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The Right Note: Board Watching

by ARLnow.com January 24, 2013 at 2:00 pm 33 Comments

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column by published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

GOP county board candidate Mark KellyIf you like two hour debates on the placement of chairs for outdoor cafe seating, then get ready, because the Arlington County Board will conduct its first regular business meeting of the year this Saturday. While this month’s Board’s agenda itself may not produce big fireworks, there is one sub-plot that many of us will be watching.

Last January, Libby Garvey was not Chris Zimmerman’s choice to replace Barbara Favola on the Board. Melissa Bondi was. Now we may know why.

In December, Garvey rocked the boat by making public her concerns about the newly formed consulting arrangement between Zimmerman and AECOM East Canada. The company stands to benefit from work on the proposed Columbia Pike trolley.

When Garvey raised the issue in light of the vote to move forward under the Public-Private Transportation Act (PPTA), the other three Board Members quickly rallied to Zimmerman’s defense. However, they seemed more upset that Garvey aired the matter in public than the very real concern over any appearance of impropriety from the Zimmerman arrangement.

For his part, Zimmerman checked with the County Attorney who maintains there is no way for him to manipulate PPTA guidelines to benefit his new employer.

On its face, Zimmerman’s consulting contract is to only do work for the company in Canada, and none of us should begrudge our “part-time” Board Members having a day job. In fact, some rightly contend more Board Members with regular day jobs would bring much-needed perspective to the debate on Arlington issues. At the very least, people with day jobs might not carry on debates ‘til the wee hours of the morning.

That said, it is right for Garvey to question Zimmerman’s impartiality on issues that could impact his new employer. The arrangement, at the least, seems a little cozy and conveniently timed to the Board’s pressing forward on the trolley project. What should concern Arlingtonians is that only one Member of the Board appears to believe this contract should be subject to additional public scrutiny.

At the New Year’s Day meeting, Garvey continued the back and forth by using her time to call for a new community dialogue on the trolley. Zimmerman, the trolley’s chief backer for at least a decade, indicated that the decision had already been made and the Board would move forward.

Then last week, the new multi-partisan Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit launched. The group may give Arlingtonians a real platform to put pressure on the Board to revisit the issue in spite of Mr. Zimmerman’s pronouncement that the decision was final. (In the interest of full disclosure, while I was not asked to be an original member of this group, I am joining it.)

We can watch the meeting Saturday to see how the next scene in the Garvey-Zimmerman drama plays out. If nothing else, watch to learn a little more about how our local government works.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

  • Pruiss

    My prediction of the seating arrangement (L to R from the camera): Zim, Hynes, Walt, Jay, Garvey

  • G Clifford Prout

    I do agree that is somewhat amusing to watch our board members bloviate ad nausem about the color of a brick or the placement of a window. Leads me to concur that electing people with real jobs might make for shorter meetings. And since they usually all agree, can’t they just say, “I agree with Mr. Jisette, I’ll vote for the motion.”

  • Sam

    It seems that the argument being made here is that the Board spends too much time addressing issues affecting the county, leading to long meetings which the author and others don’t like to attend, but should now spend even more time studying the already approved streetcar. I also like that the article makes clear that there is no conflict of interest only to then try to subtly raise doubts about conflict of interest.

    • PikeHoo

      Agreed, it’s clearly an opinion piece. My opinion is that this guy will be a three-time nomination, 0-time Board member.

    • John Fontain

      Sam, do you think debating the placement of chairs for outdoor cafe seating should warrant as much time and attention as a multi-hundred million dollar project for a streetcar? A simple yes or no will suffice.

      • Clarendon

        That would be crazy. There have been hundreds of meetings over several years for the streetcar. Multiple board meetings and board work sessions. Why in the world would anyone think you need that level of extensive dialog and debate over where to place some outdoor chairs ? I think one two hour debate should be plenty.

      • ACDC Hack

        “debating the placement of chairs for outdoor cafe seating”

        That meeting was a classic……

        • Clarendon

          Just as classic is that lots of people watch that stuff and are interested ! People in Arlington even go to the library and watch past board meetings on tape (the ones that aren’t online) to get background info. I’ve seen it happen. Does that happen anywhere else in this country ?

  • Chuck

    Whether it’s real or apparent matters not. Three words … conflict of interest.

  • fedworker

    I always thought Steve Garvey (bat avg .294) was a better player than Ryan Zimmerman (bat avg .287)

    • DCBuff

      Given all of Steve’s ex-wives and kids, definitely agree he was a better player.

    • FrenchyB

      It’s all about the OPS nowadays – Zimm (.832) > Garvey (.775).

    • Dan

      ….but Ryan Zimmerman’s is on-going so we don’t have his final numbers…both really fine players though.

  • JimPB

    Bravo for Ms. Garvey.

    AECOM East Canada is paying Mr. Zimmerman for work relating to projects in Canada. AECOM East Canada expects, among various things, loyalty from those who do work for it. Should Mr. Zimmerman adversely effect revenues from ARLCo, that would show a deficiency in loyalty.

    Mr. Zimmerman is, so far, a voting member of ARLCo board on matters effecting AECOM East Canada revenues here. Mr. Zimmerman, as a good worker, has loyalty to AECOM East Canada.

    Looks like a Conflict of Interest to me.

    • DCBuff

      If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is not a duck according to the County Attorney.

      • drax

        The county attorney may not think it looks, acts or walks like a duck.

        Or maybe it actually isn’t a duck even though it does. That’s not the definition of duck.

  • Dan

    The conflict of interest isn’t even close a close call…..good grief.

    • ChooChoo

      There is a confluence of expertise though – Zimmerman is a nationally recognized expert in transportation planning and the streetcar is a transportation project…

      Maybe the argument is that he’s too knowledgeable about the issues ? Kind of like having climate scientists have input on things that have an effect the climate.

      • sides


      • Dan

        His knowledge is not an issue…..my neighbor’s dog would know better than to do this.

        You do not vote issues where you have accepted money surrounding the issue.

        Like I said this isn’t even a close call….the runner was out by a mile !!

      • Joe

        Choo Choo, if Zimmerman is so knowledgeable, then Zimmerman should do consulting jobs for other transporation projects all around the country, or the world for that matter EXCEPT ones that come before him in his capacity as Board member. This is so basic, it boggles the mind that this sleaziness is going on in self righteous Arlington.

      • Conflict

        Take a step back and remove him from the county board but everything else remains the same. What is your answer now…in any other realm that is a conflict of interest.

  • Joe

    Good column. I applaud Ms. Garvey and Mr. Kelly for calling Zimmerman out on the crystal clear conflict of interest. And the board members who came to has defense are equally as sleazy on this as Zimmerman. One more point: whoever the hell the county attorney that said this was not a conflct of interest should be disbarred. He or she is incompetent.

  • tom smart

    can you imagine for a moment any of our national politicians being allowed to have this type of relationship with a company such as zimmerman has? he needs to do the right thing and recuse himself. how naive can you be to believe that zimmerman has the abliity to compartmentalize his work with his employer. it’s more than a conflict of interest, it’s criminal.

  • Jack

    Did this Canadian project really need the “expertise” of an Arlingtonian whose mass transit experience was being an under-qualified Metro Board Member for the years when neglect of safety issues (according to the Federal investigations) caused deaths, injuries, property damage, and millions in liability and higher insurance premiums? An intentional conflict of interest in a County that has fought even having an Inspector General.

  • John Fontain

    Nice column. Enjoy hearing the balanced and level-headed perspective.

  • South Awwlington

    I voted for Libby over Bondi because we didn’t need another sock-puppet, that role has been taken.

    The added fireworks can be enjoyable at times but I do wish she would be more educated regarding the transit choices she is advocating for.

    Not wanting a “yes-man” is not that same as wanting a contrarian and a foot-dragger. Lesson learned, be careful what you wish for.


    Mr. Kelly, Please inform us of what part of the Virginia Conflicts of Interests Act were violated. You’ve made lots of fuzzy accusations.

    Your snide quotes about “part-time” board members should discredit everything else you write. Board members are paid part-time given their responsibilities ($49,000/year). They meet as a group only a few hours/week, although they put in tens of extra hours in preparation. Please describe what you mean by those quotes — what part of their pay and formal work is not part time?

    commenter Tom Smart: You are correct that federal congressmen would not be permitted to do this. They are full-time and paid as full time. Their laws and rules are different from those of Virginia for part timers, who are expected to have other sources of income. Before the mid-1970s rules changes, congressmen often did hold outside employment, frequently as attorneys representing people or groups with business before the federal government.

    • Dan

      You are conveniently ignoring the pay they get from serving on other boards etc…….

      And you ask who appoints them to these other paying positions…..the board of course !!

    • drax

      LEBELE, you are correct – he says he hasn’t broken the law, and the county attorney backs him up. He’s only obligated to follow the law, not some random definition of conflict of interest that someone makes up on the internet.

      On the other hand, we can still judge him for doing what appears to be a conflict to us, even if it’s not legally one. The law may just be weak.

  • LPS4DL

    Unfortunately, more misinformation from Mr. Kelly. Isn’t there a legitimate conservative voice available in Arlington?

  • Ken

    Why is this even here? Why does the right-wing need to polute every news outlet with their opinion? This column should be dropped. And no whining about “free speech” there is PLENTY of right-wing opinion in the Journal and all the freebie rags.

    • Quoth the Raven

      So arlnow should publish only left-wing stuff? Perhaps some people are wondering why arlnow is “polluted” by the left wing opinion articles. Is that wrong too? Grow up. If you don’t like the article, don’t read it.


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