Press Club

The Right Note: Pull Back the Curtain

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 ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyWith the County Board authorizing $650,000 in expenditures to promote the Columbia Pike trolley, one has to ask why?

The three Board supporters constantly explain to us that the decision has been made and that the project will go forward regardless of any opposition. Why then, do they feel the need to sell it to us? It seems to be a waste of taxpayer resources since the people who are currently allowed to vote on it hold a 3-2 advantage on the Board.

It is hard not to arrive at the conclusion that it is being done for one reason — political gain. Alan Howze lost the special election in April, largely over this issue. He is trying to win a full term in November.

Next year, two of the current trolley supporters on the Board will face the voters. A taxpayer-funded ad campaign to blunt criticism of the half-billion dollar project is certainly in their electoral interests.

It may be time for local media to ask more questions about the decision-making process. Who originally proposed the PR campaign? Why was it undertaken? What instructions were given about how to move forward on the ads and other materials?

In the same vein, the change of Treasurer in Arlington for the first time in three decades opens a question, could the Treasurer’s office do more to provide transparency of county spending?

Frank O’Leary has come forward with questions about Arlington’s finances — most recently calling into question our growing cash-on-hand numbers. Why not open the books even more?

Reports are the County Manager will soon have in place an auditor on the county staff. Hopefully, the trolley-related contracts will be at the top of their list. While I applaud John Vihstadt for pushing for an internal audit function, the new staff member will report to the County Manager. That chain of command leaves open the question of whether the office will have the independence it needs to shed light on spending decisions.

Public pressure brought about by increased transparency via an independently-elected office holder may be help fill the information gap. The Virginia Code specifically contemplates Internet access to nonconfidential public records from the Treasurer’s office. There is no reason with today’s technology that we could not put Arlington’s checkbook online in a cost-effective way that provides maximum information without compromising any confidential material.

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

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