Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz aims to have a new police chief in place within the next month or two.
And this police chief, he said during a meeting last week, must appreciate Arlington’s diversity and understand how different communities react to police presence.
“Our police officers meet with residents, visitors and those who work here during the most stressful moments of their lives,” he said. “I’m looking for a chief who understands our community gains strength from its diversity.”
The police department has been without a permanent leader since September, when the former police chief M. Jay Farr retired, citing souring relations with the County Board as one of his reasons for leaving. Acting chief Andy Penn is leading in his place.
Meantime, Schwartz has been conducting a nationwide search while a consultant, Leroy Thompson, gathered input from police officers and community members.
The consultant found that police officers want a chief who will boost morale, support officers, regain their trust and help improve race relations, Thompson said. They are wary of the county overreacting to a national narrative that “wasn’t severe in Arlington,” he said.
The community, meanwhile, wants a chief who will build relationships in the community and with other county departments to address peoples’ needs, Thompson said. They envision an approach to law enforcement that focuses on connecting people with needed services, instead of the current strategy centered on punishment, which they say is a holdover from the war on drugs, he said.
One area of agreement? Thompson said the community and police officers stressed the new hire should not seem like a political appointment.
Amid a national dialogue on race and policing, Arlington has taken several steps to respond to calls for police reform, including recently budgeting for full time police auditor/monitor position and a civilian mental health crisis response team.
Schwartz said a consultant is also reviewing ACPD’s policies guiding use of force, body-worn cameras, and the collection of data, as well as how successful the department is at recruiting and retaining officers. The report was set to come last fall but has yet to arrive, he said.
This past winter, the county implemented a body-worn camera program, and in January, Penn signed onto the Northern Virginia Regional Critical Incident Response Team, which allows for an independent investigation into serious uses of police force.
In February, a “Police Practices Group” convened last summer presented myriad ways to change how the police respond to behavioral health crises and enforce traffic violations. Schwartz said he expects the new chief to carry out these recommendations.
“It’s my firm expectation — I have made it clear to anyone who has interviewed for the position — that they will follow all the recommendations I support from the PPG and he/she is free to challenge me on those I didn’t recommend,” Schwartz said. “I expect whoever the next police chief is will be walking around with a tired, tattered copy of this document in his or her front pocket.”
A press release from Farr’s retirement timed the hiring to come after the PPG wrapped up its work. One of its recommendations is the creation of a civilian review board.
Jail to Reopen to Visitors — “Sheriff Beth Arthur has announced a modified reopening of in-person visitation for those remanded to the Arlington County Detention Center. Relatives and friends will regain the ability to visit loved ones in person beginning May 1. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person visitation at the Arlington County Detention Center has been suspended for more than a year.” [Arlington County]
HQ2 to Feature Small Local Businesses — “Amazon.com Inc. plans to prioritize leasing retail space at its D.C.-area offices to businesses owned by people from historically underrepresented groups, an official with the e-commerce and cloud computing giant said recently. ‘We’re still in the process of curating and finding those retailers, but our goal is small, local, minority- and women- owned,’ Joe Chapman, Amazon’s director of global real estate and facilities, said of the company’s retail leasing strategy during a meeting of Arlington’s long range planning committee April 19.” [Washington Business Journal]
New Police Chief Pick Coming Soon — “Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz says he hopes to have a permanent head of the Arlington County Police Department announced sooner rather than later. ‘My goal was to have a police chief in place this spring. That’s still my goal,’ Schwartz told County Board members on April 20.” [Sun Gazette]
Marymount Vaccinates Thousands — “Nearly 1,200 students, faculty, staff and members of the community received their first Pfizer COVID vaccinations on April 21 at Marymount University, part of a collaborative effort between the university and state and local officials. The university transformed one of its gyms into a mass-inoculation site, and turnout exceeded expectations.” [Sun Gazette]
Rotary Club Honors ‘Educator of the Year’ — “The Arlington Rotary Club has honored school counselor Laurie Dodson as Arlington Key Elementary School’s ‘Educator of the Year’ and presented two Arlington high school students scholarships totaling $18,000 at the club’s annual education awards event.” [Press Release]
Pink Moon Dazzles — “We’re entering the heart of spring and, in most temperate climates, buds are bursting and decorating the newly lush landscape. Fresh arrangements of pink flowers are emerging, and the April moon, which will become full Monday night, is named in their honor. The ‘Pink Moon’ will be officially full, or 100 percent illuminated, at 11:31 p.m. Eastern time Monday. It will be bold and bright but won’t actually appear pink in the night sky.” [Capital Weather Gang]
The County Board is slated to vote on its fiscal year 2022 budget tomorrow (Tuesday) and affordable housing is top of mind for many Arlingtonians and Board members.
This month, however, housing advocates told the Board that may not be enough to tackle the entrenched problem of rising housing costs and the deepening inequality caused by the pandemic. In response, Board members have identified three ways to amend the budget.
Testifying before the County Board on April 6, Carlos Velazquez, who sits on the board of trustees for Arlington Community Foundation, said the county needs to maintain flexibility for families seeking housing aid.
“COVID-19 assistance has helped many low-income families and individuals [stay in Arlington] and keep food on the table,” he said. “But the need has not gone away… We believe that flexibility should be maintained after the pandemic to help residents resolve delinquencies and develop plans to move forward from personal crises.”
Over the last two weeks, County Board members have discussed ways of doing just that. Last Thursday, ahead of the vote tomorrow evening, County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti proposed adding up to $2.4 million in several areas.
The chair proposed just over $1 million to maintain COVID-era guidelines that expanded eligibility for working families who needed financial aid during the pandemic. For those receiving grants, who currently contribute 40% of their income toward housing, de Ferranti is also proposing about $487,000 in one-time and recurring funding to lower annual housing contributions.
According to county staff, that could affect 700 families.
“This is of interest to us in the sense that severely rent-burdening individuals at 40% is more than [The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development] recommends,” de Ferranti said.
The County Board is also looking to add $850,000 in one-time funding for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund, a loan fund that helps to fund the development of new, dedicated affordable housing.
A portion of the $17.5 million set aside in the budget for the county’s response to the pandemic, meanwhile, will go toward eviction prevention. Housing advocates would like to see the county take bolder action in light of rising housing costs and economic hardship among lower-income residents.
Shaheera Sayed, an advocate with ACE Collaborative, an Asian American community-building group affiliated with Alexandria-based advocacy organization New Virginia Majority, said more needs to be done to prevent displacement of current residents.
ACE, which recently organized a rally near the future Amazon HQ2 in Pentagon City, proposed adding $8 million in funding.
“There is proof that the Asian Americans and other communities of color in Arlington county are struggling,” she said. “By adding more funding and expanding eligibility in programs such as the Housing Grants, more people who are unable to get affordable housing but are struggling to pay rent can benefit from this program.”
Beyond this year’s budget, County Board members say that more housing support will be needed for years to come. The most vulnerable in Arlington will likely face the longest road to full economic recovery, said County Board member Katie Cristol.
“Let’s not set ourselves up to make this purely one-time investment in Fiscal Year 2022,” she said.
Photo (top) via Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, (middle) via Arlington County
Schwartz calls the upcoming Fiscal Year 2022 budget, which is being presented to the County Board Thursday afternoon, a “transition budget.” While modestly increasing spending, his proposal reflects big pandemic-era declines in some key revenue sources.
“This budget provides us a path forward, ensuring we have a strong, resilient County government when we emerge from this pandemic,” he said after a press briefing earlier today.
For starters, the proposed $1.36 billion budget — representing a 1.4% increase in spending — includes a $17.5 million coronavirus contingency fund. This will fund vaccine distribution and testing, eviction prevention, food assistance, and will go toward supporting local businesses.
Meanwhile, Schwartz has identified $16.4 million in cuts to help close what the county describes as a budget shortfall of $26 million, down from what was initially estimated last fall to be a $50 million shortfall. The rest will be made up through one-time funding sources, he said.
The bulk of the cuts come from eliminating 56 vacant positions, which resulted from a voluntary retirement package offered in January and a continuing hiring freeze from last year.
Schwartz proposes keeping the $1.013 per $100 property tax rate flat, as he did last year. Still, the average homeowner will see a tax bill that is 5-6% higher due to rising property values, Schwartz said. Commercial property assessments, by contrast, declined this year.
Homeowners will see an average increase of $29 in stormwater taxes, reflecting a rate hike of 1.3 to 1.7 cents per $100 in property value. The increase will help generate $15.1 million earmarked for stormwater improvements. Eventually, the county plans to eliminate the stormwater tax completely in favor of a fee based on how much impervious surface covers a given property, Schwartz said.
Schools will receive 47% of the tax revenue, or $529.7 million, an increase of $5.1 million over last year.
(Updated on 2/23/21) The pandemic has saved the county money through remote work and online services, which Schwartz said will help fund other programs and services. His budget includes a one-time, $500 bonus for county employees, who will be foregoing merit-based raises.
“Our employees have gone without raises — or a vacation day — for an entire year,” Schwartz said.
After the County Manager submits his proposed budget, the Arlington County Board will vote on an advertised tax rate this Saturday. The Board will be able to ultimately adopt a property tax rate equal to or less than, but not above, the advertised rate.
The Board will then review the budget proposal and conduct a series of work sessions with each county department beginning in March.
There will be two public hearings: Tuesday, April 6, and Thursday, April 8. The final vote on the FY 2022 operating budget is scheduled for Saturday, April 17.
Certain parts of the budget may be revisited, Schwartz said, should additional federal funding become available.
Other highlights from the budget proposal include:
- More racial equity training, money for a Restorative Justice initiative, and more funding for probation, parole and the Public Defender’s Office.
- About $1.5 million to implement several recommendations from the Police Practices Group, especially in transitioning mental health-related work from police officers to clinicians.
- Allowing firefighters to work a shorter week, adding transportation safety officers to the police department, and multiple positions to support the new body-worn camera program.
- The county elections office is proposed to receive additional staff to support mail-in ballots and absentee voting.
- Funding for the opening of the Long Bridge Park Aquatics and Fitness Center and the Lubber Run Community Center
- Increasing the lowest base pay for county employees from $15 to $17 per hour
- Adding Juneteenth as a County holiday
- Delayed re-opening of Cherrydale and Glencarlyn libraries, saving $881,000
- An additional $2.6 million in housing grants, plus $21 million in housing choice vouchers and $8.9 million for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund.
Schwartz’s budget proposal focuses affordable housing efforts on “eviction prevention and direct housing support,” but decreases county funding for Arlington’s affordable housing development fund, as the Washington Business Journal’s Alex Koma noted on Twitter (below).
“4.6% of the County’s operating budget is dedicated to housing and more than 15% is dedicated to safety net services and housing,” a slide from the budget presentation noted.
#ArlingtonVA officials are previewing the 2022 budget now, ahead of a full reveal Saturday.
Of note: the county contribution to its main affordable housing loan fund is getting halved, to $8 mil. Amazon, of course, is chipping in $20 mil on its own, but this is a notable change pic.twitter.com/xDrGoUbuDC
— Alex Koma (@AlexKomaWBJ) February 18, 2021
Arlington doesn’t have it as bad as other communities, but the pandemic is causing a drop in tax revenue that is likely to result in some budget cuts.
That’s the message from County Manager Mark Schwartz, who presented an update on the county’s finances at last night’s County Board meeting.
The main highlight from Schwartz was the county budget closeout — the allocation of funds leftover from the previous fiscal year’s budget, which closed on June 30. There was $22.4 million left over from the 2019-2020 budget, most of which Schwartz recommended using to boost the current Fiscal Year 2021 budget.
“As proposed, $13.4 million would be used for the FY 2021 budget, $2 million would be put into the County Manager contingency fund, $2 million would support an employee separation contingent, and $5 million would be set aside to address COVID-related expenses in the FY 2022 budget,” said a county press release, below.
The Board is scheduled to vote next month on Schwartz’s recommendations, after receiving public feedback.
While a number of local advocacy groups have traditionally used the budget close-out process to secure additional funding for various initiatives, that is likely to be curtailed this year. Schwartz reiterated his previous warning that the county and Arlington Public Schools are together facing a $56 million budget gap for FY 2021.
“Usually we would already be thinking about our next budget, but instead we must figure out how we will provide the services and programs in the FY 2021 budget and fulfill our primary obligations to Arlington residents,” Schwartz said.
On the table for closing the gap, caused by a revenue shortfall and unexpected pandemic-related costs, is a reduction in county services. Schwartz’s presentation said that the county hopes to save $6.1 million by reducing some services and by not filling some vacant positions.
While holding out hope of saving money with a hiring freeze and preserving currently filled positions, Schwartz recommended that the Board set aside $2 million for “employee separation” costs, potentially including early retirements and buyouts.
From a county staff report:
As we work through development of the FY 2022 budget, we will be considering changes in how we deliver services based on our experience during COVID and due to anticipated revenue declines. This contingent would allow the Manager flexibility in addressing any impacts of these changes. As an example from prior years, we have offered various incentives for early retirement and other buy-out options. It is likely that these options will need to be effective prior to the beginning of FY 2022 (July 2021); thus, funding would be needed in FY 2021.
Other planned sources of savings outlined by Schwartz include debt refinancing ($2.4 million), federal CARES Act funding ($9.3 million) and “operational adjustments” — delayed facility openings ($1.9 million).
More from a county press release, below.
Three days after members of the Arlington County Board expressed support for changing the county’s logo, officials outlined a process for changing it, the county seal and, potentially, names of some local roads and places.
The logo change comes after a push from the Arlington branch of the NAACP, which earlier this summer called the illustration of Arlington House a “racist plantation symbol” that “divides, rather than unites us.”
At the Board’s Tuesday evening meeting, County Manager Mark Schwartz presented a plan to review county symbols and names over the next few months.
The review will include “gathering perspectives on race and equity in Arlington,” and examining county symbols, street names and facility names that may be associated with systemic racism or oppression. The review will “build on this fall’s community process to update the County’s Historic Preservation Master Plan,” according to a county press release.
Schwartz said he will present in December a summary of community feedback, as well as recommendations to the Board for next steps.
In introducing the topic, County Board Chair Libby Garvey said that equity and the county budget are “the two most important things we’re tackling as a Board.” She, along with the four other members of the Board, reiterated their support for changing the county logo.
While newly-elected Board member Takis Karantonis said he agreed with local NAACP leader Julius Spain, Sr.’s call to retire Arlington House as the county’s logo as soon as possible, he acknowledged that the overall process of choosing a new logo and replacing the old logo on most county equipment and properties would “probably take several years.”
Board member Katie Cristol said the logo and some names currently in use locally “have come to feel so out of step with our current values in Arlington County,” while Board member Matt de Ferranti said he wanted to ensure the process of evaluating and changing them was thoughtful and inclusive.
Christian Dorsey, the lone Black member of the Board, said his support for changing the logo came down to the 1972 renaming of Arlington House by Congress as “Arlington House: the Robert E. Lee Memorial,” in honor of the Confederate general and one-time occupant of the historic home on the grounds of what became Arlington National Cemetery.
While some may believe Arlington House to be a symbol of slavery, Dorsey said, others see it as a symbol of the repudiation of the Confederacy, given that it was seized during the Civil War in order to serve as a final resting place for Union war dead. The 1972 renaming, however, “takes all nuance out of the equation.”
“Should a national memorial to Robert E. Lee be the official symbol of Arlington County?” Dorsey asked. “For me it’s a clear no. Period, full stop.”
Dorsey said that the logo change and renaming process will need to find a way to try to unite people who are “in different places along the journey,” but names that honor people who “actively promoted systemic oppression” have to go.
The county should also consider naming some things that are currently unnamed in order “to elevate the contributions of women, people of color, indigenous peoples, that have been suppressed in the telling of our country’s and our community’s history,” according to Dorsey. At the same time, he said, the county should “make sure that fiscal and human resources are not diverted from doing the work to address systemic racism” by the logo change and renaming processes.
(The county, through a local nonprofit, is currently in the process of renaming Lee Highway.)
More on the logo change and renaming process, from a county press release, below.
Arlington County’s new police practices review board answered questions from the public about its goals and methods in a virtual meeting Monday.
The board, announced in July by County Manager Mark Schwartz, used the meeting to elaborate on how it would “ensure that the Arlington County Police Department is current with policing best practices and continue to build trust between our police and the community” through its review.
Questions were directed at representatives of the review board’s two parts: an external assessment of ACPD by a hired firm, and a 16 person Police Practices Group (PPG) with four subcommittees.
When asked how Hillard Heintze will conduct its review, Thompson said it will first comb through ACPD data to compile a quantitative report on policies and practices like use of force. The firm will then create a qualitative report based on a climate survey and interviews with police officers and community members who have relevant lived experience.
Thompson said the firm will compare its findings to what are considered best practices for community policing, a standard set by the U.S. Department of Justice and policing accreditation groups like CALEA.
She added that reviews like this are typically asked for by police departments dealing with a publicized incident or failure, but she does not think similar pressure compelled Arlington.
“This is a progressive move by a department to actually have someone coming in and look at their practices,” Thompson said. “They have no idea what our outcomes are going to be, so that’s a very bold step that they took to have someone come in to look at their work.”
The remainder of the community’s questions were about the PPG, whose members are largely Arlington-based. The group consists of four subcommittees, with each looking at an ACPD policy area.
“Our end goal is to be able to take the assessment work that [Thompson] and her team are doing and combine it with community engagement work that the PPG group is doing, to present a set of recommendations to the County Manager by the middle of December,” Julie Shedd, the associate dean at George Mason University’s Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution and the PPG’s expert consultant, said.
Each subcommittee chair spoke in the meeting about what their intentions are and methods of analysis will be.
(Updated at 10:30 a.m.) Arlington County is creating a new group of residents, officials and police officers to review law enforcement practices in Arlington.
The 15-member Police Practices Group will conduct a review to “ensure that the Arlington County Police Department is current with policing best practices and continue to build trust between our police and the community.”
The group, which will start meeting in August, will allow “all the people who are most concerned about [police practices in Arlington] to have an airing,” Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz said Friday morning. It will also “provide an opportunity for people to get all the perspectives, including hearing directly from the police… and bringing in some outside parties who can take a look at what we do and discuss best practices.”
Schwartz noted that the county has received a number of complaints about police conduct, as well as calls for police reform from groups like the local chapter of the NAACP. Prior to Thursday night’s announcement of the group’s formation, activists were questioning whether the county was stalling in their response.
Among specific, actionable items for the group to discuss are the establishment of a police civilian review board, the role of the police department in traffic enforcement, and whether police officers should respond to certain calls for mental health services and civil disputes.
Schwartz said the review will not examine mutual aid agreements with other regional police departments, like the agreement that infamously led Arlington officers in riot gear to be deployed to the White House, as a regional review is already underway. Additionally, the group will not discuss the role of School Resource Officers — uniformed ACPD officers stationed in schools — as Arlington Public Schools is already reviewing that practice, according to Schwartz.
As for the nationwide calls to “defund the police,” Schwartz said budget decision are likely to follow recommendations group the group — for instance, are as many sworn officers needed if some duties, like response to mental health emergencies, are removed. There could also be discussions about raising officer pay to better help recruit qualified officers, he added.
The creation of the group comes after local and nationwide protests over the killing of unarmed civilians — particularly Black people — at the hands of law enforcement. It also comes as Police Chief M. Jay Farr prepares to retire by the end of the year.
More from a county press release:
Following recent events involving policing and racial justice across the United States, the County Board has asked the County Manager to lead a review of police policies and practices. This review will ensure that the Arlington County Police Department is current with policing best practices and continue to build trust between our police and the community.
The first step will be an external review and assessment of current policies and practices in six key areas:
- Review of use of Force: De-escalation tactics; lethal and non-lethal force; and, foot and vehicle pursuits.
- Training and Supervision: Police Academy training; and training for implicit bias and crisis intervention.
- Cameras: Both body-worn and vehicle dash cameras; and policies regarding use of this equipment.
- Recruitment and Retention: Screening for bias; psychological evaluation; mental health programs; process for officer evaluation; promotion and leadership development programs; and compensation, including pay and benefits.
- Internal Affairs: Statistics; structures and procedures; effectiveness through an anonymous climate survey; grievance processes; and use of force investigations.
- Data/Statistics: Reviewing data collected for arrests and stops over the past 3 years and ensuring its consistency.
This external assessment will begin on July 20, 2020 and be led by two parties with expertise in departmental assessments, police practices, policy review, criminal justice reform and conflict analysis: Marcia K. Thompson, Vice President at Hilliard Heintze, an attorney and law enforcement practitioner with more than 20 years working in the criminal justice field; and Dr. Julie Shedd, Associate Dean at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University Carter School (see biographies below).
The themes of this assessment will be shared with the 15-member Police Practices Group (PPG) early in the fall and will support the work of the group moving forward. The PPG will begin meeting in August and will also discuss the following four important policy areas:
- Police civilian review board – what type and approach?
- The role of the police department in providing mental health services;
- The role for the police department in traffic enforcement; and
- The opportunity for alternative dispute resolution, including restorative justice & mediation.
The PPG will use the themes identified during the assessment to inform discussion and work to offer options on the four policy areas and report to the County Manager by December 21, 2020. The PPG will hold public engagement sessions to gather community input on these issues. The results will be provided to the County Manager as he hires a new Police Chief after a national search. (Note: Chief Jay Farr will be retiring before the end of this year). The information will also form the basis of potential recommendations for improvements to the County Board.
County Board Chair Libby Garvey noted that “this group will start us on a journey to tackle the important issues we face as a community regarding public safety for all of our residents. We have a fine police department in Arlington, however, it can and should be better. Arlington Police welcome the review and look forward to being a part of this important effort. These times call for a new look at how our community addresses public safety and policing.”
“I want to thank each of those who have agreed to participate in this important work,” County Manager Mark Schwartz stated. “This group will hopefully strengthen the bonds of trust between officers and residents of the County and explore the difficult issues facing law enforcement today. Our Police Department has a longstanding history of working with the community to provide professional services and a mission to treat all individuals with respect but also recognizes the need for improvements. Arlington is not immune to the challenges seen elsewhere, and I know that we will be better for the work of this group.”
The PPG’s first meeting is scheduled for August 3, 2020.
Arlington County employees who are currently teleworking will likely continue doing so well into the fall, County Manager Mark Schwartz said in a memo last week.
The internal memo, obtained by ARLnow, announced that the county will continue its current approach to operating during the pandemic — which includes an emphasis on telework for non-front-line workers — through Oct. 1.
“I am fairly certain that our current approach to doing business will continue much longer into the future beyond October 1,” Schwartz added, noting that the “need to allow space for absentee voting for the upcoming Presidential election… will most likely make a return prior to November 3 infeasible.”
Telework among county employees is up 15-fold since the start of the pandemic.
“County employees logged nearly 118,000 telework hours in late May/early June compared with about 7,700 hours in late February,” Arlington County spokeswoman Erika Moore said in response to an inquiry from ARLnow.
The county has been working hard to provide services to residents as safely as possible, Moore said.
“County employees have continued to work at a high level throughout the pandemic, providing government services to the community using virtual and other innovative and creative strategies,” she wrote. “Many services are available online and virtually, including permitting, inspections, and our call center operations. Arlington Public Library has developed many virtual options, along with e-books and grab-and-go services.”
“There are some important services that cannot be done virtually, including street and water maintenance, trash and recycling services, and public safety operations,” Moore added. “Those continue with specific public health protocols in place to protect both employees and the community.”
The full memo from Schwartz is below.
Sent: Wednesday, July 8, 2020 2:07 PM
To: All County Employees
Subject: Memo from the County Manager: Update on COVID-19 & County Operations
Thank you. Thank you for your commitment to serve our community throughout this pandemic. I am inspired every day by the creativity you have demonstrated over the past four months — allowing us to continue to serve our community in new and innovative ways. I wanted to update you on County operations and offer thoughts on what the next months may look like.
As of today, our public health officials note that there is still community wide spread of COVID in Arlington, in Northern Virginia and the wider region. While the number of patients in our hospitals infected with COVID continues to drop, we are far from “normal.”
I am announcing that we will continue our current approach to providing services through at least October 1. Knowing what has
happened over the past four months, I am fairly certain that our current approach to doing business will continue much longer into the future beyond October 1. We also will need to allow space for absentee voting for the upcoming Presidential election — and this will most likely make a return prior to November 3 infeasible. I will be back to you with more direction on how the rest of the calendar year is looking as we get closer to October.
(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) On Friday, Arlington County workers — dispatched after a resident complained — power washed away a girl’s Black Lives Matter chalk art from in front of her Boulevard Manor home. After an uproar, the county later apologized.
A memo from County Manager Mark Schwartz, sent to county employees on Saturday and obtained by ARLnow, shows some of the internal soul searching that followed the incident.
The memo says that Schwartz first heard about what happened due to “an inquiry from the press” — ARLnow first asked the county for comment around 10:30 a.m. He learned that the sequence of events started when “a resident complaint about ‘graffiti.'” Then he saw the photos of county employees erasing quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., among other phrases and drawings.
“A series of flowers, hearts, and quotations focusing on understanding and the sanctity of Black lives had been removed by 3 county employees — all 3 are Black,” Schwartz wrote. “What was first described as graffiti removal became obviously something very different. My heart sank. How could this have happened? On Juneteenth of all days? I was sick.”
Schwartz says he asked himself a series of questions, including how those involved in the incident were doing and “In the time of pandemic, why are our limited resources being used to remove chalk from the street?”
He concluded that the employees and family involved, as well as county taxpayers, are all owed apologies. He personally delivered the apology to the workers. Among those to reach out to the family were Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey and Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services Director Greg Emanuel.
Schwartz ruminated on how the incident could have taken place despite the county’s focus on equity. He focused both on how the employees involved did not feel empowered to question their orders, and how the county has created a complaint-based system of resident services.
“Calling the ‘authorities’ is the wrong way to address our concerns as neighbors and community members,” Schwartz wrote. “This should be reserved for cases where our safety is at risk.”
The workers involved were not empowered “to make a judgment better than stipulated by the letter of the policy,” the county manager wrote. “The way we currently operate, it is too hard for employees to question what they are asked to do under a policy that is blind to feelings, nuance and the world we live in.”
Other notable questions raised by Schwartz in the memo include:
- “Was this possibly the worst example of how we ignore equity in doing our work?”
- “[Does] our complaint driven enforcement efforts lead us to address concerns (regardless of how serious they are) by some residents for any problem that frustrates them, while larger problems that affect our residents go unaddressed?”
- “[Are we] intentional about reaching impacted residents during public engagement processes, or only those who show up regularly?”
In the memo, Schwartz notes that the county will soon be hiring a Chief Equity and Diversity Officer, who will report directly to the county manager.
“This will take some time, but it is an overdue step,” he said.
The full memo is below.
Schwartz Presents New Capital Plan — “County Manager Mark Schwartz has proposed a $277.5 million one-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). The County Manager, rather than proposing the traditional 10-year plan, is presenting a short-term proposal until the County better understands the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The focus of the one-year CIP is on projects that are already underway, those that improve failing or end-of-life infrastructure, and those required by legal or regulatory obligations.” [Arlington County]
Juvenile Court Reeling from Coronavirus Cases — “An outbreak of covid-19 in the clerk’s office of the Arlington County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court has forced the court to close the office to the public and has concerned lawyers who practice there daily. Four of the seven clerks in the office have tested positive for covid-19.” [Washington Post]
Small Business Grants Announced — “Arlington County today announced 394 businesses are receiving the Small Business Emergency GRANT (Giving Resiliency Assets Near Term). The GRANT program provides financial assistance to Arlington’s small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The GRANT funds were designed to bridge the gap to provide near-term relief for businesses and nonprofits, some of whom have experienced delays or limitations with federal relief initiatives.” [Arlington County, Arlington Economic Development]
Va. Not Ready for Phase 3 — “Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday that statewide Covid-19 numbers ‘continue to look favorable,’ but that he will not move the commonwealth into phase 3 of reopening this week. ‘I want to have more time to see how the numbers look before we make changes, especially as we see surges in other parts of our country,’ Northam said.” [Washington Business Journal, InsideNova]
Wardian to Run to Every District Taco — “This is Mike Wardian, a Guinness-World-Record winning runner, who is partnering with DT on Saturday, June 20 as he runs to ALL 12 DMV LOCATIONS (just about 60 miles)! If you see Mike on his run, snap a pic and use #whereswardian for in-app credit for a free taco!” [Twitter]
County Offers Free Trees and Tree Maintenance — “Arlington County loves trees, and knows trees are critical for our stormwater infrastructure, environmental and human health benefits, and through its Tree Canopy Fund EcoAction Arlington offers grants to plant or maintain trees on private property.” [Press Release]