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Board Passes PPTA Following Heated Debate

by Katie Pyzyk — December 11, 2012 at 1:55 pm 3,471 88 Comments

(Updated at 2:15 p.m.) Following a heated debate, last night the Arlington County Board adopted guidelines allowing the county to enter into public-private partnerships for transportation projects like the planned Crystal City streetcar.

The Board spent hours discussing and hearing testimony about the Virginia Public-Private Transportation Act of 1995 (PPTA) before ultimately adopting the guidelines in a 4-1 vote. Board member Libby Garvey was the lone dissenter, raising numerous questions about the PPTA and its safeguards. She reiterated previous statements she made about wishing for more time to examine the implications of adopting the guidelines.

“This is an incredibly complex legal document here and I don’t know that we should be doing it on the fly,” Garvey said.

“We’re not doing it on the fly,” countered Board Chair Mary Hynes. “You’ve had it since November 9. We’ve all spent time on it and have been briefed on it.”

Last week, Garvey brought up a concern regarding Board member Chris Zimmerman’s participation in the PPTA vote, claiming it was a conflict of interest due to his consulting work with AECOM, a large construction, design and transportation conglomerate. Arlington County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac informed the Board there was no conflict of interest, and the three other Board members spoke out on Saturday (December 8) against Garvey’s request for Zimmerman to recuse himself from the vote.

Audrey Clement, who ran for County Board as a Green Party member, spoke to the Board in support of Zimmerman recusing himself.

“The matter before the Board tonight involves no monetary transaction. Nevertheless, Mr. Zimmerman may well have the appearance of a conflict of interest because his employer, or client, will undoubtedly seek a contract in the future,” said Clement. “The guidance to be adopted by the county tonight will be the vehicle by which it secures the county’s business. Therefore, I think Mr. Zimmerman, and I agree with Libby Garvey on this point, ought to recuse himself from tonight’s vote.”

Clement further suggested that the county’s desire to adopt the PPTA indicates it doesn’t have enough other funding to construct the streetcar without help from the private sector.

Current state senator and former Board member Barbara Favola also took to the podium. She congratulated the Board for considering the guidelines.

“I see no reason why you would not pursue this additional tool,” said Favola. “Of course, you have to work at it, you have to make it work for you. You have to remember your job, you have to remember that you are responsible for being transparent. But I have confidence that you will do that.”

Garvey, who has previously expressed reservations regarding the streetcar project, said she believed Monday’s vote brings the county one step closer to implementing the streetcar plan.

“If we vote today we are one vote away from awarding the contract for the streetcar,” Garvey said.

She was reminded that the vote was about adopting guidelines, not making a decision about the streetcar construction.

“I would respectfully disagree with your interpretation, Mrs. Garvey, of what this Board has just talked about,” said Hynes.

Zimmerman largely refrained from participating in the debate, only offering a statement immediately before the vote. He noted his disclosure of his consulting work in order to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, and re-stated the County Attorney’s view on the matter.

“I take very seriously my obligation to maintain the highest ethical standards, to which I have held myself since I took office,” said Zimmerman. “I have been advised in consultation with the County Attorney that I do not have a conflict of interest arising out of my professional work that would require me to make a formal disclosure or would disqualify me from participating in the consideration of the PPTA guidelines now before the Board.”

The guidelines will go into effect on April 1, 2013. Until that time, the county will work on putting in place the necessary processes and resources for considering proposals under the PPTA.

  • Zimmerman

    ZING!

  • wuh

    Did Hynes really refer to her as “Mrs. Garvey”? OUch.

    • brown before green

      She is always referred to as Mrs. Garvey. I think it is what she prefers.

      • wuh

        How gauche

        • Josh S

          ?
          You might have things backwards…..

          • wuh

            No, that’s just you looking in the mirror.

    • Miss Manners

      Perish the thought that adults would use proper, respectfully titles when addressing each other in a public business setting.

  • novasteve

    Can we just build bars around the county Board so it’s easier to jail them given what corrupt crooks they are?

    • Clarendon

      There are enough bars around me.

  • Steve

    I feel there is something sinister going on with Garvey. I get a bad vibe.

    • littlebritches

      I agree. It was a very shiesty move and she seems to be making a habit of them.

      • STEVE

        Really? Is it blatant graft? No, Zimm is too smart for that. But the fact is lots of people stand to make $100s of millions off this project regardless of the lack of clear public benefit compared to the alternatives. The measure at hand would have passed even without Zimm, so why wouldn’t he acknowledge the appearance of conflict, and step aside. And think about it, do you think AECOM would hire him if he wasn’t pro-streetcar? NO, they are a for profit company and are not acting on behalf of the public good.

      • PaulB

        For one, she is not fully supportive of the streetcar, so her position here it totally consistent with that. Also, there is definitely no love lost between her and those who endorsed her opponent in the primary. She can expect a primary challenge next time around, and frankly what she’s doing is both consistent with her campaign position and politically the right thing to do by expanding her supporter base.

        She’ll be tough for the Dems to oust next time her position comes up.

        • FedUp

          Garvey runs in a presidential year. She’ll be on the Board for as long as she wants. Good for her for voicing concerns about the PPTA.

      • Dezlboy

        Garvey seems to be still fighting the Council decision to move forward with streetcar implemention. While I agree the plans, procedures, etc must be done with proper study, etc,…….Garvey appears to be trying to make a name for herself by being a pain.

        • Steve

          Exactly – (D) or no (D), she needs to go.

  • Trev

    Z-man. Hey brah. Let’s grab a brew tonight. It’s ladies nite!

  • CrystalMikey

    Get your popcorn ready

  • Steve

    Do you think if Zimm recommended further review of the Streetcar Issue before floating any bonds for the project he would still be asked to be a consultant with AECOM? Someone needs to rein in that poster boy for his abuse of public authority and $$$.

  • Pablo

    The School Board has a $23.5 M deficit, the county another $25M…The county board says it is a different color of money but if we as the County population say to forgo a Streetcar with an incredible infrastructure cost and no redundancy in case of an Emergency (Buses are much more flexible) we would not have this deficit for our schools or county. Libby needs to push forward for a vote on Streetcar vs Schools….Schools will win and Zimmerman will serve out his last term.

    • Nick

      Here are three data points from the Preliminary Official Statement for 2012 Arlington Bonds available at
      https://www.pfm.com/uploadedfiles/bondcalendar/Final%20Arlington%202012C%20POS.pdf.

      The overall office vacancy rate in Arlington in 2000 was 2.4% and in the first quarter of 2012 was 12.9%. POS pg 32.

      “In September 2010, Arlington County completed a long-range master plan for Crystal City to strengthen its position as an office market and introduce a more-balanced mix of uses over the next fifty years. The master plan identifies many development and redevelopment opportunities, with overall goals to increase economic activity in Crystal City and improve transportation networks and open space systems in this area. At full build-out the master plan will result in the construction of over 9.6 million square feet of office space, 1.2 million square feet of retail space, 8,300 residential units, and 2,900 hotel rooms.” POS pg 36.

      Principal tax revenues derives from real property taxes, personal property taxes, general sales taxes, business license taxes, transient taxes (and other taxes such as commercial utility tax, meals, tax, communications tax, recordation tax etc.) has grown $114,644,822 from 2007 to 2011. POS pg 62.

      Taken together there is an argument to be made that the street car would make the Crystal City and Columbia Pike area more attractive for developers, decrease office vacancy rates, and lead to new sources of revenue through full build-out of the new office and retail space, residential units and hotel rooms. And, that this new source of revenue overtime would more than make up for the initial infrastructure outlay. There are obviously lots of counter arguments (e.g. the full build out of the master plan would occur even without the street car), but it is something to keep in mind.

  • Glebe Roader

    Zimmerman,

    You knew this would pass 3-1, even if you recused yourself. You had the opportunity to look like you had high morals (even if you may not). Not a smart move.

    • Claire

      It’s probably in his contract with AECOM that he had to vote on record.

    • novasteve

      Zimmerman will have a (D) after his name on the ballot, so I don’t think he has much to be concerned about.

      • drax

        Because most Arlington voters are drooling idiots, right?

        • Mary-Austin

          Because many Arlington voters do what the Democratic sample ballot tells them to do.

          • drax

            How do you know that? Did you poll them?

            No, you throw out this insulting, baseless allegation because you can’t handle that a majority of voters considered both sides and freely and intelligently chose the one you didn’t.

          • JamesE

            drax you are the virtual white knight of the county board, they do no wrong.

          • Mary-Austin

            ^ Actually I worked at the polls and I saw many people who didn’t have a clue who they were voting for on the local level and openly proclaimed that. People who stand in the booth shouting “who’s the Democrat??” because they hadn’t done any prior research.
            I would argue that from what I saw on election day your claim “the majority of voters considered both sides freely and intelligently” to be baseless.

          • Quoth the Raven

            Uh-oh! Actual evidence! What will d-rax say now…..

          • drax

            Don’t be ridiculous, Mary-Austin. You can’t know what voters were thinking. You didn’t see most voters. Your comments, like all the “the voters who voted opposite me are just idiots” comments are insulting and self-serving. And you can’t show that there aren’t just as many people out there, maybe not in Arlington but just a few miles away, in voting lines yelling “Who’s the Republican?” too.

            But I urge you to go out and tell Arlingtonians to stop being such idiots when they vote and start thinking. I’m sure you’ll win them over next time. Be my guest.

          • Jane-Dallas

            So you saw the majority of Arlington voters at your spot at the polls? I think someone is delusional.

          • Urbanist

            Apparently QtR doesn’t know the difference between “actual evidence” and an anecdote.

      • fedworker

        Sad but true.

      • southarlington

        Every voter needs to do there homework and regardless if there is a D or not if you do not support what they do vote them out …..we need new people and this proves it ….

        • drax

          Why do you assume people didn’t already do their homework last time, and simply did support what they do?

          Maybe it’s just that a majority of thoughtful, intelligent people disagreed with you.

          • Mary-Austin

            Maybe…but why do you assume that?
            Did you do a poll to see how thoughtful and intelligent most voters were?

          • Pete

            You probably meant “plurality”. That’s a common mistake by many thoughtful, not as intelligent as they think they are people.

        • drax

          I urge you and Mary-Austin to keep talking about how most Democratic voters in Arlington are just idiots. I’m sure that will change their minds. Who wants to be a stupid idiot after all? I’m sure they’ll be open to your suggestion and eagerly change their way of thinking when you tell them they are stupid, stupid idiots if they don’t. By all means, continue with that strategy while I sit back and watch.

          • Festus

            Lol. You think anybody would listen to your advice. How cute.

          • WVU-fan

            Drax, seems like you’re the only one referring to democratic voters as idiots. Mary-Austin didn’t write that democratic voters are idiots. You might want to check your blood pressure & chill out.

  • Major Pup McPuppo Jr.

    chick’s kinda hot

    • Mama Pup McPuppo

      How many times have I told you to leave these old hags alone?

  • southarlington

    for all of you people that have been living in this county for awhile do people remember if when Paul Fergunson was part of the Board was it this secertive and passed everything ..and they did not listen to the public ???

    • UptonHiller

      Yes. The way he handled the baseball stadium site selection process was right up there with the crap they are pulling now.

      • drax

        I’m very glad that we didn’t build a huge ballpark in Arlington.

        • UptonHiller

          Are you glad they built the conference center instead?

          • nom de guerre

            Yeah, that is one world class, vibrant conference center that we have in Pentagon City.

        • Keith

          Nobody cares. The issue is the process.

          • Josh S

            Interesting choice of words. Because that’s exactly what this vote was about – should Arlington Co avail itself of this additional process allowed by the state to consider this kind of financing mechanism. In and of itself, it had no direct bearing on the streetcar, on AECOM, etc. The claims of corruption, fraud, or anything close to all that are very overblown.
            I happen to be disappointed with the vote, but that’s just because I think that public-private partnerships tend to give profits to the private company but force the public to hold the bag when it comes to the risks. If the county can’t figure out how to pay for the streetcar without bringing in a private company, then don’t build it.

          • drax

            I was happy with the process.

        • Quoth the Raven

          I agree about the ballpark, because the last thing we need is more businesses, more money, etc. The area around Nats Park is a dump now, unlike how it was 10 years ago.

  • southarlington

    Sorry meant to say ” did they not listen to the public”

  • S. Arlington

    Ding Ding – Here it comes. Can’t wait. And the bonus: Garvey shows her true colors early into her tenure. She’ll be a lame duck for four years.

    • nom de guerre

      Better to be a lame duck than a sock puppet.

      • Josh S

        Hold on, I have to go check urbandictionary.com to see what “lame duck” means…..

    • Steve

      Lame duck status will match her hair….too soon?

  • NoVapologist

    You gotta love the Zimmerman logic: “Because I disclosed my conflict of interest, no conflict of interest exists.”

    • JediMindTrick

      These aren’t the conflicts you are looking for…

  • South Awwlington

    Libby had her chance to make valid points and push for the insertion of language to safeguard the public for all large infrastructure projects. INSTEAD, it came back to Mr. Zimmerman and the Streetcar. There was nothing eloquent or intelligent in her argument and it made her look like a cry baby.

    I had hoped that someone bright enough to bring up the perception of conflict would have come with their A-game. She was right to make light of this issue and did so. It’s now time to move on.

    • DCBuff

      Why is it time for Garvey to “move on” with respect to this and other major capital expenditure issues? Just because one vote went against her view? Goodness, I guess all the Ds in the House should just start voting with the majority Rs and all the Rs in the Senate should start voting with the majority Ds, and for that matter, since the president was re-elected, why aren’t they just rubber stamping his policies? One can easily make the case that Garvey was elected with a strong majority who consider her position against the trolley to be a mandate. After all, there are all kinds of Zimmerman surrogates on this blog that are making the opposite case on his behalf.

  • Joe

    Zimmerman: DISCLOSING the conflict is only part of it. RECUSAL is the second part, which you refused to do, notwithstanding a clear conflict. Arlington politics is taking on the worst of New Jersey or Chicago politics.

    • Lou

      It is so cut and dried. Somebody who works for a company that lobbies for and profits from this type of legislation, simply should not be voting to adopt it.

      Absolute no brainer from an ethics standpoint.

  • Maureen

    No, the County Attorney reviewed the posible conflict and determined that legally, there was not one. Additionally, didn’t the majority of Arlington voters elect Chris Zimmerman to the board to do exactly what he did, his JOB, ie, vote on the measure. If you guys hate him so much then shoot, run for the board, or support another candidate but stop banging on him because he properly received clearence and did his job

    • DCBuff

      The County Attorney works for the ArlCo board and any opinion on his part reflects support of the policies of the board. He is in no way independent or voted into office a la the Commonwealth’s Attorney. And, yes, ArlCo voters elected Zimmie to do his job; they did not elect him to shill for AECom.

    • Elliot Ness

      What job are you referencing? His paid job (bribe) to promote a private-public option or his elected position representing the public which would require him to weigh whether a private-public option was good for the County. His private employer has bought his vote and foreclosed the option of not adopting a private-public option.

  • Marco

    It is obvious several posters on here did not watch the proceedings and several others are either Zimmerman himself or someone in his pocket. Ms. Garvey was amazing. Ms Hynes was rude and condescending and did not listen to the arguments. She just protected her stance. It was obvious she wouldn’t let Garvey win under any circumstances. It was clear her interest was not in the community she was elected to serve but in protecting her position that the newbie not overshadow her.
    My biggest disappointment was Mr Fissette. It is obvious there is a you scratch my back , I’ll scratch yours ” system of governance. Mr Fissette in the past has stood up to it (in case someone comes back and says except for his pool project, I will agree).
    Ms. Garvey is a strong woman. She has the backing of some very intelligent and very prominent folks. She will break apart the Hynes/Zimmerman power hungry plays and give Arlington more of the direction it needs. Mr. Fissette please examine your motives in following the crowd. I promise you it won’t serve you in the long run.

    • DCBuff

      Thanks for this post. Getting the flavor of the board meetings is interesting and relevant. Don’t hold your breath in waiting for Jay suddenly to do the right thing. He won’t.

    • Another voter

      Marco, your posts related to Ms. Garvey are rather overwrought. Are you Ms. Garvey herself or someone close to her?

      • Marco

        I do not know Ms. Garvey. My profession is in analyzing human behavior. I called it like I saw it. The county board is a new interest given some conversations with my staff of power vs. commitment. Arlington County board has been used as examples of misuse of power. I am finding this true.

        • Marco

          Btw I liked drax. Think s/he would be interested in running next?

  • Steven

    I agree about Hynes and Zimmerman; they need to move on. Not sure about Garvey, not clear on her motives. Fissette, though, he will cave to anything to get his pool. The other guy is an invisible Zimmerman puppet.

  • LyonParkVoter

    So upset I wasn’t able to attend to put each Board member on the record on whether they agree that they must abide by the Ethics Guidelines and avoid perceived conflicts of interest.

    Not surprising that Favola who also disregarded the Ethics Guidelines also thought it was ok for Zimmerman to proceed.

    Obviously they take the voters for granted, think we are too short-sighted to remember by election or simply vote D all the way regardless of whether or not the elected officials vilate the County’s Ethics Guidelines.. Sadly, no one will remember by next election though I sure hope someone will bring this up on re-election to the Board or should any of them seek higher office.

    • Republican

      To all of you who assert that the voters only vote for candidates with a “D” by their name, how do you explain who wins during the primaries?

  • JediMindTrick

    This is what happens when you have single party rule for too long. They start to drink their own bathwater and think it tastes good.

  • southarlington

    Isn’t that the truth and if some dem’s want change it will never happen unless the majority wake and stop drinking ” the Kool- Aid”…..and I am going to state in again look and see what is going on around you and if you want more money to go to other things than get it done …..and stop voting the same people in …Some one was talking about running for office if you do not like something …as we have seen in previous elections if you are not ” in the correct group of Democrats ” no one likes you …I do know this from exiperence from working on 2 preivous Arlington school board and county board elctions …

  • Enough Already

    Libby likes attention and conflict, so that’s what she pursues.

    Everyone remembers this, right? http://www.arlnow.com/2011/03/18/state-senate-race-gets-nasty/

    Seems like the only thing she likes more is finding another office to run for – maybe congress when Moran retires, and she’ll dump the board when it’s convenient. Until then, we’ll all have to put up with this kind of thing.

    Unintended consequence of her tantrum: making Jay side with the other two in condemning her. He stayed out of the primary fight, but she can alienate anyone, it seems. Did any of her former colleagues on the school board even endorse her last time? Don’t remember her being popular there, either.

    It’s one thing to be unpopular because you have credibility, it’s another to constantly seek attention by running for every conceivable office and throwing public accusations at your colleagues when you finally get one.

    • Another voter

      +1

    • DavisR

      Attention and conflict are not necessarily bad qualities, especially when it serves to shake up some ugly politics. I admire her willingness to take on the challenge. She does not appear to be a people pleaser and is willing to fight a good fight. I expect like most board members, will find a comfortable place where she is giving votes to get, serving her own agenda. By then she will need to move on. Too bad Mr Zimmerman and Ms. Hynes have not recognized they are beyond useful to the county now.
      I am against any board member who gets so locked in a view they cannot see any other options. I detest the lack of ethical integrity in Zimmerman right now. As for the streetcar: The Columbia pike corridor needs revitalization. We won’t lose horribly if it proceeds as planned but there are so many better options out there that give more bang to the buck. It would have been nice to have more of a say in the process.

  • CD

    I want to see what the Quebec anti-Corruption Police have to say about Zimmy and AECOM.

  • Frank Lyon

    Big Cheese Zimmerman is clueless. How does disclosure cure a conflict?

  • Wayne Kubicki

    Put the PPTA/streetcar issue aside, just for the moment…

    AECOM already has several consulting contracts with the County – contracts that Mr. Zimmerman voted to approve.

    Now, Mr. Zimmerman has a contract with AECOM.

    For me, at least, the current question is, should a County Board member be able to have their own consulting contract with a contractor that is doing business with the County on contracts that the County Board has to approve?

    Perhaps not?

  • drooling idoit

    i voted for the person who had the most political signs

  • Julie

    Local media (news blogs and print) continue a perfect record of refusing to publish photos of state of the art Bus Rapid Transit like the Vegas ACE articulated bus.

    • Josh S

      Not exactly the same as the missing 18 minutes, is it?

  • Josh S

    It’s interesting to me that this story has only 80+ comments at this point. This is the vote that people seemed to be so up in arms about over the last week or so. But when it comes, and Zimmerman didn’t recuse himself, where is the outcry? Where are the 150+ comments we saw earlier in the week?

    I wonder if it might have something to do with the fact that in reading the story, you discover that the situation is actually a bit more complicated than many people maybe assumed it was. And the clear-cut evilness of Zimmerman is not quite so clear-cut. The vote involved sort of a really boring procedural decision. With far-reaching implications, to be sure. But not really a juicy, smoking gun, good guys and bad guys kind of moment.

    As always, it’s more complicated than it first appears…..

    • Rusty Shackleford

      Or, it could be that people aren’t upset about a single vote but about the fact that the streetcar project as a whole has been advocated most forcefully by Chris Zimmerman, and that Mr. Zimmerman is now in a position to earn money from a company that stands to benefit from the project. Whether he’s technically conflicted from any particular vote is utterly beside the point–the Board is a chummy and insular institution, and Mr. Zimmerman’s advocacy for the streetcar can’t be compartmentalized by a note from his lawyer.

      It could also be that people who are still upset about the appearance of impropriety here are also resigned to the fact that Arlington is not about to start electing non-Democrats to any county-wide office, so that public kvetching is futile.

  • Peter

    Julie, the Arlington Mercury blog has published a photo of a state of the art BRT, now that the County Board has taken all the votes it’s going to take regarding streetcar financing.

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