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The Right Note: Time for Recall Elections in Virginia?

The Right Note is a biweekly 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.

Much has been made of Christian Dorsey’s post-election day revelations that he not only declared personal bankruptcy, but that he also used campaign funds to pay his wife and that he accepted a $10,000 contribution from Metro’s main union without disclosing its receipt in a timely fashion.

On Saturday, Dorsey offered a few words at the beginning of the meeting about what he called “unwelcome new” surrounding his bankruptcy, saying he was “deeply humbled” and assuring voters that it would”not impinge”  on his ability to find solutions to the County’s challenges. Chairman Dorsey inexplicably did not address the campaign payment to his wife or the ethical lapse surrounding the union contribution on Saturday during his remarks.

Dorsey started off the year suggesting that some of his colleagues on the County Board may be making him look bad by working too hard. Dorsey made the comments as part of a discussion about pay raises, concluding at that meeting it was not the time to give himself and his County Board colleagues a salary increase. He reversed course just a few months later.

After making no attempts to scrub the county budget to avoid a 5% tax increase in April, Dorsey gave an interview and told Arlingtonians who were wondering how they would pay for it to “scrub their family budgets.” Dorsey left out the suggestion of declaring bankruptcy.

During his brief remarks Saturday, Dorsey acknowledged that many people are “frustrated, disappointed, and even angry” that he did not disclose his bankruptcy before the election. Dorsey should know people have many of the same feelings about the ethical questions surrounding his campaign activities.

During Chairman Dorsey’s time on the WMATA Board, he has consistently resisted calls for that system to make major reforms. Instead, Dorsey consistently supported calls for finding new streams of revenue as the solution and was rewarded with a campaign check for $10,000 — a check he then failed to disclose within 10 days of receipt as required.

But what does all of this really mean?

Christian Dorsey is under no obligation to resign. Although if he really thinks he could make enough money to afford his chosen lifestyle by not being on the County Board, it might be the right thing to do for his family.

Arlingtonians could submit thousands of petition signatures to the Circuit Court asking for his removal. However, judges in Virginia have been rightly reluctant to overturn elections in this manner.

So, it raises the question: is it time for a new state law that allows for recall elections?

While the Democrats have other priorities with their new majority in Richmond, creating a recall election statute with a high bar for petition signatures is at least worthy of debate. It certainly might be argued that Chairman Dorsey’s actions would not rise to the level of a recall. However, if elected officials knew that they could be recalled by the voters, it might positively impact their actions by adding a new layer of accountability.

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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