Arlington, VA

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

The Arlington County Board appointed or reappointed nearly two dozen citizens to 12 Advisory Groups and Commissions at their January 28 meeting.

These Advisory Groups and Commissions, comprised of civic-minded volunteer commissioners, provide guidance to the County Board and County Manager on issues ranging from the status of women to environmental issues to capital facilities needs.

Beyond engagement in your local civic association or other local interest group, these Advisory Groups and Commissions are some of the best ways to provide direct input into the process at the county-level. As unscheduled vacancies arise or commissioners term out, the County Board (or in limited instances, the County Manager) makes appointments from a pool of applicants. Those interested in serving on Advisory Groups and Commissions can apply here.

Astute civic observers will recognize some of the most recent appointees to the various bodies. Former County Board member John Vihstadt was appointed to the Audit Committee. As a County Board member, Vihstadt actually helped establish the Independent Auditor in Arlington and served as Co-Chair while on the County Board. Longtime housing activist Karen Serfis was appointed to the Citizens Advisory Commission on Housing.

But of the 23 appointments the County Board made on January 28, only 6 of them are fresh appointees. The other 17 are reappointments. Those reappointments carry with them significant institutional knowledge about how these bodies function and the progress on many community discussions, but they may lack the energy and enthusiasm a new appointee could bring.

Certainly the pool of potential appointees is limited to those who “opt-in” by completing the extensive application. These would-be volunteer commissioners give up their time to engage at the county-level, often above and beyond the other civic responsibilities they already assume.

Beyond the more than 50 Advisory Groups and Commissions constituted to provide input to the County Board and County Manager, there’s one Board that is somewhat removed from the traditional process and whose vacancies are less frequent and filled in a different way – the Arlington Electoral Board, whose membership is comprised of three appointees made by the Circuit Court.

Potential appointees are put forward by the Arlington County Democratic Committee and the Arlington County Republican Committee. According to the Electoral Board website, “Two Electoral Board members represent the current governor’s political party, while the third member represents the party with the second-highest number of statewide votes in the last gubernatorial election.”

On Saturday February 1, the Circuit Court ceremoniously swore in the board’s newest member — Matthew Weinstein — who will replace outgoing board member David Bell just a couple days before the March 3 Democratic presidential primary. Bell, a longtime member of the Electoral Board, previously served as the Clerk of the Circuit Court and brings significant institutional knowledge to the Electoral Board.

Weinstein, an up-and-comer in the Arlington Democratic ranks, marks a noticeable shift in the kind of appointee put forward by the local political parties. He is younger and more active in local politics than his Electoral Board contemporaries – Chair Charlene Bickford, the other Democratic appointee, and Secretary W. Scott McGeary, the sole Republican appointee. It is also worth noting that Weinstein is married to current Arlington County Democratic Committee Chair Jill Calazzo. Additionally, Weinstein has previously appeared before the County Board and various zoning bodies as a representative of developers.

Though potential Electoral Board appointees are put forth by respective political party committees, the appointees themselves are seen as nonpartisan, or at the very least above the partisan fray. Both Bickford and McGeary retired their partisan “activism” long ago.

Weinstein’s youthful energy and enthusiasm provide an opportunity to reinvigorate the Electoral Board, but he should be cautious of wading into partisan political battles. The role of the Arlington Department of Elections and its leadership on the Electoral Board is to administer free and fair elections that maximize Arlingtonians’ voices at the ballot box.

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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