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Morning Poll: Moving on from the Arlington Way?

(Updated at 10:30 a.m.) For years now, there have been calls to revamp, fix or rethink the “Arlington Way.”

There is no single, comprehensive definition of what the Arlington Way is, but broadly, according to one county document, “the Arlington Way refers to the form citizen participation takes in Arlington County.”

It is, essentially, the way the county government — along with the school system — goes about shaping its plan and policies, through input from stakeholders like civic associations and by convening committees and commissions.

While the stated goal is inclusion and seeking input, there have been grumbles over the years that the Arlington Way is actually about getting residents to accept a preordained outcome set by elected officials or county staff.

The recent elementary school boundary process, Four Mile Run Valley planning process and Washington-Lee renaming process all featured disgruntled residents complaining about getting railroaded. In those and other controversial decisions, we’ve often heard from those involved that they felt certain cogs in the community process — committee members, consultants hired as “facilitators,” etc. — were specifically chosen to help steer the process to a desired outcome.

On the opposite side of those arguments, others who’ve talked to ARLnow have expressed disappointment in the slow, trodding pace of decision-making in Arlington. The complainers, some have said, are simply trying to slow down progress or to use the process to get their way despite being ultimately being in the minority on a given issue.

There has been a notable amount of off-the-record criticism, for instance, about the County Board dragging out the approval process for a very necessary expansion to Virginia Hospital Center. The cost to the hospital and the delay in the project, some have said, was not worth trying — unsuccessfully — to appease a handful of residents who essentially didn’t like the idea of bigger buildings in their neighborhood.

That’s not to mention the fact that serving on committees is a massive time commitment — a big “ask” of those involved — and attending civic association and County Board meetings requires setting aside considerable time as well. Thus, those serving on committees and attending meetings are often those with strong opinions about the outcome — opinions not necessarily reflective of the view of most residents unwilling or unable to put in the time.

So today we’re asking: what should be done about the Arlington Way? Should it be scrapped altogether in favor of a more streamlined process of gathering community input — online or otherwise — and then letting those elected to make such decisions do so, taking into account the input received? Or should it be kept the same or even strengthened to be more inclusive and iterative, and less deterministic?

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Morning Notes

Arlington County Prepares for Winter Weather — Though a winter storm this weekend is looking increasingly unlikely for the area, Arlington County says it is preparing for a snowy winter and “will be ready to fight back” against snow and ice. [Arlington County]

More Solar Panels for APS — “Arlington County Public Schools signed a contract on Thursday night that they say will save them millions of dollars. Five of their schools will be made over with solar panels as part of a power purchase agreement, or PPA, with a Charlottesville, Virginia firm called Sun Tribe Solar.” [WUSA 9]

Fire at Ledo Pizza — Firefighters responded to an electrical fire at the Ledo Pizza restaurant in the Red Lion hotel in Rosslyn yesterday. The fire was extinguished by a sprinkler system. [Twitter]

Amazon, Pentagon City and Housing — Most or even all of Amazon’s permanent presence in Arlington could actually be in Pentagon City, not Crystal City. That presents an opportunity to add more housing, including affordable housing, in Pentagon City. [Greater Greater Washington]

American May Add Flights at DCA — “American Airlines is closely ‘studying’ online retailer Amazon’s plans to open a second headquarters steps away from its hub at Ronald Reagan Washington National airport, where it is already planning to add seats at the slot-controlled facility. ‘We absolutely plan to upgauge at DCA,’ the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier’s vice-president of network Vasu Raja tells FlightGlobal.” [FlightGlobal]

Our Lady of Guadalupe Celebration — “On Saturday, December 8, approximately 300 people are expected to pour into Saint Agnes Catholic Church’s Parish Hall in Arlington to celebrate the anniversary of the apparition of the Blessed Mother to Juan Diego on December 12, 1531. Following the Mass, there will be a candle lit procession with some of the faithful carrying a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, followed by praying the rosary, and a potluck dinner with live entertainment -a mariachi band!” [Diocese of Arlington]

Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler

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Morning Notes

ACPD Helps With Bush Funeral — Arlington County Police Department motor officers “had the honor of assisting with escorts” for the George H.W. Bush funeral yesterday. [Twitter]

Arlington County Named LGBTQ ‘All-Star’ — “For the third year in a row, Arlington has received national recognition for its protections of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community members. The County scored 92 out of 100 on the Municipal Equality Index (MEI)… because it scored at least an 85 despite being in a state without supportive state-level LGBTQ protections, the County also earned ‘all-star’ recognition.” [Arlington County]

Bikeshare Station Coming to Gravelly Point — A Capital Bikeshare station was being installed along the Mt. Vernon Trail at Gravelly Point Park yesterday. [Twitter]

County, Volunteers Planting Trees — “This fall alone, the Tree Stewards has planted about 300 trees. The group planned on planting 900, but the ice and snow in early November steered it a little off track. Arlington County contractors picked up the rest of the job.” [WDVM]

Flickr pool by Tom Mockler

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Morning Notes

Rare, Tropical Dragonfly Spotted in Arlington — “There was quite the discovery at this year’s Bioblitz in Glencarlyn Park. After a photo posted on the crowd-sourcing tracker, iNaturalist, started to spark a lot of interest… the consensus was that what had been photographed was a Great Pondhawk Dragonfly (Erythemis vesiculosa).” [Arlington County]

Frost Fest Rescheduled — Frost Fest at Pentagon Row, originally planned for Saturday, has been rescheduled due to expected rainy weather. It will now take place this Sunday from 4-7 p.m. [Twitter]

County to Open Garages During Snowstorms — “If a big winter storm – or two, or three – hits the region in coming months, Arlington residents will be able to leave their cars safe and sound in county-owned garages for the duration. It’s all part of an effort to keep residential streets as free of vehicles as possible so snow-plow operators can do their job.” [InsideNova]

Crafthouse Going Big — Beer-centric local restaurant chain Crafthouse, which has a location in Ballston, has inked a $250 million deal to franchise nationally. [Reston Now]

Portion of W&OD Trail to Get Separate Lanes — “A major 1.2-mile stretch of the W&OD Trail bike path that traverses the City of Falls Church… will soon be enhanced with the benefit of $3.2 million from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and turned into a dual path — one for bikes and the other for pedestrians.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Amazon News Roundup — Virginia economic development officials say they have “accounted for a host of risks that might arise related to Amazon, from a shift in direction for the company to antitrust litigation.” The Arlington Civic Federation “will host a discussion of the proposed Amazon economic-incentive package at its monthly meeting, to be held on Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. at Virginia Hospital Center.” Arlington County’s building and permitting staff “won’t be doing anything out of the ordinary to accommodate Amazon, such as fast-tracking, a common incentive offered to big economic development prizes.” And, in a new report on the oft-reported subject, “Amazon’s Northern Virginia headquarters could exacerbate existing economic disparities.”

Flickr pool photo by David Giambarresi

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Morning Notes

Human Rights Award Winners Announced — The 2018 winners of Arlington County’s James B. Hunter Human Rights Award have been announced. The two individuals and two groups to be honored at a Dec. 13 ceremony are: former Arlington Public Schools social study teacher Marty Swaim, former Arlington County Board member Jay Fisette, the Arlington chapter of Awesome Women Entrepreneurs, and Arm & Arm, “an Arlington-based community group providing a variety of services to veterans and the incarcerated to aid in their reentry to society.” [Arlington County]

Fill the Cruiser Tonight Near Crystal City — Today, on Giving Tuesday, the Arlington County Police Department will bring its “Fill the Cruiser” toy drive to Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Aurora Highlands, from 6-8 p.m. [Twitter]

JBG Re-Ups Crystal City Tenant — “JBG Smith, just weeks removed from winning D.C.’s biggest economic prize in a generation in Crystal City, is already reaping side benefits. The REIT signed National Cooperative Bank to a 15-year extension on its 66K SF lease at 2011 Crystal Drive, it announced Monday. The building is a few blocks from where Amazon is leasing space from JBG Smith for Phase 1 of its HQ2 requirement.” [Bisnow]

Amazon News Roundup — Questions are being raised about the nondisclosure agreements Amazon required of jurisdictions bidding for HQ2. Alexandria officials “are confident housing prices and rental rates won’t become unbearable when Amazon sets up shop in Crystal City.” The spillover effects of Amazon’s Crystal City campus on the commercial real estate market may not extend much beyond Arlington’s Metro corridors. And finally — no, Amazon did not rename Crystal City.

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Morning Notes

Arlington Names New Resident Ombudsman — “Ben Aiken has been named as Arlington’s Resident Ombudsman and Director of Constituent Services in the County Manager’s Office, effective October 8, 2018. Arlington’s Resident Ombudsman is part of the Constituent Services Team helping to ensure Arlington’s government works effectively and maintains a high degree of transparency.” [Arlington County]

Senior Alert for Man Last Seen in Arlington — “The Virginia State Police Department has issued a Senior Alert for 78-year-old James Oliver… Oliver was last seen in Arlington around 3 p.m. Sept. 19, walking near the intersection of North Wakefield [Street] and 24th Street. He was reportedly wearing a blue blazer, silver shirt, pink neck tie and blue jeans.” [WDBJ7]

It is PARK(ing) Day — Today is PARK(ing) Day, ” an annual international event where the public collaborates to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into small parks to elicit a reconsideration of the designation of public space.” There are five PARK(ing) day sites in Arlington: AECOM (2940 Clarendon Blvd), “The Bird Nest” – Communal Space (555 23rd St. S.), Bike Arlington et al (2040 15th St. N.), Solid Waste Bureau (4115 Campbell Ave.), Little Diversified Architectural Consulting (1061 N. Taylor St.). [Arlington County]

Log Cabin For Sale Near Marymount — The log cabin on 26th Street N. near Marymount University is listed for sale. Built in 1836, the home was later a favorite destination for Theodore Roosevelt, who would ride horses and eat ice cream there. [Washington Post]

Video Tour of New ART Buses — The new buses in the Arlington Transit fleet are more comfortable and feature-rich than older models, according to a video tour posted online. The 13 buses will allow ART to add new service. [YouTube]

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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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