Arlington, VA

The Right Note is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

There is a special election to fill the seat on the County Board now vacant because of the tragic death of Erik Gutshall. While the County Board is attempting to push the date for the election all the way to November, voters are likely to head to the polls July 7 or vote absentee in advance of that day.

Over the next seven weeks, voters will be able to consider the three candidates running for the position. Here are three big picture questions these candidates should be answering:

  1. Will you challenge the status quo?

Now more than ever, we should not accept the idea that we can keep doing things the way we  have done them in the past. The Board recognized this on an emergency basis as they passed a revised budget April 30th. However, they should use this time to ask themselves what they can do differently in the future. Every program, line item, rule and regulation should be evaluated to help us recover in the short term and make us stronger over time.

  1. Will you work to increase the levels of transparency and accountability provided by Arlington to its residents?

Two weeks ago, I noted a County Board pay raise mistakenly included in the pay plan approved by the Arlington County Board. When it was brought to their attention, they sprang into action to say it was not supposed to be there and would be fixed. Yet, the County Board met on Saturday and is meeting again today, and none of the agenda items listed thus far fix the pay plan to take back the raise. The Board Members who promised this would be fixed need to live up to their word and tell us how they plan to fix it before it takes effect on July 1st.

Also over the last two weeks, the County Board joined with other Northern Virginia jurisdictions to say “no” to reopening Arlington for business last Friday. The Board listed five metrics they were looking at for reopening. Last Friday during their virtual town hall meeting, they also regularly referenced the five metrics. Yet, nowhere on the County Board site can you view a dashboard which discloses how close, or far away, we are from meeting them.

While our ties to the federal government make our community more recession-resistant than most, our economy is still strained and our residents are losing jobs by the day. “Just trust us” should not be acceptable for such a huge decision, particularly in this unprecedented time of crisis.

  1. Will you commit to fiscal discipline as we recover from these challenging times?

Keeping the tax rate as low as possible is a key component for economic recovery. Beyond the costs on housing for our residents, many of whom have lost a job or could in the future, we must keep downward pressure on rents for our employers as well. It means designating 100% of any closeout funds to this purpose for the foreseeable future. It means the Board must also identify and fund only the most essential things in the budget for the next year or two to reduce the need for taxpayer revenue. And it certainly means a delay on the aforementioned pay raise for the Board.

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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