Press Club

County Board Candidates Address Homeless Shelter, Accountability at Forum

The three candidates for Arlington County Board squared off last night at a forum hosted by the Radnor/Ft. Myer Heights Civic Association. Green Party candidate Audrey Clement, Democrat Libby Garvey and Republican Mark Kelly advanced cases for why they each should get voter support.

Garvey’s main push is for more communication and transparency in government.

“I think we’re having a little trouble keeping our priorities straight. Is it all about education, infrastructure, public safety? Or is it all about Artispheres and street cars and that sort of thing,” Garvey said. “I think we need to be very clear about our priorities and make them our core services.”

Kelly’s focus is on greater fiscal discipline. He’s also interested in getting the current board members to think outside the box.

“They talk a lot about the Arlington Way and including communities. But sometimes when the rubber meets the road, it’s a lot of talk,” said Kelly. “Someone needs to be presenting alternative plans and offering amendments even if they lose.”

Clement touted her fiscal responsibility as well. She distinguishes herself from Kelly by saying their ideologies are different, and cost reduction doesn’t have to mean sacrificing the welfare of residents. She advocates eliminating what she calls wasteful spending projects like Artisphere, the planned Long Bridge Park aquatics and fitness center and the planned Columbia Pike streetcar. She said a bus system would provide the same service at one-fifth the cost of the streetcar’s estimated $250 million dollar price tag.

Kelly also stated opposition to the streetcar project. Garvey, on the other hand, wouldn’t offer a firm opinion on the idea. She did, however, express interest in examining expanded bus service instead. Like other issues raised throughout the night, the streetcar is something she said she “questions.”

“I’m not taking a stand on it right yet, but I have lots of questions about whether it makes sense for the amount of money that we need to put in,” Garvey said.

A topic referred to throughout the forum is the Board green-lighting the purchase of an office building in the Courthouse neighborhood for a homeless shelter. The candidates assert that regardless of whether or not a year-round homeless shelter a good idea, the process for approving the deal was faulty. Garvey, while again stating she has questions about the project, reiterated the need for transparency. She said although the board may have had good reasons for their decision, residents don’t like it.

“I don’t think the county makes huge errors all the time, but you have to wonder about this one. I’m very uncomfortable with how uncomfortable people are with it,” she said. “We need to have the community on board with it because of the costs.”

Kelly said the way the county went about the approval process is unacceptable. He contends it was rushed, and the building purchase shouldn’t have gone through when so many citizens oppose it.

“The Board needs to realize that in talking with people throughout the county, people don’t feel like their concerns are being heard,” he said.

Clement said the purchase is outrageous due to the $25 million purchase price and the $10 million price tag for renovations.

“It represents a terrible burden on the taxpayers of this county, and is probably one of the worst decisions ever to come down,” she said.

Clement backs a shelter that would require an investment of no more than $2 million dollars, which she believes could be easily achieved by renovating the existing A-SPAN winter shelter. She added that her party wanted a year-round shelter no matter what the cost, but she doesn’t support that viewpoint.

“I am willing to deviate from my party, if need be, on issues. Particularly as they pertain to fiscal responsibility,” said Clement.

Garvey highlighted her own ability to deviate from her party, stating that no sitting member of the County Board endorsed her in the primary, despite all being Democrats. Kelly advanced the need for getting a fresh face on the Board, namely not another Democrat. He contends the current members sometimes fall into a state of groupthink.

“When you have one party that dominates every single elected office in Arlington, it creates an insular environment where no one’s accountable,” Kelly said. “If we really want to let the existing members of the County Board know that we’re watching them closely, we’ve got to elect someone that’s not part of the club.”

Kelly wants to hold board members accountable by publishing the county’s expenditures online. He also supports hiring an inspector general to perform annual audits. Garvey agrees with the need for annual audits, but prefers bringing in an outsider for evaluation instead of making it a county position. Clement likes the idea of an inspector general looking at the books in order to cut down on discrepancies.

“People are not so much concerned about some of the decisions the county makes, but rather the inaccuracies that have been reported,” Clement said. “I think an inspector general is needed basically to keep the county board honest.”

The special election to fill the county board position vacated when Barbara Favola was elected to the state Senate will take place on March 27.

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