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Amid Bickering, Board Votes to Appoint ‘Blue Ribbon Panel’ to Mull County Priorities

Jay Fisette at County Board budget work session (file photo)A unanimous vote belies some bickering over a planned “blue ribbon panel” that will help the County Board consider its priorities for Arlington County.

The Board voted Tuesday afternoon to create the six-member panel, with each Board member and the County Manager appointing one member apiece. The panel will mull “recommendations for how the Board should develop strategic priorities” to supplement the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

The panel was advanced by County Board Chair Libby Garvey, with the support of Board members John Vihstadt, Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey. Jay Fisette, the longest-serving member of the Board, questioned the need for such a panel and the manner in which it was proposed.

“What is the problem we’re trying to solve?” Fisette asked, calling the proposal “a lot of foam and not a lot of beer.”

Fisette, the last of the former old guard Democratic establishment on the Board, worried that the panel could be used to reduce environmental or human services priorities in favor of “core services.”

Cristol and Dorsey, the newest Board members, disagreed with that assessment, with the latter saying he wouldn’t support the creation of the panel if he thought that was the goal.

Fisette also pointed out that while the idea of the panel had been discussed internally by the Board for several months, it had not been made public and was not part of the day’s County Board agenda online. That, he said, ran counter to the stated desire of other Board members that County Board agenda items be posted online at least 48 hours in advance.

“Nobody in the community has seen this quote blue ribbon panel charge to actually weigh in or give us feedback on whether this is a good idea,” he said.

Garvey said the panel would not be setting policy — it would be advising the Board. She also suggested that applying the “Arlington Way” to too many county functions may be a hinderance to good governance.

“This is not the traditional Arlington Way where we get input from as many people as possible and we have a huge process,” Garvey said. “This is really getting us a small group of smart, experienced people who are going to bring different things to the table that we value, and they will advise us. I’m looking for ways to be more adaptable and quick on our feet on things.”

Garvey said an overabundance of priorities in the Comprehensive Plan results in pressure to fund the many groups that come to the Board around budget time saying, in her words, “well this is a priority, you have to fund it.”

“They’re right, it is a priority, it’s one of many priorities,” she said. “I have been feeling for some time that we need to look through our priorities and set them in some sort of priority order.”

“Our own Facilities Study working group recommended that we do a better job of planning and setting priorities,” Garvey added.

Members of the panel will be announced “in the coming weeks,” according to a press release (below, after the jump).

The Arlington County Board today voted to create a six-member Blue Ribbon Panel and charged it with developing recommendations for how the Board should develop strategic priorities.

The panel’s charge calls for it to consider the goals and objectives in the County’s Comprehensive Plan and enhancements to those goals and objectives. The panel also is charged with recommending a process or framework to review any policy areas it recommends should be reconsidered, and with suggesting a process for engaging the community in developing a strategic plan.

Board Chair Libby Garvey will be the Board’s liaison to the panel.

“The Comprehensive Plan, and its 11 elements do a good job of laying out various goals and objectives,” Garvey said. “But our community needs to go a step further and establish priorities among those goals and objectives and understand how they fit together or relate to each other. The Blue Ribbon Panel we created today will, by the end of this year, recommend how we might do that.”

The Board voted 5 to 0 to create a six-member Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel, composed of five members chosen by the County Board and one by the County Manager. The group will work with a staff team formed by the County Manager. Members of the panel will be named in the coming weeks.

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