Arlington, VA

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


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.


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.


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

Arlington residents learned about a string of ethical and financial transgressions by Arlington County Board Chairman Christian Dorsey last week.

After waiting four months to disclose a $10,000 campaign contribution from Metro’s largest union, Dorsey – who serves as a principal director on the WMATA (Metro) Board – was removed as finance chair of the board in a special meeting last Thursday.

The WMATA Board found that Dorsey violated its code of ethics and likely voted on a number of issues for which he should have recused himself during the four-month period. Dorsey called it a careless oversight, but when independent candidate Audrey Clement raised the issue at the Committee of 100 candidate debate in early October, Dorsey said there was no conflict of interest as the Metro Board does not handle union business.

Dorsey’s rebuttal is patently false. According to Tom Webb, the VP for Labor Relations at WMATA, the WMATA Board not only votes to approve contracts negotiated with ATU 689 (the union that contributed $10,000 to Dorsey’s campaign) and other unions, it also provides direction to the WMATA General Manager in advance of those negotiations. In retrospect, Dorsey’s casual and condescending dismissal of then-candidate Clement’s line of attack reveals another layer of arrogance.

What readers may not realize is the $10,000 contribution is just the tip of the iceberg. On December 3, 2018, Dorsey received a $1,500 contribution from Volkert, which has a contract for the Dulles Silver Line extension. Nine days later, Dorsey used $1,250 of those funds to pay down a 2015 loan.

The second shoe to drop came just one day later when Arlingtonians learned about Mr. Dorsey’s Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing, which occurred on October 16. In the realm of politics, I’m hesitant to criticize anyone’s personal financial misgivings. Bankruptcy is a financial protection provided by law; however, as many readers with various levels of security clearance know, personal financial issues are a major concern when identifying (potential) employees who would be susceptible to ethical compromise.

An egregious aspect of this part of the story is that Mr. Dorsey blamed his public service for his diminished personal income, signaling to residents that he has taken a personal hit to govern over us. As readers will recall, the Arlington County Board voted to raise its salary cap in June of this year. Chairman Dorsey said, “I support increasing the salary cap because I believe it will encourage more people, from varied economic backgrounds, to think about serving on this Board.”

Given the new context, those words likely have new meaning to many readers here.

On top of all that, Chairman Dorsey championed a property tax increase in April of this year, advising Arlington taxpayers to “scrub the family budget” to cover the cost of the tax increase.

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

Welcome, neighbor! My name is Matthew Hurtt, and you’ve stumbled upon Hurtt Locker, a biweekly column about fiscal responsibility and good governance in Arlington. I’m grateful to the ARLnow team for giving me some space here to have this conversation with you.

Arlington is a vibrant and thriving community with a rich history of civic engagement, where decisions are debated and discussed at the neighborhood level. From time to time, however, county leaders appear to make decisions before seeking community input; and the process looks more like a formality rather than a genuine effort to engage the wide array of interest groups that exist and organize here.

If we are to pursue the “Arlington Way,” we must continue to engage interest groups, neighborhoods, and individuals in robust conversation about the issues that impact our lives – from traffic and infrastructure to education to financial incentives that attract businesses and jobs to Arlington.

I hope to explore these issues with you, neighbor, in a thought-provoking way. And I will draw on my community experience and engagement at the local level. Over the past several years, I have been at the table to discuss short-term rental regulations, food truck restrictions, and most recently, e-scooter and dockless bike regulations. In each of these conversations, I have pushed to break down barriers, encouraging county leaders to empower citizens to embrace expanded opportunity and prosperity.

And when it comes to budgeting for our future, I hope to reinvigorate the conversation around bond issues — questioning the trend by county leaders of lumping “must have” projects with premium projects. Voters should have a clear choice when it comes to funding necessary projects over vanity projects.

Perhaps most importantly, I want to connect with you and find opportunities to collaborate and converse about these important issues. Beyond this column, I hope you will engage with me in person and at community events, or on social media. I strongly believe that cross-partisan discourse is possible here in Arlington. Let’s lead the way.

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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