The Right Note: Aftershocks

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

Mark KellyIf the County Board special election was a small political earthquake, aftershocks were felt this past week and were centered somewhere in Crystal City.

Democrats sent out a newsletter which expressed exactly what many of us outside the controlling party in Arlington have been saying for years — the County Board is (rightly) perceived to be arrogant and insular.

Undaunted, the Board plowed ahead. It came to light that once again, the Board saw fit to give raises to the three employees it hires directly without putting the issue on the agenda. The Washington Post was on the case, disclosing that County Manager Barbara Donnellan received a raise of $8,000. Could it be for successfully stalling the $1 million bus stop study? Or maybe, it is just for taking all the slings and arrows when the Board refers questions to “staff?”

Also this week, the cost for the Columbia Pike to Crystal City trolley system was released. Based on past cost projections, I think it is safe to assume the $585 million price tag will only go up. And of course, it will not take long to scare the $1 billion mark.

This announcement comes on the heels of concerns that addressing school capacity needs may bump up against the bounds of the debt limits necessary to maintain our triple AAA bond rating. Most Arlingtonians would place the need to address 700 additional students entering our schools over other projects, but the priorities of the County Board remain an open question.

There is no doubt that something eventually has to give. In the past, that usually meant your wallet.

Some have suggested that the County Board may be giving themselves an out to abandon the trolley at a later date by relying on federal dollars in the funding mix. Federal officials have already sent it back to the drawing board once. Others are still concerned that the County Board could eventually turn to a public-private partnership or some other funding mechanism as a “savior” for it.

One thing is for sure, the retirement of Chris Zimmerman means the number one trolley cheerleader is no longer in the building. His departure opens the door for political expediency to trump insular arrogance if voters give John Vihstadt a full term in November. Walter Tejada or Mary Hynes might “re-evaluate” their position heading into 2015. That would most certainly leave Alan Howze with nothing to do but shake his head.

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

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