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by ARLnow.com March 28, 2013 at 6:00 am 1,092 69 Comments

Public streetcar forumLast night’s Streetcar Town Hall meeting pitted neighbor against neighbor on the topic of the planned Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar systems.

The meeting, which was held at Kenmore Middle School, drew a near-capacity crowd estimated between 300 and 500 people. And while many opposing viewpoints were presented during the question and answer session of the event, there was one thing on which most people at the meeting seemed to agree.

Chris Zimmerman’s pay from AECOM seems pretty tiny compared to the scandal it generated.

Zimmerman was the subject of controversy in December when fellow Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey raised red flags about consulting work Zimmerman did for the Canadian division of AECOM, the construction, design and transportation conglomerate. The work, which Zimmerman disclosed, came at a time when the Board was considering adopting Virginia’s Public-Private Transportation Act, primarily for use on the streetcar project.

AECOM has had various contracts with Arlington County over the past few years, including some planning-related work for the streetcar project.

Chris Zimmerman speaks at the Streetcar Town Hall meetingDisclosure of Zimmerman’s work for AECOM fueled charges of “corruption” and became a talking point for streetcar critics — which led to the following question, asked by a resident Wednesday night.

“I’m sorry that I have to ask, but how is it not an ethics violation for a member of this board to be employed by a company that has financially benefitted from this project?”

“I believe that was aimed at me,” Zimmerman quipped. He then explained that he discloses all of his outside employment, even though he really doesn’t do much of it.

“Although this is nominally a part-time job, I have not done much in the way of outside work of any kind,” Zimmerman said. “I mostly work for you.”

“I do a little bit of consulting, and I’ve tried to do that in a way that avoids things that I do here,” he continued. “So I have done work outside this metropolitan area. Most of what I do is not subject to disclosure or reporting under Virginia law. Nonetheless, I choose to disclose everything, because my commitment to ethics in this job is something that’s of great importance to me. I think that’s something you want your elected officials to do.”

Zimmerman went on to say that most of his outside work is for nonprofits and government agencies not associated with Arlington. At that point he addressed the AECOM job, and made a somewhat surprising revelation.

“I did one job last year over the course of two days, on an hourly basis, for one company,” he said of the AECOM gig. “My total billing for that was $510.”

The crowd laughed, then applauded that disclosure. The topic of AECOM did not come up again during the nearly hour and a half question and answer session.

Editor’s Note: A more thorough recap of the Streetcar Town Hall will be published later today.

by Chris Teale August 9, 2017 at 1:15 pm 0

The project to extend the Interstate 395 Express Lanes from Fairfax County through Alexandria and Arlington to the D.C. line celebrated its ground-breaking ceremony this morning.

The toll lanes will be extended for eight miles north from Turkeycock Run near Edsall Road to the vicinity of Eads Street in Arlington, near the Pentagon.

The Virginia Department of Transportation partnered with toll road manager Transurban and contractors AECOM Engineering Company and Lane Construction to deliver the project. Construction is now underway and scheduled for completion in fall 2019.

The project will add a third reversible HOT lane on I-395, accessible for free by vehicles with three or more occupants and an E-ZPass Flex transponder, or for a toll by all others.

The lanes will generate funding for other transportation options in the region. Using toll money, Transurban will pay $15 million each year to local jurisdictions to help them pay for improvements. Among other projects, the south parking lot at the Pentagon is set for an overhaul, as are several nearby bridges.

The ceremony, atop a Pentagon City parking garage, marked the official start of construction. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) was joined by Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne and elected officials from across the area, including Arlington County Board chair Jay Fisette and fellow Board member Libby Garvey.

Layne said such partnerships between state government, local agencies and federal stakeholders have been crucial to move the project along, heralded as the largest in the United States.

“We knew what the construction was going to be, but it took collaboration and trust to get this project underway,” Layne said.

McAuliffe hailed the project for solving a “major headache for so many commuters going into and out of the District, and going to and from our great Pentagon.”

He added that as Virginia’s population continues to grow — with people attracted by its low taxes, strong business environment and other amenities like breweries and wineries, McAuliffe said — projects to improve congestion on the Commonwealth’s roads are vital.

“This is finally going to be solved, and this is going to be a game-changer for residents of Northern Virginia,” McAuliffe said.

For its part, Transurban promised to be good partners throughout construction and beyond.

Jennifer Aument, Transurban’s group general manager for North America, said workers are committed to the safety of all road users during work, and urged drivers in the area to avoid distractions, wear their seatbelt and watch their speed around the construction zone.

Aument also said Transurban would be a “good neighbor” and work with nearby neighborhoods to minimize any other disruptions.

“Now, we’ll get to work,” she said.

Work has already got underway in the existing I-395 high-occupancy toll lanes. On Monday, August 7, VDOT announced full night-time closures of the lanes in both directions from the southbound HOV exit ramp near Boundary Channel Drive to the northbound exit ramp from the 95 Express Lanes near Edsall Road.

And weather-permitting, some southbound regular lanes of I-395 will be closed overnight this week between Duke Street and Edsall Road. VDOT advised drivers to travel safely and pay attention to signs posted on the road.

by Peter Rousselot December 4, 2014 at 1:00 pm 1,022 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotIn a Nov. 13 column, I urged Arlington Public Schools and the Arlington County government to collaborate in thinking way outside the box in selecting sites for new school facilities.

Today, I urge them to be similarly creative and flexible in designing those new facilities.

Our neighbor, Fairfax County, has provided an example of such creativity and flexibility with the September opening of a new elementary school in vacant office space at Bailey’s crossroads. “As we continue to be a fast-growing school system and property becomes harder to come by, we will have to think differently” about school design, said Superintendent Karen Garza. “Vertical buildings will be part of our plan throughout the county.”

With roughly one-tenth the land area of Fairfax, Arlington must place even greater emphasis on vertical facilities. There are many obstacles to overcome, but we must come together as a community to overcome them.

Arlington need not re-invent the wheel on this issue. For example, several years ago, the state of Maryland prepared a study on vertical public school design. In a 14-page report, the Maryland study team summarized:

  • its methodology
  • the problems and issues it encountered, and
  • a series of possible solutions

The Maryland study team included public and private sector representatives from across the state. Many other localities in the U.S. (e.g., Los Angeles) and all over the world are planning vertical schools. Via AECOM:

Vertical schools are already being successfully designed and delivered…, including the Hampden Gurney primary school in London. … [T]his school [is] to be constructed over 6 levels on a space-restricted site. Incorporating a playground on the roof with play decks on intermediate floors, schools like this are set to inform the design process for similar schools in Australia.

So what’s driving the growth of these schools as opposed to more conventionally designed ones? … Population growth is seeing young families settle in high-density areas, attracted by associated lifestyle benefits that also make the “traditional” school design model harder to achieve.

Sound familiar?

Vertical schools are just one example of the kind of flexibility and creativity Arlington needs in order to address the design issues presented by the school capacity crisis. A whole host of other issues need to be on the table, for example: how existing space within current school facilities could be re-designed in order to be more effectively utilized.

Since incremental funds to address the school capacity crisis deserve the highest priority in our County budget, a portion of our community resources should be devoted to innovative school facility design.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by ARLnow.com November 6, 2013 at 3:35 pm 4,511 0

(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) Chris Zimmerman is retiring from the Arlington County Board to accept a position with the group Smart Growth America.

Zimmerman is expected to step down from the Board at the end of January. A special election will be held in the spring to fill his open seat.

A resident of the Douglas Park neighborhood off Columbia Pike, Zimmerman was first elected to the County Board in 1996. He is leaving the Board to join Smart Growth America as its Vice President of Economic Development.

After being reelected in 2010, Zimmerman said he initially intended to serve out his four-year term, but those plans since changed.

“Today I am giving my three months notice,” he said at an announcement in the County Board Room in Courthouse this afternoon. “I never planned to be a County Board member indefinitely… but the kind of position that I had hoped to find has come my way a bit sooner than I would have expected.”

“I will be pleased to return to the life of a regular citizen in Arlington,” Zimmerman said. “I cannot possibly express the gratitude I feel for the tremendous honor and opportunity I have been given to serve this amazing community. It is not an easy job, but it is as energizing and rewarding as any I can imagine having spent the past couple of decades doing.”

Zimmerman’s last day on the board will be sometime in January, he said, and there will be a special election in either late March or early April. In between, the County Board will conduct business with only four members.

Zimmerman touted Arlington County’s track record of promoting smart growth, in places like the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and along Columbia Pike. He said he looks forward to sharing lessons from Arlington’s economic development success with other communities.

“Today I feel great satisfaction for what we have achieved,” he said. “Arlington is looked upon with admiration in our region and beyond.”

Zimmerman’s colleague, County Board Chair Walter Tejada, stood beside him during the announcement and said afterward that Zimmerman will be missed on the Board.

“On behalf of the citizens of Arlington County, I want to thank you for your extraordinary service to our community,” Tejada said. “Our community is better and our quality of life is better since you came into office.”

During the announcement, Zimmerman noted that he had been doing some part-time work for Smart Growth America before he was asked to join full-time. Zimmerman survived a minor political controversy last year when it was revealed that he had done some consulting work for AECOM, a conglomerate that has had various contracts with Arlington County over the past few years, including some planning-related work for the streetcar project.

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by Peter Rousselot July 18, 2013 at 11:15 am 1,357 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotAs the County slow walks the “independent, third-party review” of the infamous $1 million Super Stop, recently released documents under Virginia FOIA reveal an even bigger fiasco than first reported.

We now know that in 2003, the County contracted with the consulting firm Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum (HOK) for Super Stop design work then estimated to cost about $470,000. For that kind of money, the County staff was entitled to go back and forth with HOK on minutiae, but on basics like protection from the rain nobody seemed to be paying attention. The focus on minute details and the contractor’s responsibility for “construction administration” refute the County Board’s attempt to shift blame to WMATA.

Now, the County Board has promised an independent, third-party review of what happened. That is exactly what we need. But, incredibly, a May 2013 internal County staff memorandum proposes that the same consulting firm (HOK) that created the Super Stop design be rehired to do this review.

Here is the County staff’s logic: “The intent of this work is to only have design modifications made, whereas if a different design firm were used, the concern is that an entire re-design would take place which would increase the project costs and schedule.”

County staff wants to hire (or rather re-hire) the fox to guard the henhouse. Hopefully, it’s not too late for someone to overrule this staff recommendation and get the independent review we were promised.

The continuing $1 million Super Stop fiasco is yet another red flag for the $310 million Columbia Pike streetcar proposal. The Federal Transit Administration concluded that the County Board underestimated this proposal’s cost by $60 million, and therefore Arlington and Fairfax counties were not entitled to the $75 million grant for which they had applied under the federal “Small Starts” program. The contractor who developed the cost estimate that was off by $60 million was AECOM, and Arlington paid them millions of dollars for that work.

The County has promised, but not yet delivered, a truly-independent review of a one million dollar Super Stop.
There are at least 310 times more reasons for the County to make and deliver on the same promise regarding the proposed streetcar.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Ethan Rothstein July 17, 2013 at 2:15 pm 1,554 0

Columbia Pike streetcar renderingThe County Board approved an agreement with Fairfax County to move forward as partners in the Columbia Pike streetcar project Tuesday night, but the basic step with the already-approved transit system was again faced with opposition in the board room.

A number of speakers used the opportunity to again denounce the project. They were joined on the dais by Board member Libby Garvey, who made a motion to defer the vote until after a cost-benefit analysis could be done. Her motion died after it did not receive a second.

“This project feels so un-Arlington in its approach,” Garvey said. “We’re not quite sure what it’s going to need, what it’s going to cost… or where the money is coming from, but we’re determined to build it no matter what.”

The cost of the Columbia Pike streetcar project is expected to be at least $250 million. The county is still mulling ways to pay for it, after its initial federal grant request was denied.

The agreement passed Tuesday  — which is expected to be approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors later this month — puts Arlington in line to pay for 80.4 percent of the planning and design phase of the project while Fairfax pays for 19.6 percent. The motion passed 4-to-1, with Garvey dissenting.

Board Chair Walter Tejada and Board member Chris Zimmerman reiterated that the streetcar project had already been approved following a public process, and the partnership agreement with Fairfax County was simply another in many steps the Board will need to approve before the streetcar can be built.

“This is essentially a routine matter to carry out a policy that’s already been established,” Zimmerman said. “Just saying a cost-benefit analysis hasn’t been done doesn’t make it true.”

The speakers came to the podium during the public comment portion of the meeting to air their grievances, which ranged from balking at the cost to accusing the County Board and County Manager Barbara Donnellan of “fraud.”

“We all know how congested Columbia Pike can get, and sadly, we remember tragedies that occurred there,” said Paul Watlington, a streetcar critic. “What I don’t understand is how we think we can have cars, bicycles, buses, school buses, and industrial vehicles all sharing lanes with a streetcar.”

Arlington was designated the lead partner in the agreement, and the Board also approved awarding a planning and design contract to AECOM for $999,131.

“I can think of several better things to spend $1,000,000 on than a trolley we don’t even know we have the money to build,” said Pike resident John Antonelli. We need to decide if we have the funds to build an expensive, maintenance intensive, and inflexible trolley system or if a rapid bus can fill the bill.”

In December, AECOM was the subject of some local intrigue after it was revealed that Zimmerman had done paid consulting work for the contractor’s Canadian division. In March he said he only made $510 from the arrangement.

Several speakers showed up in support of the streetcar project, with some saying they had bought houses along Columbia Pike once they heard of the streetcar.

“The streetcar is clearly the best option for the Pike,” Lander Allin said. “It will get the most people out of their cars and onto public transit, it will move the most people, it will do the most to spur the development that the community has decided that it wants.”

by ARLnow.com April 10, 2013 at 9:25 am 1,471 0

A tree in bloom in Rosslyn

Streetcar Forum Tonight — The Arlington Committee of 100 will be holding a forum tonight entitled “Streetcar for Columbia Pike: Are the Benefits Worth the Costs?” The forum will be moderated by Sun Gazette editor Scott McCaffrey and the scheduled speakers are Arlington Chamber of Commerce Chairman David Decamp (speaking in favor of the streetcar) and ARLnow.com columnist Peter Rousselot (speaking against the streetcar). The event will take place at 8:00 p.m. at Marymount University (2807 N. Glebe Road). [Arlington Committee of 100]

Pricey Streetcar FOIA Request — Local fiscal watchdog Tim Wise is decrying the price tag attached to a Freedom of Information Act request he made regarding the Columbia Pike streetcar project. The county says Wise’s wide-ranging request will cost $2,858 to process. More than 80 percent of that cost would go to AECOM, a consultant working on the county’s transit program. [Sun Gazette]

Record Temperature Possible Today — The official high temperature at Reagan National Airport might be tied or even broken today. The high temperature at DCA for today, April 10, is 89 degrees, set in 1922. [Capital Weather Gang]

Mary Marshall Scholarship Applications — The Arlington County Commission on the Status of Women is now accepting applications for the 2013 Mary Marshall Memorial Scholarships. The $1,500-2,000 scholarships are intended for Arlington high school graduates who intend to attend Northern Virginia Community College and pursue careers in public service. [Arlington County]

by ARLnow.com March 28, 2013 at 12:40 pm 1,971 190 Comments

(Updated at 2:10 p.m.) Four members of the Arlington County Board, along with county staff, made their best cases for streetcars in Crystal City and along Columbia Pike Wednesday night, to a largely skeptical audience that peppered them with questions about why the streetcar would be superior to buses.

The streetcar townhall meeting at Kenmore Middle School attracted a near-capacity crowd of up to 500 people, according to one county staff estimate. Based on the relative volume of applause at various points, the crowd seemed to be almost 2:1 against the streetcar.

The Board, like the audience, was divided. On one side was Chris Zimmerman, Jay Fisette, Mary Hynes, and Walter Tejada, who said the streetcar “encourages people to get out of their cars, and encourages developers to invest,” while also increasing ridership capacity.

“Streetcars are at the center of the vision for the Route 1 and Columbia Pike corridors,” Tejada said. “Buses alone cannot provide the transit capacity and capability that we need to transform these areas. By themselves, buses cannot serve the projected ridership.”

Sitting at the end of the County Board table on stage was Libby Garvey, who garnered applause as she led the charge against the streetcar and in favor of an enhanced bus system. Garvey said she was concerned about the streetcar’s price tag ($250 million for the Columbia Pike line alone) and about disruptions to small business during construction.

“I believe Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) will get as much development as a streetcar, maybe even more,” Garvey said. “You can get the same benefit for a lot less money, which means that there’s a lot of money left over to actually help small businesses. My biggest concern is [the construction process]… no matter what we do, people will not be able to get to those small businesses, and they can’t survive.”

Those points were countered by county staff, who that said studies have shown that fixed rail attracts more investment, that BRT without dedicated lanes (like it would be on the Pike) does not attract development,  and that the rail construction process will take place in small sections that will only take about a month to complete. Staff also said that a survey of Pike residents indicates that nearly 20 percent of respondents would ride a streetcar but not a bus.

Garvey was skeptical, calling into question some of the studies done that supported the streetcar option over BRT.

“The statistics that are cited, it’s really fact of fiction,” she said.

Perhaps the biggest round of applause of the evening came during the nearly 90 minute question and answer session, when a resident asked about having a referendum on the streetcar.

“If this is such a good idea, why don’t you allow the county to vote on it?” one man asked. Wild applause, and a chant of “Vote! Vote! Vote!” ensued.

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by Mark Kelly March 14, 2013 at 3:00 pm 1,328 92 Comments

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column by published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyAfter last week’s post on the prohibitively expensive FOIA estimate the county gave for documents related to the Columbia Pike trolley project, I did some digging.

According to Virginia law, a public body may make “reasonable charges for its actual cost” and may not charge for any “extraneous, intermediary or surplus fees or expenses” related to producing a response to a FOIA request.

If you look at advisory council opinions on the matter, it seems as though those charges can include county staff time to produce FOIA responses. So, the $517 estimated charge from the county for staff time certainly seems in order.

At first the $2,341 charge for AECOM staff time seemed to be included in the estimate largely to make the price tag to view the documents in question out of reach for the person requesting them. This price tag leads many people to think the county may have something to hide about the project.

After reading through advisory council opinions, the county may also need to revisit whether they can even request a fee to pay for AECOM’s services under Virginia law.

The first issue is the definition of “intermediary” as well as the meaning of “its actual cost” as they apply to AECOM. In my brief research, I did not find an advisory council opinion directly on point in regards to paying a consultant. However, one opinion called into question fees for an attorney to review FOIA documents.

It said, “in most situations, if a public body chooses to have an attorney review FOIA requests and responses, it may do so, but should do so at its own expense, or charge no more than it would charge to have administrative or support staff perform the same work.” This begs the question: Can the county charge for AECOM’s work at all, or only charge hours by AECOM employees at the same rate as hours for a county staff member to do the same work?

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by Mark Kelly March 7, 2013 at 3:00 pm 1,102 39 Comments

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column by published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyAccording to Arlington County, it will cost $2,858 to produce records in response to a recent FOIA request on the Columbia Pike trolley project.

The FOIA request was for e-mails, memos and other specified documents between county staff, consultants and County Board members in regards to the preference of a particular station for the Skyline trolley stop, the location of the maintenance facility, traffic impacts on Columbia Pike during construction, economic development, and other issues.

Of that $2,858 cost, $2,341 would go to AECOM — the County’s consultant on the project and County Board member Chris Zimmerman’s new employer. The effective rate per hour for AECOM’s work is approximately $180 when you include their expenses and fees. Is it any wonder Zimmerman signed a consulting contract with them? Good work if you can get it.

The county’s share made up the additional $517, a bargain by comparison, at an hourly rate of just under $65 per hour.

No average citizen can fork over $2,858 for copies of these documents. The county seems to be hiding behind this cost to keep the documents out of public view, signaling an aversion to transparency when it comes to the massive project.

What the county staff should do is offer to provide all of their copies of the documents requested for $517. Since the county was in receipt of virtually all requested documents, this seems like a reasonable solution to provide an appropriate level of transparency.

Speaking of numbers that do not add up, the Arlington Public School superintendent recently released a proposed budget for next year.

The total topline spending number in Superintendent Murphy’s budget was $520.4 million. The total projected enrollment is 23,586. For those of you with calculators, that equals $22,063 per student.

According to the superintendent’s budget presentation, however, we will be spending $18,709 per pupil. So, the published amount provided to the public is $3,354 or 18% less than the actual amount.

By my quick “back of the envelope” calculations, it seems as though the superintendent only counts $441 million of the $520 million in his per pupil numbers. I can only assume from his presentation that state and federal aid do not count. However, based on Arlington’s median income, I think we can safely say that Arlington taxpayers pay more than their fair share of state and federal taxes. In other words, Arlingtonians are picking up this share of the school funding tab as well.

I am sure someone has a politically expedient explanation for why this spending does not count in the per pupil calculation. But, it seems disingenuous to people who care about things like accountability, transparency, or even math. This is coming from our school superintendent after all.

Regardless of whether you think we do not spend enough on our schools, too much, or just right, shouldn’t we be honest about what we are actually spending to educate each of our children?

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

by ARLnow.com January 24, 2013 at 2:00 pm 33 Comments

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column by published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

GOP county board candidate Mark KellyIf you like two hour debates on the placement of chairs for outdoor cafe seating, then get ready, because the Arlington County Board will conduct its first regular business meeting of the year this Saturday. While this month’s Board’s agenda itself may not produce big fireworks, there is one sub-plot that many of us will be watching.

Last January, Libby Garvey was not Chris Zimmerman’s choice to replace Barbara Favola on the Board. Melissa Bondi was. Now we may know why.

In December, Garvey rocked the boat by making public her concerns about the newly formed consulting arrangement between Zimmerman and AECOM East Canada. The company stands to benefit from work on the proposed Columbia Pike trolley.

When Garvey raised the issue in light of the vote to move forward under the Public-Private Transportation Act (PPTA), the other three Board Members quickly rallied to Zimmerman’s defense. However, they seemed more upset that Garvey aired the matter in public than the very real concern over any appearance of impropriety from the Zimmerman arrangement.

For his part, Zimmerman checked with the County Attorney who maintains there is no way for him to manipulate PPTA guidelines to benefit his new employer.

On its face, Zimmerman’s consulting contract is to only do work for the company in Canada, and none of us should begrudge our “part-time” Board Members having a day job. In fact, some rightly contend more Board Members with regular day jobs would bring much-needed perspective to the debate on Arlington issues. At the very least, people with day jobs might not carry on debates ‘til the wee hours of the morning.

That said, it is right for Garvey to question Zimmerman’s impartiality on issues that could impact his new employer. The arrangement, at the least, seems a little cozy and conveniently timed to the Board’s pressing forward on the trolley project. What should concern Arlingtonians is that only one Member of the Board appears to believe this contract should be subject to additional public scrutiny.

At the New Year’s Day meeting, Garvey continued the back and forth by using her time to call for a new community dialogue on the trolley. Zimmerman, the trolley’s chief backer for at least a decade, indicated that the decision had already been made and the Board would move forward.

Then last week, the new multi-partisan Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit launched. The group may give Arlingtonians a real platform to put pressure on the Board to revisit the issue in spite of Mr. Zimmerman’s pronouncement that the decision was final. (In the interest of full disclosure, while I was not asked to be an original member of this group, I am joining it.)

We can watch the meeting Saturday to see how the next scene in the Garvey-Zimmerman drama plays out. If nothing else, watch to learn a little more about how our local government works.

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

by Katie Pyzyk December 11, 2012 at 1:55 pm 5,058 88 Comments

(Updated at 2:15 p.m.) Following a heated debate, last night the Arlington County Board adopted guidelines allowing the county to enter into public-private partnerships for transportation projects like the planned Crystal City streetcar.

The Board spent hours discussing and hearing testimony about the Virginia Public-Private Transportation Act of 1995 (PPTA) before ultimately adopting the guidelines in a 4-1 vote. Board member Libby Garvey was the lone dissenter, raising numerous questions about the PPTA and its safeguards. She reiterated previous statements she made about wishing for more time to examine the implications of adopting the guidelines.

“This is an incredibly complex legal document here and I don’t know that we should be doing it on the fly,” Garvey said.

“We’re not doing it on the fly,” countered Board Chair Mary Hynes. “You’ve had it since November 9. We’ve all spent time on it and have been briefed on it.”

Last week, Garvey brought up a concern regarding Board member Chris Zimmerman’s participation in the PPTA vote, claiming it was a conflict of interest due to his consulting work with AECOM, a large construction, design and transportation conglomerate. Arlington County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac informed the Board there was no conflict of interest, and the three other Board members spoke out on Saturday (December 8) against Garvey’s request for Zimmerman to recuse himself from the vote.

Audrey Clement, who ran for County Board as a Green Party member, spoke to the Board in support of Zimmerman recusing himself.

“The matter before the Board tonight involves no monetary transaction. Nevertheless, Mr. Zimmerman may well have the appearance of a conflict of interest because his employer, or client, will undoubtedly seek a contract in the future,” said Clement. “The guidance to be adopted by the county tonight will be the vehicle by which it secures the county’s business. Therefore, I think Mr. Zimmerman, and I agree with Libby Garvey on this point, ought to recuse himself from tonight’s vote.”

Clement further suggested that the county’s desire to adopt the PPTA indicates it doesn’t have enough other funding to construct the streetcar without help from the private sector.

Current state senator and former Board member Barbara Favola also took to the podium. She congratulated the Board for considering the guidelines.

“I see no reason why you would not pursue this additional tool,” said Favola. “Of course, you have to work at it, you have to make it work for you. You have to remember your job, you have to remember that you are responsible for being transparent. But I have confidence that you will do that.”

Garvey, who has previously expressed reservations regarding the streetcar project, said she believed Monday’s vote brings the county one step closer to implementing the streetcar plan.

“If we vote today we are one vote away from awarding the contract for the streetcar,” Garvey said.

She was reminded that the vote was about adopting guidelines, not making a decision about the streetcar construction.

“I would respectfully disagree with your interpretation, Mrs. Garvey, of what this Board has just talked about,” said Hynes.

Zimmerman largely refrained from participating in the debate, only offering a statement immediately before the vote. He noted his disclosure of his consulting work in order to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, and re-stated the County Attorney’s view on the matter.

“I take very seriously my obligation to maintain the highest ethical standards, to which I have held myself since I took office,” said Zimmerman. “I have been advised in consultation with the County Attorney that I do not have a conflict of interest arising out of my professional work that would require me to make a formal disclosure or would disqualify me from participating in the consideration of the PPTA guidelines now before the Board.”

The guidelines will go into effect on April 1, 2013. Until that time, the county will work on putting in place the necessary processes and resources for considering proposals under the PPTA.

by ARLnow.com December 8, 2012 at 2:15 pm 9,453 198 Comments

Three members of the Arlington County Board are speaking out against fellow Board member Libby Garvey.

In a statement released to reporters Saturday afternoon (below), Board Chair Mary Hynes and members Jay Fisette and Walter Tejada said they were “dismayed” that Garvey released an internal email she sent to them regarding what she saw as a possible conflict of interest in Board member Chris Zimmerman’s business dealings.

The Board is set to vote Monday on adoption of Virginia’s Public-Private Transportation Act (PPTA), which would allow the county to seek a public-private partnership for its streetcar project. Garvey asked whether Zimmerman should recuse himself, since he recently started doing consulting work for AECOM, a large planning, design and construction conglomerate that has worked on numerous streetcar and light rail project.

Hynes, Fisette and Tejada say that Zimmerman properly disclosed his work, and that Garvey’s “allegation that Mr. Zimmerman has a conflict of interest… has no basis in Virginia law.”

We are dismayed by recently-elected County Board member Libby Garvey’s public release of her email correspondence to us dated December 5. Her allegation that Mr. Zimmerman has a conflict of interest when it comes to voting on a change to our purchasing procedures for transportation projects has no basis in Virginia law or in fact – as the County Attorney has clearly laid out.

Mrs. Garvey strives to connect the Board’s consideration of the Virginia Public-Private Transportation Act (PPTA) to the possibility of a future conflict due to Mr. Zimmerman’s recent work with AECom Canada East as a consultant on projects limited by his contract to the greater Montreal area. Being a County Board member is classified as a “part-time” job and each of us has, from time to time, done other work for which we have been paid. Each of us has disclosed that income as required by Virginia law. Mr. Zimmerman’s October letter is a reflection of his commitment to transparency, filed with the Board Clerk and given to each of us in advance of any legal requirement so that all could be aware of his limited contract with AECom Canada East.

The proposal to consider the PPTA guidelines has been up on the County website since November 9. Consideration by the County Board, scheduled for late November, was delayed to December 10 at Mrs. Garvey’s request with an invitation for outstanding issues and questions to be identified for staff and Board review. To date, the Board has received two letters — both supportive of adopting the guidelines.

In an effort to provide greater clarity to the community, the Board has drafted and made public a resolution for consideration on December 10, that accompanies the PPTA guidelines and gives further direction to the Manager. This resolution requires the Manager to provide information about any unsolicited proposals to the Board at key junctures – including posting them on the County website – and to implement a plan for public review should any proposal be deemed worthy of further consideration. Because the PPTA can be used for any transportation facility, the public review would be tailored to the specific project. All of these procedures are consistent with Arlington’s practice of checks and balances to protect the integrity of our processes.

We have every confidence that this level of transparency will provide the Board, County staff and interested Arlingtonians with the information they need to consider whether any PPTA proposal meets our goals in a way that is fiscally prudent and operationally efficient. Despite Ms. Garvey’s allegations, Monday’s proposed action presents no conflict of interest for County Board members and, again, have no basis in Virginia law.

Mary Hynes
Walter Tejada
Jay Fisette

by ARLnow.com December 6, 2012 at 4:15 pm 8,311 110 Comments

(Updated at 2:35 p.m. on 12/7/12) County Board Member Libby Garvey was recently reelected, having run on a platform of being an independent voice on the Board. True to that promise, today Garvey raised questions about the propriety of another Board member’s business dealings, given a matter currently before the Board.

Garvey is calling for the Board to delay its scheduled vote on adoption of Virginia’s Public-Private Transportation Act (PPTA). The vote is currently scheduled for Monday, after being deferred at the Nov. 27 Board meeting.

The County Board is considering using a private-public partnership for the design, construction and operation of the planned Crystal City streetcar. The Board would need to adopt the state PPTA in order to enter such a partnership.

Garvey, however, has expressed concerns about the PPTA, maintaining that additional public interest safeguards are needed. She cited “problems with the PPTA procurement for the [Metro] Silver Line,” and a recent report by the Southern Environmental Law Center that found “flaws” in the Virginia PPTA, as reasons why the Board needs “more time to study the implications of adopting the PPTA guidelines and to consider safeguards that will ensure full and open competition and true risk-sharing by the private sector.”

In an email sent to the rest of the Board this morning, Garvey took her concerns a step further, raising questions about whether Board member Chris Zimmerman should be voting on the PPTA, given that he recently disclosed that he’s working as a consultant for AECOM, a large construction, design and transportation conglomerate. AECOM has worked on streetcar and light rail projects in a number of U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Atlanta, New Orleans, Minneapolis and Grand Rapids.

(A representative from the Minneapolis project spoke at a County Board work session last month about the city’s experience with its public-private partnership.)

In the email, Garvey asked Zimmerman to consider recusing himself from the PPTA vote given the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Dear Colleagues:

I spoke with Chris briefly yesterday afternoon about our possible vote on Monday concerning the PPTA and asked if he would consider delaying and then if he would recuse himself from the vote. At the moment, Chris sees no reason to delay or recuse himself.

So I am writing to all of you because I am very concerned about how this could look to our public and this concerns us all. Chris sent us a letter on October 25, 2012, notifying the Board of his consultant contract with AECOM Canada East. In that letter, Chris stated that “there is the possibility that at a future point it may be necessary for me to disclose my affiliation with the company in matters coming before the Board . . . and to even disqualify myself from participation in those matters.” In the letter, Chris also states that he wants “to be certain to anticipate any potential conflict of interest (or appearance of conflict) that could arise.” I think with the PPTA issue we are at that point and hope Chris will reconsider, and that we all can take a step back here.

Since I am new to the Board, I have only recently become aware of the extensive contractual relationships that have existed between AECOM and Arlington County Government for at least the last few years. With respect to Columbia Pike, AECOM has participated in the Transit Initiative Traffic Report, the peer review of capital cost estimates for the streetcar, the Columbia Pike Land Use and Housing Study and the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Plan. AECOM also has worked on the Crystal City Multimodal Transportation Study, the Four Mile Run Demonstration Project, and the Crystal City Second Entrance and Access Study. AECOM has several offices in Arlington, briefed us tonight on streetcar vehicles, and was one of the companies to brief us about public private partnerships — the exact issue we will be voting on. I think anyone would assume that it is quite likely they will be doing additional work for the County and, should we adopt the PPTA, they will be submitting an unsolicited bid.

AECOM has been and continues to work on streetcar projects and other transportation projects in the United States, Canada and elsewhere. Its website includes a section on public private partnerships (P3) and states: “AECOM has been involved in at least 90 percent of the Unites States P3 transportation projects.” The company states that P3 projects work well when, among other factors, there is “political support from the top.”

As you well know, the Board had on its November 27th agenda adoption of guidelines for public-private partnerships, pursuant to Virginia’s Public-Private Transportation Act (PPTA). This Act, and our proposed guidelines, would allow a company to present an unsolicited bid to construct and manage major transportation projects, including the streetcar. Given the current economy and limits of federal and state funding, the Board has been receiving information about the possibility of a public-private partnership to fund the streetcar. Last week, I asked that we not act on the proposed guidelines because the PPTA has been flagged as having flaws that (contrary to what we have been told to expect) can allow, and have allowed, the shift of risk from the private to the public sector. These are serious concerns affecting not only our streetcar decision, but also decisions on large projects in the future. We did not have sufficient information to make such a significant decision then. We still do not have sufficient information to act on this, either about necessary safeguards we should implement, nor about Chris’ relationship with AECOM should he continue to decide he need not recuse himself.

A thorough understanding about necessary safeguards aside, in light of Chris’s letter regarding his consultant relationship with AECOM Canada East, I believe that the Board should not act at this time on guidelines that address the selection of contractors on transportation projects and the risks to be borne by the contractor and taxpayers. Chris notes in his letter his desire to anticipate any future conflict of interest or appearance of conflict of interest. I believe we all want that. I also believe there clearly could be an appearance of a conflict with the vote on the PPTA guidelines. I believe we all need to know the facts regarding the County’s contractual and other business relationships with AECOM and all the pertinent details regarding Chris’s consulting relationship with AECOM Canada East. Without these kinds of disclosures, it is not possible to determine the degree to which a conflict of interest, or the appearance of conflict of interest, may exist. As we all know, in the public realm, the appearance of a conflict is as important as the facts. Perceptions are everything.

Finally, I know that we all value the excellent reputation that Arlington has earned for good government and understand that even an appearance of impropriety can tarnish that reputation. That result can easily be avoided in this situation either by waiting to vote on the guidelines until all the facts are disclosed or by Chris deciding not to vote on the PPTA guidelines. Finally, since there are reasons other than those relating to an actual or potential conflict of interest to defer voting on the guidelines, that necessary delay would also allow us the time to obtain and review the facts relating to the conflict issues.

As always, I am happy to discuss this. Libby

Arlington County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac tells ARLnow.com he doesn’t see any reason Zimmerman would need to recuse himself. He pointed out that the vote pertains to adopting guidelines, not awarding a contract. Because no contract is being awarded and there’s no financial benefit to Zimmerman, he says there’s no conflict of interest.

“My advice to Zimmerman is he doesn’t have a conflict and he doesn’t need to recuse himself. I think all five Board members are eligible to vote on this,” said MacIsaac. “There’s certainly no reason for Zimmerman to recuse himself.”

MacIsaac adds that Zimmerman didn’t immediately have to inform his fellow Board members of his work as an AECOM consultant, but he appears to have done so to allow for transparency.

“He could have just kept it to himself and not said a word and worked out the conflicts when and if one arises,” said MacIsaac.

MacIsaac noted that there may be conflicts related to Zimmerman’s consulting in the future, but they will be dealt with should they arise. He stresses that currently no issue has been found.

“I think it’s unfortunate the Conflicts Act would be raised under these circumstances,” MacIsaac said. “It just doesn’t seem fair.”

MacIsaac sent a memo to the Board yesterday (Thursday) explaining his view. An excerpt from the memo reads:

“The claim of impropriety appears to be based on a projection into the future about what an entity related to the AE Com subsidiary with which Mr. Zimmerman has an employment relationship might do in the future. Such speculative forecasting about potential conflicts in the future creates a standard few elective officials can meet, because it is not grounded in actual facts. It suggests a rule that would prohibit Board members from participating in transactions coming before the Board because their personal interests or those of their family members might one day in the future intersect with County business.”

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