Press Club

The Right Note: The ‘Dorsey Standard’

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

Last week, I questioned the political wisdom of newly minted Arlington County Board Chairman Christian Dorsey’s comments regarding just how hard, or not hard, a Board member should work.

Dorsey pondered aloud just what a member’s role should be and questioned whether it was a good thing for someone serving on the Board to go above and beyond the call of duty. He called this hard work “not helpful.”

Last week’s column also noted that the County Board loves to talk about tough budget choices facing them. After years of wearing out the phrase and having money leftover to spend at the end of the year, this year they apparently really mean it. They are searching for as much as $70 million to close their annual “gap.” Schools, Metro, Medicaid expansion and Amazon are all putting pressure on budget decisions for FY 2020.

The more you hear Board members bemoan the budget, the more remarkable it is that the chairman of the Board facing “tough choices” can suggest Board members should take a step back from their workload. If the choices are truly that difficult, it demands more of your time and attention than ever before, not less.

Dorsey’s “work less, delegate more” approach was front and center at last Saturday’s board meeting when it came to light that costs are once again creeping up on the new Long Bridge aquatics facility. A new dollar figure was slipped into a Board report on the audio-visual contract for the project that was on the consent agenda on Saturday. The report noted a $3.2 million increase in so-called “soft costs” for the facility.

John Vihstadt, who was a lone voice in opposition to moving forward with the project, is no longer around to officially dig into the details, but he is still asking county staff about it and talking about it on social media. It may have been his inquiries that caused Katie Cristol to pull it from the Board’s “rocket docket” Saturday in order to have a discussion tonight. Otherwise, it would not have warranted even a single minute of debate from the Board under Chairman Dorsey’s agenda.

Hopefully, tonight Christian Dorsey will let us know why he did not want to have a public discussion on this. Maybe he will explain that he is content to just give the County Manager another blank check. (In November, the Board approved a $2 million slush fund for the County Manager as part of the closeout appropriation.)

Of course, Democrats have regularly required taxpayers to give the Board more of their money under the guise of a budget crunch without paying a political price as a party. The amount of time Dorsey dedicates to doing so may not matter, so the “work less” approach may make sense.

He certainly seems to be banking on voters to send him back to the Board this November no matter what he says, or does, or doesn’t want to do.

Mark Kelly is a 19-year Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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