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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.

by Peter Rousselot — July 24, 2014 at 1:00 pm 1,727 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 RousselotPrior to approving its latest Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), a bare majority of the Arlington County Board (Fisette, Hynes, Tejada) voted to deny the public access to critical information. The information they suppressed relates to new transportation projects that are being denied funding or delayed as streetcar costs continue escalating sharply.

The vote to suppress this information comes at a time that this same majority has sanctioned a $650,000 public relations campaign at taxpayer expense to promote the streetcar.

Both actions represent desperate attempts to refloat a sinking ship.

The CIP approved by the Board on July 19 documents sharp increases in streetcar costs as a percentage of Arlington’s total capital budget.

Two years ago, in the FY 2013-2022 CIP, the Columbia Pike streetcar was projected to consume 8 percent of the total CIP and the Crystal City Streetcar 6 percent, for a CIP total of 14 percent devoted to the two streetcars combined. Today, both projects have jumped in cost, and total 19 percent of the FY 2015-2024 CIP for the two streetcars.

In other words, just two streetcar lines totaling only 7.4 miles, consume 19 percent of our total Arlington capital budget, or nearly one out of five of our proposed capital spending dollars over the next 10 years. 

In an effort to determine what new transportation projects might be sacrificed in this streetcar sinkhole, Board members Vihstadt and Garvey in June asked County staff the following question and received the following answer:

Q. If we do not build a streetcar, for what can the money planned for the streetcar be used?

A. Providing alternative projects that could be funded if the streetcar is not funded would require significant additional analysis that a majority of the Board could direct staff to undertake.

Faced with this response, Vihstadt, seconded by Garvey, made the following motion at the County Board’s July 17 CIP work session:

I move that the County Board direct the County Manager to develop and prioritize a list of all Arlington transportation projects over the next 10 years, including information as to budget amounts, funding sources and by fiscal year, that could be funded if we cease all Arlington streetcar spending now (save for legal requirements) and do not move forward with either the Columbia Pike or Route 1 Streetcar projects.

Fisette, Hynes, and Tejada voted against the motion, and the motion was defeated.

With more than half a billion dollars on the line, the County Board majority has denied Arlington voters and taxpayers critical information they need to make informed decisions.

Why are they afraid of providing this information?

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 17, 2014 at 3:00 pm 478 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 RousselotNancy Van Doren has announced that she plans to run in the special election for the seat on the Arlington School Board that will become vacant on Aug. 1 when Noah Simon resigns.

I support Nancy for the Democratic endorsement and for election in the special election to fill this seat.

Priorities

Among the priorities Nancy has promised to pursue as a School Board member are these:

Educational Excellence for All Students 

Academic success for each student is Nancy’s top priority. Students must leave high school prepared for higher education and success in our technology-driven global economy. Arlington Public Schools must consistently offer students the opportunity to reach their full potential, regardless of race, economic status, ethnicity, gender, language or disability.

The strategies Nancy will emphasize include:

  • Providing our highly-qualified teachers with the tools, training, and resources necessary to meet the needs of each student in their classroom.
  • Ensuring children develop strong reading skills by the start of fourth grade, when students begin reading for content.
  • Using proven approaches to close the achievement gap.
  • Providing all students with equal instruction time and the opportunity to study a second language, beginning in elementary school. FLES (Foreign Language in Elementary Schools) should be implemented in all schools.

 Making Room for All Students

  • Maximize the use of all existing space within our schools.
  • Creatively use space in and around the County to meet capacity needs. Consider renting vacant office space, using County facilities, increasing the use of the Career Center, increasing our partnership with area colleges, and using flexible scheduling and on-line classes, particularly at the high school level.
  • Build adequate, flexible classroom space through additions to schools or constructing new buildings, when and where necessary, within fiscal constraints.

County/Schools Collaboration

  • The School and County Boards and their staffs must integrate their long-range planning efforts so that together they can accommodate and fund the County’s growth within its overall budget.
  • Coordinate County resources shared by all residents, young and old: land, facilities, transportation, social services, and recreation.

Additional priorities that Nancy plans to pursue are available at this link: http://www.nancyvandoren.org/#!page3/cee5

Community Service

Nancy Van Doren is an education advocate with 10 years of experience as a parent, volunteer, and leader in Arlington Public Schools. You can access extensive further details at this link: http://www.nancyvandoren.org/#!page2/cjg9

Personal and Family Background 

Nancy has lived for 10 years in Ashton Heights with her husband, Jack Zetkulic, who is an educator and international consultant. They have four children:  Patsy, and Katie, who attend Washington-Lee High School; Annie, who attends Jefferson Middle School; and Matthew, a recent W-L graduate headed to the University of Virginia.

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 10, 2014 at 1:30 pm 546 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 July 7, Carla de la Pava was sworn in as Arlington County Treasurer immediately after the previous Treasurer, Frank O’Leary, resigned. She “plans to run in the special election, expected to be held Nov. 4, to fill out O’Leary’s term, which runs through December 2015.”

I support Carla for the Democratic nomination for Treasurer and for election in the special election to fill this position.

Carla has served as the Chief Deputy Treasurer of Arlington County for the last six years. During her service in this position, the Treasurer’s Office has established a record as one of the best in Virginia and the United States. Arlington’s tax delinquency rate stands at an all-time low of 0.41%.

According to outgoing Treasurer O’Leary:

Arlington is one of the few jurisdictions in Virginia that publishes its delinquency rate; O’Leary estimated most localities have rates 10 times that of the county.

Carla’s performance in collecting our taxes shines. At the same time, rapidly growing numbers of voters justifiably are concerned that their property tax bills — based on the tax rate set by the County Board – are the highest in Northern Virginia.

Carla also has an outstanding record of community service. She is actively involved with numerous community organizations, including Leadership Arlington (Class of 2010), the Arlington Civic Federation (Vice President) and Toast of Arlington. She is a member of the Arlington Committee of 100, Better Sports Club of Arlington, Vice President and Board member of the Arlington Soccer Association, Yorktown Patriots Football Boosters, and Organized Women Voters.

Carla graduated from Wesleyan University in 1981 with a degree in Economics. Her first job was in Corporate Banking in the Chicago and Atlanta offices of the Continental Bank of Illinois. In 1985, she earned an MBA from Harvard Business School. After obtaining her MBA, Carla went to work at The Price Company, which at the time owned and operated Price Club (now Costco). This experience inspired Carla to develop a lifelong interest in operations and management.

Carla is married to Mark Dola, a life-long Arlingtonian. Their three sons, Christopher, Michael and Peter Dola, attended Arlington Science Focus Elementary School, Williamsburg Middle School and Yorktown High School.

To learn more about Carla de la Pava, you can access her campaign website here: http://carlafortreasurer.com/

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 3, 2014 at 2:30 pm 1,318 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 County Board Chair Jay Fisette sent the wrong message last month about highly popular ride sharing services like Uber:

In the end, Fisette said Arlington would participate in a state study into the Uber issue, but didn’t say what kind of perspective the county would bring to the table. “As a locality, we don’t really have a point of view except that we have to enforce the law,” he said.

As I have explained, Arlington lacks the authority unilaterally to change the law under which ride sharing services like Uber operate. Under Virginia’s “Dillon Rule”, changing the law has to be done at the state level. But, Arlington certainly could have a “point of view” — if it chose to have one. Arlington could bring its perspective to the table.

Arlington knows how to develop a point of view about issues over which it lacks authority to change the law. Look no further than the point of view the County Board (including Fisette) unanimously adopted four years ago on the subject of enforcement of federal law regarding undocumented immigrants.

In a September 2010 press release announcing its decision to direct the County Manager to look for ways in which to withdraw from enforcement of the federal “Secure Communities” program, the Board stated:

[T]he “Secure Communities Initiative will create divisions in our community and promote a culture of fear and distrust of law enforcement that threatens public safety and makes communities less safe,”

[...]

[I]t is not the role or the desire of the Arlington County Police Department to take on the responsibility of enforcing federal immigration laws. [The Board] reaffirmed its support for existing County policies and procedures that prohibit racial profiling and protect crime victims and witnesses.

The Board concluded by explicitly calling on the U.S. Congress to adopt comprehensive immigration reform.  Even though it ended in failure, I applaud Jay Fisette and the County Board for the stand they took in 2010. They sent the right message to large numbers of Arlington residents who felt threatened by the federal program in question.

Today, vast numbers of Arlington residents say that ride sharing services like Uber are wildly popular for many good reasons. Jay Fisette ought to be demonstrating the same degree of empathy for these residents that he demonstrated four years ago for undocumented immigrants.

This is the message Jay Fisette should send on ride sharing services like Uber:

I am enthusiastic about the many benefits to Arlington customers that ride sharing services like Uber offer. I am committed to doing everything I can to enable these services to thrive.

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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