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by ARLnow.com — May 27, 2016 at 3:45 pm 0

Flags In at Arlington National Cemetery, just prior to Memorial Day

Memorial Day weekend is finally here. We hope you enjoy a well-deserved relaxing weekend.

The reason for the holiday, however, is to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Arlington, of course, is home to the Pentagon, the Air Force Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, making Memorial Day a particularly poignant occasion here.

Among those traveling to Arlington to mark the holiday are the motorcycle riders of Rolling Thunder, who are expected to rumble into town en masse today, and a group of Vietnam War vets who are getting a police escort on I-66 tomorrow morning.

There may be traffic disruptions and some extra noise, but on a weekend like this our out of town guests should be welcomed with open arms.

With that, feel free to discuss Memorial Day or any other issue of local interest in the comments.

ARLnow.com will return with some content and breaking news coverage on Monday, and full local news coverage on Tuesday. Please note that Wednesday might be a bit lighter of a news day than usual for us, as we will be moving our office throughout the day.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — May 26, 2016 at 3:30 pm 0

Rental Trends banner

This biweekly sponsored column is written by the experts at Gordon James Realty, a local property management firm that specializes in residential real estate, commercial real estate and home owner associations. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.

Whether you are managing your rental property on your own, or have hired a property manager, here are three things we at Gordon James Realty take into consideration when calculating the rental rate for a given property.

Market Research

First, we get a feel for comparable properties in your area. Study listings and units for rent locally and ask the following questions to get an idea of how your property compares:

  • Is the rental located in an area that’s particularly attractive to tenants?
  • Is it larger (or smaller) than typical properties with similar specifications?
  • Is the property likely to attract certain groups, such as students, families or young professionals?

Based on the answers to the above questions, we hone in on comparable properties and adjust the rent up or down to account for positive and negative differences. Pay attention to length of time comparable properties remain on the market. Those that are rented out immediately may be well-priced (or underpriced).

Operating Expenses

While the rent should be competitive in the local market, you also need to be able to cover your costs. Look at your budget and estimate your operating expenses. Consider what you’ll spend on mortgage payments, if any, insurance, taxes and an adequate amount to spend annually to maintain and improve the property and make sure your investment will produce adequate income.

Keep in mind, you might not be able to cash flow positive and this is something that should be determined when you perform due diligence on your investment property, before you purchase. Consult your accountant for possible tax breaks in any losses you take on the property.

Flexibility with Quality Tenants

In some situations, it might make sense to discount the rent in order to attract a great tenant. For example, if an applicant has a stellar credit score or is willing to sign a longer lease, you could offer a small discount on rent. Say you knock $100 off the $2,500 rent to seal the deal. In one year you’d make $1,200 less, just half of what you would lose if the apartment sits vacant for just one month. If the tenant signs a longer lease, you’ll save the costs of vacancy between tenants as well as costs to turn over the rental.

For additional resources on how much rent to charge and other property management questions, please visit our resource center.

by Mark Kelly — May 26, 2016 at 1:00 pm 0

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.

Mark KellyThe eyes of our nation turn to Arlington National Cemetery each year as we remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms on Memorial Day. It is a debt we can never repay, but we can honor it by ensuring their sacrifice was not in vain.

Yes, Board Chair Garvey should have started the push for the Blue Ribbon Panel earlier. However, opponents effectively gutted the Panel when they were successful in delaying it. The Panel was supposed to bring a fresh set of eyes to a report due by December rather than leaving it to county staff. Fearing this independent review, status quo forces in Arlington carried the day — using Garvey’s hotly contested primary as a cudgel to do so. These special interests who lobby the Board are fine with spending tens of millions of dollars in the closeout process each year with virtually no public input. But empanelling a small group of people to provide input on a report due every five years is apparently a bridge too far.

Metro chief Paul Wiedefeld fired 20 managers at the transit agency — about 3% of the at-will employees. The move sends a signal to the public that he is serious about making real changes. The message he sent to all the other Metro employees who are still there — you will be held accountable. Next up for the region, working through the extended shutdowns and single tracking to address safety concerns.

The proposed CIP would put nearly $180 million in bonds before Arlington voters in November. This is before any bonds requested by the School Board, which could total more than $140 million. At first glance, at least some of the items seem to fall into the category of ongoing expenses, not one-time infrastructure needs. Any time you see the word “maintenance,” you should ask yourself, why we do not budget for it on an ongoing basis?

Also in the County Manager’s CIP presentation is a projection that debt service will continue to grow at a rate of 4.2%. However, annual debt service would rise from $109.6 million in FY 2017 to $149.1 million in FY 2022, or nearly 36% in the first five years. The idea that we assume smaller debt service increases in the out years to make the 10 year average look better is a nice accounting gimmick if you want to tax, borrow and spend more now. Not only are those lower out year levels unlikely to hold, but the increased debt-to-revenue ratio maintains an upward pressure on tax rates in the near term in order to maintain our bond rating.

And finally, Governor McAuliffe said he was in “shock” that the FBI was investigating donations to his campaign. McAuliffe’s ties with the donor in question go back at least to the days of GreenTech Automotive. Then Governor Kaine’s administration rejected economic development funds for GreenTech because of concerns it looked like a cash-for-visas scheme.

Mark Kelly is the chairman of the 8th District Republican Committee, a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Peter Rousselot — May 26, 2016 at 12:15 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’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.

On May 9, APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy presented his preliminary recommendations regarding how APS’ Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) could reduce APS’ 4,600 total seat deficit in 2025. Murphy’s preliminary recommendations reduced only 53% of that deficit.

On May 17, the School Board (SB) reviewed and discussed Murphy’s recommendations. Dissatisfied with Murphy’s priorities, the SB adopted its own series of “key points,” including:

  • Increasing enrollment in the Arlington Tech Program at the Arlington Career Center.
  • Other options that place a higher priority on reducing the projected 2,775 HS seat deficit in 2025.
  • Possibilities for using the Reed building and site to develop a new elementary school to help reduce the projected 1,387 ES seat deficit in 2025.
  • Future additions at several North Arlington elementary schools further to relieve elementary overcrowding.

On May 24, in a joint work session with the County Board, the SB made significant further proposed changes to its CIP. These had not been posted on the County’s website when this column was submitted.

As a top instructional priority, APS should commit to a fourth comprehensive high school

The SB was correct to place a higher priority on solutions for the HS seat deficit, and the SB’s May 24 presentation claims to eliminate that deficit by 2025. However, the SB has not yet committed to making a fourth comprehensive HS part of the solution. It should.

In an earlier column, I outlined the case for a fourth comprehensive HS, including the extensive academic research documenting why 3,000 seat comprehensive high schools are a bad idea. Arlington cannot and should not rely solely on other initiatives like Arlington Tech, online learning, university partnerships, double shifting, or extending the school day.

On its own, and working collaboratively with the County, APS must significantly reduce the per-square-foot cost of new facilities construction

Under the CIP scenario presented on May 24, there are still significant elementary and middle school seat deficits in 2025, and those assume that actual enrollment does not exceed projected enrollment.

APS needs to adopt new approaches to reducing per-square foot costs:

  • In consultation with disinterested outside experts, APS and the County should conduct a stem-to-stern review of all aspects of APS’ procurement, bidding, design, and construction practices. If Arlington continues to pay for APS’ current version of new facilities customization, overcrowding will grow and instructional quality will erode.
  • Other school systems are embracing new modular school technologies. APS staff insists modular isn’t a good option in most Arlington circumstances. Do disinterested outside experts agree with APS?

In exchange for APS’ agreement to significantly reduce the per-square-foot cost of new facilities construction, the County should provide APS with land and a higher % share of bonding capacity

If APS commits to a new era of more frugal construction through standardization, the County — within the constraints of its “10% rule” on debt service — should give:

  • APS county land (but not current parkland), and
  • a higher % share of total Arlington bonding capacity.

To finance this commitment, the County should defer some proposed County investments until later in the CIP planning period.

Conclusion

Adopting a more frugal approach to procurement, bidding, design and construction, in exchange for county land and greater bonding capacity, will get us much closer to eliminating our current capacity crisis at a price we can afford.

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 Progressive Voice — May 26, 2016 at 11:30 am 0

Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes speaks to the Arlington Civic FederationProgressive 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.

by ARLnow.com — May 25, 2016 at 10:00 am 0

Construction on Central Place tower in RosslynIn some parts of the country, where rents and home prices have risen to stratospheric levels, there’s a curious new movement.

You’ve heard the term NIMBY — Not In My Backyard — used as a pejorative to describe those who oppose new development near them, even though they might not be opposed to the same project elsewhere. In San Francisco, Seattle, New York and elsewhere, however, YIMBYs are starting to organize.

The Yes In My Backyard movement supports efforts to build more housing, with the goal of building enough housing that supply and demand find an equilibrium and people stop getting priced out of the housing market.

YIMBYs reject typical NIMBY arguments — proposed buildings are too tall, would create too much traffic, would destroy the “character” of a neighborhood — as reactionary impediments to achieving better housing affordability. Instead of worrying about “greedy developers,” YIMBYs say “build, baby, build.”

One thing going for the NIMBYs, who can more charitably be called neighborhood preservationists, is that they are often well organized and mobilize like-minded residents to speak passionately at local government hearings on development. That is one reason why places like San Francisco have struggled to keep up with housing demand: developers face constant roadblocks from community groups who are effective at delaying projects or getting them blocked altogether at the local government level.

The price of housing in Arlington has been rising — not as dramatically as in San Francisco, mind you, but NIMBY vs. YIMBY fights have nonetheless occasionally played out locally.

As the county’s population continues to grow — it’s expected to reach 283,000 by 2040 — more housing will be necessary to keep up with demand. The Arlington community’s reaction to continued development will be a key factor that shapes local neighborhoods and affects local housing affordability.

Generally speaking, where do you stand on the YIMBY vs. Neighborhood Preservationist spectrum?

by ARLnow.com — May 20, 2016 at 7:30 pm 0

Bike to Work Day 2016 - Unicyclist at the Ballston pit stop Enjoy the nice weather while it lasts — cool and soggy weather returns to the area this weekend.

As long as you’re staying indoors during Saturday’s rain storm, we would love your feedback about the comment change we made last month. When we polled readers a week after the change, which requires that commenters have a Disqus account, most people were neutral to positive about it.

Has that changed at all? Let’s find out. Consider both your experience as a commenter and as a comment reader — overall, have the comments improved? — when casting you vote.

In the meantime, feel free to discuss this or any other topics of local interest in the comments.

by ARLnow.com — May 14, 2016 at 5:20 pm 0

Texas Jack's BBQ in Lyon ParkWell, we hope you enjoyed your brief glimpse of actual May weather, which ran from about Friday afternoon to a couple of hours before this post was published.

Now it’s time to revisit fall weather for a day and a half.

The good news, for those heading to Taste of Arlington tomorrow — have we mentioned Taste of Arlington enough this week? — is that the weather will be dry and sunny, if a bit cool and blustery.

So put on your button-down plaid shirt and meet us at our booth from around noon to 6ish. And feel free to discuss any topic of local interest in the comments.

by Progressive Voice — May 12, 2016 at 1:30 pm 0

Andrew SchneiderProgressive 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 Andrew Schneider

For Progressive voice readers and commenters – and those of ARLnow’s other opinion columns — I invite you to tune it to a new program called Arlington Voices that I host on Fridays on Arlington’s very own low power community radio station WERA-LP (96.7 MHz on the FM band).

The program is focused on Arlington as a unique place. Our geographic location near Washington, relatively small size, eclectic mix of Southern and Northern tendencies, transient nature of many residents, shifting demographics, and long-standing commitment to inclusiveness and progressive public policy all make for a lot of interesting ideas generated in Arlington that, in my opinion, are worth talking about.

I want Arlington Voices to be a place where we look more closely at what makes Arlington such a unique community – through dialogue, insight, whimsy, and serendipity. I am committed to maintaining a non-partisan, non-agenda driven show where anyone can feel comfortable, safe, and willing to share their thoughts and their journey.

How did the program come about?

In January 2011, President Obama signed the Local Community Radio Act, the culmination of a decade-long campaign by low power FM advocates to foster community radio across America. Thousands of applications have been filed with the FCC to open low power FM stations across the country.

Despite power levels far below commercial and noncommercial radio stations, community radio stations can make a difference in their communities. With that in mind, Arlington Independent Media launched our own community radio station, WERA-FM, in December 2015.

WERA’s mission is to “enlighten, enrich, and entertain Arlington’s diverse community by promoting and facilitating independent radio.” Like AIM’s long-standing, award-winning, community-based television and film production, WERA enables every day citizens to produce educational, cultural, and “local-centric” programming.

I learned some things running for County Board that I discussed with Paul LeValley in the context of an idea I had for a radio program. During the campaign, I talked to thousands of Arlingtonians who helped me see that everyone has a story to tell. I learned about the unique journeys like the bus driver who has lived in the same house their whole life, the lawyer who dreams of being a landscape architect, parent advocates, community leaders, young residents, immigrants, and the swim coach from my youth.

Paul and I discussed how I might take a deeper look into Arlington one interview at a time. I humbly described my show as a mashup of Diane Rehm, Marc Maron, Charlie Rose, and … Howard Stern.

I didn’t want guests just talking about their professional lives and delivering talking points. I wanted to hear more personal stories about what brought people to Arlington, why they have stayed, and where they see Arlington heading in the future.

Last week, in the inaugural show, my guest was attorney Ted Bilich. I knew we would talk about Ted’s legal career and his work in risk management. But we went much further in discussing how the concept of risk plays out in our professional, personal, and civic experiences.

Ted described risk management as akin to “looking under the rock.” It’s never quite as scary as you think it’s going to be, and the consequences of not looking are always more significant than you imagine.

I hope my guests and I will continue to look under the rocks, calm fears and encourage thoughtful progress.

In the weeks and months ahead, I look forward to continuing the conversation. My next guest, Susan Anderson, is an unsung hero of Arlington – always in the middle of things but never the center of attention; without Susan many things wouldn’t get done. The following week, I will interview Sherriff Beth Arthur. We’ll discuss not only the role Arlington plays in innovative criminal justice and how Arlington handles undocumented individuals, but also leadership and what Arlington means to her.

Please join us and send me your thoughts at [email protected]. Building on the local dialogue that takes place every day on ARLnow, I hope to highlight important conversations that are taking place or should be taking place throughout Arlington. Let’s look under the rock, together.

Andrew Schneider is a lifelong Arlingtonian. He is the Executive Director of Arlington Thrive, a non-profit that provides same day emergency financial support to neighbors in need. Learn more at Arlintonthrive.org. His radio show, Arlington Voices, can be heard every Friday at 10am on WERA-LP 96.7 FM.

by Peter Rousselot — May 12, 2016 at 1:00 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’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. 

Last month, Arlington County unveiled its latest proposal for an Aquatics Center at Long Bridge Park. The County has dropped a few of the more excessive features from its last public proposal, but only after a firestorm of justified public opposition. The County also has acknowledged that the facility should be “community” focused, highlighting the relative lack of aquatics resources in South Arlington.

The latest Aquatics Center concept presents multiple unanswered questions needing resolution, e.g. who are the most likely users, has the clear demand for aquatics resources been equitably addressed? Fortunately, the County Board need not rush to judgment in the short period until the July adoption of the next CIP. Instead, the Board simply should incorporate into that CIP an appropriate dollar cap on what Arlington should spend on the revised Aquatics Center, permitting several more months of community discussion followed by a fall decision.

Discussion

A fundamental disconnect remains between the latest Aquatics Center base proposal and the aquatic resources Arlington most needs: community pools

Arlington primarily has followed a model of distributed park and recreation resources, endeavoring equitably to locate such resources within reasonable access of the surrounding neighborhoods. The “community” for the proposed Aquatics Center should be southeast Arlington–with the exception of the 50-meter pool. If a 50-meter pool is indeed needed in Arlington, that pool should be located at this site because we probably don’t have space elsewhere.

Consistent with a southeast Arlington focus, the Aquatics Center should be down-sized by deleting certain elements from the latest base proposal

Assuming that the 50-meter pool is retained, then the 25-meter “leisure” pool at Long Bridge should be dropped because the dollars saved can better be spent for another 25-meter pool in a different South Arlington location.

(Update on 5/13/16 — “A 25-meter pool is not part of the new facility plan as recommended by both the Long Bridge Park Advisory Committee and the County Manager,” says Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish. Responds Rousselot: “The 10,000 square foot second pool being proposed by the County is indeed not precisely described as a ’25 meter pool,’ but instead is described as ‘A multi-purpose pool’ or a ‘Combined Teaching and Family Pool,’ etc. However, the 10,000 square foot size assigned by the County to this second pool was the basis for my rough estimate of $5.7 million potentially saved by the deletion of this second pool at Long Bridge.”)

Using a rough dollar-per-square-foot cost based on County staff’s cost projections, dropping the 25-meter pool could save potentially $5.7 million. In addition, the 10,000 square feet proposed for fitness activities in the latest Aquatics Center base proposal should be reduced to no more than 5,000 square feet, a space much more consistent with the average of 3,000 square feet of fitness areas in most other County community centers. Such a reduction potentially could save an additional $2.9 million.

These two proposed changes could result in a total saving of $8.6 million, reducing the estimated total “low-end” project cost of the Aquatics Center base proposal from $42 million to $33.4 million.

The $8.6 million saved by downsizing the base proposal should be re-allocated as core financing for another community pool and enhanced fitness resources in another, more central South Arlington location

A new community pool and enhanced fitness resources could potentially be located at Gunston or Drew, each recently considered as a site for a new/revised elementary school center. Other South Arlington locations should be investigated.

Conclusion

Arlington should engage in several more months of community discussion, followed by a fall decision, about equitable distribution of fitness and aquatic needs. By reallocating scarce parks capital to a second community pool in south Arlington, we can achieve a “win-win”.  Proceeding this way will further more equitable access to our limited parks resources, encourage a more transparent and appropriate cost recovery model, and promote realistic community-focused access.

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 Mark Kelly — May 12, 2016 at 12:30 pm 0

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.

Mark Kelly

When it comes to spending taxpayer dollars in Arlington, the year-end closeout process is most in need of reform. Not only does the County Board spend nearly tens of million per year in surplus revenues, but they do so with little public input – particularly when compared to the regular annual budget process.

As a candidate for Board, I called for tax relief funded largely by the tens of millions the Board spends at the end of every calendar year. Now the Arlington Civic Federation has joined my call by passing a resolution calling on the County Board to set aside a “fair and reasonable amount” of future surpluses for real estate tax relief.

In the resolution, the Civic Federation noted that over the past five years, the Board kept $145.1 million in surplus revenue. It would only take about $7 million each year to reduce tax rates by one cent.

The Civic Federation Resolution also called for the county Board to open up the closeout process for a more “transparent and robust public process.”

We know that John Vihstadt and Libby Garvey support some sort of reform to the closeout process. Hopefully one (or both) of the two new Board members will join them.

Thumbs Down to a Delay for the Blue Ribbon Panel

The Alliance for Housing solutions sent a letter to Board Chair Libby Garvey asking her to delay the Blue Ribbon panel. The panel is charged with helping to shape a report that is due by the end of the year on the County’s comprehensive plan.

One part of the Alliance letter in particular stood out, claiming that six months is not enough time to include a diversity of opinions. One has to ask, how would shortening that time frame by 30 or 60 days help achieve their stated goal?

It seems as if the Alliance gets their way, the Board will go back to the status quo of relying on a primarily staff driven report. This would defeat the purpose of bringing in six fresh sets of eyes to review the comprehensive plan. While many Board watchers, including this one, expressed at least some skepticism of the creation of yet another panel, delaying it would only serve to reduce any positive impacts of an independent review.

One of my goals for the panel is to see it shake up the status quo and ruffle a few feathers. The fact that the Alliance felt the need to send this letter indicates it is already having that effect. The Board should make its appointments to the panel on Tuesday and start the panel process now.

Mark Kelly is the chairman of the 8th District Republican Committee, a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by ARLnow.com — May 6, 2016 at 6:30 pm 0

Sunflowers in WeLive in Crystal CityAfter a rainy week, it looks like we have a pleasant weekend in store.

The mercifully dry weather and mild temperatures will benefit tomorrow’s Walk for the Animals in Bluemont Park, which was included in this week’s Arlington Agenda.

Speaking of events, we’re letting our weekend readers hear first about a cool event we’re holding this month. It’s called WeWork, WeLive and the Future of City Living and it’s taking place on May 17. Book your ticket now, as space is limited and we’re expecting a lot of interest. For more on what we’ll be talking about, see our article on WeLive from earlier this week.

With that, feel free to discuss WeLive, the weather, the just-announced Metro maintenance surge, or any other topic of local interest in the comments.

by Mark Kelly — May 5, 2016 at 2:15 pm 0

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.

Mark Kelly

 Governor McAuliffe recently issued an executive order restoring to 206,000 felons who successfully completed their sentences the rights to vote, sit on juries, run for office and become a notary public.

Previous governors explored this question and found that their Constitutional clemency powers required the restoration of these rights to be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Some Republicans are arguing McAuliffe is making a blatant political play to help boost Hillary Clinton’s chances win Virginia in November. But some form of restoration of voting rights is an issue with support on both sides of the political aisle.

By using an executive order, however, Governor McAuliffe did an end run around the General Assembly on an issue that clearly should have been subject to public debate and scrutiny. McAuliffe also left open the very real possibility the next governor could modify or eliminate the order altogether which would raise even more Constitutional questions about whether an individual had some, or all of these rights, or not.

The use of the executive order eliminated the opportunity for public scrutiny on important questions. Should individuals be required to apply for the rights or should they be automatic? Should we differentiate between repeat violent offenders and nonviolent first-time offenders? Should rapists be eligible to sit on a jury during a rape trial? Or should people convicted of fraud be given a public trust like being a notary public?

But elected representatives were denied the ability to debate any issues surrounding whether any or all the rights should be restored or in what manner. And not surprisingly, Republicans in the General Assembly are preparing to sue the Governor on the grounds his actions were unconstitutional.

The people of Virginia should be wary whenever a Governor attempts to unilaterally re-write the Virginia Constitution. When Democrat Governor Kaine explored the same question, his legal counsel determined such an executive order would re-write Virginia law and set a very troubling precedent of ignoring his oath to uphold the Constitution. Governor Kaine was right to defer to his oath.

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

by Larry Roberts — May 5, 2016 at 1:45 pm 0

Larry RobertsProgressive 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 Lawrence Roberts

I was pleased to join fellow ARLnow columnists Mark Kelly and Peter Rousselot on a panel discussion at “ARLnow Presents: Hot Topics on Columbia Pike.” We had a spirited discussion of County issues and I hope you’ll watch the video when it appears on Arlington Independent Media and ARLnow.

While I don’t often agree with ARLnow’s “The Right Note” column, I was pleased that Mark identified Metro as the County’s highest transit priority.

Metro is vital to Arlington’s economy, serving tourists and providing the impetus for a commercial tax base carrying half of Arlington’s real estate tax burden – a substantially higher percentage than other area jurisdictions.

Metro is also vital to Arlington’s mobility – for commuters to and from Arlington as well as people using public transportation to get around the region without driving. Metro (and other transit options) helps Arlington avoid massive traffic gridlock in its urban corridors and along residential streets.

Today’s federal government could not function without Metro and the ripple effect of reduced federal activity without Metro would be highly detrimental to Arlington companies and workers intersecting with the federal sector.

So what are we to make of this week’s National Transportation Safety Board’s report on the L’Enfant Plaza accident in January 2015 that led to NTSB’s heavy criticism of Metro and, in particular its lack of a safety culture?

I believe that Arlington’s first reaction should be to acknowledge that Metro is essential to Arlington’s economy, its desirability as a place to live, its mobility, and the health of a commercial tax base that supports the many public services that Arlingtonians want and expect, including schools, public safety, parks and social services.

For that reason, Arlington government officials and residents should be at the forefront of efforts to support and encourage Metro as it undergoes necessary changes.

Second, Arlington should be working with our federal delegation and regional partners to demand dedicated funding streams for Metro – as most urban transit systems have.

Essentially, the federal government takes the position that it heavily funded Metro’s construction and that its obligations largely stopped there without ensuring an adequate dedicated funding stream for operations and maintenance.

While federal warnings about safety are important, it is easy to lay blame on Metro management and employees without acknowledging that the federal government has not been a reliable partner in solving the chronic and well known problem of deferred maintenance due to lack of funding.

Metro’s importance to the federal workforce and travelers from across the country who come to the Nation’s Capital warrant strong federal financial support.

Third, we should not fall prey to the convenient and simplistic assertion that if only Metro management had been more disciplined about spending there would be no safety problem. Metro management could squeeze every ounce of waste, fraud and abuse out of the system without making a dent in the structural deficiencies in Metro funding.

Fourth, it is important not to jump on the bandwagon of finding fault with Metro at every turn. I had occasion to review the Washington Post’s 2015 stories about Metro. They constituted a steady drumbeat of identifying one problem after another that would lead one to conclude that no one is able to commute effectively or safely by Metro.

(more…)

by Peter Rousselot — May 5, 2016 at 1:15 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’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.

On April 27, the U.S. Supreme Court held an oral argument on former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s appeal of his federal criminal corruption conviction. Press reports on the oral argument suggest that the Supreme Court might end up overturning McDonnell’s conviction.

If the Supreme Court does rule in McDonnell’s favor, the average citizen should be justifiably outraged that what McDonnell did isn’t illegal. It reminds me of these lyrics.

Well there oughta be a law against what he’s done
Stole my heart and away he run
Didn’t leave me a thing but misery
And there oughta be a law against the way he’s hurtin’ me

What did Bob McDonnell do?

Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, accepted multiple expensive gifts from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the boss of a dietary supplement manufacturer known as Star Scientific.

These gifts included several expensive vacations, a Rolex watch, a $20,000 shopping spree, $15,000 in catering expenses for a daughter’s wedding, joy rides in Williams’ Ferrari and tens of thousands of dollars in private loans. McDonnell promoted a Star Scientific product known as Anatabloc, hosted an event at the Governor’s mansion for the product, passed out samples, and encouraged research about the product by Virginia universities. In one case, McDonnell emailed Williams asking about a $50,000 loan, and six minutes later sent another email to his staff asking for an update on Anatabloc scientific research.

Discussion

In 2014, a federal jury convicted McDonnell and his wife on multiple counts of extortion under the Hobbs Act, a federal criminal statute prohibiting political corruption, and of “honest-services” fraud. The jury concluded that there was sufficient evidence of a connection between the actions the Governor took and the gifts and the other favors Williams provided.

The oral argument before the Supreme Court suggested that several Justices were skeptical that the jury should even have been allowed to reach these conclusions. As Dalia Lithwick, a veteran Supreme Court watcher, observed:

It will be an amazing thing if — in a year when voters across the spectrum are infuriated and sickened by the influence of money in politics — the Supreme Court decides that poor Bob McDonnell should be let off the hook because he only did what every politician does every day: Take a lot of money to open doors for a rich guy. But maybe the line between money and influence is too fuzzy and ubiquitous to even be said in words anymore. 

What about Virginia law?

At the time Bob McDonnell did what he did, there is a general legal consensus that no Virginia criminal statute would have prohibited his conduct. Moreover, at that time, there were no limits on the dollar amount of gifts that could be given by a donor to members of the executive branch or their families.

Conclusion

Only the stupidest gift giver or public official is likely to prepare a written record documenting that the donor of a Rolex watch is providing it to a public official in exchange for favorable government action by the public official. That should not be the only circumstance enabling a successful criminal prosecution:

Well there oughta be a law…
And there oughta be a law against the way he’s hurtin’ me.

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.

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