Arlington Often Charges Hefty Fees to See Public Records, Or Fails to Respond to Requests

In recent weeks, Arlington County and its school system have sought to charge ARLnow hundreds of dollars to fulfill public records requests, or simply not responded to them — and others around the county have noticed similar issues accessing public documents.

The county has asked for more than $1,140 in all to provide records in response to three requests by ARLnow under the Freedom of Information Act, using accounting practices that raised eyebrows at one of Virginia’s open government watchdog groups. In another case, Arlington Public Schools has gone more than a month before providing any response to an ARLnow FOIA request, missing a state-mandated deadline by weeks.

Other reporters and political activists told ARLnow they’ve received even larger bills, or similarly been stumped by radio silence from the county on the requests.

Virginia’s FOIA, designed to open up public documents for public inspection, has frequently been criticized by transparency advocates for its litany of exemptions allowing government officials to withhold vast swaths of information from disclosure. Rather than claiming any of those exemptions in these instances, however, the county could be running afoul of the law itself.

Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, was particularly taken aback by the size of the fees the county has sought to assess ARLnow. While the FOIA does allow government agencies to “make reasonable charges” to offset costs associated with tracking down the necessary documents, Rhyne expressed bewilderment at some of the county’s tactics for calculating those fees.

For instance, in response to one ARLnow request for six months worth of data on Arlington Transit service, the county estimated that a “management analyst” would need to spend 13.5 hours searching for records that could match ARLnow’s request, at a rate of $40.39 per hour.

Then, the county said an “associate planner” would need to spend three hours on the request, at a rate of $35.95 per hour. Finally, the “acting transit services manager” would spend an hour on the work, to tack on another $40.76.

“That’s a LOT of time,” Rhyne wrote in an email. “And what will the ‘associate planner’ need to take three hours to do different from the analyst? And then the ‘manager.’ What do any of them DO as part of this process? That’s three layers, with more than 17 of those hours going to people all making over $74,000/year.”

Rhyne points out that “the amount of the fees charged does not tell the whole story,” noting that what’s really important is how the county arrived at those figures. But if Arlington is adding unnecessary steps to the process, she says that wouldn’t match up with the law’s requirements.

“Fees must represent the actual cost to the government, and the costs must be reasonable,” Rhyne said.

It’s difficult to pin down, however, just how often the county is assessing such large fees for FOIA requests.

Logs released through a separate ARLnow FOIA request show that the county charged an average of $28.50 to respond to records requests over the first six months of this year — however, those logs do not include fees assessed on requests that weren’t completed, meaning people could be choosing not to move forward with a request if the price tag is too steep. The logs do show that the county’s completed five requests with fees of $100 or more from January through the end of June, including ones with fees of $316, $550 and $614.50.

Other would-be requesters around the county say such large fees are not unusual, however.

Matthew Hurtt, a local Republican activist, says the county sought to charge him more than $1,100 when he asked for email correspondence related to Arlington’s bid for Amazon’s second headquarters. He says even a “significantly refined” request came with a fee north of $900.

Jonathan O’Connell, a reporter with the Washington Post, says the county wanted to charge him $319.55 for Amazon-related documents — and even if he’d paid, officials informed him they’d be claiming an exemption to withhold all the information anyway.

“Arlington actually gave me a pretty similar response to what other Virginia jurisdictions gave me, which is nothing of value,” O’Connell told ARLnow. “I didn’t pay them because they told me they weren’t going to to give me anything related to HQ2.”

In other cases, the county’s responses have been confusing or non-existent.

Roshan Abraham, an activist with Our Revolution Arlington, filed a request on July 30 for documents related to the county’s incentive package to bring Nestle to Arlington, but didn’t hear back from the county for weeks. When informed by ARLnow that documents posted to the county’s website on Aug. 17 could match his request, Abraham said he never received any communication from the county about it, and that some documents he’d asked for remain missing.

Similarly, county transit bureau chief Lynn Rivers told ARLnow in early August that staff had erred when they attached a $323 fee to a June 29 request for two months’ worth of Arlington Transit data. She pledged to deliver the documents free of charge, but even after several calls and emails seeking clarity, ARLnow hasn’t received any response.

And in the case of the school system, officials have yet to respond to a July 30 request from ARLnow seeking documents related to plans to rename Washington-Lee High School.

The FOIA calls for officials to respond to requesters within five “working days,” and either detail whether the records are available or ask for more time to track them down. Linda Erdos, Arlington Public Schools’ assistant superintendent for school and community relations, wrote in an email on Aug. 21 that she’d provide such a response the following day.

After two follow-up emails to Erdos since then, ARLnow still has yet to receive any answer.

File photo

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ACFD Taps Northern Virginia’s First African-American Female Battalion Chief

Almost 24 years after she answered a radio ad seeking to recruit new firefighters, Tiffanye Wesley has been selected as Arlington’s southern battalion chief.

The county’s fire department tapped her for the post Sunday (Sept. 2), making her both Arlington and Northern Virginia’s first African-American female battalion chief.

There are two battalions in the Arlington Fire Department, divided between north and south, with each encompassing five stations. Wesley is chief of the southern battalion, coordinating operations not only between the five stations but with partner agencies across Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax.

“If there is a fire call, I’m in charge of that call,” said Wesley. “My job is to ensure everyone goes home safely.”

When Wesley first joined the Arlington Fire Department, she said she walked in the door with no expectations. She’d never known any firefighters or been into a fire house, and said she failed the physical ability tests twice, but she kept training and going back to try again.

Before being selected as battalion chief, Wesley was commander of the Crystal City station, Arlington’s largest and one of its busiest stations. Wesley stepped into the battalion chief role temporarily in 2016, which she said gave her an opportunity to get to know the other stations in the battalion.

“Every station is different,” said Wesley. “My goal is to go sit down with the officers and let them know up front what [my] expectations are and to give me theirs. I believe, as long as you set up right up front what you expect, it makes it easier. The problem comes in when you don’t know what your leader expects, then you tend to fall back and do whatever you want to do.”

Currently, Wesley says the department is also awaiting news of who will replace Fire Chief James Bonzano.

“Right now, the department is looking for a new fire chief,” said Wesley. “Everyone is in a holding pattern, we’re not sure who that person will be, whether they’re from inside the department or someone totally new, we will have to learn that person; their ideals and expectations.”

As Wesley settles into her new role as battalion chief, she says the outpouring of support from friends and followers of her active social media accounts has been overwhelming. Among the most interesting was a call from a fire chief in Nigeria congratulating her on the promotion.

“My promotion was not just for me, it’s for everyone who has watched me, who has been sitting back and passed over and doubted their own self, whose doubted it would ever happen,” said Wesley. “It’s all for those people. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t give up.”

Photo courtesy Arlington Fire Department

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Arlington Fire Chief Steps Down, As Search for Replacement Continues

Arlington’s fire chief has officially stepped away from his post, leaving the department under interim leadership as a search for a permanent replacement continues.

Chief James Bonzano’s last day on the job was this past Friday (Aug. 24), fire department spokesman Ben O’Bryant told ARLnow. The county’s been searching for a new chief since early May, when Bonzano decided to bring his 34-year career to a close. He served as county fire chief for about three years in all.

O’Bryant said that Assistant Chief Joseph Reshetar will step in as acting chief while the county’s search continues. Reshetar has served in that same role before, back in 2015 when then-Fire Chief James Schwartz was appointed deputy county manager, so O’Bryant expects that “it will be a smooth transition between now and when the new chief starts.”

He added that the county’s human resources team is still interviewing candidates for the permanent post, with the ultimate goal of having a new chief leading the department “before November.”

A job listing on the county’s careers website remains active, though it notes the county will give preference to candidates who applied by June 4. It lists the annual salary range for the post as between $117,145.60 and $224,806.40.

File photo

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County’s Resident Ombudsman Makes a Change, Prompts Search for Replacement

Arlington is now looking for a new ombudsman for county residents, a staffer dedicated to helping people sort out problems and access government services.

County spokeswoman Jennifer Smith told ARLnow that former ombudsman Robert Sharpe transitioned out of the role last week. He’s now serving as assistant division chief for the county’s public health division.

Sharpe took over as ombudsman back in 2016, as part of an expansion of constituent service offerings within County Manager Mark Schwartz’s office.

Smith says Sharpe “made significant contributions to the county’s constituent services efforts serving the community” during his tenure and will now be “responsible for operational and managerial aspects” of the public health division. He previously worked as an assistant director in the county’s Department of Human Services.

Brian Stout will serve as the county’s acting resident ombudsman while Schwartz searches for a permanent replacement, Smith added. She hopes to wrap up that process sometime next month.

The county is also currently looking for a permanent “business ombudsman” to work with local businesses to navigate county regulations, after Shannon Flanagan-Watson was appointed deputy county manager in May. Jeanine Finch is currently filling the role on a temporary basis.

Photo courtesy of Arlington County

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Morning Notes

Top Chef Alum Opening Clarendon Restaurant — “Former ‘Top Chef’ contestant Katsuji Tanabe, best known for his kosher taco spot MexiKosher in New York, will open his first restaurant in the D.C. area in Clarendon in September. Le Kon, whose name comes from the Japanese word for corn, is taking over the space previously occupied by Park Lane Tavern at 3227 Washington Blvd.” [Washington Business Journal]

Progress on Child Care Initiative — “The county government’s child-care initiative has been under way for a little over a year, focusing in large part on the existing barriers to increasing the supply of day-care providers in the county. Hurdles run the gamut from zoning and parking issues to qualifications and pay of teachers and other staff… Using the most recent data available, county officials estimate there were about 13,500 children under age 5 in Arlington in 2015, but only about half that number of available slots in day care.” [InsideNova]

Flyover Planned Today — A flyover of Arlington National Cemetery is planned to take place at 9:15 a.m. today. [Twitter]

White Supremacist Train Runs Through Arlington — A small group of white supremacists rode Metro from the Vienna station, through Arlington, before arriving in D.C. for a rally. Police tried to keep the group separated from a much larger group of anti-hate protesters, prompting some complaints about the white supremacists having their own “private” Metrorail car, though a reporter was able to board their train car at Clarendon without issue. [Twitter, Twitter]

W&OD Railroad Stopped Running 50 Years Ago — The Washington & Old Dominion Railroad stopped running 50 years ago this month, after 130 years of service. The former rail line was later acquired by the regional park authority and converted into the current W&OD Trail, which runs from Arlington to rural Loudoun County. [InsideNova]

Reminder: Major Metro Work — “Starting Saturday (Aug. 11) and running through Aug. 26, Metro will shut down the Blue Line completely starting at the Arlington Cemetery station, and single-track between the McPherson Square and Smithsonian stations. Officials expect that will result in 20-minute headways on the Orange and Silver lines ‘at all times,’ and it’s urging riders to ‘only use Metrorail if you have no other option.'” [ARLnow, Twitter]

County Twitter Account Pokes Fun at Metro — Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services tweeted yesterday: “As a courtesy, the C&O Canal-Alexandria Canal system will be reopen to traffic. Note: two-mule minimum per team.” [Twitter]

Photo courtesy Jeremy Galliani

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Letter: Arlington County Should Change Its Logo

Arlington County’s official logo should be changed because of its “repugnant” association with slavery, at least according to one outspoken resident.

Susan Flaherty, an attorney who lives in the Rosslyn area, wrote a letter to the County Board calling for a replacement to the logo, which is a stylized representation of Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Noting that the mansion is the “former home of [a] slaveholder and enslaved persons,” Flaherty said that “maintaining the current brand/logo… will do damage to the county’s image.”

The letter follows a wave of statue removals, name changes and other actions to expunge Confederate symbolism in the wake of the events in Charlottesville last summer.

The Arlington School Board voted earlier this month to approve new school naming guidelines that would prompt the removal of Lee’s name from Washington-Lee High School. The county, meanwhile, has been pushing for legislative authorization to remove the name of Confederate leader Jefferson Davis from Route 1, as Alexandria recently did.

In response to Flaherty’s letter, an aide to Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol said that “budget constraints” currently preclude a redesign of the logo. However, the response (below) also pledged that the Board will “give the matter more thought as budget and staff resources become available in future years.”

Dear Ms. Flaherty:

I am writing at the request of Chair Cristol and the Arlington County Board to thank you for your message inquiring about the possibility of changing the Arlington County Logo. A copy of your message was provided to each of the Board Members.

As you may be aware, the Logo was last redesigned to reflect the County Seal some fourteen years ago through a time and resource intensive process. Unfortunately, given current budget constraints, the County lacks the resources to dedicate towards another redesign of the logo. I want to note however that the Board understands your concerns with the design, and will certainly give the matter more thought as budget and staff resources become available in future years.

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts with the County Board, and please let me know if there is any other way I can be of service.

Sincerely,

Mason Kushnir
Aide to Katie Cristol
Chair, Arlington County Board

Flaherty, in turn, said that “times have changed so much in the last year or so that this really needs to be made a higher priority.” Her full reply is below, after the jump.

Hello,

Thanks for the reply to my message asking you to take action now to change the Arlington County logo, which is a stylized image of the Lee mansion, former home of slaveholder and enslaved persons.

In response to your non-responsive reply to my message, it is hard to imagine that the county board could be so tone deaf as to ignore the changes of the last year or so. I think times have changed so much in the last year or so that this really needs to be made a higher priority.  I understand branding, have been through the process many times with my nonprofit organization clients, and how a brand is so important.

In the current climate, maintaining the current brand/logo associated with slavery is repugnant and will do damage to the county’s image.

Of course you can make budget priorities, other needs, etc, about any issue.  But then why would building and maintaining things like more dog parks be a higher priority than changing the county brand away from glorifying a slave owning past?

I would urge you to reconsider this and begin a process and find the money.   Join other entities are getting rid of these slavery references, e.g., Harvard Law School.  See the Washington Post article on ditching the slavery related logo.

A silhouette of the The Rosslyn skyline would make a more positive reference to the county’s pro business and smart growth rather than the negative slave owning past.

Thank you for your further consideration.

Best,

Susan L. Q. Flaherty, Esq. [Arlington County Resident]

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Arlington Elections Remain Safe from Cyberattacks, Local and Federal Officials Say

Arlington voters can rest easy that Tuesday’s primary contest will be safe from cyberattacks, as local and federal election officials alike tout the county’s sound methods for counting ballots.

County election administrators welcomed a contingent from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security today (June 12), who swung by to study how Arlington is managing its voting technology as the threat of foreign meddling continues to loom large ahead of the fall’s midterms.

County Registrar Linda Lindberg touted her office’s “practical and low-key approach” during the visit, noting that the county uses paper ballots for all its elections. Though it may seem like an antiquated approach in the age of smartphones, election security experts have increasingly urged localities to abandon electronic voting machines in favor of having a paper record of all ballots cast, should intruders find a way to breach their systems and attempt to alter vote totals.

“Arlington takes a very pragmatic and a keep-it-simple approach,” Chris Krebs, a senior DHS official focusing on cybersecurity, told reporters. “We need to continue that trend toward a voter-verifiable paper trail… That’s the progress that we’re seeing nationwide.”

Krebs says he’s spent the last few months making similar trips and sitting down with state and local officials to make sure they understand the cybersecurity risks associated with voting technology. He added that federal officials are hoping to offer any help they can to localities struggling with securing their systems, though he noted that Arlington doesn’t need much in the way of resources.

Lindberg says her office has all manner of “checks and balances” throughout the process of testing vote-counting machines to insure that nothing was amiss before voters started showing up at the polls. She also noted that she’s set up a robust screening system for “spear phishing” attacks, after would-be hackers targeted elections officials in other states to try and trick them into clicking on fraudulent emails, giving them access to election systems.

“Arlington County actually has very strong, stringent controls in terms of the phishing attacks we’ve seen, mostly through emails,” Lindberg said. “We have good training, good screening of spam emails. In fact, important emails sometimes end up in my spam folder so you have to go back and look at that sort of thing.”

By and large, however, Krebs says DHS hasn’t seen the same sort of attacks on election officials that they did ahead of the 2016 election. But with intelligence leaders continuing to warn that Russian operatives could very well try to interfere with the midterms as a preamble to the presidential race in 2020, Krebs also doesn’t want to see local officials let their guard down.

“Even though we haven’t seen any activity the way we did in 2016 with direct threats to election infrastructure, we don’t need that direct threat,” Krebs said. “We take this issue very seriously.”

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Morning Notes

Primary Voting Underway — It’s an election day in Virginia. On the ballot in Arlington is the Democratic race for County Board, between Chanda Choun and Matt de Ferranti, and the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, with candidates Corey Stewart, Nick Freitas and E. W. Jackson. Voting will continue through 7 p.m. [Twitter]

Post-Parade Party in Courthouse — Those heading to the Capitals Stanley Cup victory parade downtown today can head on back to Arlington for an afterparty at Arlington Rooftop Bar & Grill, hosted by the Caps blog Russian Machine Never Breaks. The event starts at 3 p.m. [RMNB]

Final Issue of ‘The Citizen’ — Arlington County’s “The Citizen” newsletter is publishing its last issue this week. The county-run publication is ceasing its print issues due to budget cuts. The move was lamented by the Sun Gazette, which wrote that The Citizen provided “information that, most likely, many local residents will now not get, despite the government’s plethora of online-centric public-relations efforts.” [InsideNova]

Clement: Strip Washington from W-L Too — Independent Arlington School Board candidate Audrey Clement says it is “hypocrisy in the extreme” for the “Lee” in “Washington-Lee High School” to be removed without also removing “Washington.” Wrote Clement: “Had not George Washington, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson — all Virginia native sons and all slave holders — greased the skids of institutionalized slavery by agreeing to write it into the U.S. Constitution, Lee would not have taken up arms against his own nation.” [Audrey Clement]

Apartment Building to Get Free Broadband — “Arlington’s Digital Inclusion Initiative, announced in December 2017, will leverage the County’s fiber-optic network, ConnectArlington, to bring free broadband Internet access to low- and moderate-income households in Arlington, including those with school-age children. Arlington Mill Residences, a low- and moderate-income residential development, will serve as the demonstration project for the initiative.” [Arlington County]

Paving on Lorcom Lane — Crews are paving Lorcom Lane between N. Fillmore and Daniel streets today. [Twitter]

Nearby: Second Northside Social Opens — The new Falls Church outpost of Clarendon cafe Northside Social has opened in the Little City. “The business itself will offer a menu similar to its Clarendon location, but a basement that allows for a commercial-sized bakery and chef Matt Hill’s creative inklings will provide new lunch and dinner options.” [Falls Church News-Press]

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County Auditor Plans to Review Economic Development Incentives, Purchasing Practices

Arlington’s independent auditor is planning new reviews of how the county incentivizes businesses to move here, how it oversees its Business Improvement Districts and how it buys goods and services.

County Auditor Chris Horton unveiled his proposed work plan for fiscal year 2019 on Friday (June 8), after taking in public feedback and conducting a “risk assessment” of the county government.

Though Horton reports to the Board, and was appointed by its members, the auditor is charged with acting as an independent watchdog in the county to make Arlington’s government more efficient, most recently releasing a report on operations at the county’s 911 call center.

This year, Horton plans to study Arlington’s procurement practices and “analyze root causes of any identified inefficiencies,” according to a news release.

He also wants to examine how the county’s economic development officials use “incentive funds” to lure businesses to the area, particularly as leaders fret about how to reduce the office vacancy rate in neighborhoods like Rosslyn and Crystal City.

“As the county works to reduce its office vacancy rate, it is important that our incentive practices are efficient and effective,” Horton said in a statement.

Finally, Horton is planning on examining how the county manages its financial relationship with the Business Improvement Districts in Rosslyn, Ballston and Crystal City.

Horton is also mulling two additional areas of focus: the county’s Neighborhood Conservation program, which is set to see steep cuts in County Manager Mark Schwartz’s proposed Capital Improvement Plan, and the site plan benefits negotiated between the county and developers. However, he’ll only pursue those reviews if he has enough time to do so.

The auditor will present his proposal to the County Board for approval on June 19.

File photo

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Arlington County Launches ‘New Online Resource for Consumers’

There’s a new way for Arlington residents to complain about things.

Arlington County has launched a new “Consumer Protection Clearinghouse” website, with consumer-oriented information about everything from towing to cable TV service to food trucks. The site is a one-stop shop that puts local, state and federal resources in one place.

The new site was announced at last week’s Arlington County Board meeting.

The site also includes a “submit a complaint” feature, focused mostly on towing, cable and taxi-related issues. Submissions will be reviewed by county staff.

The site will allow the county to “better address the needs of consumers” and help facilitate a “fair marketplace,” said Jeanine Finch, who serves as the county’s Business Ombudsman and lead for consumer affairs.

County Board Chair Katie Cristol said the Board is “quite enthusiastic” about the new site.

More information from a press release:

A new Consumer Protection Clearinghouse site aims to help consumers and businesses in Arlington County by providing educational resources and a way to submit concerns.

This new site centralizes existing consumer resources from across County government, and consolidates and incorporates a variety of state and federal resources as well. It also enhances access to public information on a range of topics regulated by the County government, including:

  • Towing
  • Cable TV
  • Taxis
  • Pawn Shops
  • Food Trucks
  • Solicitation

The page also includes an easy-to-use “submit a complaint” button that appears on each page in the site.

The new resource was announced at the May 22, 2018, County Board Meeting by County Manager Mark Schwartz.

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Morning Notes

Memorial Day Closures — Arlington County offices, courts, schools, community centers and other facilities will be closed Monday for the Memorial Day holiday. Metro, meanwhile, will operate on a Sunday schedule on Monday. [Arlington County, WMATA]

Spraygrounds Opening Today — Arlington’s spraygrounds will open for the summer today. The water play areas are located at Drew Park, Hayes Park, Lyon Village Park and Virginia Highlands Parks. [Arlington County]

Flags in at Arlington Nat’l Cemetery — Members of the Old Guard from Ft. Myer completed their annual “flags-in” pre-Memorial Day tradition of placing a flag at every grave marker at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday. [Stars & Stripes]

Arlington Has Most Expensive Home Ever in D.C. Area — The priciest residential property ever to be listed in the D.C. area is partially located in Arlington. The Falls, the riverfront estate of late AOL co-founder Jim Kimsey, is on the market for $62.95 million. The 3.2 acre property on Chain Bridge Road straddles the Arlington-Fairfax line and includes an original Frank Lloyd Wright home as its guest house. [Preservation Arlington, UrbanTurf, Wall Street Journal]

County Hires New Assistant County Manager  — Updated at 11:15 a.m. — Arlington County hired attorney Gurjit Chima to be the county’s Assistant County Manager for Human Rights and EEO. “[Chima] will be instrumental in advancing human rights and related initiatives across County government and in the Arlington community, consistent with our mission of diversity and inclusion,” said County Manager Mark Schwartz. [Arlington County, InsideNova]

Clarendon Company Named a Best Workplace in U.S. — Clarendon-based Enterprise Knowledge has made an Inc. magazine list of the Best Workplaces in 2018. The management consultancy has some of the “coolest company perks,” according to the magazine, including “tuition help, gym memberships, and company cellphones.” It also “reimburses employees up to $3,000 for the purchase of a hybrid car.” [Inc., Enterprise Knowledge]

County Touts Oak Grove Park Upgrades — “Through a Neighborhood Conservation project, Oak Grove Park recently underwent some major improvements to its playground equipment… The updates to the park include a ‘tot lot’ and a play area for older kids, an improved picnic shelter, site furnishings, a water fountain, many new trees, and biorentention for stormwater management.” [Arlington County, YouTube]

Marymount Farmers Market Starts This Weekend — The Marymount Farmers Market will kick off Saturday, serving the university and nearby North Arlington neighborhoods. The market will take place weekly through November. [Arlington Catholic Herald]

Flickr pool photo by Brian Allen

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Morning Notes

DES Wants to Reunite Stuffed Bunny With Owner — The Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services is searching for the owner of a stuffed animal believed to have been accidentally thrown away during Taste of Arlington on Sunday. “Let us know if someone is missing a good friend,” DES tweeted. [Twitter]

APS to Keep German, Japanese Classes — “Superintendent Patrick Murphy on May 17 confirmed the decision to keep German I, II and III and Japanese I, II and III, which had been slated for elimination due to low enrollment. The turnaround came after students and parents complained.” [InsideNova]

Flanagan-Watson Get Promotion — “Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz has appointed Shannon Flanagan-Watson as deputy county manager, effective May 21, with oversight responsibility for Arlington Economic Development, Arlington Public Libraries, and a portion of the Department of Environmental Services, one of the County’s largest departments.” Flanagan-Watson has served as the county’s business ombudsman, working to help solve regulatory problems for Arlington businesses. [Arlington County]

Risk Warrant Bill Fails — A bill introduced by Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48) to create risk warrants — allowing law enforcement to confiscate the guns of troubled individuals if a court order is granted — failed in the Virginia legislature this session. [WVTF]

Patriots Win District Baseball Title — The Yorktown Patriots baseball team won the Liberty District high school tournament and title for the first time since 2012. [InsideNova]

Get Ready for Memorial Bridge Work — Major work to rehabilitate the aging Memorial Bridge is set to begin in September and will cause significant traffic impacts. The work “will require long-term lane closures and short-term detours, which will be disruptive to traffic and likely send vehicles to other Potomac River spans, tying those up more than usual, per the NPS. One of the sidewalks will also be closed ‘during much of the construction period.'” [Washington Business Journal]

Budget Limits May Limit New HS Amenities — “Those who descended on Saturday’s County Board meeting hoping to win support for more rather than fewer amenities in a potential fourth Arlington high school came away with no promises from board members. If anything, those elected officials who addressed the subject did so in an effort to – delicately – tamp down expectations.” [InsideNova]

Wrong-Way Crash in Pentagon City — A driver reportedly hopped a curb, drove the wrong way down Army Navy Drive and smashed into two vehicles in Pentagon City around noon yesterday. [Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Morning Notes

Arlington Revamps Engagement on Projects — “The County’s new ‘Six-Step Public Engagement Guide for Capital Projects’ aims to strengthen engagement and communication processes across County government – for hundreds of capital projects both large and small… The guide identifies four types of engagement that can occur with capital projects: Communicate… Consult… Involve… Collaborate.” [Arlington County]

Barre3 Opening ‘For Real’ — After construction, permitting, and inspection delays, Clarendon’s new Barre3 exercise studio has set a new opening date of March 22 — “for real.” An email to customers apologized to those who have been “waiting (and waiting and waiting)” for the studio to open in Clarendon’s Market Common shopping plaza at 2800 Clarendon Boulevard.

Millennials Buying Homes at Modest Pace — “Home purchases by Millennials ticked up over the past year, but inventory constraints and higher housing costs kept their overall activity subdued and prevented some from leaving the more affordable confines of their Gen X and Baby Boomer parents’ homes.” Meanwhile, Northern Virginia’s population continues to boom while many rural Virginia locales are shrinking. [InsideNova, InsideNova]

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Morning Notes

County HQ Renovation Vote Delayed — The Arlington County Board last night agreed to defer consideration of renovations to county government headquarters until April. The Board will discuss the “‘opportunity costs’ for the $10 million in rent abatements that will fund part of the renovation project,” in the context of the current county budget discussions, according to Board Chair Katie Cristol. [Twitter]

Arlington Declines Amazon FOIA Request — A Freedom of Information Act request for more information about the county’s Amazon HQ2 bid, sent from the Washington Post’s Jonathan O’Connell, was denied on the grounds that the information was “exempt from disclosure.” At the County Board meeting this past weekend, several speakers called on the county to release more information about what it has offered Amazon. [Twitter, WTOP]

Letter: APS Should Revise Gym Shorts Policy — Eighth-grade students wrote a letter to the editor encouraging Arlington Public Schools to revise its policy on girls’ gym shorts. Per the letter: “The shorts we are required to wear by the school system cause many of us embarrassment because the wide, open legs allow others to see our undergarments, especially during floor exercises. Additionally, the current gym shorts are too big for petite girls.” [InsideNova]

Arlington TV Now in HD — “You can now watch Arlington TV (ATV), the County’s government cable channel, in high definition (HD) on Comcast Xfinity. From live County Board meetings to original programming about Arlington, viewers with HD sets can now watch the same programming on Channel 1085 on Comcast Xfinity’s HD tier.” [Arlington County]

Auditor Releases Report on ECC Overtime — Arlington County Auditor Chris Horton has released a report on overtime incurred by the county’s Emergency Communications Center, which handles 911 calls and dispatches first responders. The ECC’s overtime costs were about $1.4 million last year. Horton found that “a more efficient training process could result in greater staffing efficiency, and potentially reduce overtime expenses.” [Arlington County]

Four Phases of Snow Removal — For those who need a reminder after this anemic winter, a YouTube video explains the county’s four-stage snow removal process. [YouTube]

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County Government, Facilities Closed as Snow Gets Underway

(Updated at 8:05 a.m.) Those waking up expecting a winter wonderland were instead greeted by icy but mostly snowless roads and sidewalks this morning.

Still, local governments, agencies and schools are taking no chances as snow starts to ramp up in the metro area.

Arlington County government offices, courts, community centers and other facilities are closed today and the county is urging residents to “stay off the roads as the snowstorm enters the area.”

Schools are also closed and all parks and rec programs and activities are cancelled. Trash and recycling collection has been bumped back a day.

Trash & Recycling collection for today, March 21, 2018, has been cancelled. Service will resume tomorrow with the collection schedule shifting by 24 hours. Wednesday collection will occur Thursday, Thursday collection will occur Friday, Friday collection will occur Saturday.

The federal government is closed today, the Office of Personnel Management announced. Along with federal agencies, Joint Base Myer Henderson-Hall is also closed. Emergency and telework-ready employees must follow their agency’s procedures, OPM said.

VRE and MARC service is cancelled, most Amtrak service is cancelled, and Metrobus and Metrorail is operating on a modified service schedule. Arlington Transit buses, meanwhile, are also operating on a reduced schedule.

“Expect snow today 8AM-8PM. Metrobus avoiding hills & narrow streets. ART will provide limited service as conditions permit,” ART said via email.

VDOT is urging drivers to “avoid being caught in hazardous conditions such as limited visibility and slick or snow-covered roads, as well as to allow crews plenty of room to work safely.”

For those who must drive, HOV restrictions have been lifted on local highways.

High occupancy vehicle (HOV) restrictions are lifted on I-66 (inside and outside the Beltway) and on I-395 (from Edsall Road to D.C.) for the morning and afternoon rush hours today. Because HOV restrictions are lifted, tolls on the 66 Express Lanes inside the Beltway will also be suspended today. Please also be aware that shoulder lanes on I-66 and I-495 may be closed through the day to allow crews room to treat.

Even before the bulk of the snow arrives, issues are being reported on the roads. As of 7:10 a.m., firefighters were responding to a report of two vehicles that spun out and off the road along the GW Parkway near Roosevelt Bridge.

More weather updates via Twitter:

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