Advocates have spent nearly six months attempting to gather enough signatures to secure a spot on the Arlington ballot for a measure supporting a government-run low income housing authority. County election officials now confirm that the group submitted the required 2,845 signatures needed to place a referendum on the November 5 ballot.
The referendum will ask Arlington voters to authorize the operation of a low income housing authority, similar to those in more than 25 cities and counties around the state including Alexandria and Fairfax County. The Arlington Green Party (AGP) spearheaded the signature gathering efforts.
“Arlington’s current housing assistance program has failed to stop the loss of affordable housing, and a housing authority would raise funds more easily, lower administrative costs, and provide more affordable rental units,” said AGP chairman Steve Davis. “Arlington should follow Fairfax’s County’s outstanding example with a housing authority that provides more affordable housing to more people at less cost.”
Arlington had the most expensive rental housing in 2010, except for Alexandria, according to Davis. He said more than 14,000 families in Arlington needed affordable housing that year.
Advocates for a housing authority claim the agency would help the county secure federal housing funds. They also contend it would reduce the county’s costs by consolidating all housing functions under one umbrella agency.
The signatures will be presented to the County Board, which is expected to take up the measure at its July meeting, confirmed Arlington County General Registrar Linda Lindberg. According to a state statute, the Board is required to pass the measure on to Circuit Court Chief Judge William Newman, who has the ultimate authority to put it on the ballot.
Lindberg notes that this is the third time such a measure has been put on the ballot and it has been defeated each time. Most recently, voters rejected the measure in 2008 by a 2-1 margin.
So far this is the only referendum scheduled to appear on the November 5 general election ballot. The deadline for other referenda to make it onto the ballot is August 16.
This morning we ran a story on Committee for a Better Arlington chairman Mike Staples declining to participate in a planned debate over the group’s change-of-government proposal. Since there will be no “debate” tonight, we decided to ask two fresh voices from each side of the issue to make their case to Arlington residents here, in 400 words or less.
As a preface: it’s looking like this is a debate that will only get louder in the coming weeks and, possibly, months. The Committee is facing the daunting task of collecting 14,340 signatures by July 15 in order to float the proposal as a ballot initiative. Staples, however, says his group is “on track” to collect the needed signatures.
The reasons for and against changing Arlington’s form of government, after the jump.
For the proposed change:
In Favor of a “County Board” Form of Government
By Brian R. Smith, Arlington-Falls Church Young Republicans Chairman
Throughout the Spring I have been working with Arlington First Responders to gather signatures from Arlington County voters. We’re striving to bring to the ballot a modest, but important, set of changes to our county government. Arlington voters should sign the petition in order to promote further debate and discussion of this proposed transition from a County Manager form of government to a County Board form of government.
In 1930, Arlington adopted a form of government that increased the power of the unelected county manager and decreased the power of the voting populous. This was achieved in two key ways: first, the county manager became the county’s ‘chief executive’, significantly limiting the ability of elected county board members to hold accountable county department heads. Second, county board members began to be elected “at-large”, dramatically increasing the voter-to-elected-official ratio. At a time when the population of Arlington was about 26,000 residents, this form of government may have made sense.
Today, Arlington County has nearly 10 times the amount of people it did in 1930. The proposed County Board form of government is critical in an effort to rebalance power to the electorate. If passed, the county manager would effectively become a county administrator, giving elected officials the ability to directly interface and oversee the department heads. Second, and perhaps most important, the County Board positions would be elected by districts, vastly improving the ‘representativeness’ of the county. Contrast that to our current board, which has three of the five board members living within the same zip code.
The “Change of Government” Petition is not an indictment of the performance of our County public officials, as some may believe. Instead, this is an effort to rebalance power from the un-elected to the elected, and strengthen the connection between the Arlington voter and their elected representatives.
I hope you will join me in helping our first responders collecting the signatures they need for this July. With all of our support we can make a better Arlington.
Against the proposed change:
Decline to Sign!
By Alan Howze, Coalition for Arlington Good Government Co-Chair
The change of government proposal would take Arlington backwards, and we encourage voters to DECLINE TO SIGN the referendum petition.
Defeating this referendum is not about gaining or losing partisan advantage, it is about standing up to defeat very bad public policy. It’s about making sure that we have a local government that meets the needs of our populous and diverse county and works in the best interests of all of Arlington.
The Coalition for Arlington Good Government (CAGG), led by Co-Chairs Bill Bozman, Judy Connally, Alan Howze, and Kris McLaughlin, recently formed to educate voters about the significant negative consequences of the proposal.
The damage from the referendum would include:
- Invalidating Arlington’s strong locally-adopted child day care standards and replacing them with weaker state requirements
- Overturning Arlington’s current system for governing our schools
- Rolling-back Arlington’s stronger anti-discrimination protections
- Eliminating Arlington Civil Service System and politicizing our County Government by making County Board members directly responsible for personnel decisions
The proposed new form of government, called the County Board form, would impose on Arlington residents a government used by only four sparsely populated rural counties in Southwest Virginia (Russell, Scott, Carroll and Grayson if readers would like to look them up on a map). Moreover, it would yoke Arlington to these same rural counties, because any additional local authority that we sought from the state, whether to control growth, protect diversity, or protect our environment, would have to be agreed to by all the other counties under the County Board form of government.
The referendum would also render useless the authorities that have already been granted to Arlington by the Virginia Legislature and place Arlington more at the mercy of Richmond. And all this disruption because a small number of Arlington County public safety employees are dissatisfied with their pay and benefits (which are competitive for our region). Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater!
To learn more, readers can see a briefing given recently to the Arlington Chapter of the League of Women Voters that explains the referendum’s effects on Arlington: http://lwv-arlingtonva.org/, or read the recently released County Attorney’s memo at http://www.arlingtonva.us/Departments/CountyAttorney/CountyAttorneyMain.aspx
To join our efforts to stop this damaging referendum, please visit CAGG’s Facebook Group at: http://tinyurl.com/2apxtzc
So if, in the coming weeks, you are asked to sign the referendum petition, just remember these three words – Decline to Sign!
We welcome your thoughts. Please continue the discussion in the comments section below.
The Arlington County Democratic Committee is holding a forum about the proposed change to Arlington’s form of government tonight, but the person billed as representing the “pro” side of the debate says he won’t be there.
Mike Staples, president of Arlington’s firefighter union and chairman of the Committee for a Better Arlington, which supports the proposal, says the group is refusing its invitation due to unreasonable terms of participation.
“I’m not coming to a staged debate where the tables are stacked,” Staples said.
Among the terms Staples objects to: the Committee representative would be required answer each question first, giving the opposing side the last word; participants would not have the opportunity to question each other; and the debate would be moderated by the head of the Arlington Democrats, who Staples does not consider a neutral party.
Staples said his group would consider participating under more neutral terms, such as a debate hosted by the Arlington County Chamber of Commerce.
“If we’re going to do a political debate, we should do it the right way,” he said.
While the forum is open to the public, Staples objected to the lack of promotion.
“We would like to have the opportunity to advertise the debate to the general public so it can be seen as an open process, and not simply an altered form of a local Democratic Party meeting,” Staples wrote.
Staples said the committee offered to make an informal presentation to the Democrats, but was turned down and told the party would only consider the debate format.
“We believe this decision was made in bad taste and was orchestrated to put the Committee in poor light,” Staples wrote.
The forum is taking place between 7:00 and 9:00 tonight at the NRECA building (4301 Wilson Blvd). Afterward, the Democrats will hold a vote on whether to support or oppose the measure.
Former Arlington County Manager Ron Carlee will represent the “con” side of the debate. Democratic Committee chairman Mike Lieberman says no one else has been lined up to represent the pro-change-of-government side, although they’ll “keep a chair open” for Staples in the unlikely event that he decides to participate after all.
“I honestly think that our debate was going to be fair and neutral,” Lieberman said. “I can’t force their hand to come, but we certainly would love to have them there.”