Press Club

The Right Note: Public Comments

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

Mark KellyIf you have ever attended a Saturday morning County Board meeting, you probably know it kicks off with a public comment session at 8:30 a.m. If you want to hear about the issues buzzing in the community, public comments are a great place to start.

What could be on the docket this week?

The county brought in a podium, loudspeaker, Congressman Moran, and three County Board members to have a ribbon cutting for a sidewalk in Pentagon City. This monumental event comes on the heels of losing the National Science Foundation to Alexandria and the Signature Theater bailout. Maybe this event falls into the “any port in a storm” category?

Speaking of the Signature Theater, Treasurer Frank O’Leary reports he received the delinquent tax payment bailout for the property. For those counting at home, this has no real impact on our bottom line other than an accounting maneuver to erase a debt, with exactly zero public hearing time on the subject. In essence though, each and every one of Arlington’s approximately 210,000 residents just contributed about $1.20 to the arts. The remaining question is, how does the theater plan to pay next year’s bill or is this just going to be an ongoing line item in our budget?

The urban agriculture report is in, and it attempts to strike a middle ground on backyard hens — saying larger yards could have them provided they meet certain conditions. Many people believe that regardless of the conditions, permitting any hens will cause an enforcement nightmare for the County. The ball is now in the Board’s court, or coop.

It looks like enough signatures were collected to put the housing authority referendum on the ballot in November. If passed, the referendum would create a government housing agency, something the all-Democrat County Board has historically opposed. The Board prefers to continue its partnership with a non-profit network on housing issues. On Saturday, you may hear from speakers about how the County Board’s development plans seem to to place a low priority on maintaining existing market rate affordable housing.

The County pulled three buses from ART service after one saw its brakes fail and roll backwards down the hill before causing a multi-car accident. If you remember a few years ago, an ART bus burst into flames while out on the road. In fairness, ART actually is very safe and is virtually problem free compared to Metro. ART is also another instance where Arlington partners with private entities to provide a service. In fact, the County Board often brags about how cost-effective the ART service is. Of course, this is the same County Board whose representatives on the Metro Board do virtually nothing to rein in spending in that beleaguered system. Maybe we would be better off to declare Metro bankrupt and start over with the ART model?

Whatever issue you care about, if you have never been to a public comment session, you should go. When you go, you should sign up to make a speech on the issue you care about.

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

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