On December 21, Arlington County’s public engagement team (led by Bryna Helfer) posted a new draft Public Engagement Guide for Capital Projects.
This latest draft incorporates feedback received from residents and County staff during 2017. Over the next two weeks (until January 18), Bryna and her team are very interested in receiving your feedback on this draft.
The latest draft guide shows promise in an area crying out for major improvements.
In late 2016, the County Manager created the Office of Communication and Public Engagement in the wake of multiple public engagement fiascos. Bryna Helfer was appointed an Assistant County Manager to lead this office.
During 2017, while Helfer and her team appropriately were conducting multiple community meetings and seeking public input on an earlier version of the guide, these fiascos continued at Nelly Custis Park and Virginia Highlands Park.
The persistence of these fiascos, many involving the Department of Parks and Recreation, underscores the urgency of approving and implementing a final guide.
As was the case with the prior draft, the latest draft raises issues, some mentioned, some not.
Strategies for different projects and policies
The final guide should be very clear that its public engagement processes also will apply to county decisions in addition to those about capital projects, like all significant new policies or plans and the annual operating budget. Each of these other types of decisions should have its own appropriately-defined and publicly-understood levels of engagement.
Project and policy definitions
If the county only asks, “where shall we put the basketball court?”, and never asks, “do you want a basketball court?”, the county and its residents are in serious trouble.
Our new public engagement resources should be focused on key priority choices which drive major amounts of budget dollars. The question should be: “We have enough money for Option A or Option B, but not both. Which do you prefer?” Statistically-valid surveys should be used in appropriate circumstances.
Arlington’s civic associations, ranging from the many superbly-managed ones all the way to some non-existent ones, always will display a spectrum of effectiveness. The county government, not civic associations, ultimately must be accountable for public engagement with respect to taxpayer-funded projects and policies.
The county should maintain a separate, interactive webpage with all information, data, assumptions and public engagement results regarding each project or policy.
Limits of public engagement
Even the best public engagement practices cannot prevent fiascos caused by other factors such as:
- Wrong policies
- Lack of proper staff training
- Changing needs
- Lack of accountability
The best public engagement practices cannot cure poor substantive policies or poor management.
If the policy is wrong, change it. If staff lacks training, train them. If needs change, then processes need to be flexible. If staff members are never disciplined, transferred, nor fired for repeated mistakes, that is a fundamental management failure.
If necessary, neutral facilitators should be employed to conduct public engagement.
No guide or plan can be perfect. However, the county must ensure that it is delivering the best possible opportunities for fair, transparent and inclusive public engagement.
The latest draft guide helpfully reflects significant improvements suggested by Arlington residents over the past year.
The May & June 2017 Friends of Aurora Highlands Park newsletter contains excellent additional public engagement suggestions.
In loving memory of Joseph Robert Kapacziewski, who passed away in 2023 at the age of 41.
In loving memory of James Stuart Edmonds, who passed away in 2023 at the age of 84.
A man was shot in front of a lounge on Columbia Pike early this morning, continuing a string of violent incidents.
Good Friday evening, Arlington. Today we published articles that were read a total of 17124 times… so far. 📈 Top stories The following are the most-read articles for today —…
YULA’s ultimate frisbee spring season is now open for registration. We offer programs for middle and high schoolers – open to all players, whether they are new or have previous experience.Middle SchoolIn the Middle School league, mixed-gender teams practice once during the week and have games on Sunday afternoons. Spring league is a fun, safe, and positive environment. The season begins mid-March and wraps up with a tournament in early June. There are several options for practice days, so we can often work around schedule conflicts with other sports & activities.High SchoolThe High School program is organized by school of attendance and teams are classified by gender. New players will learn the basics in a supportive, welcoming environment. Experienced players will continue to develop their skills, and enjoy competition with other high school programs. The season concludes with a state level championship tournament in late May.All players are guided by experienced coaches who emphasize sportsmanship and good spirit. Ultimate is a fun sport with great camaraderie!YULA does not want finances to limit anyone from participating. Our middle school program offers a “Pay What You Can” cost structure and our our high school program is offering a $50 discount to new players.Visit our website to register and learn more. Sign up with a friend, but don’t delay, the season starts in March!http://www.yula-ulti.org
The Arlington-Aachen High School exchange is returning this summer and currently accepting applicants.
The sister-city partnership started in 1993 by the Arlington Sister Cities Association, which seeks to promote Arlington’s international profile through a variety of exchanges in education, commerce, culture and the arts. The exchange, scheduled June 17th to July 4th, includes a two-week homestay in Aachen plus three days in Berlin. Knowledge of the German language is not required for the trip.
Former participants have this to say:
_”The Aachen exchange was an eye-opening experience where I was fully immersed in the life of a German student. I loved biking through the countryside to Belgium, having gelato and picnics in the town square, and hanging out with my German host student’s friends. My first time out of the country, the Aachen exchange taught me to keep an open mind, because you never know what could be a life changing experience.” – Kelly M._
Valentine gifts for someone special or for yourself are here at George Mason University from noon -4pm on February 14, 2023. Satisfy your sweet tooth with Kingsbury Chocolates, find a handmade bag from Karina Gaull, pick up treats from Village