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by Peter Rousselot — November 20, 2014 at 12:15 pm 1,615 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 RousselotOn Nov. 18, four members of the Arlington County Board (Jay Fisette, Mary Hynes, Libby Garvey and John Vihstadt) voted to cancel Arlington’s $500 million+ streetcar projects. I commend Jay Fisette and Mary Hynes for this statesman-like vote.

For all of the reasons outlined on the website www.sensibletransit.org of Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit (AST), the vote to cancel Arlington’s streetcar projects also was the right decision as a matter of transportation policy — as Garvey and Vihstadt recognized previously.

On Nov. 18, the County Board also issued guidance to the County Manager to prepare the County’s FY 2016 operating budget.

Although a majority of the Board now has voted to cancel Arlington’s streetcar projects, the Board’s new budget guidance continues to reflect many other flawed priorities of County Board members Fisette, Hynes, and Tejada. Fisette, Hynes and Tejada still have the votes on our five-member Board to pass budget guidance that incorporates priorities that are wrong for Arlington.

Here are some examples of alternative budget guidance that our County Board should have given the County Manager, but failed to give:

  • our highest priority is to fund Arlington Public Schools (including incremental funds to address the school capacity crisis);
  • the School Board has asked the County Board to increase its transfer to APS to cover the cost of enrollment growth, a step increase for its employees and to eliminate early release days at the four remaining schools that still provide early release. The County’s actual budget guidance will leave APS with a shortfall of $23.8 million; that $23.8 million shortfall should be restored;
  • redirect funding toward other core services such as basic infrastructure maintenance (roads, water mains, sewers), sensible transit, and public safety; finance this redirection of funds by comparable cuts in other programs and operations;
  • working collaboratively with Fairfax and Alexandria, retain truly independent transportation experts to prepare an operating plan for a robust regional BRT system serving the Columbia Pike, Route 1/Crystal City, and other appropriate transit corridors;
  • provide alternative plans for use of the $80+ million currently set aside for the capital costs of the Aquatics Center because we have decided to cancel this project as it is currently designed; Arlington cannot afford to pay the currently estimated $4 million per year to operate such a facility.
  • provide a cut in the property tax rate of no less than 1 cent.

Conclusion

Like every other community in America, Arlington must set priorities for how it spends its money. If everything is a priority, nothing truly can be a priority. Leadership involves explaining why some programs and projects must be cut in order to fully fund other programs and projects that have a higher priority.

Many of Arlington’s priorities are right. Certain of Arlington’s priorities are wrong. Arlington should continue to change those of its priorities that are wrong.

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 — November 13, 2014 at 2:00 pm 1,779 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

Arlington is thinking far too narrowly about the APS capacity crisis.

Our options should not be limited to property currently owned or leased by APS. With the exception of parkland, all property currently owned or leased by the County also should be considered. Subject to a cost-benefit analysis, so should property not currently owned or leased.

No neighborhood should be immune.

We provided the tax revenue that enabled both APS and the County to acquire title to land, but APS and the County should not be treating that land like private property owners.

Jason Rylander, a leading community activist, has provided a valuable roadmap on how we might approach these issues. In an Oct. 23 letter, Rylander outlines a series of needed changes.

Below is a summary of some of Rylander’s best ideas (Much more detail is provided in his letter).

Expand Evaluation Criteria For New Schools

The current criteria for considering county-owned property as sites for new school facilities are far too restrictive.

For example, why should:

  • sites be limited to “an existing school site adjacent to more than one acre of County Board-owned property”?
  • there be a restriction on considering sites smaller than 3.5 acres?

Vacant office space should be considered.

Joint County-APS Planning Process To Locate Best Sites

We need a comprehensive, integrated vision regarding where our school facilities should be located and why. That vision should be developed by combining County and APS expertise in a master planning exercise.

The Arlington public justifiably lacks confidence that our current public institutions are doing the best job estimating future public school enrollment.

Based on the most recently available data, APS now appears to be planning for at least a 32,300-student system. But, because the goalposts keep moving so frequently, the public is rightly skeptical.

Improve Public Communication and Outreach on Potential Sites

It’s long past time to break down the silos between the County and APS.

The current lack of transparency in discussing these issues and presenting them for public discussion is unacceptable. As Rylander explains:

Repeatedly, citizens have been told that certain sites are not “on the table” or “cannot be discussed publicly” due to ongoing negotiations between our county and school governments.

CONCLUSION

Jason Rylander and I don’t agree on every aspect of how best to handle the capacity crisis. For example, we respectfully differ on the extent to which parkland should be part of the conversation. However, the community owes Jason a vote of thanks for his thoughtful recommendations on how best to proceed.

The County and APS need a new start on this issue.

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 — November 6, 2014 at 2:30 pm 1,735 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 Tuesday’s County Board election, Arlington voters again rendered a decisive verdict on major priorities and practices of the current majority on the Arlington County Board (Jay Fisette, Mary Hynes, Walter Tejada).

The verdict: change your priorities and practices, or we’ll elect others who will.

Independent John Vihstadt won another landslide election by again uniting tens of thousands of Arlington Democrats, Republicans, Greens, and Independents into a broad-based coalition that shares Vihstadt’s policy priorities and rejects those of Fisette, Hynes and Tejada:

  • prioritize spending on Arlington’s core government services (e.g., overcrowded schools, basic infrastructure, sensible transit, and public safety),
  • end spending on wasteful and extravagant projects like streetcars, a gold-plated aquatics center, and more fancy dog parks,
  • provide far greater transparency and accountability in Arlington County government.

MAJOR TAKEAWAYS FROM THIS ELECTION

For Fisette, Hynes, and Tejada

The statesman-like thing you should do now is to vote to cancel extravagant, wasteful and unnecessary projects like streetcars and the aquatics center. Commit instead to redirect our tax dollars toward investments in:

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

Move forward aggressively with new initiatives to make Arlington’s government far more transparent.

For all other Arlington Democratic elected officials

Tell Fisette, Hynes, and Tejada it’s time to unite the community around the agenda outlined above. Renounce further plans to support a referendum on the streetcar because there is ZERO likelihood that Virginia will enact legislation forcing Arlington to hold a binding referendum on the streetcar.

For the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC)

You have lost the excuse that Vihstadt’s election in the spring was a fluke. Don’t make the same mistake again. Alan Howze lost both elections because he embraced policy priorities for Arlington (e.g., streetcars, aquatics center) that a majority of Arlington voters don’t want.

Because these policy priorities do not spring from core Democratic values, thousands of Arlington Democrats rejected the Democratic candidate who championed these failed policies. If you keep nominating candidates who advocate these failed policies, Arlington voters will continue to reject those candidates.

Some of the practices ACDC itself adopted after Vihstadt’s spring victory have subjected ACDC to justifiable ridicule. Examples:

  • telling Democratic elected officials and leaders they are not welcome at public ACDC meetings,
  • dropping Democratic elected officials and leaders from broad-based ACDC email lists,
  • placing a Democratic elected official on what the Sun-Gazette derisively called “double-blind secret probation.”

Unflattering comparisons to the Soviet politburo continue to circulate. ACDC leadership should renounce all such practices, and embrace the politics of addition instead of the politics of subtraction.

CONCLUSION

It is no longer enough to get elected to the County Board that you be the Democratic nominee. 

by Peter Rousselot — October 23, 2014 at 12:00 pm 1,026 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 RousselotI’m a proud Arlington Democrat. Like thousands of other Arlington Democrats, I will be voting on Nov. 4 to re-elect Independent John Vihstadt to the Arlington County Board.

On April 8, 57 percent of Arlington voters elected John as an independent voice on the Board. The other four Board members are Democrats. Having an Independent as one of the five Board members provides balance, oversight and accountability.

Reasons To Vote For Vihstadt

Thirty years of community activism and consensus-building

John’s record of public service and relationships built over three decades has provided a firm foundation for immediate effectiveness and accomplishment. This record shows him to be inclusive and open-minded.

Re-calibrating County Board spending priorities

John Vihstadt:

  • prioritizes long-term, cost-effective investments in our public schools, public safety, infrastructure maintenance and neighborhood quality of life;
  • opposes wasteful and extravagant projects like a $500 million streetcar, million dollar bus stops, a gold-plated aquatics center or another $1.6 million dog park.

Since Arlington already has the highest tax bills in Northern Virginia, setting priorities is essential.

Arlington’s current priorities have been set by a group of three long-term incumbent County Board members (Jay Fisette, Walter Tejada and Mary Hynes). They happen to be Democrats. Many of their priorities (streetcars, aquatics center, fancy dog parks) are wrong. Their wrong priorities are not core Democratic values.

By voting to re-elect John Vihstadt on Nov. 4, Arlington voters will send another strong message that we support John’s priorities and oppose these wasteful and extravagant projects.

Fresh perspective already making a difference

John has led the effort to hire an internal auditor to improve checks and balances. He will continue to advocate that the auditor report directly to the County Board, not the County Manager. He will work to ensure no backsliding in recent commitments to implement a fraud and abuse hotline and employee whistle blower protection. 

Conclusion

Some Arlington Democrats may be struggling with the decision to vote to re-elect John or vote for his Democratic opponent. I support John because being the Democratic candidate in this County Board election is not enough of a qualification.

Alan Howze lacks the stature to stand up to Fisette, Hynes, and Tejada, and to vote against their positions when he thinks they are wrong. Moreover, on major current and important issues, like the $500 million streetcar and spending at least $80 million on the Aquatics Center, he agrees with their positions.

You can read more about John Vihstadt’s extensive community service, the issues on which he is running, and his support from across the political spectrum here.

***

John Vihstadt deserves re-election to the County Board.

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 — October 16, 2014 at 1:30 pm 502 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 RousselotBarbara Kanninen is running for election to the Arlington School Board on November 4.

I endorse Barbara in this election.

PRIORITIES

Among the priorities Barbara will pursue as a School Board member are :

  • Promote critical thinking over standardized testing
  • Tackle overcrowding
  • Give teachers the respect and support they deserve
  • Support children with mentors
  • Continue investing in the arts and strengthen STEM
  • Be budget-minded

As I have written previously, both the School Board and the County Board need to recognize that they have limited resources. They need to focus our limited tax dollars on core services. For this reason, I am encouraged by Barbara’s focus on budget priorities.

Operating Budget

Barbara’s No. 1 principle is the need to focus on the day-to-day classroom experience and the importance of teacher-student relationships. Her budget priorities will be teachers and the resources they need. Barbara will look skeptically at other expenditures — such as consultant fees, new technologies, and the test-prep schedule — to assess whether they truly improve classroom learning.

Barbara also would like to see regular and transparent collaboration between the schools and Arlington County on a revenue-sharing agreement: the percentage of tax revenues that the County Board shares with the School Board. Our schools matter to everyone in the county, and Barbara would like to see a healthy community dialogue about the relative value of, for example, keeping our class sizes small compared to other county activities. Barbara does not discount the importance of county services, but rather wants to open up the discussion so that we can make the best decisions possible, given our limited resources.

Capital Budget

Barbara’s approach to capital budget planning is equally thoughtful. Around the community, her discussions about Arlington’s capital improvement program (CIP) have focused on three points:

  1. We need to start talking about potential, interim solutions as our overcrowding grows faster than we can build. Using community buildings (former schools) as temporary schools is one such option. Flexible scheduling is another.
  2. We need better and stronger school/county collaboration so that we can open up more spaces for potential schools. We also need a school/county master planning process to look at the long, long term.
  3. We need to improve our planning process on the school side. Most importantly, APS needs more transparency in its decision making.

Personal

I first met Barbara about 10 years ago when I was serving as a co-chair of the Advisory Council on Instruction and she was a first grade parent at Taylor Elementary. Ever since that time, Barbara has been actively involved in volunteer leadership positions in our schools.

***

Barbara Kanninen deserves election to the School Board.

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 — October 9, 2014 at 1:30 pm 1,008 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 RousselotOn Oct. 7, the Arlington Civic Federation approved a resolution critical of the position taken before the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) by the Arlington County Manager. Congratulations to the Civic Federation for taking this step.

The Civic Federation is right that County Manager Barbara Donnellan is giving too little weight to our safety, while giving too much weight to squeezing more tax dollars out of taller buildings in National Airport’s flight path.

What the FAA is considering

The FAA is considering amending its current regulations to take into account situations in which there is a failure of one aircraft engine during takeoff. A principal objective of the change will be to set height limits on new building construction in order to increase our safety. The FAA can make the change after using either one of two alternative procedures. One of those two FAA procedures is significantly faster than the other. Using the faster procedure will enable the FAA’s new safety standards to be put into place sooner. The FAA wants to use the faster of its two procedures.

What the Manager Advised the FAA

The Manager advised the FAA to use the slower of its two procedures. While her July 22 letter paid lip service to safety, the County government’s real motivation is clear from this portion of her letter:

[T]he land use plan for central Rosslyn anticipates the addition of 4.5 million square feet of office use and more than 1,000 new housing units over the next 25 years… Rosslyn’s importance to economic development and sustainability is well-established. Yet its future depends on realizing the development plans as a means to be economically competitive…

The Manager’s Advice Sacrifices Our Safety

Since the Arlington County government has zero expertise in airline safety, it also has zero expertise in weighing the additional risks to the safety of Arlington citizens that will arise from a delay in the effective date of whatever new building height restrictions the FAA ultimately selects. Therefore, Arlington either should have taken no position on which procedure the FAA should use, or Arlington should have come down squarely on the side of its citizens’ safety by advocating for the use of the FAA’s more streamlined procedure.

Would it really be so terrible for Arlington if the FAA’s choice of its streamlined procedure meant that Arlington had to make do with adding only 4.1 million square feet of office use in Rosslyn rather than 4.5 million square feet over the next 25 years?

The Arlington County government has placed the economic interests of developers and the government’s own interest in incremental tax revenue ahead of safety.

That’s wrong.

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 — October 2, 2014 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 RousselotOn Sept. 25, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced the appointment of a bipartisan Ethics Commission.

“The governor said he expects recommendations on ethics reforms will be completed by December, in time to introduce them next year in the General Assembly,” The Richmond Times-Dispatch wrote. “The assembly this year passed changes in laws governing gifts and disclosures but without addressing so-called intangible gifts, such as paid trips for elected officials, or establishing a way to enforce them.”

Even though the composition of the new commission is completely bipartisan (including Republican and Democratic Co-Chairs), it is a testament to the toxic partisanship in Richmond that the appointment of the commission was greeted this way by the Chair of the Republican Party of Virginia: “Trusting Terry McAuliffe to enact ethics reform isn’t just letting the fox guard the hen house, it’s letting the fox design and build the hen house for easier access.”

Since the Republicans control both houses of the Virginia legislature, the potshot that we can’t trust McAuliffe to enact corrective legislation all by himself misses the mark.

Nothing better illustrates the culture of corruption in Richmond than being able to provide “intangible” gifts of unlimited value to willing lawmakers. A 2010-2011 initiative organized by a company seeking approval to open a Virginia uranium mine is a case in point. The company offered to provide trips to France at company expense to almost all of the 140 members of the Virginia General Assembly.

The alleged purpose of the trip was to enable these lawmakers personally to inspect a French uranium mine that had used mining techniques allegedly similar to those that would be used at the proposed Virginia uranium mine. But, a side trip to Paris was part of the package, and this initiative cost the company $10,000 per legislator. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers went on the trip, and both Republican and Democratic lawmakers declined to go. In the end, the company sponsoring these trips paid a total of $122,000 to fly about two dozen members of the Virginia General Assembly to France.

Those legislators who did go on the trip tried to justify their decisions by saying:

  • they were going on an important fact finding mission,
  • they did nothing illegal under state law, and/or
  • their votes could not be bought.

Those legislators who didn’t go on the trip said that, even though the trip wasn’t illegal, it wouldn’t look good to their constituents.

Bottom line

Legislative trips like the uranium mining junket to France are illegal in many other states. We need to make them illegal in Virginia too.

It’s long past time to put toxic partisanship aside on this issue.

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 — September 25, 2014 at 2:00 pm 1,390 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 the need to replace a sewer line looms, Arlington County bureaucrats are trying to shift the replacement cost onto the backs of private homeowners in Lyon Park.

After decades of using public funds to pay the maintenance costs of a Lyon Park sewer line, Arlington County staff and lawyers suddenly are spinning fanciful theories to avoid paying to replace the line.

Background

In late Fall 2013, 11 residences in Lyon Park were notified by the County that because of a failing sewer line behind their properties (900 block of N. Danville and N. Daniel Streets), they would be financially responsible for connecting to the County sewer system at a County estimated cost of $10,000 to $20,000 per homeowner. The homeowners were forced to retain a private attorney.

In an Aug. 15, 2014 letter, Deputy County Manager Mark Schwartz argues that because the County cannot find in its own files any record of a deed of conveyance of this specific sewer line to the County, the County is not the owner. Therefore, the County has no obligation to pay to replace the line.

In a Sept. 12 reply, the homeowners’ attorney explains that the County assumed ownership of this and other similar sewer lines when it acquired all of the assets of a series of community sewer systems. Because the County acquired all of the assets of each system as a whole, there never were conveyances of individual sewer lines.

Implications

Why is County staff taking such an antagonistic and legalistic position against these 11 Lyon Park residences?

This issue is not unique to this one sewer line. County attorneys and officials have stated in meetings with these homeowners that there may be other such sewer lines in Arlington. That shouldn’t matter because Arlington should be stepping up to the plate and assuming its rightful obligation to pay to maintain and replace all such lines.

It does cost a lot more to replace a sewer line than to maintain one. But, sewer lines are a core government service just like water mains. These are the government services to which Arlington should be assigning the highest priority in spending our tax dollars.

Yet, even though Arlington property owners already have the highest tax bills in Northern Virginia, County bureaucrats are trying to offload all of these sewer replacement costs on a small group of Lyon Park homeowners who are already paying those high tax bills.

If Arlington wants to be the “world-class community” to which it aspires, using our tax dollars to provide first-world sewer service would be a good place to start.

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 — September 18, 2014 at 1:30 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 RousselotWhile Virginia’s poor continue to get sick and die without access to adequate health care, Virginia’s Republican legislative leaders — unlike Republican leaders in many other states – have not presented a leadership proposal to address this issue.

During Virginia’s 2014 regular legislative session, Virginia’s Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, lobbied the legislature for a straightforward Medicaid expansion proposal. He failed. After the legislature turned him down, he ordered his Secretary of Health to present a plan for unilateral Medicaid expansion by the executive branch. Facing the prospect that such large-scale unilateral action would likely be overturned in the courts, Governor McAuliffe backed down.

Instead, he presented a very small unilateral expansion plan. According tot The New York Times, under McAuliffe’s latest plan,:

[O]nly 25,000 uninsured Virginians would be receiving coverage, far fewer than the 400,000 he has said are eligible if the state expands Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The retreat [signaled] Mr. McAuliffe’s acceptance that he is politically hemmed in, especially after Republicans took control of both houses of the General Assembly following the surprise resignation of a Democratic senator in June.

We get it. Virginia’s Republican legislative leaders have proven they won’t agree to a straightforward Medicaid expansion, while McAuliffe has (tacitly) acknowledged that he lacks the constitutional power to go it alone. Where does that leave the 375,000 poor Virginians who will continue to lack adequate health care even if McAuliffe’s latest plan goes into effect? It leaves them just where they are now. That’s wrong.

The Virginia legislature is scheduled to reconvene in a special session this week — supposedly to consider what to do about this issue. 100 Delegates and 40 Senators are returning to Richmond for a special legislative session at taxpayer expense. But, how can we Virginia taxpayers reasonably expect this to produce a coherent compromise if the leadership on one side — the Democrats — has presented one plan after another for a year, while the leadership on the other side — the Republicans — has presented no plan at all? We can’t.

Virginia’s Republican legislative leaders don’t need to re-invent this wheel. They can pick and choose from a whole host of options pioneered by Republican leaders in many other states like Arkansas and Pennsylvania.

In describing his plan, Pennsylvania’s Republican Gov. Tom Corbett noted:

From the beginning, I said we needed a plan that was created in Pennsylvania for Pennsylvania — a plan that would allow us to reform a financially unsustainable Medicaid program and increase access to health care for eligible individuals through the private market. 

Memo to Virginia’s Republican legislative leaders: where is your leadership plan created in Virginia for Virginians?

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 — September 11, 2014 at 2:45 pm 593 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 week, a jury rendered its guilty verdict in the trial of former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen. The jury found the McDonnells guilty of multiple violations of federal criminal law relating to public corruption.

The jury answered decisively the question I raised in an Aug. 7 column: a crush does NOT excuse a crime.

Most legal experts and political observers agree that Virginia’s state criminal laws on public corruption are so full of holes that the McDonnells could not have been successfully prosecuted under those state laws. Far from discouraging corrupt conduct, Virginia’s porous state laws enable it.

Any tightening of Virginia’s criminal laws on public corruption must be done at the state level. Under Virginia’s Dillon Rule,” individual localities like Arlington cannot adopt ordinances that conflict with current state criminal law. But, that does not mean that Arlington has no room to act on its own.

For example, earlier this year the Arlington School Board adopted a new gifts policy. Under the School Board’s new policy:

Employees may accept gifts valued at a total of $100.00 or less during a school year from any one student, individual, family or organization, including PTAs and Booster organizations. In no instance shall an employee accept a gift given for services performed within the scope of the employee’s duties or given with the intent to influence an employee’s actions. Any single gift valued at more than $100.00, or gifts totaling more than $100.00 from one giver during the course of a year, must be returned to the giver.

I commend the School Board for the positive example it set by taking this action. As I have written previously, now it’s time for the County Board to step up to the plate.

The current County Board Ethics Policy is much too vague and weak. On the subject of gifts, for example, the current County Board policy simply urges its employees to “ensure that no favors, gifts, gratuities or benefits are received for actions taken.” This provision simply urges County employees not to violate the toothless provisions of current Virginia state criminal law.

The County Board can and should do much better.

To get started, the County Board should follow the lead of the School Board and adopt a gifts policy. Emulating the School Board, the County Board ought to adopt a $100 limit on gifts.

It’s time for the County Board to send a strong signal that it is committed to the highest ethical standards.

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 — September 4, 2014 at 2:00 pm 2,245 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 RousselotOn Aug. 27, ARLnow.com revealed that Arlington Public Schools (APS) has decided to give a new Macbook Air computer to every ninth-grader at Wakefield, Washington-Lee and Yorktown high schools.

Regardless of whether APS’ decision is right or wrong, the decision badly flunks any reasonable test of transparency.

Whether to undertake this initiative cries out for a thoughtful, careful process of advance consultation with parents and the public. The failure to have such a process precede the decision reflects remarkable tone deafness.

Here are just some of the reasons why the decision is wrong according to angry ARLnow commenters:

  • There is too large a mismatch between the way the current curriculum is structured and the ability to use a personal computer in the classroom effectively, so it is premature to introduce personal computers in the classroom until this mismatch is corrected;
  • Too many teachers cannot use effectively the technology tools they already have (Smartboards and TVs), so it is not realistic to believe those teachers will be able effectively to integrate the new personal computers into their classroom instruction;
  • Being prepared for the 21st century means learning how to budget one’s financial resources, and the message we’re sending kids by paying for them to have free Macs is that everyone can just have what’s very expensive and hip at everyone else’s expense;
  • Even if a requirement that all HS Freshmen have a Macbook Air is appropriate, that requirement should be imposed first on the parents, with financial assistance made available to every family that cannot afford to purchase one;
  • Given the capacity crisis APS faces, the money spent on purchasing these personal computers is better spent directly alleviating that crisis.

If you are part of APS’ management, and you believe that you have excellent answers to every one of the points noted above, and therefore that the public reaction to this decision is overblown, you are missing the point.

When you are using our taxpayer dollars to implement a decision like this one, you should be willing to stand up before the public, justify your decision, and engage with the public regarding its concerns.

APS management seems to be fixated on large-scale programs placing PCs in the hands of students. Remember the 1:1 initiative? More recently, at least one elementary school — Campbell — is planning to give iPads to all second graders — apparently without consulting parents or the public.

But, APS management hasn’t engaged with the Arlington community as to why APS thinks it can do better with these PC initiatives than Hoboken, N.J. Like many other school districts, Hoboken tried, but now has abandoned, its PC-for-every-student program.

APS has failed to meet its burden to prove it is ready to implement such programs in an effective way.

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 — August 28, 2014 at 2:00 pm 302 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 I have done previously, today I’m profiling a nonprofit that offers valuable services to the Arlington community: Friends of Guest House.

Mission

The mission of Guest House is to provide female ex-offenders the structure, supervision, support and assistance they need to become self-sufficient and responsible members of the community. Guest House rebuilds female ex-offenders’ lives by providing them with the physical and emotional tools they need to begin a new life.

Guest House operates and delivers its services without regard to race, creed, color, religion, gender, age, national origin, physical or mental health, sexual orientation, or any characteristic protected by law.

Programs

Guest House provides comprehensive re-entry support to female ex-offenders in Northern Virginia, including Arlington. It delivers that support through three core programs: Residential, aftercare and non-residential outreach.

Spanning those three programs, Guest House provides case management; mental health and substance abuse counseling referrals; and directly or through other groups, assistance with issues such as:

  • health care
  • education
  • vocational training
  • employment
  • housing
  • emergency needs
  • child custody
  • referrals to other community services
  • generally, navigating the post-incarceration environment in constructive ways

Guest House works as part of the larger Northern Virginia social services network, referring its clients for special services and receiving client referrals as well. Formal partnerships with several groups have expanded the range of services that clients receive.

Success Rate

Guest House addresses the root causes that lead to the vicious cycle of incarceration. It provides clients with the most effective help so they do not re-offend. Its program focuses on core issues ranging from trauma and addiction to housing and employment. The success of Guest House’s program is demonstrated by these comparative statistics:

  • Without the re-entry support the Guest House program provides, 70 percent of non-violent ex-offenders nationwide re-offend within three years;
  • Among graduates of the Guest House program, only 7 percent re-offend.

How to Help

There are a number of different ways to get involved. These include:

  • Donate money;
  • Honor someone special;
  • Underwrite a specific project;
  • Volunteer
  • Host a benefit or friendraiser or feature a Guest House speaker
  • Fundraise with social media
  • Help clients find jobs and housing

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 — August 21, 2014 at 1:10 pm 556 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

In two earlier columns, I urged Virginia’s political leaders to try to find bi-partisan common ground to improve access to healthcare for Virginia’s poor.  In the second of those columns, I explained that Republican leaders in many other states, even leaders who opposed the Affordable Care Act, have found ways to do this either by expanding Medicaid or by using a premium assistance model.

Regrettably, Virginia still seems gripped in partisan gridlock.

Virginia’s Democratic Governor, Terry McAuliffe, continues to insist that expanding Medicaid is the right solution. Virginia’s Republican leaders are just as adamant that expanding Medicaid is the wrong solution. Governor McAuliffe has asked his Secretary of Health to present a plan by September 1 under which the Governor would expand Medicaid without legislative approval. Virginia’s Republican leaders say that the Governor lacks the authority under the Virginia Constitution to proceed without legislative approval. If he tries to do it this way, the Republican leaders have promised to sue the Governor to block his plans.

For nine months, Governor McAullife and Virginia’s Democratic legislative leaders have made their proposal to expand Medicaid crystal clear, but they have failed to persuade Virginia’s Republican legislative leaders. These Republican leaders have just said no.

What is the Virginia Republican legislative leadership’s alternative to Medicaid expansion?

For some Republicans, that alternative may be the status quo.  The status quo shouldn’t be an option for Virginia — any more than it has been for many other states with Republican governors.

It is long past time for Virginia’s Republican legislative leaders to take a stand. If you don’t support Medicaid expansion, what do you support? Put your alternative out there for Virginians to compare side by side with Governor McAuliffe’s proposal.

How about supporting the Arkansas approach?

Arkansas did things a little differently than other states that expanded Medicaid. The Republican-dominated legislature wouldn’t pass a traditional expansion; instead, it mandated that federal money be used to pay premiums for private insurance plans through the state’s marketplace, an alternative proponents dubbed the “private option.” Other states have used federal money for premium support, but not to the extent Arkansas has.

The Arkansas approach has been remarkably successful:

No state has made progress faster than Arkansas….[T]he percentage of the state’s population without insurance dropped nearly in half, down from 22.5 percent in 2013 to 12.4 percent today.

Personally, I strongly favor a straightforward expansion of Medicaid in Virginia — as advocated by Governor McAuliffe.

What I don’t understand is why Virginia’s Republican legislative leaders can’t tell us what they support instead.

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 — August 7, 2014 at 2:00 pm 1,248 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

When Ira Gershwin wrote those memorable lyrics to what became a jazz standard, he didn’t know his lyrics would play a central role in the criminal trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen. Anyone still remember “Bob’s for Jobs?”

Regardless of how the trial turns out, something is really wrong with what Maureen and Bob did. We just don’t know whether what they did was a crime under Virginia’s notoriously lax ethics and political corruption laws.

Most ARLnow.com readers know the basic facts of the Bob and Maureen story. An “enterprising” Virginia businessman provides:

  • a Rolex watch for the Governor,
  • a $15,000 gift for the Governor’s daughter’s wedding reception,
  • a $20,000 shopping spree in New York City for the Governor’s wife,
  • large loans to the Governor, concealing the nature of the transactions and the identity of the lender, and
  • much, much more.

The Governor and his wife provide the businessman with:

  • meetings with Virginia officials who could facilitate lucrative deals for the businessman,
  • personal appearances at trade events to promote the businessman’s products.

Maureen’s lawyers claim that none of what Maureen did was a crime because:

  • her family was in great financial difficulty,
  • her marriage to Bob was broken and she was lonely for male companionship,
  • she had a crush on the businessman, and
  • she accepted gifts from the businessman for these reasons — not because she was trading access and influence for his gifts.

Bob McDonell’s lawyers claim that none of what he did was a crime because he didn’t know what Maureen was doing, and McDonnell didn’t do anything for this businessman that he wouldn’t do for any businessman.

Say what?

The McDonnells’ trial is important because it reveals once again the risks of political corruption in Richmond. In 2012, The Center for Public Integrity gave Virginia a grade of “F” for the risks of political corruption, noting that Virginia ranked 47th out of 50 states. Regrettably, Bob and Maureen are part of a well-worn pattern. That pattern includes both Republicans and Democrats. How many more national embarrassments will Virginia’s legislators need to change the pattern?

And how would Ira and George Gershwin have reacted to Maureen’s “crush” defense in this trial?

They would be working on a musical featuring Maureen and Bob. But, the Gershwins would have to find a new name for their new musical. They already used “The Man I Love.”

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 — July 31, 2014 at 2:30 pm 622 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 RousselotAt the County Board’s July 17 work session on Arlington’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), John Vihstadt, seconded by Libby Garvey, introduced a motion:

[A]ny contracts between Arlington County or an instrumentality of the County and a third party vendor or service provider for services of $1,000,000 or more related to or impacting a CIP project require a vote by the Arlington County Board at a regularly scheduled meeting.

Vihstadt said his motion was prompted by the County’s May 30 announcement that a contract already had been awarded to Parsons Transportation Group. That contract provides for a sweeping range of professional services to consult about streetcars. Parsons will advise the County in areas ranging from financial management and reporting, environmental, right of way acquisition, vehicle acquisition support, construction management oversight, and public outreach. For their initial work, Parsons will be paid $7 million to $8 million.

The “public outreach” portion of the Parsons contract allocates $650,000 of taxpayer dollars to a P.R. campaign to try to promote the streetcar.

Vihstadt stated that his motion included the phrase “related to or impacting a CIP project” because the CIP was the topic under consideration at the work session. He was concerned that a broader motion might have been ruled out of order.

Despite Vihstadt’s care in limiting his motion to CIP-related contracts, County staff found a different technicality upon which to base an objection. Staff says that although all contracts for professional services in excess of $50,000 performed as part of a capital improvement project do require Board approval, “professional services” are narrowly defined only to include certain professions.

Staff believes that the $7 million to $8 million package of professional services Parsons will be performing all lie outside the County’s narrow definition of “professional services”. Therefore, no Board approval is required for the Parsons contract.

Under the staff’s interpretation, a contract for $50,001 for architectural services performed as part of a capital improvement project does require a Board vote, but the Parsons $7 million to $8 million contract does not require a Board vote. Just for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the staff’s interpretation of the County’s current policy is correct.

The staff — and the County Board — are missing the main point.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Healthy government transparency requires broad public awareness and a Board vote prior to committing our tax dollars to large contracts.

The Arlington County Board should change its current policy, and adopt a new policy that requires that the County Board itself approve all contracts of $1 million or more regardless of subject matter.

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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