Arlington, VA

This morning we ran a story on Committee for a Better Arlington chairman Mike Staples declining to participate in a planned debate over the group’s change-of-government proposal. Since there will be no “debate” tonight, we decided to ask two fresh voices from each side of the issue to make their case to Arlington residents here, in 400 words or less.

As a preface: it’s looking like this is a debate that will only get louder in the coming weeks and, possibly, months. The Committee is facing the daunting task of collecting 14,340 signatures by July 15 in order to float the proposal as a ballot initiative. Staples, however, says his group is “on track” to collect the needed signatures.

The reasons for and against changing Arlington’s form of government, after the jump.

For the proposed change:

In Favor of a “County Board” Form of Government

By Brian R. Smith, Arlington-Falls Church Young Republicans Chairman

Throughout the Spring I have been working with Arlington First Responders to gather signatures from Arlington County voters.   We’re striving to bring to the ballot a modest, but important, set of changes to our county government.   Arlington voters should sign the petition in order to promote further debate and discussion of this proposed transition from a County Manager form of government to a County Board form of government.

In 1930, Arlington adopted a form of government that increased the power of the unelected county manager and decreased the power of the voting populous.  This was achieved in two key ways:  first, the county manager became the county’s ‘chief executive’, significantly limiting the ability of elected county board members to hold accountable county department heads.  Second, county board members began to be elected “at-large”, dramatically increasing the voter-to-elected-official ratio.   At a time when the population of Arlington was about 26,000 residents, this form of government may have made sense.

Today, Arlington County has nearly 10 times the amount of people it did in 1930.  The proposed County Board form of government is critical in an effort to rebalance power to the electorate.  If passed, the county manager would effectively become a county administrator, giving elected officials the ability to directly interface and oversee the department heads. Second, and perhaps most important, the County Board positions would be elected by districts, vastly improving the ‘representativeness’ of the county.  Contrast that to our current board, which has three of the five board members living within the same zip code.

The “Change of Government” Petition is not an indictment of the performance of our County public officials, as some may believe.   Instead, this is an effort to rebalance power from the un-elected to the elected, and strengthen the connection between the Arlington voter and their elected representatives.

I hope you will join me in helping our first responders collecting the signatures they need for this July. With all of our support we can make a better Arlington.

Against the proposed change:

Decline to Sign!

By Alan Howze, Coalition for Arlington Good Government Co-Chair

The change of government proposal would take Arlington backwards, and we encourage voters to DECLINE TO SIGN the referendum petition.

Defeating this referendum is not about gaining or losing partisan advantage, it is about standing up to defeat very bad public policy.  It’s about making sure that we have a local government that meets the needs of our populous and diverse county and works in the best interests of all of Arlington.

The Coalition for Arlington Good Government (CAGG), led by Co-Chairs Bill Bozman, Judy Connally, Alan Howze, and Kris McLaughlin, recently formed to educate voters about the significant negative consequences of the proposal.

The damage from the referendum would include:

  • Invalidating Arlington’s strong locally-adopted child day care standards and replacing them with weaker state requirements
  • Overturning Arlington’s current system for governing our schools
  • Rolling-back Arlington’s stronger anti-discrimination protections
  • Eliminating Arlington Civil Service System and politicizing our County Government by making County Board members directly responsible for personnel decisions

The proposed new form of government, called the County Board form, would impose on Arlington residents a government used by only four sparsely populated rural counties in Southwest Virginia (Russell, Scott, Carroll and Grayson if readers would like to look them up on a map).  Moreover, it would yoke Arlington to these same rural counties, because any additional local authority that we sought from the state, whether to control growth, protect diversity, or protect our environment, would have to be agreed to by all the other counties under the County Board form of government.

The referendum would also render useless the authorities that have already been granted to Arlington by the Virginia Legislature and place Arlington more at the mercy of Richmond.  And all this disruption because a small number of Arlington County public safety employees are dissatisfied with their pay and benefits (which are competitive for our region).  Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater!

To learn more, readers can see a briefing given recently to the Arlington Chapter of the League of Women Voters that explains the referendum’s effects on Arlington: http://lwv-arlingtonva.org/, or read the recently released County Attorney’s memo at http://www.arlingtonva.us/Departments/CountyAttorney/CountyAttorneyMain.aspx

To join our efforts to stop this damaging referendum, please visit CAGG’s Facebook Group at: http://tinyurl.com/2apxtzc

So if, in the coming weeks, you are asked to sign the referendum petition, just remember these three words – Decline to Sign!

We welcome your thoughts. Please continue the discussion in the comments section below.

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