Arlington, VA

Republican Mark Kelly is hoping that the handling of county manager Michael Brown’s forced resignation will convince voters that more “diversity of opinion” is needed on the county board.

Last night, in an otherwise dry debate at the Lyon Village Civic Association’s general meeting, Kelly made the Brown issue central to his case against incumbent Democrat Chris Zimmerman.

“I want to give you one example that happened recently that I think points to the problem when one party controls every seat,” Kelly told the crowd. While saying that sometimes it’s necessary to fire people who aren’t working out, Kelly criticized the way in which board chairman Jay Fisette finally acknowledged that Brown did not simply resign for personal reasons.

“It took them a while to respond, and when they finally came clean about it, it was at the Arlington County Democratic [Committee] monthly meeting,” Kelly said. “I don’t think an announcement like that… should have been done at a partisan political meeting; I think that should have been done through official channels” like a press release or a press conference.

Zimmerman did not address the county manager issue during the debate, but he did respond to a reporter’s question afterward.

“I think that was the first opportunity [Jay Fisette] got” to talk about the county manager issue in a public forum, Zimmerman said. “It’s not like this is the White House, we just don’t go down to the press room and demand attention for a press conference.”

“I think the board did what it had to do,” Zimmerman continued. “We’re very fortunate we had [former interim county manager Barbara Donnellan] available to us… we didn’t have to do another search process.”

During the forum, Zimmerman touted the board’s accomplishments in promoting smart growth, fiscal responsibility and relatively low residential taxes.

He said that thanks to the board’s guidance, Arlington is a walkable and environmentally sustainable community that promotes “sensible development” and diversity through affordable housing.

“I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do,” Zimmerman said.

Kelly said he would push an initiative to release details about the county’s spending online — even promising to take a pay cut to help pay for it. The said that an audit of the spending is necessary, given that the county budget grew at nearly three times the rate of inflation from 2000 to 2009

Kelly also assailed the Columbia Pike streetcar project, which he said would come with a price tag that amounts to nearly $1,000 for every man, woman and child in Arlington.

Green Party candidate Kevin Chisholm also participated in Monday night’s forum. Chisholm said the county “could definitely tighten its belt in area,” while questioning the “cozy” relationship between the board and county employees.”

“Friendly is good, but sometimes you need to have an arm’s length with employees,” he said. “I don’t think the board right now makes difficult decisions well.”

Chisholm said his primary focus is energy policy, fairness and the “wise use of resources.”

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