their losses with an ill-fitting county manager and the other guy last week.

  • Always Right

    “Garvey’s main push is for more communication and transparency in government”. “Transparency”?? I think we are experiencing quite enough of what the democrats call Transparency .

  • Arl1

    As a good democrat, I’m voting for Kelly. This county government has forgotten what we represent. Moving sex offenders, rapists, child molesters (I.e. low barrier shelter) into a $25 million building is not what we should be doing. Don’t even get me started on the artisphere.

  • Don

    I attended the debate. Libby Garvey equivocated on everything, Pike streetcar, Artisphere, Latino HS graduation rates, etc. Kelly out-and out-lied about the anti-environment federal legislation (HR 3323, check it out) he’s pushing for the Tea Party congressman he works for. Clement was responsive and responsible. She has my vote.

  • CD

    The $320,000 designer fence at the sewage treatment plant would replace a brand new 1600 foot $100,000 security fence that is not a chain link fence.

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