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Interview with Michael Brown, Part Two

In part one of our interview with incoming county manager Michael Brown, he talked about his decision to leave Savannah, where he’s been city manager for 15 years, and he discussed some of the budgetary and developmental issues facing Arlington. In part two, Brown talks about his goals and is asked about some specific issues he’ll be dealing with when he starts the job in May.

Q: What are some of your immediate and long-range goals as county manager?

A: At this point, I really need to listen and learn a lot before I start saying what I want to do. I’ve already begun the process; I did that when I was [recently in Arlington]. I need to very carefully listen to the board, to spend time with them as a group and spend time with them as individuals, see what their views and their visions are. That’s first. It’s not my role and not my nature to come in and prescribe to people that are well along their way in many areas.

Long-term I want to be effective, I want to be responsive. I want to continue their traditions of engagement and their traditions of high-quality services and a competent staff.

Q: The current budget proposal includes raising taxes. Some have said taxes should be raised higher, some have said taxes are high enough already. What are your thoughts on raising taxes during tough economic times?

A: That will be the board’s decision. They’re not doing it in a vacuum. They’re doing it in consideration of the past and the future. I read with interest several months ago the policy statement they had drafted [which prioritized funding for affordable housing, schools, and the social safety net, and called for the budget shortfall to be filled by a balance of tax hikes and spending cuts].

When they make that kind of policy decision, that’s the board’s call. They’re looking at the past, the short, the medium and the long range. I know that because that’s what they clearly demonstrated and that’s what we talked about in the interview process. So that’s a policy decision the board will make.

Q: Affordable housing is a major focus of the Arlington county board. How will you support affordable housing initiatives?

A: Clearly the board and the staff… do support diversity in the community and inclusiveness. That obviously does mean that a range of people must be able to live in Arlington and work in Arlington… so that means there has to be affordability.

I hope I can add to that because I certainly worked on affordable housing in Savannah. We have some very high-end neighborhoods and they’re right next to very low-income neighborhoods. We have all ranges in between.

Even though Arlington’s overall values are higher, you have to try to bring to bear in your planning mechanisms how financing is accomplished, how development works. All possible tools have to be brought there to support affordability. You have to know how it works, you have understand the market forces. A lot of progress can be accomplished.

Q: Some groups have proposed that the Arlington emergency winter shelter be converted into a year-round homeless shelter. Your thoughts?

A: Homelessness is part of every community. Even with Arlington’s particular demographics, it will include some homeless people. The community seems to be taking a comprehensive approach… that is, how do you deal with immediate needs, but also how do you discourage homelessness, how do you prevent it?  How do you make sure people have options to live in an independent fashion?

It’s not for me to judge from here yet, I certainly need to learn about how the approach works here. But normally the successful approaches tend to be thoughtful and holistic. Consider all the interests of the people at risk of becoming homeless… and the people who will be affected by temporary or longer-term shelters. When the community is thoughtful like Arlington, [solutions] tend to be both compassionate and effective.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to say to Arlington residents before you get here?

A: They live in a great community. They can be proud of it. It has a lot of assets. It has a very good local government. If I were to say anything, it would be to express my enthusiasm and my commitment to try to do a good job there.

Note: This post was originally slated to run on Friday. Due to the heavy volume of news on Friday, we delayed its publication until Monday.

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