Arlington, VA

Outgoing Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt said goodbye, at least for now, to public office on Saturday.

A ceremony was held at Saturday’s County Board meeting to honor Vihstadt and his four years of service on the Board. Fellow Board members and members of the public spoke glowingly of Vihstadt’s work ethic, commitment to serving constituents and ability to find common ground amid disagreement.

Vihstadt, an independent, was defeated by Democrat Matt de Ferranti in the November general election. De Ferranti will take office in January.

After more than an hour of comments from Arlington officials and the public, Vihstadt spoke at the meeting. A transcript of his prepared remarks is below, after the jump.

Chair Cristol, I appreciated your fair and impartial leadership the last twelve months. You’ve been open and accessible, even-handed and ecumenical, and, at least most of the time, good humored with your gavel.

Vice Chair Dorsey, Member Garvey and Member Gutshall, I will miss serving with each of you as well.

Like ingredients in a salad bowl, we complemented each other.   While most of our Board votes were unanimous, so many of these 5-0 votes masked the different ways we got to the same conclusion. There was compromise, give and take, and negotiation along the way.

There were divided votes and shifting coalitions, as well. In a diverse and pluralistic community like Arlington, that’s the way it should be, and I hope that dimension is not lost next year.

To County Manager Mark Schwartz, County Clerk Kendra Jacobs and County Attorney Steve MacIsaac, thanks for your incredible support and, on occasion, patience.

True, I asked a lot of questions.   Yet for our 3,900 County employees, no question was too challenging, or too obscure. I know you’ll miss these questions, so I’m grooming my successor, Matt de Ferranti, to be as inquisitive as I am. And just in case, I’ve got a bunch of Freedom of Information Act requests ready to go.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:

Since I joined the Board in 2014, we accomplished a great deal to put our house in order. I can’t take full credit, but we’ve moved away from extravagant and unsustainable projects.

The streetcar was cancelled, there are no more $1.6 million dollar dog parks or million dollar bus stops. The former ArtiSphere is back on the tax rolls, and the Olympic-sized aquatics center was downsized.

We’ve given renewed focus to core services, like public schools capacity, shoring up Metro and Columbia Pike transit, augmenting our parks, fields and green space, boosting public safety pay, speeding our street paving, and holding up our social safety net.

We have an independent County Auditor, and a Waste, Fraud & Abuse Hotline. Employee whistleblower protection.

And speaking of our Auditor, last month, we brought our County Audit Committee and the Schools Audit Committees together to better address the high cost of schools construction. I hope that you continue this critical and overdue effort.

Also this year, at my urging, the Board directed the Manager to come back with ideas for cost-benefit studies, so we can better assess the costs and consequences of our development decisions.

The Board directed the Manager to set up a working group to rethink the Neighborhood Conservation program, with an eye to ensuring that we deliver necessary community infrastructure in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible.

And, as I’ve been pushing, rather than immediately scratch the itch to spend, we finally voted to carry over to the next fiscal year 75% of our FY 2018 budget surplus, so that we can apply it to the significant budget challenges we face next year, and weigh all competing priorities at the same time, holistically.

LOOKING AHEAD

But let’s not kid ourselves. We still have a long way to go:

–First, to grow our economy, while managing our growth in a fiscally sound, equitable, and environmentally sustainable manner.   Amazon’s arrival will bring new benefits, but new challenges, as well.

–Second, to ensure still greater openness, transparency and inclusion in County processes and operations; and

–Third, to instill a stronger sense of fiscal discipline at a time when our expenditures are growing at nearly twice the rate that our revenues are.

On January 1, 2019, the Board will revert back to 100 percent one party government. In my view, this puts a special burden on the County Board, if you’ll take it. I hope that each of you will do your share, to ensure

That you hear all voices,

That you consider all sides of every issue, and

That everyone believes you’ve listened to them, even if they’re not necessarily accommodated.

PARTISANSHIP

In closing, a word about partisanship.

Just two years ago, then Governor Terry McAuliffe — a Democrat — vetoed legislation passed by the Republican General Assembly to allow candidates to be identified by political party on ballots for local offices like County Board and School Board.

Why? “Party affiliation is not useful information when making decisions about purely local matters and would only serve to increase divisiveness in local government,” said the Governor. “We should be working to reduce partisan rancor, rather than creating new places for it to flourish.”   The Governor was right!

Fortunately, his veto was sustained. Yet partisan sample ballots — be they blue or red — undermine that goal, and partisanship in Arlington, as elsewhere, maintains an increasingly toxic grip on full participation in civic affairs.

I’m excited to join the state steering committee of Unite America, a new national organization working to bridge the partisan divide and find common ground. And I look forward to the day, hopefully soon, when One Virginia’s mission of ending partisan redistricting succeeds.

Finally, to the people of Arlington, and especially the over 46,000 voters who supported our drive for independent thinking, greater transparency, more inclusive community engagement and fiscal responsibility in County government, thank you from the bottom of my heart.   I’ll not be far away, and I’ll be watching what happens at 2100 Clarendon Boulevard!

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your County Board member. It’s been the highest honor and privilege of my life.

Please keep in touch.

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