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A new name will appear on the ballot for November’s Arlington County Board election, as independent Charles McCullough II has thrown his hat in the ring.
McCullough currently works as a consultant, having previously represented the Australian Embassy in D.C. on education policy in the United States and Canada, worked as an attorney for D.C. Public Schools and been part of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
He said one of his main priorities is to ensure residents’ voices are heard. He said the so-called Arlington Way should be restored in their favor, rather than what he said he perceives as a bias towards developers and planning decisions that have already been made.
“What is this Arlington Way that drives these bargains that favor developers, that only call upon certain communities when it comes to decisions being made?” he said. “I hear people say, ‘We’re not actively consulted, we’re not meaningfully consulted.’ I hear from other folks in North Arlington, who say, ‘When I am consulted, the decision’s already been made. What Arlington Way is this?'”
McCullough was especially critical of the county’s decision to woo Nestle to Arlington with a package of incentive-based grants, and suggested instead that money could be invested to help grow and retain small businesses.
McCullough said one of his other major priorities is adding to the county’s stock of affordable housing, and ensuring more seniors can keep living in Arlington and are not priced out. He suggested following other communities’ lead by expanding the housing voucher program, and requiring that new developments have more affordable units than currently called for by county code.
He added that older citizens must be able to stay in the county, and added that maybe Arlington should look at providing more communities for seniors.
Last night Arlington Republicans honored longtime community activist Jim Pebley. Pebley is retiring and heading south to North Carolina.
From the Planning Commission to the Civic Federation, to leading community efforts on the U.S.S. Arlington and much more, Pebley built a stellar reputation across party lines for working to make Arlington a better place to live, work and raise a family. The only thing missing from his resume was holding elected office, something many of us tried to convince him to do over the years.
As a veteran of community activism, Pebley quipped during his remarks that “Arlington is Latin for having many meetings.” Regardless of the meeting-heavy “Arlington Way,” Pebley used his remarks to encourage Republicans to follow his lead and actively engage in the community and learn how the county is actually run.
Republicans also heard from County Board member John Vihstadt, who like Pebley was a longtime community leader before winning a County Board seat as an Independent.
After discussing items including the resurrected Long Bridge Aquatics Center, Vihstadt discussed the recently passed budget. To Vihstadt’s credit, he worked hard to cut back the tax increase on the average homeowner from around 4.7 percent to 4.2 percent.
What Vihstadt did not discuss was the County Board’s attempt to quietly include a pay raise of 3.5 percent to their salaries, roughly $1,800 for the members and $2,000 for the chair.
Vihstadt made a motion at the Saturday meeting to vote on the pay raise separately from the raises given to other county employees. He was met with strong opposition from all four Democrats, and the Board voted 4-1 against taking a straight up or down vote on raising their own salaries.
Both Libby Garvey and Katie Cristol defended the raise as warranted for the workload. Then Christian Dorsey said, “this is not a raise.”
Yes, it is. You knew what the job paid when you ran for it. And if you want to raise your pay before your next term, then please be willing to take a vote on it.
Dorsey also noted that he did not get a raise last year when, “we did a tax decrease.”
No, taxes went up last year. Assessments went up more than the tax rate went down, therefore people paid more in taxes. This phony notion that taxes don’t go up just because the rate went down is ludicrous and should be stripped from the vocabulary of every Board member.
Chair Jay Fisette then went on to scold Vihstadt for having the temerity to bring the issue up in an open session for public consumption where it would be reported rather than hashing it out behind closed doors. In other words, Fisette admitted he didn’t want to have a debate about raising County Board pay on the taxpayers’ dime in front of the taxpayers.
The comments made by Dorsey and Fisette are a perfect example of why the Washington Post-ABC poll found that nationally 67 percent of all voters, and 44 percent of Democrats, believe the Democratic Party is out of touch with the concerns of the average person. They are also representative of why Vihstadt was elected in the first place.
Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.
By Mary Hynes
In theory, everyone is for transparency in government – residents, politicians and public servants, businesses, non-profits, and government workers.
But what does transparency really mean for government operations and citizen interactions?
Is it the Board giving 48 or 72 hours of notice of its pending actions? Is it televising more government meetings? Is it posting information on the web or sending newsletters?
Recently, our current County Board Chair – someone who talks frequently about more transparency as a community solution – called the last minute, unadvertised (some would say non-transparent) announcement of a Blue Ribbon Panel the Board’s “biggest mistake.”
But she relieved the Board of any fault by saying “Our biggest mistake was thinking it would be a concept easily understood by the community.”
The Board did, at least, take a pause – until July 2016 — to hear directly from the community about their “idea”. I doubt the community will say that the task the Board laid out was clear or, in the scope of Arlington’s challenges, urgently necessary.
In evaluating the importance of transparency, let’s consider some other examples:
In 2009, the School Board hired a consultant to develop new school locations. That may have been transparent for school parents who were in the know about the process, but not for neighbors who, after repeated requests, couldn’t determine whether their needs were factored into a 50-year school location plan.
In August 2010, the School Board changed the rules on who could ride the bus in September without public discussion. That non-transparent action upended family plans all across Arlington with little time to develop alternatives.
In 2015, the County Board addressed the lack of success over three years in seeking publicly vetted solutions for the Reevesland property by directing the County Manager at a televised meeting without prior public notice to begin the legal process of creating a divided property. This was probably not transparent, though the public would have opportunities to weigh in on three additional public Board votes required before effecting changes at the property.
On the plus side, it’s good that the County Board is televising its works sessions. And it’s probably good that Planning and Transportation Commission meetings are being televised.
Both actions allow more people to watch, which can give a dedicated viewer a window into issues and choices and might spur an observer into broader participation in the process.
But for decisions that must stand the test of time — whether it’s the 50-year location of a new school or changes to bus routes that touch thousands of families – we need more than television.
Such decisions alter the very fabric of the community and they require broad resident participation and engagement. That special ingredient is what tends to make a decision a good one for the broad community.
When neighbors, government, community groups, and businesses sit and talk to each other about how to solve a real problem or address a complex challenge, the solution achieved is richer, more nuanced, better understood, and is more accessible even to those who couldn’t participate directly.
Such participation and the ability to explain is THE key ingredient our community has employed for many decades to create today’s great place.
Paying lip service to transparency for its own sake misses what really matters. Real community engagement isn’t more opportunities to watch or checking a box. Real community engagement – the roll-up-your sleeves hard work – is how great communities get great.
Today, more than ever, we need elected leaders who understand this on both the School Board and County Board. We need our County Manager and Superintendent to value the varied perspectives and needs that residents bring to the table.
We should commit to continuously developing strong civic engagement skills in County and School staffs so that our greatest resource — the talents and skills of those who choose to call Arlington home – are put to good use.
More than transparency for its own sake, we need greater opportunities for honest civic engagement. It’s our legacy and our future.
Mary Hynes served as an Arlington elected official for 20 years. In 12 years on the School Board she began the open office hours program and instituted a monthly newsletter and liaison meetings with PTA leaders. During eight years on the County Board, her PLACE initiative focused on civic engagement and the County’s commission structure. She instituted Open Door Mondays as an opportunity to meet a County Board member in a casual setting without an appointment. In 2015, she launched the citizen-led Community Facility Study that involved more than 200 residents.
Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.
By Terry Savela
It is deeply disappointing when political leaders say one thing and do the opposite. That is why it was so troubling to see Tuesday’s County Board action violating the Board’s own public notice requirements – that Board Chair Libby Garvey had previously advocated for vigorously – in order to set in motion a review of “Strategic Priorities for Arlington.”
Acknowledging that Board members had discussed the proposal for months, she nevertheless initiated a wholesale review of County priorities by an unelected small group without providing any opportunity for comment by the public, Advisory Commissions, the School Board or Arlington’s many engaged community organizations. The draft Charge was not posted on the County’s website until the start of the Board’s Tuesday meeting where it was voted upon.
Whether or not one believes that the County’s priorities over recent years – schools, affordable housing, public safety, parks, environmental stewardship, and economic competitiveness – should be changed, this was not the way to do it.
The call for a six-member “Blue Ribbon” Panel – one member appointed by each County Board member and one appointed by the County Manager – will proceed without any selection by School Board members even though nearly half of our County’s budget goes to our excellent schools and we face a large and growing enrollment challenge.
The Panel’s Charge is to “provide an evaluation of the current policy goals and objectives for the County…and recommendations for a plan to reconcile and prioritize those goals.” Ms. Garvey talked at length about the need to “do things differently” and set priorities among all the service areas. Yet her repeated call to focus on “core” services suggests she has already decided which services she intends to downgrade. Those of us who take pride in services that reflect Arlington’s progressive values, including parks, trails, human services, arts, libraries and the environment, have reason to worry about service cuts.
In addition, it appears that the six Panel members will recommend which adopted County policies should be de-emphasized. I expect many Arlingtonians who labored on the Community Energy Plan, Affordable Housing Master Plan or Master Transportation Plan will be deeply concerned whether this small group will push to change or undo their recommendations.
By contrast, the well-received 2015 Community Facility Study resulted from a timely and efficient process involving more than 200 individuals and groups. The need for the Facility Study was identified in multiple campaigns and in both school and County advisory groups. The County and School Boards appointed a 23-member group that was a cross section of Arlingtonians – by age, geography, ethnicity, and leadership experience. And the charge mandated broad community involvement from interested Arlingtonians and organizations.
Perhaps, we shouldn’t be surprised by this contrast. It hearkens back to a failure by Ms. Garvey during her School Board tenure to engage our schools community in creating a long-term vision for addressing growing enrollment. The result has meant that every boundary change, proposed new school or programmatic adjustment stirs distrust from parents who care passionately about the education of their children. And she has shown little interest in acting on the widely-supported recommendations of the Community Facilities Study that would help address that earlier failure.
Perhaps the most telling moment of Tuesday’s discussion came when, addressing Jay Fisette’s comment about the importance of broad civic engagement in the development of Arlington’s plans, John Vihstadt noted that it would be up to the Board to decide in December whether the work of six Panel members would actually be used or might “end up in the proverbial circular file.”
So is the launch of the “Blue Ribbon” panel only the start of a longer process? Or is it meant to unwind community priorities that have evolved over a great deal of time and through broad-based discussions?
Is this the beginning of an effort to examine the Arlington County budget holistically and establish a common-sense approach for setting budget priorities? Or is it just a way to play favorites?
Whatever the motives, violating the Board’s own prior notice requirements and launching a wide-ranging review without input from residents, businesses or community groups is wrong. It certainly isn’t the Arlington Way.
Terry Savela has lived in Arlington since 1985 and served as a County Planning Commissioner, Transportation Commissioner, and as the vice chair of the Crystal City Task Force.
Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.
The Arlington Way has been much discussed over the last few years amid concerns that the “Way” has been lost. Our experience on the South Arlington Working Group (SAWG) planning for a new school suggests that we can still achieve consensus while doing so in an inclusive and prompt manner.
We do still need a way of ensuring that our elected leaders’ decisions about Arlington’s future have broad community support, especially with the number of decisions needed to address school capacity concerns.
As we consider how to update the Arlington Way the SAWG process — swift and inclusive — may point to what we need to meet the demands of our changing community and growing school population.
In June of 2014, Arlington Public Schools (APS) identified the Thomas Jefferson site as its preferred location for a new elementary. The County Board, in response, formed the Thomas Jefferson Working Group to consider the feasibility of building a new school on the site. The TJ Working Group was able to establish a number of thoughtful considerations for the use of the site, but could not build a consensus that the Jefferson site should be for a new elementary school.
There were many community questions about alternative sites and how a school on the Jefferson site would be used. Ultimately, the County Board deferred on approving the site and asked the School Board to help develop a consensus regarding location of a new elementary school.
In response, the School Board set up SAWG and invited a broad cross-section of community participants. This included every Civic Association in south Arlington, PTAs from every south Arlington school, and a number of community-based organizations. These stakeholders brought different views to the table — and different ideas about how to address school capacity.
One challenge was that capacity needs in south Arlington were not evenly distributed. The three schools projected as most overcapacity in 2019 were Barcroft, Henry and Oakridge. Barcroft and Henry are on the western side of south Arlington and Oakridge is on the eastern side. Thus, it would be challenging to find a single school site that could relieve capacity issues for all three schools.
The SAWG members wanted new options. They considered every APS property and every County property in south Arlington. The members also reviewed potential privately-owned sites. This interest and outreach ultimately led to not one, but two private property owners coming forward. Both had serious proposals for providing the County with land in return for building more densely on their remaining property.
With a large, diverse group, some thought SAWG would not reach a conclusion. But, we pushed for open discussions and stepped outside of narrow, parochial viewpoints. We also sustained a healthy dialog with APS and County staff. Ultimately, we came up with three, interlocking recommendations.
First, we recommended that APS build a new home for Henry Elementary at the Jefferson site. These new seats are well-located to relieve crowding at Henry and Barcroft. Also, knowing that this new building would be a neighborhood school was an important consideration for many stakeholders.
Second, we paired the Jefferson/Henry recommendation with a plan to move the Montessori Program from Drew Model School to the current Henry building, opening approximately 400 seats at Drew. This pairing was important because it provides needed capacity for schools on the eastern side of south Arlington. And, by separating two programs now housed at Drew, it helps ensure the success of both programs.
Third, we concluded that a second elementary school would be needed in the Pentagon City area. Oakridge is our only elementary school east of Interstate 395. We expect that population growth will require another school. By starting planning now, we can thoughtfully consider such options as the potential joint use of the Aurora Hills Community Center and the offer of land for a school at the River House property.
SAWG members did get new options on the table that had not been considered before. We also moved quickly and came up with recommendations that met our charge — and more. Consensus was broad. Our site recommendation received unanimous support from both boards.
Most importantly, our recommendations quickly received support from our communities. This shows that what Arlington needs today in finding our “Way” forward can be achieved.
Greg Greeley was a member of the Thomas Jefferson Working Group and the Chair of the South Arlington Elementary Working Group. He is a long-time resident of Arlington and has been an active parent in Arlington schools.
The following letter to the editor was submitted by Dave Schutz, a 30 year Ashton Heights residents, regarding the Arlington Way.
Dear Editor: This letter responds to the Dec. 3 Progressive Voice column by Mary Rouleau.
Ms. Rouleau suggests that recent dissension in our community shows that the Arlington Way needs to be updated, and that it’s time for an Arlington Way 2.0. Ms. Rouleau says that the current practice, even though advisory groups generally advocate the progressive options which the County should follow, does not adequately inform residents to build the necessary consensus for these options. She says it is “…important that the County government provide the public with facts that support its decisions and a description of the public purposes served by the decisions… there is a wide information gap on that set of issues alone… the County has the resources to reach more households and should be a primary source of information for explaining the use of public assets and resources..”
I agree with Ms. Rouleau that there’s an Arlington Way problem, but what I see is that the problem is basically that we have left behind the original Arlington Way 1.0, are already in Arlington Way 2.0, and this has led to the turmoil we have seen.
Arlington Way 1.0 involved the Board seeking input from citizens who brought to an issue group a wide variety of perspectives, and the Board sought a way forward which would leave most residents satisfied with the direction. It was widely popular. About fifteen years ago we shifted to Arlington Way 2.0, in which the Board would recruit mostly-advocate advisory group members whose views at the outset matched those of the County Board majority.
Since the shift, there has been a growing buzz of rejectionist comments directed toward task force products, as well as doubt and opposition from budget-minded people in civic organizations. To complete the picture, the County Board can push necessary approvals for a proposal to well before or after an election, and then claim that it’s been legitimated. Anyone who did not work the process earlier has no standing, it’s the Arlington Way, and it can’t now be changed because the board has decided. I think it would be well for our community if we went back to Way 1.0.
WTOP quoted Chris Zimmerman (a man who will never again face the voters) in Feb. 2014: “In the end, each Board member has to make a judgment about what is best for the community… Leadership is the unflinching exercise of that judgment without regard to momentary swings in popularity. I believe that the great success Arlington has had is the result of the combination of leaders who actively engage the people; listen closely to what they’re saying; and then chart a path that they, in their best judgment, believe is most likely to result in the ultimate happiness of the community; and the willingness of the people in this community to let them do so.”
I think this exemplifies the mindset which has led to Arlington Way 2.0. As an example, on the trolley, Zimmerman and his acolytes badly overestimated the willingness of the community to go down the road they had identified, and their advisory process did not adequately warn them of what was about to happen. Likewise on a number of other issues, including the Natatorium. Though the Board majority gavelled through the Affordable Housing Master Plan last month, it had been the source of a great deal of dissension — again, Arlington Way 2.0.
Ms. Rouleau suggested that the County government organize to advocate for new progressive initiatives. I’m not convinced that this would guarantee success: it’s very much what was done for the Columbia Pike trolley, hundreds of thousands of dollars went into the Mobility Lab for pro-trolley propaganda and the under-fifty thousand dollar oppositional spending of the Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit carried the day.
ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor, please email it to [email protected] Letters may be edited for content and brevity.
By Mary Rouleau
Last year, I attended a workshop focused on crafting a conversation about and building public support for “the common good” in Arlington. In my view, the workshop helped counter the view that government was the problem — or at least a large part of it — in a climate of “no trust” and partisan gridlock.
While the “no trust” description readily applies to the other side of the Potomac, there have been threads of the “no trust” narrative in Arlington in recent years.
I believe Arlington has done many things right over the past 20 years, including balancing the tax base between commercial and residential sources, sustaining strong schools and crafting national best practice models of transit-oriented development, including affordable housing.
But we now face large, complex challenges, including sustained school growth, economic competition, a growing affordability gap and a large number of aging Boomers — and all must be placed in the context of limited available land.
A prior generation of Arlington leaders made tough but good decisions in leading the County. Among the best was siting the Metro underground instead of in the I-66 median. We now find ourselves with a set of “next era” decision points. Those decisions will determine where and how we go forward as a community.
Because we must make these decisions in an era of tight budgets and slower economic growth, it would not be surprising to hear sentiment along the lines of, “Why should I pay for things I don’t need?”
But Arlingtonians have, over the decades, been more sophisticated and progressive, showing a willingness to go where the facts lead, even if there is not a direct benefit to them. Perhaps the most important and consistent indicator of this is the continued support for our schools even though the vast majority of Arlington households have no direct ties to APS.
Pursuing progressive values does not require a blank check to government. And residents should be able to expect not only good outcomes, but also transparency and informed decision-making with public input of various kinds.
It is important that the County government provide the public with facts that support its decisions and a description of the public purposes served by the decisions. My experience with housing issues over the past several years has demonstrated again and again that there is a wide information gap on that set of issues alone.
Advocacy groups can play an important educational role, too, but the County has the resources to reach more households and should be a primary source of information for explaining the use of public assets and resources.
And what of the “Arlington Way” that has guided County decisions? No doubt it has been a key in the public’s support for most of those decisions.
But demographic shifts, the technology explosion, and increasing careers demands support the view that it’s time for an Arlington Way 2.0.
There was talk during the recent election cycle of the need to bring more segments of the community into the dialogue by creating more opportunities for feedback. While true, it’s not enough. We also need ways to get more information about the challenges we face into the community’s hands in a timely and a sustained way. For most issues, this will need to be an ongoing process and not a one-off exercise.
It strikes me that so much energy goes into a typical Arlington study process on the front end that little remains for the rollout. Yet for many people, the rollout is the first time they become aware that change is happening.
We can fairly expect that those who participated in the process understand the reasoning behind the recommendations and outcomes that follow. But to build and maintain a larger community consensus, it is probably even more important for good information — promoting understanding of the importance of the action and why the action serves the common good — to flow after a decision is made.
In a future column, I will discuss the importance of the just-completed Final Report of the Community Facilities Study Committee, both for its substantive recommendations and how it provides an opportunity for greater public awareness and consensus.
Mary Rouleau is a 25-year resident of Arlington. She is the Executive Director of The Alliance for Housing Solutions. This column reflects her personal views.
Affordable housing continues to divide the candidates for County Board, with the two Democratic nominees supporting the Affordable Housing Master Plan and the two independents proposing alternative methods at a debate over the weekend.
The County Board candidates all announced varying degrees of support for increasing affordable housing in Arlington, but disagreed on the best way to implement it during a candidate forum held by Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement Sunday evening.
“Everyone’s in favor of everything, and that’s the balancing act in this community,” said independent candidate Mike McMenamin.
The county needs to focus on geographic distribution of affordable housing units, said McMenamin, who has previously said affordable housing is not one of his priorities. The county should also go back and address its 2003 targets for the amount of affordable units, which it only met twice, he added.
McMenamin, who does not support the Affordable Housing Master Plan passed by the County Board last month, said that the County Board needs to look at how to add affordable housing and address school capacity, without sacrificing parkland for more affordable housing units or more schools. Finding the money to support all of these plans is also a challenge, he added.
One of the high costs to the affordable housing plan is the choice to increase the amount of committed affordable units (CAFs) instead of trying to incentivize market-rate affordable units (MARKs), said Audrey Clement, the other independent candidate.
“There is a serious question of whether CAFs are the way to go,” Clement said.
The new Affordable Housing plan calls for 15,800 affordable housing units, and making them all CAFs would be too expensive for the county, she said, arguing that MARKs are cheaper.
“Private developers can build units much more cheaply than the county can, so limit new construction to onsite units in market-rate developments,” she said.
Clement has spoken out against the Affordable Housing Master Plan, and if elected, plans on creating a housing authority to oversee all housing concerns in Arlington, similar to the authorities in Fairfax County and Alexandria.
Both Democratic nominees, Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey, reaffirmed their support in the affordable housing plan.
Beyond affordable housing, candidates all addressed community concerns about the disconnect between Arlington residents and the Board. The “Arlington Way,” the county’s system of community involvement in decision-making, needs some retuning, candidates said.
“It’s not what I am going to do. It’s what you all are going to do, and everybody else in Arlington. You all are going to tell us what is necessary to make sure every voice counts,” he said. “It does not work if elected officials tell you what they are going to do to listen. You have to tell us what we need to do to make sure your voices are heard.”
It’s also about going to meet the community where they are, Dorsey and Cristol said.
“We have to get rid of this excuse that they don’t come to our meetings,” Cristol said.
Increasing community engagement means making meetings at times that are reasonable to community members and personally inviting leaders to come to meetings, she said.
It’s also important that the public is brought into the process at the beginning, not the tail end, said McMenamin, citing the recent discussions about Fire Station 8.
If elected, he plans on going to community meetings, talking to people at farmer’s markets and even knocking on people’s doors to get their opinions about bigger decisions, he said.
“You have to listen to the neighborhoods and do what’s right,” he said.
Addressing the school capacity rate needs to be figured out by both the Arlington School Board and the County Board, Cristol said, adding the community has to be involved from the beginning.
“To me, this issue is one of how do we manage our growth,” she said.
The Arlington County Board’s chief priority for 2015 will be a new, broad plan to solve the county’s school capacity and land shortage problems.
New Board Chair Mary Hynes announced yesterday that the County Board and School Board are launching a joint study to assess Arlington’s facility needs and solutions.
The County Board’s annual New Year’s Day meeting has traditionally been used by the incoming County Board chair to announce the new year’s political agenda, and this year was no different. Hynes said “we must develop systemic strategies to meet our array of community facility needs rather than address any particular need or any particular site in isolation,” and introduced the county’s plan for the study.
In the coming year, Hynes said, each board will select members of Arlington’s residential and business community to be on the committee for the “Arlington Community Facilities Study — a Plan for the Future.” The committee will determine criteria and needs for facilities planning and to develop a framework for the county’s 2016 Capital Improvements Plan.
“I believe we are always better when we listen to each other, seek to understand the breadth of the challenges we are facing and work together to adjust our course,” Hynes said. “Our framework will acknowledge that, as our population grows, change is unavoidable; that challenges loom as we work to reinvigorate our economy; and that the reality of our physical space limits some possible solution sets.”
Hynes said the committee will address the following questions:
- For the foreseeable future, what are our facility needs for schools, fire stations, recreation, and transportation vehicle and other storage?
- How do we pay for these needs?
- What criteria should we use to help us decide where to locate them?
- In the context of changing demographics and economics, what opportunities and challenges are there in our aging affordable and workforce multi-family housing stock?
- What do changes in the Federal government presence and the residential and private commercial marketplace mean for County revenues?
Hynes and County Board member John Vihstadt — elected twice in 2014 while presenting himself as an alternative to longtime Board members Hynes, Jay Fisette and Walter Tejada — will serve as the Board’s liaisons to the study committee. The School Board will also have two liaisons to the committee.
“People talk about tension or discord on the Board, but I don’t look at it that way,” Vihstadt said in his year-opening remarks. “We have our disagreements, heated at times. We may have different perspectives, and it is right to air those perspectives … But I’d like to think that, as a collective body, we are working better together and being more productive than our federal and state counterparts across the river and down Interstate 95.”
The Board and School Board will appoint members of the committee later this month, according to a county press release. The committee will answer the above questions, Hynes said, with the understanding that “significant new funding is unlikely” and that “no new land is being created.”
Full details of the facilities study and plan will be made available shortly, Hynes said.
Affordable housing will again be a key priority for the County Board. Along with the facilities study, Hynes highlighted affordable housing and “business vibrancy” as her other two priorities, and new Vice Chair Walter Tejada said affordable housing will be his top priority once again.
“I will redouble my unwavering commitment to supporting affordable housing and maintaining Arlington’s diversity in these challenging times,” Tejada said. “This is a necessary effort to help secure our future as a successful community.”
Tejada, Libby Garvey, Vihstadt and Fisette all noted that securing a new transit plan for Columbia Pike and the Route 1 corridor in Crystal City is a must in the near future.
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.
Yesterday’s report that Arlington County policy may leave First Amendment protesters subject to arbitrarily enforced rules should give us all pause.
The actual wording of the special events policy would apply to “one or more persons” with even just the “propensity to attract a crowd.” The remedy for police, presumably, would be to tell a small group or individual to go home or face a fine of indeterminate size.
As reported here in ARLnow, some sort of administrative language from county staff is supposed to be forthcoming to clarify the policy. Those holding up signs outside of a political event they disagree with may not be subject to its enforcement. In the the meantime, county staff’s current policy toward its enforcement is effectively “trust us,” according to yesterday’s report.
The reality is the policy as written could conceivably give the county the ability to decide on a case-by-case basis whether it applies and to which group — or even a single individual. It opens the door for county staff to make that determination based on the content of the speech. Imagine, for example, the county staff or Arlington Police Department gets a call from an angry Board Member whose event is being protested.
Giving the Board the benefit of the doubt, let’s assume it was not their intent to prohibit concerned citizens from peacefully or spontaneously protesting. Hopefully, Board members will have county staff recommendations on the policy by the time of the September Board meeting.
But, it should have never been passed without more specific clarifying language. As written, it may take more than a county staff clarification to effectively protect Arlingtonians from potential abuses. The Board itself should probably re-address the issue.
Next time, maybe someone will stop and think about what wording of a policy actually means before they pass it. There should be no question as to whether diversity of political opinion will be welcome in Arlington.
Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.
Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column published on Tuesdays. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
When County Board member Mary Hynes launched a new initiative called PLACE (Participation, Leadership and Civic Engagement), ARLnow posted a video and wrote a capsule story. In the video, various people were asked what they thought the term “Arlington Way” meant. The capsule story asked and answered the question:
“What is the ‘Arlington Way’ exactly? It is essentially an open conversation between the local government and the people who live and work in Arlington. But the Arlington Way can mean different things to different people, as the video … seems to prove.”
Has the Arlington Way lost its way?
Arlington has created an elaborate system of advisory commissions, committees and task forces to tap the wealth of talent in our community This system was supplemented in 2012 with the PLACE initiative. And, in 2013, the County Board has added Walter Tejada’s Neighborhood Town Halls.
Compared to every other community anywhere near its size, the variety of opportunities that Arlington affords for citizen engagement and participation is admirable.
But, the Arlington Way is losing its way because of a combination of:
- whether, when and how the County Board frames the issues for community discussion
- what the County Board does with the advice it gets
Example: the PPTA guidelines.
The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) issued a report last fall warning that the Public Private Transportation Act (PPTA) lacked adequate safeguards, often enabling private firms to negotiate sweetheart deals that earn them high profits while placing most or all of the risk on the public.
The County Board has at least 3 citizen advisory groups that should have been asked to meet, review the proposed PPTA guidelines, and report back to the community: the Transit Advisory Committee, the Transportation Commission, and the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission. The County Board never requested such meetings or reports. Why not? What was the rush to enact such far-reaching guidelines without the input of these advisory groups?
- The County Board’s recent decision on what to do with its fiscal year closeout funds, totaling many millions of dollars, included no opportunity for significant community engagement.
- The entire structure of County Board decision making is a question too: an item can appear once on an agenda and be voted on the same night. Compare this with the School Board’s process of an item appearing first for information, with an opportunity for public comment, and then not being voted on until the next meeting – two weeks later. For major decisions, the School Board has even more time between public notice and action (like what to do with its fiscal year closeout funds).
We are losing our way. We have created many commissions, PLACE, and Neighborhood Town Halls so it looks like there is a lot of input, and there may be on many decisions. But, too many of the big, important decisions are reached without following the process we have created.
When we do use the process, the County Board too often disregards the input. Of course, it is naïve to believe that the Board should always follow the recommendations, but when at midnight Board members are making changes to staff proposals and voting that same night – that does not inspire sufficient confidence in the Board’s decisions.
Peter Rousselot is a member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.
What is the “Arlington Way,” exactly?
It’s essentially an open conversation between the local government and the people who live and work in Arlington. But the Arlington Way can mean different things to different people, as the video above seems to prove.
Last month, under the leadership of County Board Chair Mary Hynes, Arlington held launch events for the PLACE (Participation, Leadership and Civic Engagement) initiative. PLACE is Hynes’ effort to “refresh and reinvigorate” the Arlington Way.
The video above was created as part of the PLACE launch events by the Arlington Virginia Network, the county’s cable TV channel.
Last year, then-County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman used the annual chairman’s New Year’s Day address to promise a pro-business agenda for 2011. Indeed, the agenda eventually became a reality. Throughout the year the county held a series of public forums for business owners, worked to streamline some regulatory process and finally, in December, the Board adopted a measure that allowed A-frame signs — a big item on local business owners’ wish lists.
This morning the new County Board Chairman, Mary Hynes, promised to enhance civic engagement in Arlington. Already famous for its process of including community stakeholders in decision making — a process broadly referred to as “The Arlington Way” — Hynes is seeking to more formally institutionalize Arlington County’s commitment to civic engagement.
To do so, Hynes is proposing to first create a “map” of the numerous nonprofit groups and community associations that make up Arlington’s civic landscape.
“Our hope is that this expands our understanding of what each Arlington group does… and becomes a valuable resource for each Arlingtonian, newcomer and old-timer, teen to senior, seeking to make connections in our community,” Hynes said.
Hynes also wants to officially define what “The Arlington Way” means. Appropriately, she proposes to come up with a definition by engaging in a wide-ranging community discussion.
“We will convene a formal county-wide conversation to develop a clear description of The Arlington Way as it applies to and should energize our decision-making going forward,” she said. “Working with County Board Members, Commissioners, County staff, and Arlington residents, non-profits, and businesses, we will delineate the roles and responsibilities of participants in our civic decision-making processes.”
In another new initiative, Hynes announced that every Monday night (except for federal holidays) a County Board member will hold a two-hour “open door” session, “where residents can discuss any County-related issue with a Board Member.” The sessions will be held from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.; session locations will be posted on the county web site.
With Election Day less than a month away, candidates for the Arlington County Board and School Board are honing in on their final pitches to voters.
And at a forum Wednesday night at Marymount University hosted by the Arlington Committee of 100, the six candidates clashed on a range of issues, from how to engage more millennials in county government to closing the achievement gap in Arlington Public Schools.
The format varied from previous forums, as each candidate was able to ask a question of their opponents before taking further questions from the audience.
Erik Gutshall and Monique O’Grady, who were victorious in the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s caucus earlier this year for County Board and School Board, respectively, both touted their experience in county issues.
Both agreed that while Arlington is largely on the right course, it can do better. Gutshall, who is the current chair of the Planning Commission, said the county must not make too many concessions to developers on proposed site plans.
“If we don’t stick to our plans and our negotiations… and we don’t stick to our values, then we’ve lost,” he said.
Independent County Board candidate Audrey Clement pointed to her regular attendance at the body’s monthly meetings as relevant experience.
And fellow independent Charles McCullough II said that beyond his involvement in the South Arlington Working Group among others, he would represent a fresh face with new ideas if elected to the County Board.
“We need to have other ideas, other experiences,” he said.
On the budget, Clement criticized the Board’s practice of spending closeout funds from higher tax revenue than anticipated. She said that the money should be paid forward to the following year to relieve the tax burden, rather than directed to “pet projects to satisfy its particularized constituencies.”
McCullough argued that developers in Arlington must pay their “fair share” to help make up budget shortfalls, while Gutshall said that rising property values must not be treated as a “blank check” for increased spending.
Among the School Board candidates, there were some sharp differences. O’Grady and fellow candidate Alison Dough agreed that the Arlington Career Center represents a “good opportunity” for a fourth comprehensive high school. But Mike Webb, running for School Board after an unsuccessful tilt at Rep. Don Beyer’s (D-Va.) seat in the U.S. House of Representatives last year, disagreed.
Instead, he said, School Board members should focus on ensuring instruction is as good as possible, and that no students are left behind.
“Before we build another high school, we have to think about the achievement gap that affects all our students,” Webb said.
And on the subject of the upcoming boundary changes in Arlington Public Schools, Dough said that more immersion schools where classes are taught in more than one language could help relieve the capacity pressures on other buildings.
Dough, who said her special needs child inspired her to run for School Board, suggested more language programs, like immersion in Chinese, French or Russian to help APS students embrace new cultures.
“Let’s look at the boundary issue differently and give our parents a reason to switch schools,” she said.
And with the nationwide opioid epidemic also touching Arlington, O’Grady said parents and students alike must be educated on the risks and solutions.
“It’s in our neighborhoods, it’s in our communities,” she said. “Let’s come together to learn how to deal with this.”
All six agreed on the need for elected officials to encourage more county residents to get involved, and help uphold the so-called “Arlington Way.”
“We need to be opening that door,” Webb said. “We have to build that pathway to leadership.”
The candidates will face off in another forum Sunday (October 15) hosted by the local chapter of the League of Women Voters at Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street).
The three candidates for Arlington County Board agreed on the need for more affordable housing at a forum Tuesday night, but offered differing methods on how to achieve it.
Speaking at a forum hosted by the Arlington County Civic Federation at Virginia Hospital Center, the traditional kick-off for the fall campaign season, Audrey Clement, Erik Gutshall and Charles McCullough all argued more can be done.
McCullough, an independent endorsed by the Arlington Green Party, said the county must expand its use of rental assistance programs, especially for the likes of teachers and public safety workers like firefighters and police officers.
Democratic nominee Gutshall argued that the county should use its existing Affordable Housing Master Plan to create what he described as “missing middle housing” like apartments and townhouses for middle-income residents near Metro stations and along major thoroughfares.
“It’s a great formula to redefine our development paradigm and creates housing for the middle class,” he said.
To help prevent continued losses of such housing, Clement said the county should designate more areas as Local Historic Districts to capture architectural heritage and be tougher on developers.
McCullough agreed that developers should be held to a higher standard and compelled to provide more affordable housing and other amenities.
“For too long, development has meant displacement,” McCullough said. “That should not be the way, but unfortunately that has become the Arlington Way.”
Talk of the so-called “Arlington Way” of engaging with residents and gathering extensive community feedback came up when the candidates discussed how to get more people involved in local issues.
Clement argued that the Democrat-dominated County Board deters participation, as does a sense that controversial agenda items are left to the end of monthly meetings.
“It is really an endurance contest and that is really what discourages public participation,” Clement said.
Another emphasis of Gutshall: helping more small businesses open and operate more easily in Arlington. That follows reports of businesses having difficulty navigating the county’s permitting and inspection bureaucracy.
Earlier in the forum, Gutshall argued that he would go beyond party politics, and that the county’s progress has been not down to Democratic values, but “Arlington values.”
Gutshall emphasized that he was not a “hand-picked choice” of his party, after Democrats’ use of a caucus to pick their nominee was criticized as undemocratic by Clement. Both independents argued they would be unencumbered by any need to play “party politics” if elected to the Board.
“I tend to believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and that’s where the voters are,” Clement said, noting that she previously was a member of the Greens but became “disillusioned” after it veered too far left.
“We need to be able to have an unencumbered voice for the issues we have right now,” McCullough added.