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The Hurtt Locker: Resolutions for Arlington County Government

The Hurtt Locker is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

The Arlington County Board held its 2020 organizational meeting on Thursday, January 2. It is not uncommon for the Board to elect as their chairman the member up for re-election in that year, and – as expected – they selected Libby Garvey to lead the Board.

This is perhaps a tacit endorsement by the Arlington establishment, since Garvey will have to fend off a potentially contentious Democratic primary challenge in June from Chanda Choun, who lost to Matt de Ferranti in the Democratic primary for County Board in 2018.

Since de Ferranti’s defeat of independent County Board member John Vihstadt in the 2018 general election, Garvey is one of the most fiscally-conscious members of the Board, a role she should embrace with vigor as the Board makes plans for 2020.

Each Board member outlined their priorities for the year in brief remarks during last Thursday’s organizational meeting, and I couldn’t help but think of the county budget’s bottom line with the mention of every new project and priority.

Here are three resolutions Garvey and her fellow Board members should adopt as they roll up their sleeves and get to work in the new year:

  1. Embrace fiscal responsibility. From childhood hunger and accommodating Arlington’s growing school-age population to stormwater management and flooding, Board members highlighted priorities and projects for 2020. With the economic uptick compounded by Amazon’s HQ2 and the drop in the commercial vacancy rate, Arlington has the capacity to re-prioritize county goals, make wiser use of taxpayer dollars, and make it more affordable to live, work, and play in Arlington.Arlington’s “Tax & Fee Compendium” lists more than 500 taxes and fees levied across the county, from big taxes like property taxes and BPOL to fees we pay for metered parking or facilities rental or online permit processing. County leaders should halt the relentless increase in these taxes and fees where possible. Being nickel-and-dime’d at every turn impacts Arlington’s perception and affordability, and we can and should be leaders in the region over the next decade.
  1. Push for expanded government transparency. While Arlington residents expect and generally receive good county services from helpful county employees, the county lacks a level of transparency consistent with residents’ expectations.Throughout public conversations about Amazon HQ2 in 2018 and 2019, the county’s Freedom of Information Act office attempted to charge more than $900 for emails between county employees and interested parties regarding Amazon negotiations, many of which excluded redacted information provided by other jurisdictions that were then in the running for HQ2. Those who requested relevant emails were informed much of the substance of those emails would be unavailable for public inspection. Both Arlington Republicans and area Democratic Socialists (DSA and Our Revolution), as well as at least one reporter from the Washington Post, inquired about access to these emails with no success. Conceivably, the exorbitant costs of these requests would go to pay for the time to redact thousands of email exchanges and supplementary attachments.In the wake of public scrutiny over Board member Christian Dorsey’s Metro union campaign contribution and financial misgivings, there is one set of documents noticeably absent from the County’s Open Data Portal – Board member financial disclosure statements, which are on file with the County Board Clerk’s office. Publishing these documents online would increase the ability of citizens and other interested parties to research and understand potential conflicts of interest in a timely manner.
  2. Recommit to the Arlington Way. After the close of last Thursday’s organizational meeting, members of the County Board answered questions from members of the Arlington County Civic Federation. During the Q&A, Board chair Libby Garvey noted the important role the Civic Federation plays in public discourse and encouraged community leaders to reach beyond the involved and engaged population to those who may not have time or resources to dedicate to civic engagement. This is a significant challenge in a participatory democracy, and the responsibility falls on elected leaders, community leaders, and even columnists like the ones you read here at ARLnow.It is important to remind Board members, however, as one participant said during the Q&A, “Engagement is not telling us what you’ve done.” To augment what fellow columnist Jane Green wrote earlier this week, recommitting to the Arlington Way means collaborating with interested parties every step along the way, taking their feedback into consideration, and shaping public policy based on that feedback.

Lastly – and with a watchful eye toward Richmond – I hope the new Democratic majority in the General Assembly can work closely with Republicans to continue the progress made on criminal justice reform we’ve seen in both Washington and in states across the country. This means permanently ending driver’s license suspensions for unpaid court fees, at the very least decriminalizing marijuana possession and use (if not outright legalizing it), and abolishing the death penalty.

Happy New Year! Let’s make it a good one.

Matthew Hurtt is a 10-year Arlington resident who is passionate about localism and government transparency and accountability. Hurtt is a member of the Arlington Heights Civic Association and was previously the chairman of the Arlington Falls Church Young Republicans. Hurtt prides himself on his ability to bring people of diverse perspectives together to break down barriers that stand in the way of people realizing their potential. He is originally from outside Nashville.

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