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The Debate Over the Debate

The Arlington County Democratic Committee is holding a forum about the proposed change to Arlington’s form of government tonight, but the person billed as representing the “pro” side of the debate says he won’t be there.

Mike Staples, president of Arlington’s firefighter union and chairman of the Committee for a Better Arlington, which supports the proposal, says the group is refusing its invitation due to unreasonable terms of participation.

“I’m not coming to a staged debate where the tables are stacked,” Staples said.

Among the terms Staples objects to: the Committee representative would be required answer each question first, giving the opposing side the last word; participants would not have the opportunity to question each other; and the debate would be moderated by the head of the Arlington Democrats, who Staples does not consider a neutral party.

Staples said his group would consider participating under more neutral terms, such as a debate hosted by the Arlington County Chamber of Commerce.

“If we’re going to do a political debate, we should do it the right way,” he said.

While the forum is open to the public, Staples objected to the lack of promotion.

“We would like to have the opportunity to advertise the debate to the general public so it can be seen as an open process, and not simply an altered form of a local Democratic Party meeting,” Staples wrote.

Staples said the committee offered to make an informal presentation to the Democrats, but was turned down and told the party would only consider the debate format.

“We believe this decision was made in bad taste and was orchestrated to put the Committee in poor light,” Staples wrote.

The forum is taking place between 7:00 and 9:00 tonight at the NRECA building (4301 Wilson Blvd). Afterward, the Democrats will hold a vote on whether to support or oppose the measure.

Former Arlington County Manager Ron Carlee will represent the “con” side of the debate. Democratic Committee chairman Mike Lieberman says no one else has been lined up to represent the pro-change-of-government side, although they’ll “keep a chair open” for Staples in the unlikely event that he decides to participate after all.

“I honestly think that our debate was going to be fair and neutral,” Lieberman said. “I can’t force their hand to come, but we certainly would love to have them there.”

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