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Arlington County Board elects Cristol as chair, Dorsey as vice chair

County Board Chair Katie Cristol (via Arlington County)

Members of the Arlington County Board say they have their work cut out for them in 2022.

They were unanimous in their chief priorities for the new year — COVID-19, housing, climate change and equity — just as they were unanimous in choosing a new board chair, Katie Cristol, and a new vice chair, Christian Dorsey.

These aims and others need to be tackled with a budget that, despite being impacted by high office vacancy rates, must put the wages of county employees first, they said.

“By no means is this pandemic over, but since it’s clear that COVID-19 will be providing us no respite for reflection, we will have to make our own,” Cristol said in her opening speech as chair. “Given the uncertainty of our commercial revenues, let me be clear: These commitments almost certainly mean less funding available for implementing new priorities or programs, but after two pandemic years, it is time to put our money where our ‘Thank you essential workers!’ window signs are.”

She celebrated the county’s high vaccination rates as a sign that Arlington will get through the pandemic, and the newest wave of cases fueled by the Omicron variant, together.

“[E]ven in this peak, our hospitalizations numbers remain in the very low single digits, and if we keep getting vaccinated, getting boosted, masking and demonstrating responsibility to one another, we will get through this — not as fast as we had all hoped, nor with the finality with which we all long for — but we will,” she said.

Dorsey likewise expressed his confidence Arlington will come out on the other side of the pandemic as a stronger county.

“I am not going to predict when we get to our new normal or even what our new normal will be, but I am certain and quite confident that if we rely on the resilience that has been honed during the pandemic and remain focused on achieving our goals for sustainability, housing our community and achieving racial equity, we will emerge on the other side both better and stronger,” he said.

Cristol will pick up her chief priority — child care — where she left off when she was last the Board’s leader in 2018.

“This pandemic has exposed what we’ve always known to be true: Our country is a hard place to raise children,” she said. “Arlington alone can’t fix all the obstacles facing families, but we can continue to make progress on our own vision, which is that all Arlington County families have access to high quality, affordable childcare.”

This year, she said, the county will focus on increasing the number of child care providers and eligible families who participate in Virginia’s child care subsidy program and providing child care during non-traditional hours.

2022 will be a big year for working toward Arlington’s energy goals for 2025, 2035 and 2050, Dorsey said. Arlington aims to be carbon-neutral by 2050.

“I propose we prioritize taking every practical opportunity through our budget work this year to de-intensify carbon use in our government operations, and as we look to develop our capital improvements plan, we should plan to utilize sustainable products and systems — even if they are not quite practical today. Let’s envision and dare to dream for when it might be,” he said.

And on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection, Board members Libby Garvey and Takis Karantonis were thinking about the state of the nation’s democracy. Garvey said she will encourage civil discourse as much as she can in 2022.

“There are lots of angry people in this country and they have guns,” Garvey said. “We here are relatively sheltered, but some of those who attacked the [U.S. Capitol building] stayed in Arlington and many drove through Arlington on their way to the Capitol. The danger to our democracy is not a local issue but it is a local threat. I am not sure what we should do about it, but I do know that we and the entire region need to stay close and keep our public safety systems strong and nimble.”

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