Arlington, VA

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Leaving the annual Civic Federation candidate forum Tuesday evening, I was already writing this column in my head. It was going to be heavy with criticism about the format.

Delegates were essentially allowed to race to the microphone and form a line to ask questions. With two-minute answers for each candidate, only four questions were asked of each of the three panels.

As a result, County Board candidates were asked two questions about elections: one on access to in-person absentee voting and one on election security. This might have been more appropriate for the Electoral Board or the Registrar, but on Tuesday it made up 50 percent of the Q & A for the position that determines how our local tax dollars are raised and spent.

For School Board, one question was asked about the tree canopy and another about the cost of facility rentals. No question was asked about renaming Washington-Lee High School, though Audrey Clement brought up the issue. Little time was spent on classroom performance or per-pupil spending. (And no one took me up on my suggestion of asking whether or not elementary school students should be assigned homework.)

This is nothing new. Having been through two Civic Federation forums as a candidate myself, I came to expect the non-traditional questions from delegates. Once I was asked simply why I liked living in Arlington.

As I thought about the forum more, my stance on the format began to change. Sure, we may have gotten to more of the “big issues” had questions been submitted in advance so the moderator could have asked the two most popular ones before turning it over to the delegates. Or, each answer could have been shortened to 60 or 90 seconds to allow for more questions from the delegates.

At the same time, if you want to know where the candidates stand on the big issues, you can read their websites or go to one of the many civic association forums on the calendar between now and Election Day. And you should go listen to the candidates in person, after all, local government is the most important government to our everyday lives.

But there is no doubt, they have those talking points down. What makes the Civic Federation forum unique is you never know what will be asked. The way a candidate answers those non-standard questions gives us a little insight into how a candidate thinks when pushed off their regular talking points. And it reminds the candidates that voters have many different issues that rise to the top of their lists when it comes to what’s most important to them.

So the Civic Federation should keep letting delegates ask the questions. It works for you.

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