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The Right Note: Pulling Back the Curtain

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 KellyLast week, Arlington’s Treasurer Frank O’Leary produced a chart which showed the swelling cash on hand coffers in the County. He was right to question why it was growing so much. He was also right to point out it very well could mean Arlingtonians could be paying less in taxes.

Having this issue brought to light seemed to be a good bit of common sense to me.

Then it got more interesting. This week O’Leary wrote a letter to the editor explaining that his commentary on paying lower taxes and questioning spending decisions by the Board was in his role as a private citizen and not as Treasurer.

We are left to wonder, what prompted O’Leary to feel compelled to backpedal so quickly? Did he receive one or more angry phone calls from a County Board member or members? Did they threaten to cut his office budget? Did they say they might just have to back a primary opponent against him in 2015?

Frank O’Leary is elected by the same Arlingtonians who elect the County Board. They entrust him with a critically important fiduciary duty. He is the guardian of the treasury funded by the taxpayers.

He had every right to bring this issue to our attention. And, he had every right to offer his commentary on it as the elected official who is safeguarding our money.

I have made the argument that our County Board and Manager underestimate revenue each year to give themselves two things: a “budget shortfall” excuse to raise taxes; and a slush fund to spend in the close-out process each year.

Maybe the Board feels like having to explain away our growing cash on hand surplus confirms my theory. Maybe they just do not appreciate having to explain themselves at all. Of course, the explanation by county staff did little to actually answer the underlying questions O’Leary raised. Regardless of how the Board and Manager feel, we deserve more transparency from our county government, and we should applaud Frank O’Leary for pulling back the curtain on this issue.

Here’s my challenge to Treasurer O’Leary going forward. Put the County’s check register online. Let citizens who care about fiscal responsibility monitor the cash flow every month. This will really hold the County Board accountable, and it sounds like it is well within your constitutional job duties.

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

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