At this point each year, we have the opportunity to examine the speeches of the five Arlington County Board Members to gauge their priorities for 2021. There was no doubt from those remarks that real challenges lie ahead as we move into COVID recovery.
Arlington has weathered the pandemic better than many communities. Our economy is still largely dependent on the relatively stable federal government budget. We are able to work from home due to access to technology and strong and fast internet connections. Still we saw businesses close their doors. And many more are wondering how much longer they can hang on.
Yesterday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo took to Twitter and said about his state’s economy, “We simply cannot stay closed until the vaccine hits critical mass. The cost is too high. We will have nothing left to open. We must reopen the economy, but we must do it smartly and safely.”
While Virginia’s business closures have not been as restrictive as other states like New York, we still need to have a forward-looking plan to return to normal as quickly as possible.
We need to address our budget in a way that does not put additional pressure on our economy and family budgets. Now is not the time to fund shiny object projects. As the newest County Board Member Takis Karantonis mentioned, he will focus “On fiscally sound, sustainable and accountable governance. This is a challenging year where all our fiscal priorities will have to be carefully re-examined and contrasted against major challenges in the commercial tax-base . . .”
We need to get our kids back in school. The truth is that while some students are thriving in a virtual environment, many are just getting by, and many others are struggling. While the County Board often takes a largely hands-off approach to Arlington Public School policy, they do provide the annual funding for the schools. More could have been said by County Board members about the role schools play in our overall community and economic life, particularly if “equity” truly is as big of a concern as the speeches made it out to be. The schools need to be held accountable now more than ever.
We also need more civility. As Libby Garvey said in he remarks, “We may disagree on something important, but we should respect each other even as we argue vigorously.” As we stare at growing polarization and civil unrest, may we all engage in more self-reflection and less knee-jerk blame in 2021.
Finally, an interesting note is that incoming Chairman Matthew de Ferranti encouraged Arlingtonians to shop local. He acknowledged people may still need to have some things delivered which was an apparent swipe at Amazon. Now that Arlington is home to Amazon’s second headquarters, wouldn’t we still be shopping local? Anyway, in addition to patronizing your favorite local restaurant, remember local charities can also use your support.
Mark Kelly is a long-time Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.