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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WEC supports all Virginia women’s ability to:

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

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

WEC’s 2015 Legislative Agenda

Health and Safety

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

Economic Opportunity

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

Democratic Participation

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

Support for WEC

Virginia

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

Arlington

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

I agree completely with Del. Hope that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why the Board should adopt the new rule

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

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

Why likely arguments against the new rule lack merit

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

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

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

Conclusion 

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

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

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

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

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

Our New Economic Reality

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

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

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

A More Rigorous Approach to Investing in Core Services

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

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

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

Development

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

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

Education

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

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

Transportation

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

5. APS Capacity Crisis Grew

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

4. Medicaid Expansion Failed

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

3. McDonnell Convicted

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

2. Streetcar Cancelled

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

1. Vihstadt Elected Twice

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

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

Conclusion:

These 2014 stories provide important background for 2015.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need a robust public discussion of questions like these:

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

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

by Peter Rousselot — November 20, 2014 at 12:15 pm 1,796 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.

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