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by Peter Rousselot — March 26, 2015 at 2:15 pm 983 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotIn a recent column about the Arlington County Board’s TJ Elementary decision, I focused on three of the critical lessons learned for Arlington Public Schools:

  1. APS can’t choose the best option unless it knows what all the options are
  2. APS must be completely transparent in discussing all options
  3. Developers must be part of the solution

How do these lessons and other factors specifically impact the capacity crisis at Oakridge Elementary?

Oakridge parents have launched an online petition seeking capacity crisis relief from the School Board by September 2016. The parents’ petition points out that:

By the start of the 2015 school year, Oakridge Elementary School is projected to be the county’s largest elementary school with almost 800 students. It is projected to be at 117 percent capacity with seven incoming kindergarten classes. The anticipated rate of growth for Oakridge far exceeds every other elementary school in the county.

Because the capacity crisis at Oakridge is so severe, and because the County Board’s TJ decision has set back the general timeline for capacity crisis relief, the county should not wait until after the conclusion of the Community Facilities Study (CFS) before taking any action regarding Oakridge. Among the specific actions that the County Board ought to take before the conclusion of the CFS are these:

  • In consultation with the School Board, commit to granting some APS students access to appropriate county facilities on an interim basis until a final plan can be implemented for overcrowding at Oakridge. Based on a March 12 letter from Mary Hynes to James Lander, some movement in this direction might give Oakridge some relief by September 2015.
  • Insist that developers of projects that will generate new enrollment at Oakridge provide their fair share of financial support to alleviate overcrowding at Oakridge. Vornado has a long history of developing projects within the current boundaries of Oakridge Elementary. In a very real sense, Oakridge is Vornado’s neighborhood school. Vornado does and should have a vested interest in Oakridge’s success. (As I wrote in my earlier TJ decision column, if the county attorney believes Arlington currently lacks authority under state law to require Vornado to provide such financial assistance, the County Board now should direct the Attorney to publish his legal reasoning in detail.)
  • Commit in principle to increase APS’ share of the county-wide debt ceiling limit (the 10 percent rule) to speed up APS’ ability to build new schools, additions, or any renovations that are so substantial that they are appropriate for debt financing.

Conclusion

Both Boards must work together on this issue to ensure Oakridge remains a successful neighborhood school.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — March 19, 2015 at 1:00 pm 941 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotArlington needs a fresh start. It now has a great opportunity to make one.

Arlington’s current County Manager, Barbara Donnellan, is resigning effective June 30. Thereafter, current Deputy County Manager Mark Schwartz will serve as the interim county manager until the Arlington County Board chooses a permanent manager.

BACKGROUND

Arlington is the only locality in Virginia authorized to have a “County Manager Plan” form of government. No change in Arlington’s current form of government is feasible within the time horizon in which Arlington must select Donnellan’s permanent successor.

The duties of the Manager are “administrative and executive” in nature. The County Board, NOT the County Manager, sets public policy direction.

MAKING OUR CHOICE

Candidates for Arlington’s new manager will possess a wide variety of administrative and executive skills, personal qualities, and other attributes. The key principles that should guide our final choice are discussed below.

Use a transparent process to solicit Arlington citizen input

To help us make a fresh start, the County Board should establish a transparent process to solicit broad-based citizen input regarding the key skills, qualities and attributes that Arlington’s next manager ought to have.

The Board may think it’s good at doing this. Recent history, including last year’s “Public Land for Public Good” fiasco, proves the contrary. To solicit citizen input, the Board should look to the best practices of other localities. For example, the Board ought to consult the menu of Communication and Citizen Participation Techniques offered by the state of Washington.

Appoint an independent auditor reporting directly to the County Board

The Board should start planning now to appoint an independent auditor reporting directly to the County Board. Arlington citizens should be invited to suggest priority areas of inquiry for the new independent auditor. If properly managed, the results of the initial independent audits can help the Board in its choice of a new manager by highlighting areas most in need of improvement.

Conduct a nationwide search

The Board has announced that it plans to conduct a nationwide search for Donnellan’s permanent replacement. That is the right way to proceed. The new manager should not be a current Arlington County employee. This is another way to ensure a fresh look at the challenges facing Arlington.

If the best candidate to succeed Donnellan lives outside the D.C. metro area, that candidate should be required to move to Arlington as a condition of the job. If the best candidate lives within the D.C. metro area, that candidate should be strongly encouraged, but not required, to move to Arlington.

Defer final vote on new Manager until 2016

There are lots of things that should be done starting now to choose a permanent replacement for Donnellan. However, the final County Board vote to approve that choice should be deferred until after the two new Board members take office on January 1, 2016. This is another way to ensure the fresh start we need.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — March 12, 2015 at 12:00 pm 898 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotAs ARLnow.com reported last week, a group of parents has petitioned Arlington Public Schools to inaugurate a new French immersion elementary school. Their motives are good, but their timing is not.

It’s been 15 years since I chaired what is now known as the World Languages Advisory Committee to APS. As chair, I was one of many civic activists who pressed APS to introduce Foreign Language in Elementary School (FLES) programs.

At that time, APS had no FLES programs and was actively resisting their introduction. Through the persistent efforts of that committee, combined with effective advocacy by hundreds of parents, APS finally began to roll out FLES.

Introduction of FLES was slowed during the Great Recession. Largely due to the outstanding energy and efforts of a new parent advocacy group, FLES for All, the introduction of FLES has resumed. But, some elementary schools still lack it:

Only 17 out of 22 Arlington elementary schools have foreign language education — leaving over 2,000 students without foreign language instruction until 7th grade.  ATS, Arlington Science Focus, Taylor and Long Branch are remaining to receive FLES and a full week of instruction. (Hoffman-Boston has [a] full week of instruction but no FLES, Abingdon has early language instruction but not K-5 FLES)

APS superintendent Patrick Murphy has stated that unless APS receives sufficient additional FY 2016 funding from the county, APS will not be able to complete the FLES rollout because APS will have to defer the elimination of early release Wednesday (ERW) at the elementary schools that still lack FLES.

APS consistently has taken the position that there “isn’t room in the school day” for FLES programs at ERW elementary schools. Most Arlington citizens without children are surprised and angry to learn that school ends at 1:21 p.m. every Wednesday at those elementary schools that still retain ERW.

Given the tight budget constraints facing APS and the County, APS should assign priority to the completion of the rollout of FLES at the elementary schools that still lack FLES. This rollout should be completed before APS begins to offer more immersion programs. After the FLES rollout is complete, APS should design a transparent process to consider additional immersion programs. (There currently are two Spanish immersion elementary programs offered at Claremont and Key.)

As we move forward, APS needs to treat World Languages as a core subject, and incorporate more language opportunities throughout the week to ensure maximum benefits. APS should try to increase the number of different languages it currently offers.

It’s taken 15 years to introduce FLES in 17 Arlington elementary schools. The rollout of FLES is almost complete. Let’s finish the job.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — March 5, 2015 at 1:00 pm 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotLast month, I wrote a column explaining why Virginia needs effective ethics reform. The Virginia legislature has adjourned without enacting it.

Why is this so hard for them? It’s because too many Republican and Democratic legislators continue to thumb their noses at the need for reform.

Here’s a small sampling of the attitudes they bring to the task:

Contrary to Senator Saslaw, ordinary citizens do believe you can legislate ethics. Saslaw’s variation on the discredited refrain, “you can’t legislate morality”, misses the point. Here’s Princeton University’s Micah Watson in a piece titled “Why we can’t not legislate morality.”

One can no more avoid legislating morality than one can speak without syntax. One cannot sever morality from the law. Even partisans of the most spartan libertarian conception of the state would themselves employ state power to enforce their vision of the common good…The real question is not whether the political community will legislate morality; the question is which vision of morality will be enforced…

Many other states have passed much tougher ethics laws than Virginia. That further undermines what our legislators have just done.

The 49-page ethics bill that the legislature passed at the eleventh hour of the session includes a whole host of loopholes, including:

  • The current ethics law sets a cumulative annual aggregate $250 cap on gifts by a lobbyist to any single legislator. But, unbelievably, the new ethics bill’s $100 cap is not cumulative. That means that a lobbyist can give an unlimited number of $99 contributions to a single legislator during the year, so long as each gift is given at a different point in time. Example: $99 per day for each of 365 days per year = $36,135 of legal gifts to any Virginia legislator (Call it the “buy your own Rolex” provision).
  • A lobbyist can pay the full cost to fly a legislator from any location in Virginia to Richmond — so long as the purpose of the trip is official business. The cost of the trip is not counted against the $100 cap.
  • The bill fails to establish an Ethics Commission with the power to issue subpoenas, assess fines for violations, and make referrals to the Attorney General or other prosecutors.

Conclusion

Those politicians who say they are proud of this latest ethics bill are deluding themselves and the public.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — February 26, 2015 at 3:00 pm 637 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotThe county manager and the Arlington Public Schools superintendent have released their proposed budgets. The County Board also advertised a proposed tax rate for calendar year 2015 that could be as much as 1.5 cents higher than the current rate.

Some of the major issues impacting the ability of citizens to participate effectively in public discussions about these budgets are the county’s funding level of APS and the real estate tax rate.

County Funding of APS

Under the “revenue sharing principles” adopted by both Boards in January:

The amount of the transfer to APS will initially be based upon the same percent of local tax revenue transferred to APS in the County’s last adopted budget. As budget deliberations continue, additional ongoing funding for critical needs identified by APS, including enrollment growth, will be a top funding priority.

Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s proposed budget identifies what the superintendent says are critical needs, which would cost $13.6 million more than the amount of shared revenue to which the county manager’s proposed budget commits. In addition, the superintendent’s budget identifies a set of specific APS budget cuts that are the ones the superintendent recommends if the County fails to provide APS with any additional revenue.

Citizens should participate in a constructive debate about whether the particular set of proposed cuts the Superintendent recommends are the best way in which to make up the identified $13.6 million shortfall. But, the Superintendent should be commended for proposing:

  • a specific set of cuts with dollars attached, and
  • a budget that reverses the growth trend in per-pupil expenditures

As I have written previously, the “percent of local tax revenue transferred to APS in the County’s last adopted budget” was too low. For that reason, combined with APS’s projected explosive enrollment growth, the county should provide the entire additional $13.6 million to APS.

The County Manager’s proposed budget fails to identify, specifically, the dollar savings that could be achieved by cutting particular programs or services.

The County Board should direct the county manager to identify for the Board’s and the public’s consideration at least one — and preferably more than one — set of cuts in county programs and services that could be made in order to make up the $13.6 million APS shortfall.

Real Estate Tax Rate

Property tax bills will rise in CY 2015 even if the County Board adopts the same property tax rate as last year’s.

The County Board should direct the County Manager to identify for the Board’s and the public’s consideration at least one — and preferably more than one — set of cuts in County programs and services that could be made if the Board votes to cut the real estate tax rate by 1.5 cents.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — February 19, 2015 at 2:00 pm 908 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter Rousselot

A new report concludes that Arlington County charges excessive fees to Arlington residents participating in certain sports classes and teams.

In direct contravention of long-standing Arlington County policies, the participation fees substantially exceed 100 percent of the direct participation costs. Currently, the excess revenues are being funneled back into the County’s general fund operating budget.

A firestorm engulfed the Arlington County government last year — when the County Board initially adopted and then rescinded a 50 percent fee increase for nonresident participants on gymnastics and aquatics/swimming teams. That led to the new disclosure that resident participants are being overcharged for certain sports classes and teams.

A work group, comprising citizens, commission members and county staff, prepared the latest report. The new report reflects careful study, and contains thoughtful reform recommendations.

The work group also appears to be listening to citizens’ concerns:

As part of its process, the work group collected public feedback on a set of draft recommendations through an Open Arlington survey. The work group will continue its research to develop a recommendation regarding alternatives to the County operating the team program… This research will include opportunities for public input …

There are only two logical explanations for these county policy violations: The current, excessive fees were set

  • inadvertently, because the County lacks sufficient auditing and financial controls to detect errors like these, or
  • deliberately, as a backdoor way to generate additional revenue that would offset budget shortfalls in other programs or areas.

Neither explanation paints county government in a sympathetic light.

Assuming that these fee overcharges are inadvertent, a recent letter to the Sun-Gazette‘s editor makes the following observation:

All of this could have been prevented had an inspector general or internal auditor been present to conduct regular reviews of the finances of the Department of Parks and Recreation. The County Board owes it to residents to ensure that they are being charged fees in line with the policies it has established …

The growing demand for these youth sports programs illustrates that our public schools are not the only public facilities strained by Arlington’s rapid population growth. We have a youth sports capacity problem, too.

We must plan to accommodate more gymnasts and swimmers (among others). This provides yet another reason to deep-six the extravagant $80-plus million Aquatics Center, and redirect those funds to youth and other sports programs countywide.

CONCLUSION

Arlington County must take greater care not to violate its own policies by inflating user fees above what is needed to cover the costs in the program for which the fees are being charged.

Government exists to serve the people, not the other way around.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — February 12, 2015 at 12:15 pm 312 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotLast September, Gov. Terry McAuliffe relaunched an effort to enact effective ethics reform. He appointed a bipartisan commission charged with making recommendations.

As we enter the last weeks of the 2015 legislative session, some progress has been made. But, one key reform — the establishment of a truly independent ethics commission with teeth — appears to be dead. That’s a shame.

Virginia’s very weak ethics laws have led to a culture of corruption in Richmond — including the recent McDonnell and Puckett scandals. The corruption has tainted both Republicans and Democrats.

Some improvements — now in the legislative pipeline — would cap gifts to legislators and their immediate family members at $100 (rather than the current $250). These pending bills also would close the notorious loophole allowing unlimited “intangible gifts” like vacations and event tickets.

But, one of the critical recommendations that came from McAuliffe’s bipartisan commission was the recommendation to create a new, independent Ethics Review Commission with teeth, including subpoena and enforcement power. Setting up a permanent ethics commission with power to interpret and enforce ethics and anti-corruption laws is critical.

Virginia needs such a new commission with the:

  • resources to conduct investigations,
  • power to assess fines for violations, and
  • authority to make referrals to the attorney general or other prosecutors.

Regrettably, significant disagreement about the need for this type of strong ethics commission has led to the omission of such a provision from legislation adopted by both the Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates. They appear to have been swayed by statements like this one from Del. C. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah):

“I think that’s a terrible idea, and I don’t think that either party wants to set up a framework where people can start and stop political vendettas through that process.”

In light of the persistent ethical problems in Richmond, the truly terrible idea is to omit this provision from the legislation.

A large majority of other states, including Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania have permanent ethics commissions. In Massachusetts, for example, the Ethics Commission can impose the following penalties:

  • a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for each violation of the conflict of interest law or the financial disclosure law, and
  • a maximum civil penalty of $25,000 for bribery.

By carefully studying the different ethics commission models established in these and other states, Virginia legislators ought to be able to find a model that combines effective enforcement power with safeguards against partisan abuse.

It’s a big mistake for legislators to leave Richmond this year without passing a comprehensive ethics reform package that includes a strong ethics commission.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — February 5, 2015 at 1:45 pm 1,677 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotThe County Board recently decided not to approve “for now” an APS plan to build a new elementary school at the Thomas Jefferson site.

Several critical lessons must guide our way forward to meet the APS goal of adding a minimum of 725 new elementary seats in South Arlington by 2018.

Three of those lessons are discussed below.

1. APS Can’t Choose The Best Option Unless It Knows What All The Options Are

The county and APS must share with each other – and with the public – an inventory of all site options that they know about. This inventory must include both County-owned sites and private sites (like vacant commercial office space).

2. APS Must Be Completely Transparent In Discussing All Options

After APS has all the information about potential options, APS must conduct an open and transparent process to share options with the community, explaining:

  • what APS’ preferred options are, and
  • why other options were not chosen.

This transparent process cannot be limited solely to sites. The process also must include programs. For example, APS must disclose whether it intends to use a new facility as a neighborhood school or a choice school or a combination.

New, updated forecasts for enrollment growth – jointly prepared with the county – must be part of the conversation. The public must have confidence that all of our new school facilities will be located in the areas in which both the county and APS agree that the greatest school enrollment growth is likely to occur.

New, less elaborate and lower-cost design options for new school facilities everywhere in the county must be part of the conversation. The public needs assurances that all APS designs are as frugal as possible.

3. Developers Must Be Part Of the Solution

The county must get developers to pay for part of the cost of new school seats. Financing new learning facilities will require more than bond financing.

For starters, Arlington must emulate other jurisdictions, like Fairfax and Loudoun, that require a separate school impact analysis and developer contributions as a condition of approval of development projects.

If the County Attorney believes that Arlington lacks the authority to emulate Fairfax and Loudoun, then he must spell that out now so that we can ask our legislators to seek necessary changes in state law.

Of course, we cannot expect developers to pay for everything. But they must foot the bill for their fair share of the cost of the public infrastructure needed to serve the increasing population their new projects attract.

CONCLUSION

Arlington leaders must:

  • consider all available sites,
  • share publicly all proposed options,
  • make developers pay their fair share.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — January 29, 2015 at 1:00 pm 1,263 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotSeveral months ago, I wrote a column in which I concluded that Arlington Public Schools has failed to meet its burden to prove that it is ready to implement a plan to put a tablet in the hands of every student.

APS still has not met that burden.

For this plan to succeed, APS must demonstrate that it has credible YES answers to ALL of these questions:

  • Does APS have a long-term instructional vision for what this plan is intended to accomplish?
  • Does APS have a long-term budget to train staff to implement its long-term instructional vision?
  • Does APS have a long-term budget to replace the devices?
  • Given all the other priorities APS must weigh, has this 1:1 plan been assigned a high enough priority to receive the funding it requires to be successful?
  • Has APS obtained transparent feedback from all stakeholders with respect to its long-term instructional vision, its long-term budget to implement it, and the priority the 1:1 plan has been assigned?

In a helpful article, Alan November — an educational technology consultant — framed the challenge APS faces as follows:

[W]hile one-to-one computing might work as a marketing slogan…, it is a simplistic and short-sighted phrase… Adding a digital device to the classroom without a fundamental change in the culture of teaching and learning will not lead to significant improvement. …[I]t’s essential to craft a vision that giving every student a digital device must lead to achievements beyond what we can accomplish with paper. Otherwise, let’s just stick with the original one-to-one program: one No. 2 pencil per student.

Has APS addressed adequately the challenge Alan November posed?

This is what the APS website currently has to say:

Every school in the system is conducting a pilot which is focused on identifying instructional best practices which leverage personalization. These best practices will be woven into teacher professional development and the full project implementation over the upcoming years.

An accompanying paper on digital learning makes certain promises (pages 8-10) regarding these subjects. These include promises that a Digital Learning Steering Committee will develop a plan that will:

  • Provide instructional support
  • Provide and implement a short and long range professional development strategy
  • Provide guidance on technology and curriculum integration
  • Provide guidance to develop policy related to personalized digital learning

Conclusion

This plan needs to be:

  • created,
  • vetted and reviewed by all APS stakeholders,
  • transparently shared with the public, and receive strong public support.

Until all of the above steps are completed, we don’t know whether this plan will succeed.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — January 22, 2015 at 12:15 pm 1,629 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotNow — not “mid-2015″ — is the time to cut bait on the extravagant $80+ million vanity project known as the Arlington Aquatics Center.

According to Deputy County Manager Mark Schwartz, despite the loss of potential new funding associated with the 2024 Summer Olympics, “Arlington is ‘still committed’ to building the Long Bridge Aquatics and Fitness Center ‘without any new taxpayer funds.’”

To the contrary, Arlington should not spend one more dime of any new — or old — taxpayer funds to build this gold-plated project. This decision should be made now — during the County’s upcoming FY 2016 operating budget review process — not in “mid-2015″ as Schwartz suggests.

The estimated annual operating subsidy for the Aquatics Center, as currently designed, has skyrocketed from $450,000 in 2011 to almost $4 million today. Discussing the Aquatics Center’s fate in conjunction with the FY2016 operating budget review will help the public answer questions like these: Where should budget cuts likely be made? How much would the tax rate have to increase to cover this swimming palace’s projected $4 million annual cost?

The Aquatics Center also is relevant now because it is already costing us money even though the project’s construction is “on hold.” Some Aquatics Center funds already have been borrowed and are sitting unused. We are paying interest on this debt out of current Arlington County operating funds. Because the project remains on hold, this money cannot be reallocated to construct neighborhood community pools on the Long Bridge site or elsewhere. This money cannot be used to perform long-deferred maintenance at other parks or to purchase additional parkland.

Scrapping this project’s current design and redirecting the funds to other pressing community needs like new community pools would NOT violate Arlington voters’ will. Although voters twice approved large park bond issues (portions of which were intended to fund this project), those votes now have little persuasive value for two reasons:

  1. Voters weren’t allowed to vote on a bond issue for the Aquatics Center as a separate line item on the ballot (isolated from other park spending), and
  2. Voters who approved either or both of the two park bonds weren’t aware of the Aquatics Center’s $4 million estimated annual operating subsidy.

Given Arlington’s forecasted population growth, we are definitely going to need more community pools and recreational space. With just 8.1 park acres per 1,000 residents, Arlington has less park space than D.C., Boston, New York City and other high-density communities. It may make sense for one or more new community pools to be co-located with a middle school and/or community center.

Conclusion

All of the money currently on hold for the Aquatics Center should be redirected now to more pressing community needs.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — January 15, 2015 at 1:45 pm 401 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotThe new Women’s Equality Coalition (WEC) launched last week. WEC is a promising initiative to improve Virginia women’s lives.

The founding members of WEC include ProgressVA, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, League of Women Voters of Virginia, the Virginia Chapter of the National Organization for Women, the Virginia Latina Advocacy Network, Women Matter, and the American Association of University Women of Virginia.

WEC believes that women and girls everywhere deserve an equal opportunity to participate fully in civic, economic, and political life irrespective of race, class, income, immigration status, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or involvement with the criminal justice system.

WEC supports all Virginia women’s ability to:

  • Decide when and if to have a family and access the full range of health services necessary to support that decision without interference from government, organizations, or individuals;
  • Secure the education and resources necessary to support and better themselves and their families without sacrificing economic security;
  • Live, work, and attend school free from intimidation, abuse, discrimination, harassment, and violence;
  • Understand how the political process affects them personally and be empowered and motivated to participate and make their voices heard.

WEC initially will concentrate on three legislative areas: health and safety, economic opportunity, and democratic participation.

WEC’s 2015 Legislative Agenda

Health and Safety

  • Repeal mandatory ultrasound and waiting period prior to an abortion (SB733 Locke)
  • Close the coverage gap
  • Protect contraception access
  • Provide unemployment benefits for victims of domestic violence who are forced to leave their job (HB 1430 Herring)

Economic Opportunity

  • Establish universal paid sick days
  • Equal pay (SB772 McEachin)
  • Raise the minimum wage (SB681 Marsden)
  • Ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (SJ216 Ebbin and HJ495 Surovell)

Democratic Participation

  • Establish no-excuse in-person voting (SB677 Howell)
  • Nonpartisan redistricting

Support for WEC

Virginia

  • Public officials from across Virginia, including Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring have endorsed the WEC agenda and released statements of support.

Arlington

  • As noted above, Virginia legislators representing portions of Arlington (Sens. Adam Ebbin and Janet Howell) already have introduced bills supporting WEC’s legislative agenda. Other members of Arlington’s delegation (Sen. Barbara Favola and Dels. Patrick Hope and Alfonso Lopez) have issued statements of support.

I agree completely with Del. Hope that:

Virginia’s record of women’s equality is abysmal and we must do better. … [I want my daughters] to know a Virginia that shows no favoritism and gives everyone an equal opportunity to compete, be successful, and to make their own decisions.

WEC’s formation is a great step in the right direction for Virginia.

You can get more information and sign up as a WEC supporter at http://vawomensequalitycoalition.org/.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — January 8, 2015 at 2:30 pm 557 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotIt’s time for the County Board to adopt a new rule relating to significant Board votes.

Under the new rule, all critical supporting documents underlying any agenda item for which such a vote is scheduled must be sent to all Board members and posted on the county website at least 72 hours before the meeting at which the vote is scheduled.

At a minimum, a “significant Board vote” would include votes on any of the following:

  • Approval of any contract, agreement, appropriation, grant, plan, project or budget committing $1 million or more of taxpayer funds;
  • Site plans/Amendments Review;
  • Ordinances, Plans and Policies.

At a minimum, “critical supporting documents” would include all information, reports, presentations, or recommendations from county staff, consultants, advisory bodies, or applicants. Any history of previous Board votes on the item should be included.

Failure to comply with the proposed new 72-hour rule would require postponement of the Board’s vote on the item unless at least four Board members voted to waive the 72-hour requirement. Such waiver votes would only be justified in rare emergency situations.

Why the Board should adopt the new rule

Arlington voters and taxpayers have a right to transparent, complete and timely information with respect to significant government actions in order to have a fair opportunity to communicate with their elected officials before a vote is taken. Elected officials also ought to have complete, final information in a timely manner in order to make reasoned and effective decisions.

By definition, “significant Board votes” almost always rely upon very extensive and complex documentation. The new rule is necessary to improve county government’s transparency and accountability.

Why likely arguments against the new rule lack merit

The county manager, county staff and the county attorney likely will oppose the new rule. They may argue that it will require extra work. Such arguments lack merit. No extra work will be required. They just have to complete the same work earlier. Staff might contend that the County Attorney’s office is the bottleneck and extra staff will need to be hired. This is another false argument. Getting the material to the County Attorney earlier is the simple solution.

Though the manager and staff may also argue that Board members receive briefings about significant Board votes much earlier than the 72-hour rule would require, such arguments miss at least two critical points:

  • Even if such briefings occur, the public lacks the 72-hour minimum access to the underlying documentation that the rule would require, and
  • Last-minute substantive changes in the underlying documentation often deny such access to Board members themselves. 

Conclusion 

Adopting the new 72-hour rule offers far greater benefits–transparency and accountability–than any costs it might entail.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — January 1, 2015 at 1:00 pm 838 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotArlington is part of a regional economy that faces a serious economic crunch. Arlington must continue to adjust to our new economic reality.

Our New Economic Reality

Federal government downsizing “has seen the D.C. region’s gross regional economy shrink two years in a row beginning in 2013.” Average wages and average household incomes in Northern Virginia have been declining. Dr. Stephen Fuller of George Mason University concludes: “downsizing and repositioning are watchwords. …We are facing the need for a substantial reduction in things not important.”

Federal government downsizing has led to large increases in commercial office vacancy rates in Arlington and throughout Northern Virginia. There is no end in sight. This situation depresses the potential growth in the value of commercial property. At the same time, substantial increases in the value of Arlington residential property continue. County Manager Barbara Donnellan forecasts a 6 to 8 percent growth (slide 10) in the value of Arlington residential real estate during calendar year 2015.

These economic trends mean Arlington’s residential taxpayers will pay a higher and higher percentage share of the total cost to fund Arlington’s budget. But, the average incomes of those residential taxpayers are likely to be flat or declining. That’s why Arlington voters in 2015 will continue to insist that Arlington set priorities by concentrating spending on core services.

A More Rigorous Approach to Investing in Core Services

Arlington should adopt a more rigorous and systematic approach to investing in core services. That approach should be one in which core services receive a higher percentage share of their budget “wish list” compared to the percentage share received by non-core services.  

Other municipalities have provided guideposts that Arlington can use to move toward this more rigorous and systematic approach. One example is the core continuum approach to budgeting taken by the city of Regina, Saskatechewan. Arlington should use Regina’s approach as a starting point, and alter that approach as necessary to fit those aspects of Arlington that differ from Regina.

Arlington not only needs new approaches to setting priorities overall, it also needs new thinking and new approaches regarding development, education, and transportation.

Development

Do we care how much development we have? County Manager Donnellan forecasts that Arlington’s residential population will increase 25 percent from 2010 to 2030. There is no credible plan to pay for the public infrastructure (e.g. schools) that will be required. Arlington needs to have a transparent public conversation to prepare that plan.

All options must be on the table for discussion. We should not prevent discussion by saying, “that’s not how we do things in Arlington.”

Education

The need for such a transparent conversation is most evident in the area of public education. As I have written previously, county and APS demographers need to agree on a single, unified projection of APS enrollment growth. Then, the county and the schools need to develop a joint plan explaining how Arlington will pay for the construction of the new school facilities that will be required. Developer proffers for education should be part of that conversation.

APS also needs to apply a core services approach within its own budget.

Transportation

Arlington County needs to move forward quickly to present and implement a new plan for upgrading transit in the Columbia Pike and Crystal City corridors. Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit (AST) already has contributed to the public dialogue by presenting AST’s proposal for upgraded transit in these corridors.

Conclusion

We need new ideas and new policies to solve the unprecedented challenges we face in 2015.

by Peter Rousselot — December 18, 2014 at 1:00 pm 707 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotThe past year was filled with revealing stories about Arlington and Virginia politics and government. Here are my top five:

5. APS Capacity Crisis Grew

County and APS demographers continued to present sharply differing forecasts of population growth and APS enrollment. The County and the schools failed to develop a unified plan that even came close to explaining how Arlington will pay for the construction of the new school facilities that will be required.  For no compelling reason, too many sites, designs, and financing options were not on the table for discussion.

4. Medicaid Expansion Failed

After Virginia Republicans gained control of the Virginia state Senate, Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s proposal to expand Medicaid in Virginia was blocked by Republican majorities in both legislative branches. While Republican leaders in other states passed their own legislation to expand Medicaid, Republican leaders in Virginia failed to do so. The failure by Virginia Republican legislative leaders to present and lobby for their own alternative Medicaid expansion plan was a major disappointment.

3. McDonnell Convicted

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell was found guilty of violating federal criminal law relating to public corruption. Most legal experts and political observers agreed that Virginia’s state criminal laws on public corruption are so full of holes that McDonnell could not have been successfully prosecuted under state law. Far from discouraging corrupt conduct, Virginia’s porous state laws continued to enable it. The McDonnell verdict highlighted the need for both Virginia and Arlington to strengthen their laws and ethics policies.

2. Streetcar Cancelled

The County Board’s decision to cancel the streetcar was the right decision as a matter of public policy. When the costs of a $500+ million project are so disproportionately greater than any possible benefits, no other decision would have made sense. A public majority correctly decided years ago that streetcars made no sense for Arlington. They could not understand the Board majority’s stubborn refusal to cancel the project. The abruptness with which the belated cancellation was announced reinforced the public’s conclusion of failed Board leadership.

1. Vihstadt Elected Twice

John Vihstadt’s elections to the County Board by landslide margins in April and November were a fitting recognition of his 30 years of community service. Independent Vihstadt’s decisive November victory, at the same time as Democrat Sen. Mark Warner also decisively carried Arlington, repudiated the insular thinking and policies of Fisette, Hynes, and Tejada on a wide range of issues. Arlington voted instead to prioritize spending our tax dollars on core services:

  • public schools,
  • basic infrastructure (sewers, water mains, roads),
  • sensible transit, and
  • public safety.

Conclusion:

These 2014 stories provide important background for 2015.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.\

by Peter Rousselot — December 11, 2014 at 2:00 pm 918 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotA recent ARLnow.com story asked the question: “Why doesn’t Arlington ask developers for school funding?” County leaders quoted in the story bobbed and weaved, but failed to provide convincing answers.

County Attorney Steve MacIsaac seemed to suggest that current state law severely limits the extent to which such developer contributions could be required. But, MacIsaac didn’t explain exactly why such developer contributions are not similarly limited in neighboring jurisdictions like Fairfax.

Is MacIsaac claiming that, with respect to developer proffers, Arlington has a different legal status under Virginia law than Fairfax? If so, he needs to explain that fully. If that’s the situation, then any Arlington legislator could seek necessary changes in state law.

Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette was similarly opaque. Fisette was quoted as saying, “if we would have to undo our current structure to be able to replicate what’s done in Loudoun, I think that would be ill-advised.” Why would it be ill advised? Fisette didn’t explain.

Fisette was somewhat more candid on the Kojo Politics Hour. When a caller noted that projections of rapid school enrollment growth suggested Arlington would have real trouble financing the construction costs of seats for new students, Fisette admitted: “We are victims of our own success.”

Precisely because Arlington students and their parents indeed would be the victims of this kind of “success,” the public is rightfully calling for a completely transparent discussion of the developer proffer issue.

It was troubling to read several comments to the ARLnow.com story claiming that County Board members have threatened School Board members that there would be adverse consequences to the school system if the proffer issue were discussed publicly. Claims like these could be either true or false. But, the issue of developer proffers is real, and deserves a full, fair and extensive public discussion.

It was welcome news to learn that such a public discussion could take place at the January meeting of the Arlington Civic Federation. A Sun-Gazette story about the Civ Fed’s plans suggested that County leaders might be reluctant to open up this issue because developer proffers for new school construction might be “a zero sum game.” If so, such proffers might have to be offset by comparable cuts in developer contributions for other things, like affordable housing or public art.

We need a robust public discussion of questions like these:

  • Is it really a zero sum game?
  • Which priorities matter most?
  • If we can’t even afford to pay for the seats for new students required by recent development, why shouldn’t we slow future development until we catch up?

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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