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The Right Note: Strange Turn of Events

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 ARLnow.com.

Last Thursday as I tuned into the County Board’s special meeting to pass the Fiscal Year 2021 budget, I began clicking on the links to the Board reports accompanying the agenda. One of the measures to be voted on was the Pay Plan to take effect July 1. Knowing the Board had originally planned a $10,000 pay raise for themselves, I searched the document to ensure the raise had been scrapped.

In less than 60 seconds, I located County Board pay on page 28. It called for a 3.5% pay raise. I double checked my figures with several Board watchers and online sources to make sure I had it right. Board Members are currently paid $55,147, and the Chair $60,662, and the Pay Plan was set to raise that pay to $57,077 and $62,785.

After no County Board member mentioned the pay raise during the debate on the Pay Plan, I began writing a column giving the County Board a big Thumbs Down on the raise and opining as to why the Board may have been trying to sweep it under the rug. Following submission of my column, ARLnow’s editor informed me that, during a fact check, county officials disputed whether a raise had been approved.

After some back and forth, including a call between me and county staff, I have to take the County Board at their word that they did not authorize any pay raise to be included in the Pay Plan. If it was in the plan, I was informed that there was no money in the budget for it, and it would be fixed.

I was left to wonder though, out of four County Board members it seems like not a single one read the Pay Plan closely enough to notice the pay raise was there. Do we think John Vihstadt would have missed this if he were still on the Board?

You might also wonder, if no one read the Pay Plan closely enough to notice the increase, are there mistakes in the items that were approved on last week’s agenda that will also have to be fixed?

Thumbs Down to all four County Board Members who did not notice the pay raise in the Pay Plan before they voted to approve it last Thursday.

Thumbs Down to County Manager Mark Schwartz for not ensuring the County Board instructions were reflected in the Pay Plan that was approved.a

Thumbs Up to ARLnow for starting the dialogue with county officials, and for what I’m sure will be a follow up to make sure the Board works to undo the raise.

Switching gears, I did want to offer a Thumbs Up to Governor Northam for allowing non-essential medical care to move forward again. With the COVID-19 curve long flattened and no longer threatening to overwhelm our health care system, it was past time to ensure people are receiving the deferred health care they need. It also ensures health care providers, particularly in more remote parts of Virginia, are able to receive the income they need to stay open and keep providing these essential services into the future.

While Governor Northam is moving slowly to reopen Virginia and still has not released the details of his larger plan for our overall economic health and well being, at least his administration retreated from the notion that a first phase could last two years. So a final thumbs up for hope that we can recover, and soon.

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

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