Press Club

Peter’s Take: County Board Finds Common Ground on Transparency, New Voices

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

At its traditional New Year’s Day organizational meeting, Arlington County Board members found common ground on critical issues, including making major improvements in Arlington government transparency and bringing new voices to the table to solve Arlington’s many pressing challenges.

Libby Garvey, who was unanimously elected by her Board colleagues as Chair of the Board for 2016, offered these observations:

Arlington is known for its civic engagement, but we must bring the Arlington Way into the 21st Century. There are still far too many people who have the talent and expertise our community needs, who want to contribute, but who cannot…Few of our residents and business owners have the time to sit in a long meeting every month as is required to serve on most of our commissions and task forces.

We must experiment with new and improved ways to involve people and use technology even more…We should use clear language and not an alphabet soup of terms that confuses people and makes them feel like they can’t speak the language of Arlington.

John Vihstadt described a promising new initiative on which he and Katie Cristol plan to collaborate:

Our 40-some County-appointed advisory boards and commissions serve as the County Board’s eyes and ears on a range of issues from housing to transportation and social services to urban forestry. Sometimes, these groups are perceived as merely rubber stamps for pre-determined County actions. Yet at other times, we may fail to even consult with them. And while seasoned perspectives are invaluable, so are new people with new ideas from new communities.

My colleague Katie Cristol and I will initiate a new ad hoc working group to examine our commissions, including how to foster greater diversity of representation to practical ways of staying connected and approaching issues. Robust discussion from a multiplicity of voices is an essential component of the Arlington Way.

And, Christian Dorsey stressed:

We must restore faith that public participation is valued and valuable. Professionalized public participation in conceptualizing, planning and/or implementing policy initiatives is a key component of sustainability and will go a long way toward our residents and stakeholders remaining a part of a community they help create.

Incorrectly claiming to act according to a genuine community consensus, prior Boards championed major policy blunders like the Columbia Pike streetcar and the Clarendon dog park. Prior Boards never obtained a genuine community consensus because:

  1. The Arlington Way is broken
  2. Prior Boards were too insular

Refreshingly, Garvey, Vihstadt, Cristol, and Dorsey — all of whom are in their first terms on this Board — agree that the Arlington Way needs to be rejuvenated.

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