Torrez Murder Trial Begins — The murder trial of Jorge Torrez, the ex-Marine accused of killing Navy petty officer Amanda Jean Snell on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, has gotten underway. Torrez is already serving multiple life sentences after being convicted in Arlington of rape and numerous other charges. [Washington Post]
Anti-Streetcar Group Blasts County Study — The group Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit has released a list of the “top 15 reasons” a county-funded study on the costs and benefits of a streetcar system is “another waste of taxpayers’ money.” AST says the study is biased and lacking in original research. [Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit]
Arlington Named One of the Worst Rental Investments — Those who invest in rental properties in Arlington only receive a 5 percent return on their investment, making it No. 11 on the list of worst markets for returns for landlords. That’s according to a list compiled by the firm RealtyTrac. [Washington Business Journal]
Authors to Speak at Central Library — Acclaimed authors Ann Beattie and Richard Ford will speak at Arlington Central Library this month as part of the annual Arlington Reads initiative. The Arlington Reads theme this year is “Dazed and Confused: Two Great Writers on Boomer Angst.” Beattie will speak at Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street) on April 10 and Ford will speak on April 24. [Arlington County]
Civic Federation Calls for Tax Cut – The Arlington County Civic Federation voted yesterday to recommend a 3-cent or more cut in the county’s property tax rate. The rate currently stands at $1.006 per $100 in assessed value. One civic federation delegate said the group’s vote sends a message to county government: “Rein it in a little bit.” [InsideNoVa]
The debate, at the Arlington Civic Federation’s monthly meeting, was relatively short and did not give the candidates much time to delve deeply into issues. But by and large, Republican- and Green-endorsed independent candidate John Vihstadt tried to position himself as a choice that would be palatable for local Democrats who oppose the county’s big-ticket streetcar and aquatics center projects.
“I don’t want to upset the applecart, I just want to rearrange some of those apples,” said Vihstadt, who arguably has the best shot at being elected to the Board of any non-Democrat in years. “[My wife and I] love Arlington, we want to give back to Arlington.”
Vihstadt said he uses mass transit to commute on a daily basis, but “this $310 million streetcar is not the way to go on Columbia Pike.” He instead said he favors “a modified form of bus rapid transit.”
Vihstadt also differed from the current County Board in calling for an independent county auditor, by wanting to “break down the silos” between county government and Arlington Public Schools, and by suggesting that he opposes some of the development currently taking place in Arlington.
“I have serious differences with this Board about density and where that is taking our county right now,” he said to applause from the Civic Federation delegates.
Vihstadt, however, was also careful to point out areas where he agrees with the County Board. He supports gay marriage, increased spending on schools, and the new homeless services center in Courthouse.
“I support the new homeless shelter,” he said. “On balance I think it’s the right place and the right thing to do.”
“I’m not going to hide my Republican background, but i’m running as an independent,” Vihstadt said. “I’m running to add balance… because we need to recalibrate our spending priorities. We have to concentrate on core services like public education… roads and infrastructure maintenance… and neighborhood quality of life.”
“I’m giving voice to so many people across the political spectrum who are frustrated, who are concerned about where we are going as a county and where we are spending of our dollars at a time of skyrocketing school enrollment,” he said, pledging to be “fair, even-handed, bridge-building and nonpartisan.”
Democrat Alan Howze enters the race as the odds-on favorite thanks to the party’s well-honed get-out-the-vote effort, which will be needed as the race will be decided by a special election. Howze largely toed the party line — supporting a social safety, affordable housing, a “progressive community,” etc. — but suggested that he would be a bit more cautious when it comes to spending and a bit more aggressive when it comes to economic development.
Asked about something about which he disagreed with the County Board, Howze said the design and cost of the $1.6 million James Hunter dog park in Clarendon “well exceeded what was needed for the space and the community.”
Howze touted his private sector experience working at IBM and said he would work to “help strengthen the commercial base in Arlington,” thus combating rising office vacancy rates.
Like Vihstadt, Howze said he supports gay marriage, the county’s new homeless shelter, and increased spending on schools. (“Rising school enrollment is the biggest challenge facing our community,” he said.) Howze, however, supports the Columbia Pike streetcar project and has said he would like to see the Long Bridge Park aquatics center built provided it doesn’t exceed its original $79 million budget.
“We need to improve our community,” he said. “We can’t give any project a blank check, but neither can we stand still. I’m not chicken little… the sky is not falling. We can’t just say no — no is not a solution. Short term solutions that are politically expedient today but don’t lead to long-term prosperity.”
A public memorial service will be held for long-time Arlington civic activist Robert “Bob” Atkins early next month.
The memorial service will start at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 4, at Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street), according to Atkins’ friend and fellow Civic Federation delegate Suzanne Sundberg. Atkins died peacefully at his Bluemont home on Monday, Dec. 9.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to VORA (Virginia Organizations Responding to AIDS) — at VORA Main Office, P.O. Box 4780, Woodbridge, Va. 22194 — or to the Animal Welfare League of Arlington — at AWLA, Attention: Development Manager, 2650 S. Arlington Mill Drive, Arlington, Va. 22206.
Pedestrian Struck on Route 1 — Added at 9:15 a.m. — The southbound lanes of Route 1 were closed this morning while police investigated a serious pedestrian accident. A pedestrian was reported struck by a car between 20th Street and 23rd Street overnight. [WJLA]
Civ Fed Considering Televising Meetings — The Arlington County Civic Federation, which has been trying to retain its relevance in the 21st century, is considering televising its meetings either on local cable or the internet. [Sun Gazette]
Firefighters Collecting Money for Kids’ Coats — Arlington County firefighters have launched a fundraising drive online intended to help buy winter coats for children in need in Arlington. [Operation Warm]
The Right Note is a weekly opinion column 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.
If you missed the story in the midst of all the federal government slowdown news, the Civic Federation passed a resolution calling on the county to hire an internal, independent auditor. The vote was 40-2.
This idea is about more than the well-documented trolley cost under-estimate and the super stop fiasco. Arlington has an annual budget of more than $1 billion, hundreds of millions in cash on hand, and county debt of around $1 billion. Taxpayers simply deserve to receive financial information from an independent voice, similar to federal government offices of inspector general (OIG).
Like federal OIG offices, it is the hope of many of us who believe strongly in this concept, that new auditors will be given autonomy from the County Manager and County Board. Otherwise, taxpayers cannot have full confidence that findings were not in any way compromised by the chain of command.
Unlike the current budget impasse in Washington, the call for additional transparency and accountability from our county government is not a partisan issue. If you look at the Civic Federation executive committee, it is led by former Republican County Board candidate Michael McMenamin, but also has former Democratic County Board candidate Kim Klingler as a member. And of course, you cannot get 95 percent of the votes at the Civic Federation on a resolution without receiving votes from across the ideological spectrum.
The big question remaining is, why does the County Board continue to reject this idea?
One excuse most certain to be offered by the board is that we cannot afford it. To that I would respond — the Arlington County Board spent $1 million on a bus stop. And, the County Board will spend millions in closeout funds next month.
We deserve, and can afford, an inspector general to account for how each dollar is spent. If our elected officials do not provide this accountability, we can only assume the County Board and County Manager prefer to maintain total control over the dissemination of information about our taxpayer dollars are being spent.
Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.
Z-Burger to End Free Burger Promotion — Z-Burger is ending its free burger promotion for furloughed federal workers. The local burger chain says they’ve given away more than $60,000 worth of burgers to more than 15,000 federal workers. The company says it’s losing too much money to continue, so the giveaway will end tonight (Thursday). “In order for us to stay in business, we had to make the hard choice,” said owner Peter Tabibian.
New Townhouses Coming to Westover — A new townhouse development is coming to the Westover neighborhood. The Westover Place townhomes are replacing a series of aging but mixed-income low-rise apartment buildings on N. Kensington Street. Prices for new homes in the development start in the $800′s. [Arlington Housing Report]
CivFed Calls for County Audit Staff — Delegates to the Arlington County Civic Federation voted 40-2 this week on a resolution that calls for Arlington to hire an independent, internal auditing and financial control staff. [Sun Gazette]
WRIT Buys Crystal City Building — Washington Real Estate Investment Trust has purchased The Paramount, a 17-story apartment building at 1425 S. Eads Street, for $48 million. [Globe St.]
Flickr pool photo by Lawrence Cheng Photography
Using Cash to Entice Youth Civic Involvement — The Arlington County Civic Federation will spend $2,000 over the next year as cash incentives to get high school-aged youth interested in civic involvement. Organizers hope the program brings “an infusion of fresh thinking and new ideas” to the organization. [Sun Gazette]
More Metro Delays This Weekend — Metrorail riders should expect some delays this weekend. Trains on the Orange, Blue, Yellow and Green lines will run every 18 minutes due to track work, platform replacement and Silver Line testing (between East and West Falls Church). [WMATA]
I-395 HOV Closure — The I-395 HOV lanes will be closed from Friday night until 10 a.m. Sunday morning. The closure will allow work on the 95 Express lanes, weather permitting.
Free Donut at Dunkin’ Donuts Today — In honor of “National Donut Day,” Dunkin’ Donuts is offering a free donut with any beverage purchase.
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
Arraignment for Air Force Officer — Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, the airman who was removed from his post as head of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program after being accused of sexual battery in Crystal City, is scheduled to be arraigned this afternoon in an Arlington County courtroom. While the Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney office is prosecuting the case, the Air Force has the option of bringing its own case against Krusinski. [Associated Press]
CivFed Opposes Tree Removal at Cemetery — The Arlington County Civic Federation voted Tuesday to oppose a plan to remove 800 trees at Arlington National Cemetery in order to make way for about 30,000 in-ground burial spots and niche spaces. The resolution asks Arlington’s congressional delegation to sponsor legislation to stop the plan and asks the County Board to officially support the legislation. [Sun Gazette]
Four Students Earn Nat’l Merit Scholarships — Four Arlington students have been awarded National Merit Scholarships. The students receiving the $2,500 scholarships are: Ariel Bobbett and Elizabeth Roy of Washington-Lee High School, Nicole Orttung of Yorktown High School, and Robert C. Wharton of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. [Arlington Public Schools]
Day One of School Board Caucus — The first day of the Arlington County Democratic Committee endorsement caucus for School Board will take place tonight from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at Drew Model Elementary School (3500 23rd Street S.). The second day of party voting will take place on Saturday. Incumbent James Lander is facing off against challenger Barbara Kanninen for the Democratic endorsement. [Arlington Democrats]
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
Suzanne Smith Sundberg, a member of the Arlington County Civic Federation Revenues and Expenditures Committee, has written an eight page report detailing what she characterizes as a lack of audit oversight over the county’s finances.
The county eliminated two internal auditing positions during budget cuts in 2010, Sundberg writes, a move that raised red flags with her committee at the time. Recent news items have supported their concern and point to need to create a permanent internal auditing office, she says.
“Recent events in Arlington County — mounting discontent over the ongoing taxpayer support devoted to keeping the Artisphere afloat, taxpayers’ demonstrated opposition to the Columbia Pike streetcar at the recent town hall, and the public outcry over the eye‐popping $1 million price tag for a single bus Super Stop — provide clear evidence that citizens are losing confidence in their local government and its ability to utilize resources in an efficient, effective, and practical manner,” Sundberg writes.
The county employs an external auditing firm, CliftonLarsonAllen. Sundberg, however, pointed to the case of an Arlington County employee convicted of embezzling $12,000 from the county fair as evidence that external auditing is not comprehensive enough to catch many financial irregularities.
County Manager Barbara Donnellan has included $250,000 in one-time funds for “an internal audit function in the Department of Management and Finance” in her proposed FY 2014 budget – still subject to County Board approval – but Sundberg says that doesn’t go far enough.
“Although it’s a welcome step in the right direction, the County Manager’s proposal in her FY 2014 budget is vague and appears insufficient to support the establishment of a robust, permanent internal audit function in Arlington County,” she writes. “No effective internal audit function can ever be established if it is treated as an afterthought, subject to elimination or significant reduction when money is tight. In fact, the most advantageous time to have a strong, independent audit function is during economic downturns when difficult choices must be made and every dollar counts.”
Sundberg suggests that Arlington look to Fairfax County or Montgomery County for examples of effective internal auditing mechanisms.
Fairfax County has two separate internal auditing offices. Montgomery County created an Office of the Inspector General in 1997. Sundberg cites data suggesting that both counties save millions of dollars annually thanks to their internal controls. Arlington, she says, should do the same.
“If Arlington County cannot or will not provide sufficient resources, authority, and independence to sustain a robust and permanent internal audit function, then the establishment of an office of inspector general or special independent auditor — or whatever statutory option may be available — is all the more necessary,” she writes.
Sundberg’s report represents her own analysis and opinion. It has not been endorsed by the Civic Federation.
Bill Would Ban Cell Phone Use While Driving in School Zones — Sen. Janet Howell (D) has introduced a bill that would make it illegal to use a cell phone while driving in a school zone or school crossing zone. Violations will be considered a traffic infraction and will be punishable by a fine of up to $250. [Richmond Sunlight]
Brink Supports Two-Term Va. Governor — Del. Bob Brink (D) of Arlington is one of several General Assembly lawmakers to introduce or patron a constitutional amendment that would allow the governor of Virginia to serve a second term. If passed, the amendment will take effect for the governor elected in 2017. [Richmond Sunlight]
USS Arlington Crew Members Get Decal Vote — Crew members of the USS Arlington, set to be commissioned soon, will get a vote on the new Arlington County parking decal. This year, the contest challenged entrants to design a decal incorporating the USS Arlington. Voting is open through Jan. 21. [Sun Gazette]
Civic Federation Supports LEAP — The Arlington County Civic Federation has approved a resolution to promote the non-profit Local Energy Alliance Program, or LEAP, which offers free home energy efficiency assessments to homeowners, along with cash rebates for energy efficiency measures. [Arlington Mercury]
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
Civic Federation Endorses All Bonds — The Arlington County Civic Federation has voted to endorse all four bonds on the Nov. 6 ballot. The Civic Federation voted by a narrow 26-22 margin to support the $50.5 million parks and recreation bond, which includes more than $40 million for a new aquatics center at Long Brige Park. [Sun Gazette]
Boxing Match Coming to Ft. Myer — A boxing match will be held at the Smith Gymnasium on Joint Base Myer/Henderson Hall on Saturday. The match will feature a number of local boxers, including heavyweight Duane Mobley and lightweight Terron “The Kid” Grant. Tickets are $30 and doors open at 6:00 p.m. [Boxing Along the Beltway, JBMHH]
Library Sets New Summer Reading Record — Arlington Public Library’s summer reading program set another participation record this year. According to the library, 7,415 kids registered for the program and some 30,000 books throughout the course of the summer.
Confederate ‘Gray Ghost’ Lived in Arlington — In a bit of local Civil War lore, columnist Charlie Clark and Arlington historian Kathryn Holt Springston recount how the legendary Confederate raider John S. Mosby lived in Arlington later in life. [Falls Church News-Press]
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
CivFed Wants Separate Vote on Aquatics Center – The Arlington County Civic Federation would like the County Board to make the $42.5 million Long Bridge Park aquatics center project a standalone bond vote in November. County Manager Barbara Donnellan had proposed that that the project be included in a larger park bond that will go to Arlington voter on Nov. 6. [Sun Gazette]
Arlington Garbage Survey — The Arlington County Solid Waste Bureau is seeking feedback on its trash and recycling collection services. From an email: “The County would like your input on trash and recycling services. We invite you to take this ten minute Trash and Recycling Survey and help us determine the best way to meet the County’s waste management needs. Results will be used to assess our current services and offerings.” [Survey Monkey]
Jefferson-Jackson Dinner Tomorrow — The Arlington County Democratic Committee will hold its annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner tomorrow (Friday). The keynote speaker at the event is former Virginia First Lady Anne Holton, wife of current U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine. Tickets to the event, held at the Westin Arlington Gateway Hotel in Ballston, are $125. [Arlington Democrats]
Last night, the Arlington County Civic Federation debated a proposed resolution regarding raising backyard chickens, but it didn’t get very far.
Jim Pebley, a member from the Waycroft-Woodlawn Civic Association, had proposed the resolution, which opposes changing the county ordinance in order to allow residents to raise chickens.
Currently, livestock or poultry must be kept at least 100 feet away from a property owner’s street and lot lines, which is a difficult feat considering the size of lots in Arlington. A group called the Arlington Egg Project has proposed eliminating that restriction so that residents can raise egg-laying hens in their backyards. The county’s recently-formed Urban Agriculture Task Force is tackling the issue and is expected to make recommendations to the County Board by early next year.
Pebley gave a presentation explaining why it would be detrimental to the community to allow backyard chickens. In addition to irking neighbors with noise, Pebley contends chickens in backyards would attract rodents, pose a health risk and pollute groundwater that drains to the Chesapeake. He said the chickens and their waste also produce odors, which would bother neighbors.
“The smell is unavoidable,” said Pebley. “This just really borders on nonsense.”
He also said it would be difficult for the county to enforce regulations for raising chickens, due to the animals being hidden in backyards. That, he believes, would push neighbors to report each other to authorities.
“You aren’t going to have any more staff to enforce this. Neighbors are going to have to be the ones who enforce it,” Pebley said. “We’re going to have to turn the neighbors into police.”
Ed Fendley, co-founder of the Arlington Egg Project, gave a presentation in favor of backyard chickens. He said the group is interested in allowing a limited number of hens, but not roosters. He explained that with a limited number of hens, waste problems and noise would be minimal.
Fendley doesn’t believe the proper avenues have been followed to get information about urban agriculture out to the public. He asked the Civic Federation members to keep an open mind and to let the facts get out as part of the proper process.
“The Arlington Egg Project wants to foster a community conversation about backyard hens,” said Fendley. “All we’re asking you to do tonight is reserve judgment, we’re not asking you to join us.”
Fendley said the group is gaining support and more than 1,000 people have signed a petition requesting that Arlington allow backyard hens.
In addition to disagreeing with the way the backyard hen issue is being addressed, Fendley contends the Civic Federation’s resolution is unbalanced and biased as currently written.
“Let’s believe in Arlington, and let’s let the process work,” Fendley said. “If you believe in that process and if you believe in facts, then I ask that you join me in voting against this premature resolution.”
As it turns out, there wouldn’t be a vote on approving the resolution due to member concerns.
Civic Federation Budget Proposal — The Arlington County Civic Federation has unanimously approved its own vision for the county’s budget. The Civic Federation’s budget proposal would hold the current real estate tax rate steady, while providing more money for schools and public safety, funding an inspector general position and eliminating 16 long-vacant county government positions. The Civic Federation also voted 30-12 for a motion calling on the county to close Rosslyn’s Artisphere by the end of the year unless significant progress is made in turning around the struggling cultural center’s finances. [Sun Gazette]
Streetcar Stalemate with Alexandria — Arlington County’s plan to build a streetcar line from Crystal City to Potomac Yard is facing resistance from Alexandria. While Arlington has financing for the streetcar lined up, Alexandria says they don’t have the money for a streetcar line — and would like the planned Crystal City/Potomac Yard transit corridor to remain a bus rapid transit system for the foreseeable future. [WAMU]
Thousands Sign Up for Housing Aid — Arlington County opened up its waiting list for federal Section 8 housing assistance for one day, after keeping the list closed for the past seven years. In that one day the county received 5,300 pre-applications from those seeking rent assistance. [Patch]
Fund Set Up to House the Homeless — The Arlington Community Foundation has announced a $500,000 private gift that will allow it to create a new fund for the 100 Homes campaign against homelessness. With a $500,000 match from Arlington County, the $1 million public/private partnership will be “dedicated to housing Arlington’s most vulnerable citizens.” [Arlington Community Foundation]
Bomb Threat in Rosslyn — A bomb threat called into Argosy University (1550 Wilson Blvd) around 6:00 last night prompted a large police response. Traffic issues were reported in the Rosslyn area while authorities cordoned off the building and investigated the threat. Eventually, the all-clear was given and the building was reopened.
Arlington’s Top Employers, Past and Present — Arlington County has seen significant turnover in its list of the top local employers over the past decade. Companies like MCI/Worldcom, Qwest and The Hecht Co. made the county’s top 20 employers list in 2002. In 2011, those companies are off the list, while companies like Boeing, The Nature Conservancy and Booz Allen Hamilton are now on the list. [Washington Business Journal]
CivFed Wants Board to Keep Sign Powers — The Arlington Civic Federation wants the County Board to continue exercising discretionary power over signage in the county. A rewrite of the county’s sign ordinance is underway, and is expected to delegate most sign decision-making away from the Board, in favor of more administrative decisions by county staff. [Sun Gazette]
Arlington Wins Tourism Award — Arlington County has won a 2011 Shining Example Award from the Southeast Tourism Society in the “Tourism for Tomorrow” category. The award specifically honored Arlington’s electric Mobile Visitors Center, which serves visitors at six different Metro stations, five days per week. [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by Mark C. White