Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.
By Mary Hynes
In theory, everyone is for transparency in government – residents, politicians and public servants, businesses, non-profits, and government workers.
But what does transparency really mean for government operations and citizen interactions?
Is it the Board giving 48 or 72 hours of notice of its pending actions? Is it televising more government meetings? Is it posting information on the web or sending newsletters?
Recently, our current County Board Chair – someone who talks frequently about more transparency as a community solution – called the last minute, unadvertised (some would say non-transparent) announcement of a Blue Ribbon Panel the Board’s “biggest mistake.”
But she relieved the Board of any fault by saying “Our biggest mistake was thinking it would be a concept easily understood by the community.”
The Board did, at least, take a pause – until July 2016 — to hear directly from the community about their “idea”. I doubt the community will say that the task the Board laid out was clear or, in the scope of Arlington’s challenges, urgently necessary.
In evaluating the importance of transparency, let’s consider some other examples:
In 2009, the School Board hired a consultant to develop new school locations. That may have been transparent for school parents who were in the know about the process, but not for neighbors who, after repeated requests, couldn’t determine whether their needs were factored into a 50-year school location plan.
In August 2010, the School Board changed the rules on who could ride the bus in September without public discussion. That non-transparent action upended family plans all across Arlington with little time to develop alternatives.
In 2015, the County Board addressed the lack of success over three years in seeking publicly vetted solutions for the Reevesland property by directing the County Manager at a televised meeting without prior public notice to begin the legal process of creating a divided property. This was probably not transparent, though the public would have opportunities to weigh in on three additional public Board votes required before effecting changes at the property.
On the plus side, it’s good that the County Board is televising its works sessions. And it’s probably good that Planning and Transportation Commission meetings are being televised.
Both actions allow more people to watch, which can give a dedicated viewer a window into issues and choices and might spur an observer into broader participation in the process.
But for decisions that must stand the test of time — whether it’s the 50-year location of a new school or changes to bus routes that touch thousands of families – we need more than television.
Such decisions alter the very fabric of the community and they require broad resident participation and engagement. That special ingredient is what tends to make a decision a good one for the broad community.
When neighbors, government, community groups, and businesses sit and talk to each other about how to solve a real problem or address a complex challenge, the solution achieved is richer, more nuanced, better understood, and is more accessible even to those who couldn’t participate directly.
Such participation and the ability to explain is THE key ingredient our community has employed for many decades to create today’s great place.
Paying lip service to transparency for its own sake misses what really matters. Real community engagement isn’t more opportunities to watch or checking a box. Real community engagement – the roll-up-your sleeves hard work – is how great communities get great.
Today, more than ever, we need elected leaders who understand this on both the School Board and County Board. We need our County Manager and Superintendent to value the varied perspectives and needs that residents bring to the table.
We should commit to continuously developing strong civic engagement skills in County and School staffs so that our greatest resource — the talents and skills of those who choose to call Arlington home – are put to good use.
More than transparency for its own sake, we need greater opportunities for honest civic engagement. It’s our legacy and our future.
Mary Hynes served as an Arlington elected official for 20 years. In 12 years on the School Board she began the open office hours program and instituted a monthly newsletter and liaison meetings with PTA leaders. During eight years on the County Board, her PLACE initiative focused on civic engagement and the County’s commission structure. She instituted Open Door Mondays as an opportunity to meet a County Board member in a casual setting without an appointment. In 2015, she launched the citizen-led Community Facility Study that involved more than 200 residents.
Washington Blvd Temporarily Closed — Westbound Washington Blvd is temporarily closed at N. Evergreen Street from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. today for water service installations. Traffic will be rerouted around the closure, which is several blocks from Virginia Hospital Center. [Twitter]
Arlington Bagel Shop Named Best in Va. — Brooklyn Bagel in Courthouse has the best bagel in the Commonwealth of Virginia, at least according to Tripping, an online vacation rental search engine. [Tripping]
Tough Talk for Park Supporters — At a time when Arlington’s burgeoning student population is creating a need for more and bigger schools, supporters of parks in Arlington have been opposing the creation of new schools in existing or potential future parks. County Board Chair Mary Hynes says that those who want to see more and more parkland in Arlington may be disappointed. “Their stance seems to be that we should put all our money into buying more land and use it as little as possible… [but] land is our scarcest resource.” [Falls Church News-Press]
AT&T Injected Ads on DCA Wi-Fi — AT&T has acknowledged that for a period of time, it injected popup ads onto websites visited by users of its free Wi-Fi networks at Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport. [Recode, Web Policy]
Locket Found in Ballston — Someone found a silver locket hanging from a tree in Ballston. The finder is offering to return the locket to its rightful owner. [Reddit]
Photo courtesy James Mahony
A newly-formed citizens group is raising questions about the Affordable Housing Master Plan, the County’s plan to address the need for more affordable housing.
The Coalition of Arlingtonians for Responsible Development (CARD), which currently has around 70 members, is concerned with the geographic distribution of affordable housing units and the effect affordable housing has on Arlington Public Schools.
The County Board has set public hearings on the housing plan before the Board and the Planning Commission in September to allow for more public comment. The plan, as proposed, calls for the creation of 15,800 additional affordable housing units by 2040, bringing the total to 22,800 units or 17.7 percent of the total housing stock in Arlington.
For CARD, the question is not the amount of affordable housing, but where it is placed in Arlington. There are large discrepancies in where affordable housing units are located, leading to socioeconomic segregation, said Joye Murphy, a founding member of CARD.
Murphy points to neighborhoods along Columbia Pike — particularly the western end of the Pike — that feed into Randolph Elementary School. In some neighborhoods along the Pike, the county set of a target of having 15 percent of their housing available as affordable housing. However, the neighborhoods exceeded that target and have about 38 percent of its housing affordable, Murphy said.
At the same time, she said, some North Arlington neighborhoods have failed to reach their targets.
One of CARD’s aims is to have affordable housing across the county, not just in specific sectors. By spreading affordable housing, there will be more diversity in Arlington’s neighborhoods, which will benefit all Arlington residents, said Maura McMahon, another founding member of CARD.
“CARD’s goals are for responsible development in Arlington that fosters socioeconomically diverse neighborhoods and schools so that all Arlingtonians can benefit from what Arlington has to offer: top schools, efficient transportation systems, quality recreational facilities and parks, etc.,” McMahon said. “We believe every individual and every child should be afforded an equal opportunity to achieve his/her potential.”
The current targets for the amount of affordable housing units that should exist in each neighborhood are not referenced in the new plan, Murphy said. It only lists distributing housing units throughout the county as one of its goals.
The targets allowed for accountability, said Dedra Curteman, a CARD founding member.
“The primary fault with the master plan as written is it doesn’t call for targets for geographic distribution,” Curteman said.
Without the targets for each neighborhood, affordable housing developers could theoretically place most of the new affordable housing units in specific areas of the county instead of throughout Arlington.
“I worry that the targets were deleted because they shot past the targets in many areas,” Curteman said.
CARD wants County Board members to include tools and specifics in the housing plan to ensure geographic distribution. The group plans to send a letter with their recommendations to the County in the next week, Murphy said.
The county is replacing the targets with three different ways to address affordable housing, said County Board Chair Mary Hynes.
“The plan really has three buckets that the Board would be using to achieve affordable housing,” Hynes said.
The first is preserving existing units, the second is looking at bringing affordable housing to transit corridors and the third is to look at areas with many single-family homes to see where additional housing units could be added. Hynes said that CARD is right in saying that the county does not yet have the tools needed for the second and third buckets, but after the plan is adopted she hopes the county will work on developing these tools.
The targets also did not work as the county did not have the tools to bring affordable housing to each area according to the targets, Hynes added. A lack of available land and high costs could make building affordable housing in certain parts of the county particularly difficult.
CARD members say the lack of geographic distribution affects the Arlington Public Schools, as research has shown that having a large amount of children that need reduced or free lunches influences test and achievement scores.
“Housing policy is education policy,” Murphy said.
Last month the newly-minted University of Virginia graduate and long-time ultimate frisbee player was presented with the Callahan Award, issued annually to the most valuable collegiate men’s and women’s players in the sport.
In recognition of her award and her engagement with the local ultimate community, the Arlington County Board issued a proclamation praising Johnston at a meeting earlier this month.
To receive a Callahan Award, a player is evaluated on their offensive and defensive abilities as well as their sportsmanship. Likewise, Chair Mary Hynes explained that the Board’s June 16 proclamation was meant to highlight both Johnston’s formidable athleticism and her extraordinary leadership skills.
“We are here today to recognize the extraordinary achievements of Alika Johnston both on and off the ultimate frisbee field,” Hynes said.
According to the website Ultiworld, which also named her its 2015 Women’s Player of the Year, Johnston has been a core member of the UVA’s ultimate team (the Hydras) since her freshman year in 2011, and was instrumental in the team’s development into an “elite contender.”
“Johnston’s play has spoken for itself all season long… a lot of breath and ink used in the act of praising her prolific and relentless performance,” the website said. “On both sides of the disc, she’s been a top producer and drastically influenced the fate of her team. Opponents have most been forced to submit to her, going with the ‘stopping six other people is more likely than stopping her’ strategy.”
Johnston has been playing ultimate since her days at H-B Woodlawn and credits the school with some of her success.
“I am so grateful to H-B Woodlawn’s program for introducing me to the sport and making all of this possible,” she said. “I’ve been moved by the outpouring of excitement and support from Arlington’s ultimate community.”
Johnston has also dedicated herself to introducing a new generation of athletes to the sport. She serves as USA Ultimate’s Virginia Girls State Youth Coordinator, and works to grow the sport through clinics, events and mentoring young players.
Arlington’s youth ultimate programs have grown rapidly in the past several years, as the sport becomes increasingly popular across the country. Opportunities to play can be found through the Youth Ultimate League of Arlington.
Photo courtesy Lawrence Cheng
County Touts Smart Growth 2.0 — In Mary Hynes’ recent State of the County speech, and now in a press release, Arlington officials are suggesting that the era of big economic gains from smart growth is over, and a new path forward is necessary. “This is a moment unlike many… it maybe will be comparable in some ways to what happened on September 11 (2001), in terms of being a fundamental questioning of ourselves and a stepping into the space,” Hynes said in the speech. [Arlington County]
Arlington Startup Raises $4.7 Million — Brazen, an Arlington-based startup formerly known as Brazen Careerist, has raised $4.7 million in new venture funding. The company offers an “enterprise-focused chat platform” that “combines event hosting with speed dating.” [Washington Business Journal]
Cinnabon Coming to Pentagon City Mall — A Cinnabon location is coming to the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City this fall. The cinnamon roll seller will be located on the third level of the mall, near Macy’s. On Thursday the Fashion Centre also announced that restaurants Charley’s Grilled Subs and Which Wich will be coming to its food court later this summer.
Hynes Hoping to Strike Hospital Land Deal — Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes said she hopes to strike a deal to trade or sell county land to Virginia Hospital Center by the end of the year. The hospital is interested in acquiring soon-to-be-unused county land next to its campus, in exchange for cash or for hospital-owned land elsewhere. [InsideNova]
Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes told the Arlington Chamber of Commerce today that the cancellation of Arlington’s streetcar project was the toughest decision she made during 20 years in office — and she’s still not sure of the long-term consequences.
Hynes, who’s retiring at the end of the year, made the remarks during a question-and-answer session following her “State of the County” address.
“The hardest decision I had to make not just on the County Board but in 20 years of elected office was to discontinue the streetcar,” said Hynes, who previously served on the School Board for 12 years.
“The reasons had to do with my belief and care for the community overall,” Hynes explained. Given the strong opposition to the streetcar, “I really didn’t believe there was enough bandwidth in our community to address these other pressing needs. Everything was being evaluated under this streetcar lens, not on its own merits. I was worried that we were going to miss other things that needed to be attended to if we continued to keep it alive.”
Hynes still suggested that the streetcar was a sound plan to improve transportation on Columbia Pike.
“Let me just say for myself personally, if the plan that the Board adopted for Columbia Pike continues to build out, I don’t have a whisper of a doubt that bus service will be insufficient in the long run,” Hynes said. “But our community wasn’t there, our community didn’t understand it, and it was just coloring the conversation to an extent where we couldn’t move forward.”
Hynes said her second-toughest decision was on the 2012 update to the county’s sign ordinance. The Board was considering more restrictive measures, including a ban on roofline signs on office buildings that was supported by Walter Tejada and Chris Zimmerman. Ultimately, Hynes sided with Board members Jay Fisette and Libby Garvey, plus county staff and the business community, in arguing that banning such signs would discourage businesses from locating in Arlington.
“I was the swing vote,” she recounted. “I thought my job was to find the compromise.”
During the speech, Hynes said Arlington is unlikely to experience the rapid economic growth of the early- and mid-aughts again, at least any time soon, due to economic pressures from federal government belt-tightening to regional competition with Fairfax County and the District.
“The reality is that those incredible ups that Arlington experienced will not be coming again,” she said.
Hynes encouraged the business community and the next generation of Arlington leaders — she and Tejada are both retiring from the Board at the end of the year — to continue to honor Arlington’s values of diversity and inclusiveness, make long-term investments in infrastructure like Metro, and build consensus for decisions through robust community processes involving residents and other stakeholders.
“I challenge each of you to be part of the solution,” she said. “I look forward to watching it on TV.”
GOP Offers Support to Gun Store Owner — A Change.org petition against a planned gun store in Cherrydale has reached more than 1,900 signatures. The store’s landlord now says he’s trying to figure out ways to legally break the lease. Countering the backlash, the Arlington Falls Church Young Republicans have launched a petition in support of the store and its owner, 28-year-old Marine Corps veteran James Gates. “We can’t remain silent while Arlington liberals push their radical anti-gun agenda,” the petition says. [AFCYR]
Hynes Fires Back at Reevesland Sale Critics — Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes is firing back at criticism of the Board’s 3-2 decision to sell the historic Reeves farmhouse to a private owner. Critics charge that the sale was hastily added to the Board agenda the day before the vote and that citizen groups should have had more time to propose alternatives. Hynes said the house would have needed $2.5 million in work to be brought up to code for public use and noted that interested groups have had 5 years to suggest better alternatives for using the house. [InsideNova]
Arlington’s Outdoor School in Fauquier County — Every year thousands of Arlington Public Schools visit the APS-operated Outdoor Lab in Fauquier County, experiencing nature and wildlife first hand. The property was purchased with private funds for school use and is beloved by students. However, some worry that a proposal to increase summer use of the 225 acre site may overtax the lab and its ecology. [Falls Church News-Press]
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
(Updated at 8:15 a.m.) Almost half of Arlington’s elected officials will have retired or resigned by Jan. 1, 2016, starting with Chris Zimmerman’s retirement from the Arlington County Board in February 2014.
At the same time, the leadership of the county’s staff is having a major changing of the guard, losing four department heads since last March, not including the impending retirement of County Manager Barbara Donnellan, effective June 30.
“The only constant in life is change,” County Board member Jay Fisette told ARLnow.com yesterday. In January of next year, Fisette and Libby Garvey will be the only Board members to have begun to serve before April 2014.
The list of leaders who have left or are leaving county government reads like a who’s who of Arlington agenda-setters in recent memory:
Rep. Jim Moran, Del. Bob Brink, Board members Zimmerman, Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada, Del. Rob Krupicka, School Board members Sally Baird, Noah Simon and Abby Raphael, Treasurer Frank O’Leary, Donnellan, Community Planning, Housing and Development Director Bob Brosnan, Arlington County Police Chief Doug Scott, Department of Human Services Director Susanne Eisner and the late Terry Holzheimer, Arlington Economic Development Director, who died last year of a heart attack.
“I don’t know that we’ve ever seen so much change at once,” said Eric Dobson, a former Planning Commission chairman and Arlington native who serves as the Northern Virginia government liaison with the NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Development Association.
While the staff turnover is staggering — five of the county’s 14 department directors will be replaced — many county officials say the transitions will be seamless. Deputy County Manager Mark Schwartz, who will become interim county manager on July 1, said that’s partly because of Donnellan’s forward thinking.
“I think we have great bench strength,” the Boston native and avid Red Sox fan said. “Barbara has always talked about succession planning. You need to have that security. At the same time, I think it’s a good thing that an organization renews itself.”
Donnellan’s departure will have lasting effects, colleagues said. Many offered effusive praise of her work over the past 31 years, particularly her five years as county manager.
“She will be sorely missed,” said Kevin Shooshan, chairman of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and vice president of Shooshan Company, a Ballston-based real estate firm. “Everyone in Arlington County was a fan of Barbara Donnellan. People underestimate what that job entails, which is running that entire billion-dollar organization. It’s a big job and a big budget, and she’s done a great job for several years. Everyone’s going to be very sad to see her go.”
Confidence does not abound, however, regarding the future of the Arlington County Board. Hynes and Tejada represent a combined two decades of Board experience, and when the dust settles in November’s election, the future of Arlington could look different.
“That is a far more significant issue than the administrative staff, which has a deep pool,” Fisette said. “Three people set the direction for the Board. The community’s vision can be changed in subtle and harsh ways.”
Five Democrats have announced their candidacy for the two open seats — Peter Fallon, Christian Dorsey, School Board Chair James Lander, Katie Cristol and Andrew Schneider — and one independent, longtime Arlington Green candidate Audrey Clement. No Republicans have declared, nor has any candidate like John Vihstadt announced his or her intention to run.
Still, Vihstadt’s election and resounding re-election last year is fresh in the minds of many in Arlington politics. No one seems to know who — if anyone — will try to emulate Vihstadt’s combination of fiscal conservatism and progressive stances on social issues. Some Democrats running are championing platforms of change, but few have offered specifics of how they would operate any different from Hynes or Tejada. Read More
That’s the message from County Board Chair Mary Hynes, who announced her retirement on Wednesday.
Acknowledging that the current County Board majority has been going through “a rough patch,” Hynes urged fellow like-minded Democrats at Wednesday night’s Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting to stand up and speak out at County Board meetings and elsewhere.
“It is very important — I can’t give this message strongly enough to the people in the room — you need to stand with us,” Hynes said. “You cannot believe that just because we’re up there and it feels okay to you that it is okay. We need your voices and we need your faces and we need you to pat us on the back every once in a while and come to the public hearing.”
Unsaid in Hynes’ message: those who oppose things — the Board majority, streetcars, aquatics centers, schools, fire stations, affordable housing developments — are doing a better job of getting their message out and being visible at community functions than the rank-and-file Democrats who support such things.
“Put a little time in,” Hynes urged. “Because it makes the work possible. We do this on behalf of you.”
As for her planned retirement — like Walter Tejada, she will not run for reelection and will serve out her term through the end of the year — Hynes said it was a personal decision.
“It is time for a new chapter for me,” Hynes said. “I’ll be able to make music more and read for pleasure, instead of reading to help me weigh the tough choices before us as a community.”
“I’ve been at this long enough to know that no one person is irreplaceable,” she continued. “My goal was always to leave Arlington better place than I found it, and I hope that I have done this.”
“When Arlingtonians roll up their sleeves and say ‘we can make a difference,’ we do make a difference… We can build a vibrant future, we can move past this rough patch, if we collaborate, use your common sense and build a consensus. That is the task that is before us. I know we can do it.”
Hynes received a standing ovation from the party faithful before and after her remarks.
“Our party, and our values and our people are responsible for creating the Arlington we all love today,” she concluded. “And don’t you ever let anyone tell you something different.”
Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes won’t seek re-election this November, becoming the second County Board member in a week to announce their retirement.
Hynes, 59, will serve out the rest of her term in 2015 before stepping down. Her decision, along with County Board member Walter Tejada’s announcement last Wednesday, paves the way for the first County Board election with two open seats in decades.
“After nearly 20 years of elected service to our community, it’s time for a new chapter in my life. It has been a privilege to serve this community, and I am incredibly optimistic about Arlington’s future,” Hynes said in a press release. “Arlingtonians are involved, thoughtful, and hardworking. I know they always have — AND always will — find ways to make our community a special place for those who choose to live, work, play, and learn here.”
Hynes’ retirement plan is another shakeup in Arlington’s politics, following the groundbreaking election of John Vihstadt in 2014 — the first non-Democrat elected to the Board in a general election in 31 years — and the cancellation of the planned Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar system.
Hynes was first elected to the County Board in 2007 and is serving her second term as chair this year. Before that, she served 12 years on the Arlington School Board — including three stints as chair — after winning the first School Board election in almost 40 years.
Hynes said she is retiring to spend more time with her family; she has previously stated that 2014 was the hardest year she’s experienced since being elected to public office. She, along with then-chairman Jay Fisette, cast the deciding votes in canceling the streetcar. Hynes told the Washington Post that “bitter disagreements over spending” did not influence her decision to retire.
Hynes declined to discuss rumors of her retirement this morning, when an ARLnow.com reporter encountered her chatting with a constituent at a Columbia Pike coffee shop. She also did not give any hints about her impending retirement decision while addressing the Arlington County Civic Federation last night.
“This is a county with good, strong bones,” she told the Civic Federation. “It’s one of the best communities in the country by lots and lots of measures. It doesn’t mean we don’t have things to work on. We’ve had a rough couple of years. there’s a lot of external forces at play.”
This year, Hynes has thus far focused her efforts on the new Facilities Study Committee, her effort to refresh “The Arlington Way” of lengthy public debate to reach consensus for big-ticket projects.
After the jump, the full press release announcing her retirement. Read More