The idea of a “Blue Ribbon Panel” charged with bringing independent thinking to Arlington’s strategic planning process left me cautiously optimistic. A temporary group empowered to break out of a status quo mindset and provide truly independent analysis could have been a good source of insight for Arlington’s leaders.
After initially moving the independent panel forward with the support of all but one of her colleagues, Garvey blinked in the face of pressure from a relatively small group of powerful insiders. And this week, the County Board officially surrendered to those who are afraid of what an independent group might recommend. Instead, the Board charged the County Manager with forming a staff team to review county priorities.
While I appreciate Board Chair Garvey’s desire to reach a compromise that advanced even the smallest of reforms, it seems like even calling it a small step forward is optimistic. This group may very well produce a new idea or two, but not from a fresh perspective. The County Manager will continue to control the process of how existing staff will provide advice to the Board.
Why isn’t the County Manager doing this type of ongoing review already?
And, if it so hard for the Board to agree to an independent panel to make reform recommendations, how hard would it be for them to vote for any real reforms?
Garvey is finding out about the biggest headaches of sitting in the center seat and holding the gavel: Arlington’s Board Chair only serves a one year term and really has only limited power in setting the Board’s agenda. If three of the other Board Members do not like an initiative, they can simply find ways to run out the clock.
This one-and-done tradition is long engrained in Arlington, and may very well prevent as many bad ideas from moving forward as good ones. But often it simply lends itself to allowing “the way we’ve always done it” to march on with little change for the better.