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The Right Note: All That’s Right and Wrong in Arlington

by ARLnow.com — February 7, 2013 at 11:00 am 1,884 93 Comments

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column by published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

GOP county board candidate Mark KellyIt was an honor for me to attend a fundraising event for the USS Arlington last week. The new Navy vessel, capable of carrying over 800 marines into battle, or humanitarian supplies to an area of the world in need, will be commissioned this Spring. It was built in honor of the tragic events of September 11th, and follows the USS New York and USS Somerset out to sea.

Former Republican Senator John Warner was escorted into the room by Democratic Congressman Jim Moran. Warner, who will celebrate his 86th birthday later this month, recalled the events of 9-11 and received a standing ovation from those in attendance.

Everyone rallied around the project as way to honor those who died at the Pentagon, the Arlington first responders who rushed into the devastation, and the sailors who will call the USS Arlington home for decades to come.

I had good conversations with Paul Ferguson, Theo Stamos and Noah Simon — elected Democrats whom I did not vote for, and in Ferguson’s case, ran against. I was seated next to Delegate Patrick Hope who greeted me with a “nice to see you again Mark.”

In short, no partisanship was on display — just a community joined together for the common good. The evening represented what was right about Arlington.

Only one County Board member was in attendance — Chairman Tejada. While we did not have a chance to talk, if we would have, I would have probably asked him a simple question:

Why did you push through a previously unannounced raise for three top county staff in the final minute of the Board meeting earlier in the week?

Each raise will cost taxpayers around $10,000. While the total amount is certainly not going to break the bank, it is another unfortunate example of just how tone deaf our Board can be.

The U.S. economy is at best stagnant, at worst headed to a double dip recession. The region is preparing for the federal government to make cuts under the sequester agreed to by President Obama and Congress in August of 2011. The Board is preparing to raise taxes to cover up to $50 million they hope to spend in the budget over anticipated revenues.

Yet, the Board saw fit to give sizable raises to the County Manager, County Attorney and Clerk — two of whom already make over $200,000 per year.

And this is a perfect example of all that is wrong in Arlington.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

  • NoVA RN

    Must be nice to get a $10,000 raise.

    • Not Me

      Aww c’mon it was only a 5% raise. ;)

      Yeah, they’re scum.

      • OldYeller

        It would be instructive to know when the last raise occurred. My wife’s a Fairfax County employee and they haven’t gotten merit raises in years. 5% would be an insult in a lot of places, at least in normal times.

        • Rory

          5% would be an insult? Ha.

        • NoVA RN

          I get a 2% raise every year. I feel really insulted now.

        • barticus

          My wife and I are federal employees, staring at furloughs and 10% pay cuts. Insult us!

    • Raising an Issue

      Mark If you could ask a second question ask why the County pays the Crystal City Bid president $290,000 and why she got a 43% raise over the past 2 years and why they pay her health club bills to boot.

      The County approves that budget every year without a thought, and assesses a tax on local businesses to fund it. Not sure why that salary needed to go up by more than $80,000 in the past two years reported.

  • Markone

    I would say another thing wrong with Arlington is that the Republican Party can’t find even one reasonable candidate to run for County Board. Maybe it is because the all come off like the guy who wrote this article. I can’t blame people for not voting for this guy…

    • Arlington, SSR

      Interesting, what about this article didn’t you like? It lived up to its title.

      • Max

        The guy is talking about a ceremony he attended honoring our military, and the only thing he regrets is not going up to a politician and scolding him.

        • jackson

          In short, no partisanship was on display — just a community joined together for the common good. The evening represented what was right about Arlington.”

          If only I could have capped off my day with a finger wag at Tejada and some FroYo…

    • TLC

      Amen, Markone. He’s all pissed off about $30,000 per year in raises to ensure that Arlington attracts and retains high-quality staff, yet “honored” about a $1.5 BILLION boondoggle of a ship designed to fight the wars of yesteryear? What an idiot.

  • yrb

    GOP? Get lot.

    • John Fontain

      ^^Post fail^^. LOL.

  • yrb

    GOP? Get lost.

  • CourthouseChris

    It’s specious arguments like this from conservatives that frustrate me. What is the salary history for these positions? Is the current salary out of line with comparable positions in other local governments? Is this competitive with what these individuals could earn in private employment?

    Sure, it sounds good to boo every increase in spending, but if we offer uncompetitive wages for critical positions the loss is even greater if we are stuck with poor performance. Instead Mark offers up no details or supporting logic, just a ham-fisted general reference to the national economy as proof that this is a poor local decision. Is this what passes for reasoned argument over on the right?

    • Not Me

      Yeah a County Manager salary of $242,918/yr (before the raise) attracted some serious riffraff.

      • CW

        What is the dollar amount of the County budget over which the Manager has oversight? How many employees does he/she manage? What would comparable private-sector salaries be for an individual managing an organization of the same number of employees and with the same revenue?

        • Not Me

          So, what you’re saying is, if my taxes go up and subsequently county revenue, they oversee more and should get a commensurate raise?

          • CW

            No, I am simply asking if their compensation is comparable to those in the private sector with similar job responsibilities. If the answer is that it is higher, then there is reason for concern. If it is low, then that would suggest that the market would drive lesser-quality candidates to the position. If it is comparable then one would think that the candidates would be competitive.

    • drax

      Exactly!

    • Ross

      It is people like you that we are in fiscal crisis throughout the nation. You say “what’s the salary history for these positions” and is it “out of line with comparable positions in other local governments”.

      It is exactly that kind of thinking that keeps us down this road to fiscal crisis and huge annual defecits and huge debts. Who cares if other jerks in other crony counties pay their people even more? (such as in DC). I bet you we could find a very competent County Manager to work for well under $200,000.00 a year. There are plenty of well educated and competent individuals who are willing to work for well under $200,000.00 (especially during a recession).

      Stop allowing government to act like Wall Street and keep giving itself raises for nothing.

      • CourthouseChris

        “People like you…” yeah, right.

        It’s funny how conservatives are such free market proponents then don’t like the product of that free market. You cannot pay competent people less than what they make elsewhere and hope to keep them.

        • false

          many people take paycuts to perform similar work that they could get paid higher for in the private sector because of other tradeoffs (pension, more free time, better benefits, etc). most civil employees, especially those working in a “professional/business-type position” could get paid much more for a similar position with similar responsibility in the private sector. i enjoy the step down in pay that i took to take a government job, i really do like not having to eat my dinner in front of my laptop and not working until 10pm or later most of the year. my family enjoys it too.

      • confused

        “It is exactly that kind of thinking that keeps us down this road to fiscal crisis and huge annual defecits and huge debts”

        no actually its tax cuts, wars, and the movement of the baby boom into retirement.

        • Ross

          And if you were a Libertarian (like me), you would be against all of those things too (like I am), except the tax cuts, because we should have never created such a large government in the first place. We should create means testing for Social Security. Rich people who already have millions in savings should NOT be getting Social Security! That is supposed to be for people who really need it! I am also against pointless wars (such as the Iraq War that those fake conservatives who call themselves the GOP forced me to fight in while I was in the military).

          • drax
          • Markone

            A libertarian in the military… Try and figure that one out Ron Paul.

          • confused

            “And if you were a Libertarian (like me), you would be against all of those things”

            you are free to be against those things. What I object to are lies about the deficit and the economy that are used to make arguments the person is afraid to argue for on other grounds.

          • Ross

            @Markone: “A libertarian in the military… Try and figure that one out Ron Paul.”….
            What are you talking about?? Ron Paul was the troops choice for President in 2012. He, himself, was an Air Force veteran. Why is having a strong national defense non-libertarian? What IS non-libertarian is getting ourselves involved in overseas battles that we have no place being involved in the first place. Look up Blowback Theory.

    • Patrick

      “The Board is preparing to raise taxes to cover up to $50 million they hope to spend in the budget over anticipated revenues.”

      I think you may have missed that little detail.

      • CourthouseChris

        Please elaborate how that is in any way coherent to an argument on the competitiveness of wages.

        • Ross

          It is not an argument on the “competitiveness of wages”. It is an argument that we have all been duped for years and years by these overpaid government managers. Their wages already are not competitive, they are beyond competitive. Their wages are way too overinflated to begin with. No one in government should ever make more than $200,000.00 a year; period. Not even the President of the United States. I do not care how “useful” or “irreplaceable” they claim they are. Throw them out.

          • Arlwhat

            You must be a laugh-riot at shareholder meetings.

          • tce

            @ross: “No one in government should ever make more than $200,000.00 a year; period. Not even the President of the United States”

            … funny I think the same thing about CEO’s that run companies into the ground getting millions or raise the price of their product to cover their saleries…

          • Ross

            Those same shareholder meetings that blindly approve multi-million dollar bonuses for coroprate CEO’s and pretty much got us all in the fiscal mess we found ourselves in early 2008? Yeah, I guess I would be a laugh-riot in one of those shareholder meetings; because I would be scolding them for being so naive and greedy and short-sighted.

          • Arlwhat

            Wait – I thought CourthouseChris was representative of those people who, “got us all in the fiscal mess we found ourselves in”? Man I am so confused. OK so besides yourself, who is not responsible for the fiscal mess?

          • Foggy Dew

            You’re seriously saying that the person who wields executive authority over the most powerful military in the world and a staff of more than 3 million people deserves the salary of a junior trader or mid-level engineer? That’s one of the funnier things I’ve heard recently. If anything, the president is considerably underpaid, a CEO in a similar position would command compensation somewhere in the mid eight-figure range.

            Also, you’re wrong about being able to find a competent county manager for less than $200k, because anyone who’s competent enough to run an organization the size of Arlington would most definitely get a better offer somewhere else. As the old saying goes: Money talks.

          • Alan

            Yes, especially military commanders and 5 star generals. They are all government workers, throw them out!

    • John Wells

      You may be glossing over Mark’s objection to the procedure followed by the Board in granting the raises, given his proffer that the raises were “previously unannounced” and passed in the “final minute” of the Board meeting. How could the Board possibly have given thoughtful consideration to the very valid issues you raise with a superficial, one-minute deliberation? Or if the matter was pre-determined, where is the transparency in declaring the justification for such raises using such factors as those that you cite?

      Fairfax County, for example, recently evaluated in two separate sessions their County Executive and County Attorney, and despite “superior performances” decided the current fiscal climate and projected forecasts preclude compensation increases. Arlington by no means must follow our western neighbors, but I envy the candor and transparency of their Board on the same issue.

      http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news/2013/county_executive_county_attorney_evals.htm

    • malaka

      Yet you’ll never hear Republicans criticize excessive executive bonuses by the likes of Goldman Sachs…even after receiving bailout $$

  • Ralph

    “Each raise will cost taxpayer about $10k”.

    That means that the raise itself is probably around $6k, $7k for the individuals concerned. For managers in a large county that is not extraordinary at all.

    • Arlington, SSR

      “Arlington is the geographically smallest self-governing county in the United States” – Wikipedia

      • and…

        It’s also dense as heck with people, roads, buildings, public transportation, etc! So?

      • Ralph

        As of 2010, Arlington County had a population of 207,627 residents.[1] It would be the fourth-largest city in the state if it were incorporated as such.

      • Arlwhat

        And what does the square footage have to do with the responsibilities and difficulties of County Management?

  • Ross

    What a joke! County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac now makes $211,341 with $30,218 in deferred compensation! Did you all also know that the Arlington Commonwealth Attorney Theophani (Theo) Stamos makes OVER $163,000.00 a year? Also, two of her Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorneys make OVER $113,000.00 a year; Margaret “Evvie” Eastman and Lisa A. Wilson. This was back in 2004! Who knows how much they make now! They were among the TOP 1% paid goverment employees of the entire Arlington County Government! This, all during a recession. No wonder our taxes are so high!

    • CW

      How much would an attorney make in private practice dealing with the same number and magnitude of cases?

      • Ross

        I don’t really care. Then maybe they should go into private practice then. These are government positions that are funded by taxpayer dollars. We cannot pay outrageous exorbitant large salaries to government employees just because they whine and complain that they could “make more in the private sector”. That’s too bad. I am already taxed enough as it is. They should be doing their jobs as patriots to government service anyway; not for a high salary.

        • CW

          It’s not about their whining or complaining. It’s about being competitive in the market. If they’re not competitive, then they’re going to get junk candidates for employment. Do you want our government run by fools? Don’t answer that question, you may say yes.

          “Jobs as patriots”? Ok, that’s somewhat idealistic. Why don’t you sign up to be a patriot? The founders were unpaid, so does that work for you too?

          It is ironic that these “small government” people are also the same as the “free market” people, but yet they don’t understand the very simple principle I outlined.

          • Ross

            Junk candiatates for $100,000.00+ salaries? Really? What planet are you from?

            There are plenty of extremely educated and competent attorneys who would work for much less; especially during an economic recession.

            You are just a high paid government apologist/enabler.

          • Quoth the Raven

            Frankly, gov’t lawyers aren’t paid even close to what non-govt lawyers are being paid. So it’s not really about being competetive. From the attorney standpoint, you’re actually trading more salary for a better quality of life. In other words, you don’t choose to be a govt lawyer b/c of the salary. You do so out of a desire to serve, and also to have a better life than your law school friends who are working 90 hours a week…

          • CW

            QTR’s point is certainly fair. All reasonable people will consider the quality of life versus compensation relation.

            I don’t know why I am receiving such angry responses. I am reiterating a very simple economic principle. If the price is too low, you don’t get candidates, or you get lesser quality candidates. Even taking into account QTR’s point about quality of life, there is still a price, somewhere.

            I am not an apologist for anyone. I am just saying that the salaries should be competitive. I did not say that these salaries were or were not – you may noticed I asked a question regarding this; I did not make any statements.

          • novasteve

            Completely wrong quoth, you are presuming all private sector lawyers work biglaw. Lots of private sector lawyers make little to no money, working a lot more hours than government lawyers do. I’ve heard about some recent grads working $10/hr jobs as lawyers.. The attorney job market is terrible. Lawyers also forgo the alleged higher pay of the private sector for the job security of government jobs. Even if you were making 250k a year for 7 years out of law school, a lot of good that will do you if you don’t make partner and lose your job and have a hard time getting another job. It’s better to make 80k as a government lawyer over 30 years than whatever over 7 years and be finished.

          • CW

            Ver fair points from NSteve.

          • Markone

            Novasteve- I call BS on your lawyers working at $10/hr. You just made that up. Boo to you.

          • barticus

            @novasteve: If you’re comfortable having a Commonwealth Attorney making $10/hr prosecuting a crime committed against you or a loved one, by all means, please say so.

        • jackson

          I’ve seen some people who loudly proclaim themselves patriots. It’s probably best they don’t hold government positions.

        • tce

          @ross: “They should be doing their jobs as patriots to government service anyway”… I hope that was a joke… this isn’t a communist system. Why should a government worker be paid any less than a private sector worker? I never understood that idea. Does the government worker do the same work? Does he have the same bills to pay? so why should he get less pay???? Just because you think he should be patriotic!!!??? If you were a real american then why don’t you work for less and lower the cost of products everyone has to buy? See I can make stupid statements too!

          • Ross

            @tce: So you don’t think it is patriotic and selfless to work in government? (or at least it should be). Most people who work in government work, do it to serve their nation; not to line their pockets.

            Private sector workers are paid too much too (especially CEO’s). Half of those “private sector” jobs that you are claiming are “private sector” aren’t really anyway. Halliburton, Raytheon, CACI, SAIC, Northrup Grumman, Boeing, Booze Allen and Hamilton, etc. are not really “private sector”. They rely way too much on government “contracts” anyway, so that is Socialistic and Communism in and of itself. If they were not propped up by their overbidding bilking of the government who has no clue whether they are telling the truth about the price of their “contract” then they would never survive in a true free market economy in the first place.

          • tce

            @ross: Whether it’s patriotic or not to work for the goverment does not matter… patriotism does not pay bills… so when you can come up with a system to allow government workers to pay their bills on ‘patriotism” let me know.. until then they deserve the same pay as anyone else. It’s not about lining their pockets. I don’t ever recall my dad looking to line his pockets as a government employee… just looking to make enough money to live in this area and pay the bills for a family of four.

        • drax

          Ross is one of those “takers” who wants to get more than he pays for in taxes.

          • Ross

            I’m a “taker”? I worked my butt off in the military, then the federal government, and now the private sector. I even received a master’s degree from a great university, yet I can barely pay my bills (and I have an old iPhone 3, not 5, and drive a car from the 90′s and I bought a very small condo when others were buying too much home). However, I’m taxed like 1/3rd of my salary to go to the government. I couldn’t even afford to live in Arlington, I have to commute into here from the burbs. Yeah, I’m a real “taker”. The real “takers” are the government cronies who continue to tax us to death while printing more and more money that will eventually lead to inflation and hurt low wage workers like me, not them.

          • CW

            The 1/3 you’re taxed to the government pays for the $1.6 billion dollar ship like those you might have served on in the military. See how that works?

          • Ross

            Yes I do see how that works; and I’m against more warships. We already have enough of them. We do not need anymore M1 tanks, F22 Raptors, F35 Joint Strike Fighters, Nuclearn Power Aircraft Carriers and Submarines, Stryker APC’s, and countless bases overseas.

            I saw first-hand the wasteful spending that is encouraged by “special interest” groups on Capitol Hill and politicians from states that build more and more war machines, even though we are not even in a World War. They are spending like as though we are in World War III. That is what is wrong with government; they never see common sense and downsize even after a conflict has ended. They find some excuse to continue spending money like drunken sailors.

            I am all for national defense, but that’s it. I do not approve of our nation having thousands of bases all over the world that are now completely irrelevent since the end of the Cold War.

        • Hank

          Gee Ross, it sounds like everybody is overpaid… except for you of course. You’re underpaid. How much do you make?

      • novasteve

        Private sector attorneys who earn that much are recent graduates, working as associates insane hours. They don’t get their weekends off nor work 40 hour weeks like government lawyers do.

        • JohnB

          Starting salary for a junior associate is $130,000. In order for that to work out to $10 per hour they would have to work 250 hours a week 52 weeks a year. Considering that there are only 168 hours in a week I call BS.

        • Senior Attorney

          The private sector rewards competence and does not reward incompetence. It’s a simple formula.

          The comment above is false. Competent young attorneys have rewarding careers and rewarding lives outside work.

      • John Wells

        Commonwealth Attorneys in most jurisdictions make less than half of $113K. Many private practitioners with similar caseloads make less than that, and they a) don’t get the cush hours, benefits, and vacation schedule of county employees, b) don’t have an entire police department and other infrastructure doing most of their work – especially investigative work – for them, and c) have to spend additional time, money, and energy attracting clients and covering overhead.

        Competent, experienced attorneys are fighting tooth and nail for CA positions that pay much less. Fairfax just hired 2 new CAs who will make half the salary of those quoted after sifting through hundreds of applications and a few dozen interviews. Arlington could double its CA’s Office attorney staff with attorneys hungry for experience and a chance to prove themselves under the same budget allocation.

        Many people’s perceptions of the legal jobs and compensation market are stuck in the late 90s and early 2000s. Most attorneys today in their first 5-10 years of practice would be making much more in a different profession and are thus far easier to recruit into government positions than ever before. Apparently, the Board’s perceptions of the legal jobs market are outdated as well.

        • Arlwhat

          [citation needed]

    • Clarendon

      I thought a large portion of the salaries for state constitutional offices like Commonwealth Attorney is paid by the state and is based on the population of the county. Maybe the local government can add to that ?

  • JohnB

    Summary: All that’s right in Arlington is a lack of partisanship at a fundraiser for a $1.6 billion dollar boat and all that’s wrong is a $30,000 raise for our county executive staff.

  • brif

    i don’t understand. how can mark kelly attend an event for a $1.6 billion piece of military equipment and complain about a $30,000 pay raise for county employees?

    • Quoth the Raven

      Um, probably because they are totally and completely different things. To clarify: $$ for ship comes from feds, $$ for county does not.

      • brif

        no they are not totally and completely different things. $$ for ship comes from arlington taxpayers and $$ for county employees comes from arlington taxpayers.

        • Not Me

          True dat.

        • Quoth the Raven

          $$ for ship comes from arlington taxpayers as well as the rest of the country and is part of the massive federal budget. This large raise, however, comes ONLY from arlington taxpayers and is part of the Arlington budget, which is running a large deficit.

          • brif

            Isn’t the federal budget running a pretty large deficit too? i doubt mr. kelly would show the same “community joined together for the common good” spirit if he attended a fundraising event for a piece of arlington county equipment that cost twice original estimates like the USS Arlington did.

          • jackson

            At $1.6 billion, wouldn’t Arlington county’s share of the cost of that ship be more than $30,000 (much more, spread across our large population pool)?

          • drax

            FYI, the cost of the San Antonio-class ships came in at almost double the original target cost of $890 million each.

          • Quoth the Raven

            Well, whether or not defense contractors rip off the gov’t is a different topic. In terms of $$, though, one can make the argument that the ship was necessary, and thus the money spent on it, even in these fiscal times, was necessary. Can you make the same argument about these officials? Was the raise necessary? Were other counties going to come in and scoop them up if they didn’t get the raise?

          • brif

            why are you giving the federal government the benefit of the doubt, but not arlington county? are you saying it’s acceptable for the federal government to pay for equipment no matter how far over budget because it’s “necessary?”

          • Quoth the Raven

            No, I’m saying that whether the ship is or is not necessary is a separate question from whether or not they were overcharged. Defense contracts are always a pretty complex issue and that isn’t really the topic here. I’m not giving the feds the benefit of the doubt, though – I’m just saying that #1, comparing a ship to a county employee raise is an apples-oranges comparison. It cannot be made except in the most basic sense of “well, one thing was overpriced, so it’s ok for other things to be overpriced too.”

  • nom de guerre

    Has anyone clicked on the link to the Washington Post article regarding the pay raises? A little research will reveal that the Fairfax County Board decided not to give any raises to its top officials “because of fiscal conditions” and the raises make the Arlington officials the “second highest in terms of compensation” among Northern Virginia. To put something in perspective, the Fairfax County Executive currently earns $277,947 to oversee a budget of $3.54 billion which is more than three times the current Arlington budget of $1.052 billion which the County Manager is paid $252,918 to oversee.

    • brown before green

      Yes, but, the Arlington County Manager has to deal with Arlingtonians. So there.

    • drax

      So the Arlington county exec is paid less than Fairfax. Thanks for that.

      Are you saying the size of the budget should determine his salary? Fairfax should get 3 times the salary of ours?

    • JohnB

      I think Arlington is run much better than Fairfax.

  • Closet of Water

    This is GOLD: “Do you want our government run by fools?”

    Thanks, CW.

    • Ross

      Yeah, as if our government isn’t already run by fools! Just look in the news everyday. They have no clue what they are doing.

  • MC

    Mark says: “i’m going to start off telling a non-partisan story so people will read me, then i’ll do my typical hatchet job.”

  • Tammy Balent

    These guest columns have crashed and burned in just three installments.

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