Arlington, VA

Last year, then-County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman used the annual chairman’s New Year’s Day address to promise a pro-business agenda for 2011. Indeed, the agenda eventually became a reality. Throughout the year the county held a series of public forums for business owners, worked to streamline some regulatory process and finally, in December, the Board adopted a measure that allowed A-frame signs — a big item on local business owners’ wish lists.

This morning the new County Board Chairman, Mary Hynes, promised to enhance civic engagement in Arlington. Already famous for its process of including community stakeholders in decision making — a process broadly referred to as “The Arlington Way” — Hynes is seeking to more formally institutionalize Arlington County’s commitment to civic engagement.

To do so, Hynes is proposing to first create a “map” of the numerous nonprofit groups and community associations that make up Arlington’s civic landscape.

“Our hope is that this expands our understanding of what each Arlington group does… and becomes a valuable resource for each Arlingtonian, newcomer and old-timer, teen to senior, seeking to make connections in our community,” Hynes said.

Hynes also wants to officially define what “The Arlington Way” means. Appropriately, she proposes to come up with a definition by engaging in a wide-ranging community discussion.

“We will convene a formal county-wide conversation to develop a clear description of The Arlington Way as it applies to and should energize our decision-making going forward,” she said. “Working with County Board Members, Commissioners, County staff, and Arlington residents, non-profits, and businesses, we will delineate the roles and responsibilities of participants in our civic decision-making processes.”

In another new initiative, Hynes announced that every Monday night (except for federal holidays) a County Board member will hold a two-hour “open door” session, “where residents can discuss any County-related issue with a Board Member.” The sessions will be held from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.; session locations will be posted on the county web site.

“I believe it’s time to reinvigorate The Arlington Way,” Hynes concluded. “This is not an exercise. It is not about simply checking a box on civic engagement. Our goal is for more members of our community to be involved — actively and constructively — in the important local government decisions that affect their lives and those of their neighbors.”

Following Hynes’ address, Walter Tejada, the new County Board Vice-Chair, announced some new initiatives of his own. One was to emphasize better communication between the various groups that promote pedestrian and bicycle safety in Arlington. Another notable initiative is the creation of an “ad hoc Arlington County Urban Agriculture Task Force.”

The task force will examine issues like food security, health and fitness, hunger and obesity, and environmental sustainability, in addition to “best practices in sustainable urban agriculture policies and programs.” It will ultimately be charged with creating a “food action plan.”

Tejada said the task force will “explore new options like rooftop gardens, land exchanges, demonstration gardens and backyard hens.” The latter option will likely receive the most attention. Last spring a sizable group of vocal Arlington residents formed the “Arlington Egg Project” — to actively encourage the county to adopt policies that would more broadly permit the raising of egg-laying hens in Arlington.

More information about Hynes’ and Tejada’s proposals, and those of Board members Jay Fisette and Chris Zimmerman, is available on the Arlington County web site.

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