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Jay Fisette Reflects on Legacy, Future Challenges in Final State of the County Address

In his final State of the County address before he retires at year’s end, Arlington County Board chair Jay Fisette said he is proudest of providing stable leadership during the county’s transformation.

Fisette, in his fifth annual address before the Arlington Chamber of Commerce as chair since coming onto the Board in 1998, said he believes his legacy will be the way Arlington has become more urbanized and expanded its population while staying true to its values.

“For me, it would be helping to guide the 20-year transformation of the community into an urban success story that we are,” he said. “Change is hard, and doing that in a way that has resulted in a community that’s a model in so many areas of public life, while at the same time protecting the connectedness and the compassion of a small town. There are a lot of things that have to happen to make that kind of recipe work.”

In his remarks before more than 100 business leaders, elected officials and other attendees Wednesday morning, Fisette touted various successes in his tenure as the current Board’s longest serving member.

He noted the 9.5 million square feet in new office space and 2.5 million square feet in new retail space, 2,700 additional hotel rooms, more than 29,000 new homes and other indicators, all while the unemployment rate stayed largely consistent at 2.5 percent, among the lowest in Virginia.

“In short, the state of the county is really good,” Fisette said. “In my view, Arlington works.”

But, Fisette said, Arlington faces numerous challenges, including on affordable housing, Arlington Public Schools capacity and an 18 percent office vacancy rate among others. He said the county has faced problems on his watch, like the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the loss of thousands of jobs through Base Realignment and Closure, but has always come through.

And despite those challenges, Fisette said the relationship between the business community and the county government remains strong, “[e]ven when our relationship is one where we don’t agree,” like the recent spat between the Chamber and Board over proposed changes to the towing ordinance.

Fisette had 10 recommendations for county leaders, after the jump:

  1. Be welcoming and compassionate. “In this difficult period in America, being so divided, and our immigrant community feeling threatened, we have to maintain our values,” Fisette said. “Our most vulnerable residents will be feeling more pressure, our nonprofits will be called upon, but this is the soul, and without the soul, none of the rest works.”
  2. Collaborate to use the county’s limited land wisely
  3. Emphasize long-term planning
  4. Keep being a regional leader, especially on Metro, which Fisette said needs a new dedicated funding source by the spring to avoid jurisdictions having to pay even more than they do already
  5. Invest in new tools to protect the county’s affordable housing stock, which has added 5,200 units but lost around 17,000.
  6. Never put the county’s Aaa/AAA/AAA bond ratings at risk
  7. Facilitate broader and more constructive civic engagement
  8. Keep moving forward with environmental sustainability practices
  9. Stay “nimble” to adapt to the changing business environment
  10. Make sure government works for everyone and is accessible

For the future, Fisette advised County Board members to continue to be forward-thinking and prepared to make hard choices.

“Stay true to a vision of values, ground yourselves in solid planning and policy, listen and lead,” he said. “Finally, respect and be informed by the past while continuing to be open to new and creative ideas for the future.”

Chamber CEO Kate Bates said she is excited to see what Fisette does in the community after he retires.

“I know Jay will stay involved in the county, and am excited to see what he does next,” she said.

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