Arlington, VA


The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

The Progressive Voice opined this week that it may be time to take measures that rein in growth.

It is slightly ironic that the growth in high rise housing has helped give Democrats a virtual lock on local elections is also causing consternation among “progressives.” It is also amusing that progressives complain about traffic and parking while many of them are advocating for eliminating travel lanes on already congested streets, stopping scooter rentals and eliminating parking spaces.

Growth is just one of the things Democrats have been fighting with each other about in Arlington.

Also on the list, whether to provide subsidies to big corporations like Amazon; the debate over preserving neighborhood schools when redrawing boundaries versus making diversity the priority when setting new lines; whether a strong, experience prosecutor is more important than an unknown and unproven Commonwealth Attorney who promises to reform the office; disagreements over whether accessory dwelling units were bad for neighborhoods; and changing the name of Washington-Lee to Washington-Liberty high school.

The anti-Trump sentiment that drove Democrats to the polls in 2018 overshadowed the issues facing the county as well as the check to one-party rule that having an independent voice on the County Board provided.

The Board read the results differently. They went on a post-Vihstadt spending spree, including millions to build more bus stops on Columbia Pike. They voted to raise their own pay by as much as 60%. Yet things like ongoing water main breaks and the recent flooding reminded voters that basic local governance decisions on things like infrastructure have often not received enough attention.

There is undoubtedly continued discontent with how our elected officials are making decisions. One option is for Democrats to run more candidates in primary contests against incumbents in future years. But there is tremendous opportunity to partner with the Independents and Republicans who want to see our county run well and in a fiscally responsible manner.

It might even be time for the community to come together and back a write-in campaign for John Vihstadt. And since it’s a two seat County Board year, maybe a Vihstadt-Stamos write-in ticket? If Vihstadt’s win in 2014 sent a shock wave through the establishment, imagine if it happened again without his name appearing on the ballot.

Mark Kelly is a 19-year Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

It is a big summer for Arlington Public Schools. It started with the June 12th announcement that Superintendent Patrick Murphy is leaving his post September 3rd after a decade at the helm.

Yet, according to incoming School Board Chair Tannia Talento, the search for his replacement still has not begun, nor have they named an interim superintendent who can be an active part of the transition. Talento noted the School Board plans to hire an executive search firm, but has not done so yet. In fact, Talento says the search firm may not be in place until sometime in the fall.

Murphy’s decision must have caught the School Board members off-guard. Three weeks have already gone by, and apparently it will be three months before the search begins.

This is the second instance that calls into question the priorities of the School Board when it comes to staffing APS. Just a couple months ago, we heard that APS does not have an effective exit interview system in place to determine why staff leave.

This is a school system with a budget that will approach $700 million next year, but may not have a new leader in place when budget negotiations commence. Regardless of whether you agree with the outcome or not, Superintendent Murphy was able to shepherd through the request for a tax rate increase to give the School Board nearly everything it could have asked for in the most recent budget process.

The School Board should have a contingency plan in place for these circumstances. Even if they did not, they should have made starting this search process a higher priority. If the School Board does not get more serious about finding a permanent replacement, it will not help their cause as the next budget is being written next spring.

Speaking about getting serious, APS is taking another step toward school security by testing a visitor management system this summer that would require a photo ID for those wishing to enter a school. Acceptable forms of ID can include any ID, regardless of where it was issued, so long as it contains your full name, date of birth and photograph. APS will work out the kinks before the system is rolled out county-wide in the fall.

Mark Kelly is a 19-year Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Thumbs Down. After Chairman Christian Dorsey said earlier this year it was not the right time to consider a pay raise, the Arlington County Board will vote to raise its pay cap tonight. Members will choose between three options. Will it be 10%, 63% or 135%?

One can assume the Board would not vote to raise their salaries up to $129,429, but at least one Board Member, Libby Garvey, will almost certainly make the case for it. Garvey believes the County Board is already a full-time job, not a part-time job.

There is a strong case to be made that we benefit from the perspective of people on the Board who continue to hold down another full-time job. And the idea of turning the County Board into a full-time position has not been thoroughly debated with the public. It would raise a number of interesting questions. Would Board Members be allowed to hold outside jobs? If so, would there be a cap on their outside earned income? Would they provide additional services to constituents to correspond with the pay raise?

The staff report laying out the options revealed that an overwhelming majority of Arlingtonians who participated in the survey urged the Board to stay closer to option 1 than option 3. However, the Board has hinted that they were headed for $80,000 more since they released the news that the pay raise would be on the June agenda.

Assuming the County Board opts for a new cap of $89,851, Board Members would not necessarily get a 63% raise all at once. They could incrementally raise it over the next four, or more, years.

Chairman Dorsey should not have said it was not the right time for a pay raise if he did not intend to keep his word, but here we are. So, the Board should stay part-time and choose option 1. Ten percent is enough to provide a COLA for the next four years until the cap could be revisited again.

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(Updated at 5:45 p.m.) On March 15, a year to the day after the all-Democrat Arlington County Board rejected a controversial plan to add lights to its football and baseball fields, Bishop O’Connell High School made a $350 contribution to the campaign of Republican County Board candidate Mark Kelly, according to public campaign contribution records.

In a statement issued late this afternoon, Michael J. Donohue, Director of Communications for the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, said the donation was made by a school employee using school funds. The check was intended to be a donation from an individual, however, and not a donation on behalf of the school itself, according to Donohue.

The Diocese learned today that a member of the staff of Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington County recently used a school check for the sake of convenience to purchase a set of tickets to a political fundraiser for a candidate for local office. This was a significant error in judgment on the part of the school employee as well as a clear violation of diocesan policy. Though all of the $350 in school funds were reimbursed by the employee, Chancery and school officials are presently reviewing the matter, and appropriate disciplinary action will be taken.

One local Democratic official raised a red flag about the donation, which seemed like an unprecedented, symbolic gesture from the school, until the Diocese clarified the record.

“I’ve never seen this, a school giving a donation to a political candidate,” the official told ARLnow.com.

Donohue said Diocese policy specifically prohibits political donations, which would be a violation of the church’s 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.

“Diocesan policy absolutely prohibits church entities to contributing to any political campaigns, either on behalf of or opposition to any candidate,” Donohue said. “That’s reflective of the IRS code.”

A Bishop O’Connell spokeswoman was reached via phone before this article was published, but declined to comment.

Kelly ended up losing the March 27 special election to Democrat Libby Garvey.

Image via Wikipedia

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All bets are off for today’s County Board special election, as a combination of a third party candidate and historically low voter turnout mean that it’s anybody’s guess who will emerge victorious.

Two out of the past three times the turnout of a County Board special election was below 19,000, a Republican ended up winning. This year, it’s looking unlikely that even 15,000 votes will be cast out of the pool of 122,882 active registered voters in Arlington.

“I think it’s probably going to end up maybe being 10 to 12 percent [turnout], and I may be overestimating that,” Arlington County Registrar Linda Lindberg told ARLnow.com this afternoon. “Usually in a special election we get closer to 20 percent, but I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere near that this time.”

Though past experience would suggest that the low turnout might spell doom for Democratic candidate Libby Garvey, the fact that there’s both a Republican and a fiscally-conservative Green Party candidate in the race makes any attempts at prognostication difficult.

Democrats are hopeful that they’ll be able to rally more voters before the polls close at 7:00 tonight. Privately, they’re also hoping that the “anti-Democrat” vote splits between Republican Mark Kelly and Green candidate Audrey Clement.

Arlington County Democratic Committee Chair Mike Lieberman conceded that turnout is low, but said Democrats are cautiously optimistic.

“We are expecting a bit of an uptick in the afternoon, but it’s certainly going to remain low,” Lieberman said. “It’s hard to predict. When there’s very high turnout, our chances go up. When there’s low turnout, it’s much more of a question mark.”

“Certainly I think we are in for a relatively close election,” Lieberman continued. “We remain optimistic about Libby’s chances despite the low numbers.”

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Candidate Essay: Mark Kelly

Earlier this month we asked the three candidates for Arlington County Board to write a sub-750 word essay on why the county’s residents should vote for them during the March 27 special election.

Here is the unedited response from Mark Kelly (R):

We need a new voice on the County Board to keep Arlington a wonderful place to live and raise a family.

Keirsten and I bought our first place, a condo on Army Navy Drive, in Arlington when we got married in early 2000. A year and a half later we moved into our house, so that we could start a family. We now have four children — our two daughters, Layne and Mia, and then our two sons, Luke and Jake. The oldest three attend Claremont Immersion elementary school.

Like you, we have put down our roots in this community and want to make it the best place possible for our children to grow up in. Even though there are issues critically important to our community’s future that need to be addressed at the County Board level, I enjoy living in Arlington visiting our parks, spending time in my local library branch, and being an active member of our community.

I hope to put my experience to work for you as a member of the Board. After law school and passing the Virginia Bar in 1996, I went to work on Capitol Hill and over the last 15 years worked on federal public policy. I have demonstrated an ability to quickly digest complicated issues and make recommendations for action. I also served as an analyst on the federal budget for two members of Congress which will allow me to hit the ground running on Arlington’s budget in April.

Arlington faces some significant challenges that require a new voice and a new perspective to improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods without breaking the bank. With a potential scaling back of federal spending we need to get back to budgeting that prioritizes the basics. Currently, we are too often spending too much on things we simply do not need. When elected I will propose an alternative budget that includes real spending restraint that allows us to reduce what has become out of control real estate taxes that will top $5,000 for the average homeowner.

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The three candidates for Arlington County Board squared off last night at a forum hosted by the Radnor/Ft. Myer Heights Civic Association. Green Party candidate Audrey Clement, Democrat Libby Garvey and Republican Mark Kelly advanced cases for why they each should get voter support.

Garvey’s main push is for more communication and transparency in government.

“I think we’re having a little trouble keeping our priorities straight. Is it all about education, infrastructure, public safety? Or is it all about Artispheres and street cars and that sort of thing,” Garvey said. “I think we need to be very clear about our priorities and make them our core services.”

Kelly’s focus is on greater fiscal discipline. He’s also interested in getting the current board members to think outside the box.

“They talk a lot about the Arlington Way and including communities. But sometimes when the rubber meets the road, it’s a lot of talk,” said Kelly. “Someone needs to be presenting alternative plans and offering amendments even if they lose.”

Clement touted her fiscal responsibility as well. She distinguishes herself from Kelly by saying their ideologies are different, and cost reduction doesn’t have to mean sacrificing the welfare of residents. She advocates eliminating what she calls wasteful spending projects like Artisphere, the planned Long Bridge Park aquatics and fitness center and the planned Columbia Pike streetcar. She said a bus system would provide the same service at one-fifth the cost of the streetcar’s estimated $250 million dollar price tag.

Kelly also stated opposition to the streetcar project. Garvey, on the other hand, wouldn’t offer a firm opinion on the idea. She did, however, express interest in examining expanded bus service instead. Like other issues raised throughout the night, the streetcar is something she said she “questions.”

“I’m not taking a stand on it right yet, but I have lots of questions about whether it makes sense for the amount of money that we need to put in,” Garvey said.

A topic referred to throughout the forum is the Board green-lighting the purchase of an office building in the Courthouse neighborhood for a homeless shelter. The candidates assert that regardless of whether or not a year-round homeless shelter a good idea, the process for approving the deal was faulty. Garvey, while again stating she has questions about the project, reiterated the need for transparency. She said although the board may have had good reasons for their decision, residents don’t like it.

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Morning Notes

Republican Files for County Board Race — Arlington County Republican Committee Chairman Mark Kelly has filed to be the GOP nominee in the upcoming County Board special election. It’s not the first time Kelly has run for County Board. In 2010 incumbent Chris Zimmerman defeated Kelly 57 percent to 36 percent. [Sun Gazette]

Progressive Group Endorses Bondi — Democratic County Board candidate Melissa Bondi has garnered an endorsement from Virginia New Majority, a statewide progressive organization. “As a long-time advocate of affordable housing and Smart Growth, she was worked tirelessly to ensure that the county’s plans for economic development have not been pursued at the expense of the county’s working and poor families,” the organization said in its endorsement. “And, we expect Board Member Bondi to pursue a transportation plan that won’t encourage displacement of low-income communities.” [Virginia New Majority]

ACDC To Offer Free Trips to Caucus — The Arlington County Democratic Committee is offering free transportation to its caucus tomorrow night. (The caucus is being held to select a nominee for County Board.) “Rides will be available from the Ballston Metro every 15 minutes from 6:45PM to 8:30PM,” ACDC said in a press release. “Voters can meet the Ride Coordinator at the top of the Ballston escalators… next to Tivoli.” Thursday’s caucus is being held at Washington-Lee High School, while a caucus on Saturday is being held at Kenmore Middle School.

Four Mile Run Footbridge to Be Replaced — The bike and pedestrian bridge that connects the W&OD and Custis trails near the East Falls Church Metro station is being replaced. The new bridge should be complete in the next couple of months and, unlike the old bridge, will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. [Greater Greater Washington]

Flickr pool by ddimicky. ACDC is presently an ARLnow.com advertiser.

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Local Republican leaders thought that in Mark Kelly, they finally had a shot at getting a voice on the county board.

Mark was a well-spoken, likable family man who took measured, intellectual positions on the issues. He was a Republican who Democratic voters could potentially find common ground with, especially in an anti-incumbent year.

In the end, however, Arlington voters re-elected Democrat Chris Zimmerman by a wide margin.

It was especially striking that, despite loud grumbles of disapproval in certain quarters over perceived excess county spending, 57 percent of voters still chose to re-elect the number one supporter of the county’s proposed $200 million streetcar project.

“Once again the voters have affirmed their commitment to progressive government… even in a down year,” Zimmerman said.

Voters rewarded Democrats for their “commitment to quality services and strategic investments” as well as “a commitment to Arlington as a diverse and welcoming community,” he added.

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Party with the candidates at the following locations, starting now:

Rep. Jim Moran and Arlington Democrats — Westin Arlington Gateway (801 North Glebe Road, Ballston)

Mark Kelly — Hard Times Cafe (3028 Wilson Boulevard, Clarendon)

Patrick Murray — Baley’s Pub and Grille (4238 Wilson Boulevard, Ballston)

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If Jon Stewart wanted to find sanity in politics, he would have had to look no further than across the river in Arlington. This year’s county board race has been polite, issues-oriented and has avoided the stench of national political hyperbole or special interest interference.

Adding to the sanity, the race has also featured a viable third-party candidate who’s a full participant in debates, not a side show.

In Highland Park Thursday night, a quiet, attentive, sign-less audience watched as Democratic incumbent Chris Zimmerman, Republican Mark Kelly and Green party candidate Kevin Chisholm debated a range of issues.

The most heated portion of the debate — relatively speaking — came when Kelly again tweaked Zimmerman on the county’s Columbia Pike/Crystal City streetcar project. Referring to it as a “$200 million trolley,” Kelly made an economic argument against the massive project.

“I just don’t think it’s a wise investment moving forward,” was Kelly’s zinger. Chisholm — a self-described social liberal and fiscal conservative — agreed, and spoke of the “gentrification effect” the streetcar could cause on Columbia Pike.

Zimmerman, who has made the streetcar a bit of a personal mission, responded with a passionate defense of the “years of input” on the project and the “stronger network of public transportation” that the project will bring to the Pike. He announced his annoyance that debate rules didn’t give him enough time to discuss the project’s financing.

The remainder of the debate was pure zen for a sanity supporter. In fact, the most intemperate remaining portion of the debate came from the moderator, who asked about the “glib” county staff response to concerns about the development plan for East Falls Church.

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