Arlington, VA

The Hurtt Locker is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Not surprisingly, Arlington voters affirmed the political status quo in Tuesday’s special election for County Board. Takis Karantonis, bolstered by an impressive 71% of the absentee vote, easily dispensed with “progressive independent” Susan Cunningham and Republican Bob Cambridge.

Cunningham, who was endorsed by former independent County Board Member John Vihstadt, performed well in a half-dozen precincts and got more votes than Karantonis in nine precincts, including her home precinct Marshall. With little insight into the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s campaign operation, one can reasonably assume the political machine went into overdrive for the absentee ballot program. Kudos to ACDC.

As far as Republicans are concerned (speaking with some authority here), there’s a lot of work to do. Arlington Republicans struggle to recruit credible candidates, given the political reality in this community, and the campaign machinery is nowhere near as robust as the ACDC’s operation. Still, it’s important for Republicans and independents alike to show up to the public policy discussion — and even file as candidates.

A one-sided debate on the campaign trail or in the County Board chamber is no debate at all. And even if Republican candidates serve as “sacrificial lambs” on the ballot, the ideas still permeate the discussion. And sometimes those ideas are considered and even adopted by local policymakers. It’s one of the reasons I eagerly accepted the challenge of writing this column.

With the recent passing of respected longtime civic activist (and dues-paying Arlington Republican) Jim Pebley, Republicans should reflect on what makes a successful civic activist, regardless of partisan label. And while Pebley rose through Arlington’s civic infrastructure long before the hyper-partisan era we find ourselves in, I’m certain there are public policy conversations that can take place in neighborhoods without partisan labels that seem so toxic at the national level.

Consider Takis Karantonis’ resume: 25 years of urban and regional planning experience, 6 years as Executive Director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, as well as service on a number of boards and commissions. Likewise, Susan Cunningham’s record of public service in the community is impressive.

As one of the more public figures in the Arlington Republicans, I get asked about candidate recruitment and community messaging a lot. Arlington voters elect public officials with a track record of community service. Karantonis had the support of ACDC campaign machine, but someone with a robust community resume could build out campaign infrastructure that would rival a traditional political party.

Neighborhood associations, the Arlington County Civic Federation, the Committee of 100, and the myriad interest groups that meet to advance policy interests are all ways more diverse viewpoints can have a seat at the table and channels through which someone with interest in strengthening this community could raise their public profile.

It starts by saying hello to your neighbor.

For the last eight months, it’s been an honor and a privilege saying hello to you and engaging in a community conversation around important issues. I’m grateful to the editors at ARLnow for giving me this space to both challenge myself and this community. And I’m thankful for those of you who chimed in along the way. I’m also encouraged by the conversation taking place between and among the other columnists. The discussion is as robust as it is diverse.

This will be my final column for ARLnow for the foreseeable future. Like many young professionals who come to Arlington after college to find work in public policy and activism, I must move on to the next opportunity. I encourage more young people who call Arlington home (even temporarily) step up and engage community and civic leaders around issues that are important to them. Thank you.

À la prochaine et laissez les bons temps rouler!

Matthew Hurtt was an 11-year Arlington resident, and he is still passionate about localism and government transparency and accountability. Hurtt was a member of the Arlington Heights Civic Association and the chairman of the Arlington Falls Church Young Republicans. Hurtt prides himself on his ability to bring people of diverse perspectives together to break down barriers that stand in the way of people realizing their potential. He now resides in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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The Hurtt Locker is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

I am encouraged by the shift in the national (and local) discussion about citizens’ relationship to the law and with law enforcement we have seen take place over the last few weeks.

In the many rallies, marches, and protests, people of all races and creeds have united to call into question overcriminalization and police practices that quite frequently lead to the unnecessary and tragic deaths of our black and brown brothers and sisters.

Americans have shifted our thinking on a range of practices related to policing in relatively short order. From limiting the transfer of military equipment to police departments to banning no-knock warrants and chokeholds, the shift has been dramatic in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

I anticipate these debates will play out at every level of government, resulting in good and bad proposals. Ahead of a special session later this summer, Virginia’s Legislative Black Caucus released a “comprehensive list of policy priorities,” many of which are broadly supported by Democrats and Republicans alike.

But there’s something missing from the dominant conversation around overcriminalization and policing, especially in communities like Arlington.

I wanted to title this column “A libertarian defense of Black Lives Matter,” but I know the political realities of the Arlington community. Many of my neighbors have an unshakeable faith in the power of government, and they do not seem to connect the intentions they have for any number of government policies with the outcomes that manifest in the execution of those policies. I have to sneak these libertarian civics lessons into the commentary.

You see, there is no law so trivial that the government will not kill you to enforce it. Be it Eric Garner for loitering and selling loose cigarettes or Atatiana Jefferson for leaving her front door open or Stephon Clark for holding a mobile phone in his grandmother’s backyard, each law we clamor to enact gives law enforcement officers another opportunity — another excuse — to pull their firearms on otherwise peaceable citizens.

I write a lot about criminal justice reform, and I am involved in advancing substantive public policy change in the criminal justice space because it is the most public way people view execution of the law in their communities. Every frustrating or tragic interaction with the law causes someone else to question the proper role of government — and to consider the solutions we could achieve and the lives we could save if we relied more heavily on the other key institutions that strengthen our society.

This moment is calling out systemic racism and injustice. Right now, the American people are considering the consequences of criminalizing poverty and using the law to target fellow Americans who fall overwhelmingly on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale.

The uncomfortable fact of the matter is, it is easier in this country to be rich and guilty than poor and innocent. We must consider that reality when weighing new laws or harsher penalties for old laws.

If we are a community that believes #BlackLivesMatter, we must advocate for the repeal of countless laws that by their very nature increase the likelihood that someone — disproportionately someone black or brown — will be forced to interact with law enforcement. I’m here for that advocacy.

Matthew Hurtt is an 11-year Arlington resident who is passionate about localism and government transparency and accountability. Hurtt is a member of the Arlington Heights Civic Association and was previously the chairman of the Arlington Falls Church Young Republicans. Hurtt prides himself on his ability to bring people of diverse perspectives together to break down barriers that stand in the way of people realizing their potential. He is originally from outside Nashville.

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The Hurtt Locker is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

As Arlington enters Phase Two of Governor Northam’s re-opening strategy, I have really struggled to empathize with my neighbors.

Despite the polarization and tribalism we see in debates that rage across social media and populate the headlines, I try to believe people are more nuanced and complex than the red and blue avatars we create for them. I refuse to concede the young couple walking their dog, or the woman on a run, or the family sitting out in their front yard during my evening walks, are as divided or as divisive as some would have us believe.

But we’re hardwired to sort ourselves into tribes, and political leaders and pundits often take advantage of our biology to drive their own agenda. It seems to have gotten to a fever-pitch.

The recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd reignited the conversation about race and policing practices in America and right here in Arlington. After more than a week of peaceful protests organized by community and religious groups — flanked by instances of rioting in other major American cities — we are seriously re-thinking our relationship with law enforcement in this country.

I marched from Courthouse to Clarendon and back at last Thursday’s peaceful protest, holding a sign that read #SayTheirNames along with the names of nearly a dozen black Americans who either died during an altercation with police or later in police custody. As someone who is passionate about criminal justice reform and works in the policy space, I recognize many of these tragedies are a product of overcriminalization and police practices.

There are evidence-based bipartisan solutions that can be implemented that guarantee human dignity and reduce the likelihood of adverse (or even deadly) interactions with police. Those in attendance at last Thursday’s march weren’t red Americans or blue Americans, they were the kinds of people who could come to the table and support bipartisan solutions.

But for as much faith as I have in people who are involved advancing solutions to the criminal justice problems we face, I am dragged kicking and screaming back into the debate about re-opening, where the battle lines are much clearer… and much more partisan.

A question posed on May 12 on the community social networking site Nextdoor asked, “When do you believe Arlington County should enter Phase 1?” Of the nearly 1,200 respondents, more than 60% said either “June 10” (yesterday), “July 4 or later,” or “when a vaccine is developed.” I was baffled by this.

Part of the reasoning didn’t become clear to me until several weeks later when Arlington released its unemployment numbers from mid-March to mid-April. Arlington’s unemployment rate? 7%.

It’s easy to rationalize keeping the economy shuttered for an extended period of time when 93% of the workforce is still drawing a paycheck. Worst of all? The shutdowns disproportionately impact people of color at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum, moving economic security and the American Dream further out of reach.

Somewhere along the way, the tribalism kicked into high gear and people ascribed the worst intentions to others with whom they didn’t agree. People who wanted to re-open the economy simultaneously wanted to kill the vulnerable and immunocompromised, while people who favored keeping the economy closed wanted to drive us into a prolonged recession. Neither of these assertions is true.

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The Hurtt Locker is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Arlington’s Committee of 100 hosted a panel discussion last night about the local “criminal justice reform movement” — part of a bipartisan, nationwide public policy conversation that’s playing out at all levels of government in nearly every state.

Panelists included Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, Public Defender Brad Heywood, and Sheriff Beth Arthur.

Both Dehghani-Tafti and Haywood touched on cannabis policy in their opening remarks and answered follow-up questions on the topic. Dehghani-Tafti ran on a platform that included cannabis legalization and vowed to reduce prosecutions for cannabis-related crimes.

And though Dehghani-Tafti said she hopes full cannabis legalization makes it across the finish line in the 2021 legislative session, she stopped short of support for outright expungement of records related to cannabis convictions, suggesting law enforcement should have access to those records even if other sectors — say, would-be employers of a potential applicant with a cannabis conviction — did not.

On a related note, ARLnow took a step in the right direction in early March by removing old crime reports from search engine indexing, arguing the move would “give dozens of nonviolent offenders a better chance at moving on with their lives after paying their debt to society.” This may not seem like much, but in an age where our online presence follows us in perpetuity and potentially affects future employment and other opportunities, it’s an admirable move by ARLnow.

Conspicuously absent from the Committee of 100’s event was a representative from the Arlington County Police Department, which assumes the bulk of law enforcement duties in Arlington, something Sheriff Arthur articulated in her opening remarks. It was awkward not having that perspective of the criminal justice system present in the discussion, especially since one might assume the most contentious relationship would be between more liberal criminal justice “reformers” and institutional law enforcement.

Dehghani-Tafti even acknowledged the tension that existed as she prepared to take office after her election last year, stating, “Clearly, I needed to work on building bridges with police. I don’t think that’s a secret to anybody.” Voters deserve to know more about Dehghani-Tafti’s bridge-building efforts, as well as ACPD’s response to the changes her election brought to the office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney. Has it become easier or harder for ACPD to do its job?

Criminal justice reform has also made headlines at the state-level this week. Legislative Republicans are scrapping with Governor Northam and Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran over the release of a number of inmates who pose varying levels of risk to public safety.

There are two separate issues at hand here: facing a potentially-rapid spread of COVID-19 across Virginia’s prison system, the legislature approved a budget amendment allowing the Department of Corrections to release some offenders with a year or less to serve whose continued incarceration posed personal health risks. As someone engaged in criminal justice reform efforts, this seems like a reasonable public policy to me.

Brad Haywood and Sheriff Arthur spoke about the efforts to release non-violent offenders who may be affected by the spread COVID-19 in the county detention facility, with Haywood stating the local effort was taking cues from Governor Northam and the state Supreme Court’s guidance. Haywood also spoke about his effort to seek clemency for a class of about 60 offenders locally, admitting the decision to grant clemency is ultimately up to the governor.

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The Hurtt Locker is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

(Updated at 3:30 p.m.) Arlington’s civic-minded voters are learning lessons in the art of campaigns and elections in the Age of COVID-19 — lessons in innovation that may well be a model for other jurisdictions and localities as election season heats up across the country.

On Tuesday night the Arlington Young Democrats and the Arlington Democrats co-hosted a Facebook Live debate with the 6 candidates for school board who are vying for the Democratic nod. The hour-and-a-half-long debate fielded questions from viewers that ran the gamut from COVID-19 response to the search for a superintendent to equity in the classroom, The debate was shared dozens of times and viewed by more than 1,600 people at the time of this writing.

Despite the occasional mute-unmute technical issues, an online debate rarely devolves into candidates talking over one another – one of the more annoying aspects of a traditional modern political debate. But the Facebook Live debate is just one way the Arlington Democrats have innovated in response to COVID-19. Democratic voters are endorsing their two school board candidates in an all vote-by-mail caucus, which is running from April 7 to May 7.

The Arlington Democrats write on their caucus webpage, “This change from the traditional in-person caucus process is necessitated by the current public health crisis. The impact of COVID-19 on our community remains uncertain, and timelines for peak medical impact, social distancing, and other repercussions are still unknown.” Readers of ARLnow’s alternating Thursday columns have until next Thursday (May 7) to request a Democratic mail-in ballot for school board, but the deadline to submit that ballot isn’t until May 30.

However, the most interesting electoral race in the Age of COVID-19 will be the Democratic primary for the County Board seat vacated by the late Erik Gutshall in early April. Circuit Court Chief Judge William Newman Jr. ordered the special election for Tuesday, July 7, in compliance with the Code of Virginia. Read More

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The Hurtt Locker is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

As governments at every level react (and sometimes overreact) to the ongoing COVID-19 situation, other institutions across society have risen to the occasion to fill in the gaps and confront the unintended consequences of shutting down the economy to address the present situation.

Across society, we observe four key institutions working in concert (and sometimes at odds) with one another: business, community, education, and government.

These institutions are the stable and lasting structures that guide how people interact with one another in society. Over time, they’ve evolved as society progresses through human action and cooperation.

Advocates of limiting the institution of government seek to empower and embolden the other three institutions to assume their proper roles in our society, allowing them to address pressing issues that affect our quality of life. When these institutions work in harmony with one another, our quality of life improves. When these institutions ignore their proper roles or act in bad faith, human progress is diminished, and vulnerable people are left behind.

Those who advocate for empowering business, community, and education might ask, “What if government didn’t do that?” in response to any number of activities that fall outside the proper role of government.  A common misconception from my friends who advocate for more government involvement in our lives is that if government didn’t do [insert activity here], then it wouldn’t get done at all.

That’s simply not the case. Let’s take a look at a few examples where business, community, and education have stepped up where government has missed the mark in the last few weeks:

Business

Businesses should use principled entrepreneurship to create products and services that not only improve their customers’ lives but society as a whole. When possible, they should also inspire their employees to create value for others outside of business.

Most non-essential businesses have closed across Arlington and Virginia for the foreseeable future, leaving hundreds of thousands without work and struggling to make ends meet. Thousands of small businesses will likely never re-open. But Virginia technology entrepreneur Pete Snyder and his wife Burson, with the help of business leaders across the Commonwealth, launched the Virginia 30 Day Fund to help small businesses stay afloat during these challenging times.

The money raised by business leaders and entrepreneurs through this fund are dispersed directly to small businesses and do not need to be repaid. Businesses who benefit from assistance from the 30 Day Fund are encouraged to “pay it forward” at a later date to another Virginia small business in need of assistance.

This is just one example of the institution of business flexing its muscle and stepping in to fill the gaps created by the economic shutdown. There are countless instances of business innovation in response to the COVID-19 situation across Virginia. Silverback Distillery, based near Charlottesville and owned by Congressman Denver Riggleman and his wife Christine, switched part of their production from liquor to hand sanitizer to provide to hospitals, first responders, and medical personnel.

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The Hurtt Locker is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

“The mission of the County Manager’s Office is… to ensure high-quality services, with outstanding customer service at a good value to taxpayers; [and] to foster economic and fiscal sustainability…” – County Manager’s Office Mission

COVID-19 could cause Arlington county to raise taxes and dramatically grow the budget in times when revenues are uncertain. The county should instead stress fiscal prudence and tread lightly, starting from zero, and make targeted cuts to preserve room to respond to COVID-19.

Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz touted his proposed Fiscal Year 2021 budget as a “good news budget” following “a few years of tight budgets, involving tax rate hikes and a handful of county staff layoffs,” according to ARLnow coverage just six weeks ago.

Barely a month later, county officials were scrambling to rethink the budget in anticipation of the economic fallout of the pandemic. County leaders are indeed facing unprecedented economic uncertainty. I don’t envy the situation our local elected leaders face. I stand with and support them during these challenging times, despite the policy and philosophical differences between us.

Discussing the FY2021 budget in recent coverage from ARLnow, County Board Chair Libby Garvey said: “We need a budget by July 1… We don’t know what our revenues will be… [and] We don’t know what our expenses will be.”

The breakdown of Arlington County revenue sources is alarming and makes a compelling case to reduce spending. Read More

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The Hurtt Locker is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

There’s a growing movement in America comprised of people with wildly diverse views from across the political and cultural spectrum. They’re coming together over dinner to respectfully debate the most contentious issues of our time. And as you might imagine, the Washington, D.C.-area is ground zero for this movement.

While there are more than a dozen organizations engaged in these civil dialogue events, the two most active groups in the D.C.-area are “Make America Dinner Again” and “Better Angels,” both of which host events in the area. I am both the Northern Virginia coordinator for Make America Dinner Again (MADA) and a semi-regular attendee to Better Angels events.

MADA was founded by two young liberals after the 2016 election. They sought to bring people who voted for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump together over a meal to better understand why people voted the way they did in 2016. These dinners spread from the first one in San Francisco to now 17 city-based chapters that host regular dinners from coast to coast. I recently hosted a MADA event in Arlington with more than a dozen attendees, including fellow ARLnow columnist Nicole Merlene.

Attendees debated healthcare, immigration, and the environment, to name just a few topics. You can get a better idea of how MADA dinners go by watching coverage of the most recent Arlington dinner here.

Similarly, Better Angels was founded after the 2016 election by bringing Clinton and Trump supporters together to see if attendees could “respectfully disagree and find common ground.” Their discovery in that first gathering? “The results were remarkable,” according to their website. “We liked each other. We wanted to know more about each other. We wanted to keep on meeting. We wanted to help start workshops in communities all across America!”

This budding movement was invigorated by a 2018 report commissioned by More in Common titled, “Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape.” The report surveyed 8,000 Americans, breaking them out into six “Hidden Tribes” – Progressive Activists (8% of survey respondents), Traditional Liberals (11%), Passive Liberals (15%), Politically Disengaged (26%), Moderates (15%), Traditional Conservatives (19%), and Devoted Conservatives (6%).

One of the key takeaways in this study is that all too often the “wings” (far-left and far-right) drive the public discourse across social media and in the headlines, while an “Exhausted Majority” tends to be solutions-oriented, open to compromise, and rarely newsworthy. People from the “wings” are the ones who make headlines because it’s what leads. We sometimes make hasty generalizations about other “Tribes” based on the loudest member, especially when that generalization confirms our own prejudice or worldview.

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The Hurtt Locker is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

The Arlington County Board appointed or reappointed nearly two dozen citizens to 12 Advisory Groups and Commissions at their January 28 meeting.

These Advisory Groups and Commissions, comprised of civic-minded volunteer commissioners, provide guidance to the County Board and County Manager on issues ranging from the status of women to environmental issues to capital facilities needs.

Beyond engagement in your local civic association or other local interest group, these Advisory Groups and Commissions are some of the best ways to provide direct input into the process at the county-level. As unscheduled vacancies arise or commissioners term out, the County Board (or in limited instances, the County Manager) makes appointments from a pool of applicants. Those interested in serving on Advisory Groups and Commissions can apply here.

Astute civic observers will recognize some of the most recent appointees to the various bodies. Former County Board member John Vihstadt was appointed to the Audit Committee. As a County Board member, Vihstadt actually helped establish the Independent Auditor in Arlington and served as Co-Chair while on the County Board. Longtime housing activist Karen Serfis was appointed to the Citizens Advisory Commission on Housing.

But of the 23 appointments the County Board made on January 28, only 6 of them are fresh appointees. The other 17 are reappointments. Those reappointments carry with them significant institutional knowledge about how these bodies function and the progress on many community discussions, but they may lack the energy and enthusiasm a new appointee could bring.

Certainly the pool of potential appointees is limited to those who “opt-in” by completing the extensive application. These would-be volunteer commissioners give up their time to engage at the county-level, often above and beyond the other civic responsibilities they already assume.

Beyond the more than 50 Advisory Groups and Commissions constituted to provide input to the County Board and County Manager, there’s one Board that is somewhat removed from the traditional process and whose vacancies are less frequent and filled in a different way – the Arlington Electoral Board, whose membership is comprised of three appointees made by the Circuit Court.

Potential appointees are put forward by the Arlington County Democratic Committee and the Arlington County Republican Committee. According to the Electoral Board website, “Two Electoral Board members represent the current governor’s political party, while the third member represents the party with the second-highest number of statewide votes in the last gubernatorial election.”

On Saturday February 1, the Circuit Court ceremoniously swore in the board’s newest member — Matthew Weinstein — who will replace outgoing board member David Bell just a couple days before the March 3 Democratic presidential primary. Bell, a longtime member of the Electoral Board, previously served as the Clerk of the Circuit Court and brings significant institutional knowledge to the Electoral Board.

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The Hurtt Locker is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

The Arlington County Board held its 2020 organizational meeting on Thursday, January 2. It is not uncommon for the Board to elect as their chairman the member up for re-election in that year, and – as expected – they selected Libby Garvey to lead the Board.

This is perhaps a tacit endorsement by the Arlington establishment, since Garvey will have to fend off a potentially contentious Democratic primary challenge in June from Chanda Choun, who lost to Matt de Ferranti in the Democratic primary for County Board in 2018.

Since de Ferranti’s defeat of independent County Board member John Vihstadt in the 2018 general election, Garvey is one of the most fiscally-conscious members of the Board, a role she should embrace with vigor as the Board makes plans for 2020.

Each Board member outlined their priorities for the year in brief remarks during last Thursday’s organizational meeting, and I couldn’t help but think of the county budget’s bottom line with the mention of every new project and priority.

Here are three resolutions Garvey and her fellow Board members should adopt as they roll up their sleeves and get to work in the new year:

  1. Embrace fiscal responsibility. From childhood hunger and accommodating Arlington’s growing school-age population to stormwater management and flooding, Board members highlighted priorities and projects for 2020. With the economic uptick compounded by Amazon’s HQ2 and the drop in the commercial vacancy rate, Arlington has the capacity to re-prioritize county goals, make wiser use of taxpayer dollars, and make it more affordable to live, work, and play in Arlington.Arlington’s “Tax & Fee Compendium” lists more than 500 taxes and fees levied across the county, from big taxes like property taxes and BPOL to fees we pay for metered parking or facilities rental or online permit processing. County leaders should halt the relentless increase in these taxes and fees where possible. Being nickel-and-dime’d at every turn impacts Arlington’s perception and affordability, and we can and should be leaders in the region over the next decade.
  1. Push for expanded government transparency. While Arlington residents expect and generally receive good county services from helpful county employees, the county lacks a level of transparency consistent with residents’ expectations.Throughout public conversations about Amazon HQ2 in 2018 and 2019, the county’s Freedom of Information Act office attempted to charge more than $900 for emails between county employees and interested parties regarding Amazon negotiations, many of which excluded redacted information provided by other jurisdictions that were then in the running for HQ2. Those who requested relevant emails were informed much of the substance of those emails would be unavailable for public inspection. Both Arlington Republicans and area Democratic Socialists (DSA and Our Revolution), as well as at least one reporter from the Washington Post, inquired about access to these emails with no success. Conceivably, the exorbitant costs of these requests would go to pay for the time to redact thousands of email exchanges and supplementary attachments.In the wake of public scrutiny over Board member Christian Dorsey’s Metro union campaign contribution and financial misgivings, there is one set of documents noticeably absent from the County’s Open Data Portal – Board member financial disclosure statements, which are on file with the County Board Clerk’s office. Publishing these documents online would increase the ability of citizens and other interested parties to research and understand potential conflicts of interest in a timely manner.
  2. Recommit to the Arlington Way. After the close of last Thursday’s organizational meeting, members of the County Board answered questions from members of the Arlington County Civic Federation. During the Q&A, Board chair Libby Garvey noted the important role the Civic Federation plays in public discourse and encouraged community leaders to reach beyond the involved and engaged population to those who may not have time or resources to dedicate to civic engagement. This is a significant challenge in a participatory democracy, and the responsibility falls on elected leaders, community leaders, and even columnists like the ones you read here at ARLnow.It is important to remind Board members, however, as one participant said during the Q&A, “Engagement is not telling us what you’ve done.” To augment what fellow columnist Jane Green wrote earlier this week, recommitting to the Arlington Way means collaborating with interested parties every step along the way, taking their feedback into consideration, and shaping public policy based on that feedback.

Lastly – and with a watchful eye toward Richmond – I hope the new Democratic majority in the General Assembly can work closely with Republicans to continue the progress made on criminal justice reform we’ve seen in both Washington and in states across the country. This means permanently ending driver’s license suspensions for unpaid court fees, at the very least decriminalizing marijuana possession and use (if not outright legalizing it), and abolishing the death penalty.

Happy New Year! Let’s make it a good one.

Matthew Hurtt is a 10-year Arlington resident who is passionate about localism and government transparency and accountability. Hurtt is a member of the Arlington Heights Civic Association and was previously the chairman of the Arlington Falls Church Young Republicans. Hurtt prides himself on his ability to bring people of diverse perspectives together to break down barriers that stand in the way of people realizing their potential. He is originally from outside Nashville.

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The Hurtt Locker is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

ARLnow posed the following Morning Poll question last week: Should homeowners have more of a say in local government than renters?

This question came on the heels of an editorial in the Arlington Sun Gazette about reducing the amount of single-family housing in exchange for multi-family units, a conversation currently being driven by affordable housing proponents that is sure to dominate the county budget conversation in the coming weeks and months.

Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol signaled support for a $9 million increase (or 54%) to the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF) over this fiscal year’s $16 million investment. “This is, I recognize, a lot of money,” Cristol said. No joke. But in politics — and in government — nothing moves unless pushed. And affordable housing proponents have been out in force at recent meetings.

Anyone who attends an Arlington County Board meeting or any of the myriad meetings of boards and commissions knows issues are debated and discussed and decided by representatives from competing local interest groups, many of which are comprised primarily of homeowners — even though renters make up 57% of household units, according to the 2017 Census American Community Survey (ACS). One might argue that homeowners already have a disproportionate say in local government over renters.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. As a renter who is a member of my civic association and has an interest in local issues, I realize I’m probably an outlier — even in Arlington. Many of my contemporaries are renters who work on federal issues (either on the Hill or at a nonprofit or interest group), and they are not particularly interested in local issues. They won’t show up for a County Board meeting or a Civic Federation debate or a Committee of 100 dinner. But they make up a significant percentage of those impacted by decisions our County Board and School Board make, whether or not they always realize it.

And what about big and small business owners who don’t live and vote in Arlington? Should they have less of a say in local government? Representatives from Harris Teeter spoke at a recent County Board meeting regarding the proposed re-development of the grocery chain’s location at 600 N, Glebe Road in Ballston alongside residents who would be impacted by the development and the Ballston BID whose interest is economic growth in that neighborhood. Even former Delegate Rob Krupicka, who lives in Alexandria but owns a small business near Columbia Pike, probably deserves a say in local government if and when it impacts his business.

Are long-term, community-rooted homeowners and short-term, transient renters interested in different issues? Do they care about different and sometimes competing policy solutions? Sure. But both are important voices as we address important issues like affordable housing, school overcrowding, and infrastructure. Make no mistake: Renters have just as much of a stake in Arlington as homeowners do; and we pay just as much for county services, even though many of those costs are passed along in the total amount of the rent, rather than in a property tax bill from Arlington County.

All that to say this: If you made it to the end of this column, take a few minutes to fill out the County’s “How Should We Be Spending [Your] Money?” survey. Because you — as a renter, or homeowner, or out-of-town business owner — deserve a say in Arlington.

One additional note: Since my last column on November 14, I have met with a number of community activists from across the political spectrum to talk and learn more about local issues. As I outlined in my first column, I hope to take many of these conversations offline and into the community, so reach out if you’d like to sit down over a cup of coffee or a beer.

Matthew Hurtt is a 10-year Arlington resident who is passionate about localism and government transparency and accountability. Hurtt is a member of the Arlington Heights Civic Association and was previously the chairman of the Arlington Falls Church Young Republicans. Hurtt prides himself on his ability to bring people of diverse perspectives together to break down barriers that stand in the way of people realizing their potential. He is originally from outside Nashville.

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