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Arlington native Neffy has won National Public Radio’s prestigious Tiny Desk Contest for her song “Wait Up,” inspired by her return home to the Green Valley neighborhood.

Neffy, née Mecca Russell, tells ARLnow she drew on her homecoming experience during the pandemic, after living in New York City for about five years.

“Returning had me get in touch with my roots for the first time in half a decade,” she said. “It was almost like, ‘Will this environment accept me in the same that it did when I was younger, after being away for so long?'”

She found that Green Valley not only accepted her, but proved to be a well of inspiration to draw from. The 24-year-old singer-songwriter’s ballad about the meaning of home was chosen from thousands of entries to NPR’s contest, which selects an emerging artist to perform at the vaunted “tiny desk,” joining the likes of some very notable musicians, including Mac Miller, Wu Tang Clan, Demi Lovato, Justin Bieber and Lizzo.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was in so much shock and disbelief,” says Neffy about how she felt after hearing she had won. “I’m still kind of in shock and disbelief, to be quite honest.”

She says she has always been musical, known to sing around the house as a child. Neffy wrote her first song at 13 years old and, shortly after, picked up a guitar.

When she got older, went to college and decided to pursue writing and performing professionally, she realized her craft required a lot of sacrifice — and it led to some self-doubt.

But winning the Tiny Desk contest in 2021, after entering submissions in 2018 and 2020, validated her choice to pursue her craft.

“This experience has given me the chance to really feel full and express myself completely as an artist,” Neffy says. “And that alone has taken so much weight off my shoulders because that means I’m allowed to be an artist.”

She said writing and performing “Wait Up” allowed for that self-reflection and gave her an outlet for some of these feelings.

“I wrote this song for myself… because it was almost like a very cathartic therapeutic experience for me to write the song,” she says. “It was something that my soul definitely needed.”

To get herself in the right place, she says she spent a lot of time in her backyard as well as in and around Arlington’s green spaces, including gardens, nature centers and trails.

“Those [places] really are the foundation of who I am,” Neffy says. “[The song] was also a weaving of my mother’s love, my family’s love and us being outside in our backyard and having memories attached to all of those spaces.”

Right now, she’s primarily performing virtually due to the pandemic but plans on taking her talent to venues in the D.C. area soon.

While she’s currently residing in Green Valley, Neffy expects that she will soon head off on a new adventure. Writing “Wait Up” taught her that leaving will be okay, and that her home will always be here in Arlington no matter where her ambition leads her.

“By the time the song gets to the bridge, I am certain that, yes, home will always be there, whether it’s a physical manifestation or a spiritual manifestation that lives inside of me,” she says. “No matter where I go in the world, whether it’s Japan or who knows where, home is going to always live inside of me no matter what.”

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After initially failing to garner enough votes from the regional Transportation Planning Board, a controversial project to widen I-270 in Maryland and replace the American Legion Bridge is back on.

And Arlington County Board Member Christian Dorsey, who sits on the regional board, was one of the leaders who flipped his vote from a ‘no’ to a ‘yes.’

Dorsey appeared on WAMU’s The Politics Hour with Kojo Nnamdi on Friday to talk about why he flipped his vote. Dorsey also explained the powers and limitations of the newly created Community Oversight Board, which provides oversight over the conduct of officers in the Arlington County Police Department.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature project would add two high-occupancy toll lanes in each direction to part of its Beltway and lower I-270. The toll system would connect with Northern Virginia’s toll lanes on I-495 and 395.

Supporters say the project will relieve intense bottleneck, but in June, Dorsey said it was “not ready for prime time,” according to the show. In the interim month, the project was revised and Hogan’s team reportedly spent significant time lobbying those who voted ‘no.’ The board voted 28-10 in favor of the project.

Dorsey said his vote hinged on funding for public transit, as lower congestion could encourage more single-occupancy vehicle traffic. He denied being contacted by Hogan’s office, but said he was contacted by “targeted campaigns.”

“What was missing was a commitment to provide the funding to make sure locally-developed transit solutions could be developed, and could be constructed and operated in the long term,” he said.

The project now includes state funding to design bus lanes for the expanded highway, in addition to $300 million in private funding for transit projects. Dorsey said the revised project also outlines timelines and efforts for transit projects, he said.

“There was significant progress  — at least enough progress for me to move it along in the regional planning process,” Dorsey said.

The Maryland Board of Public Works is set to vote on the project later this summer, according to the show.

Dorsey also clarified the roles of the Community Oversight Board, which has investigative and subpoena power. The board will have an independent policing auditor who can conduct an investigation alongside one being conducted internally by ACPD.

“If for some reason in that concurrent [model], which we think is artfully designed, records are withheld, it has ability to get them via subpoena,” he said. “We hope it’s rarely used, as that means the concurrent model not working.”

(The Arlington branch of the NAACP has criticized the County Board for not granting the oversight board the full powers recently granted by the state legislature.)

Since County Manager Mark Schwartz hires staff, including police officers, a Community Oversight Board with county staff would not be effectively independent, Dorsey said. The solution was to create an independent policing auditor who is accountable to the oversight board and who ensures investigations take place.

The Board voted against a provision setting aside three seats on the oversight board for people of color or people from marginalized groups.

“This is not about saying there shouldn’t be three people of color on the board, but that we shouldn’t send a signal that three is somehow an acceptable minimum,” Dorsey said. “Most [members] should be people of color, from my perspective.”

Dorsey said he does not deny that ACPD has had occasional issues worthy of scrutiny, but “overall, we’ve had a professional and effective and trustworthy police department.”

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(Updated at 10:35 a.m.) A public-records request sheds light on how the Arlington County Police Department justified a change to what the public can hear via police radio channels.

The Freedom of Information Act inquiry by ARLnow uncovered documents about the department’s March change to encrypt more radio chatter. The documents cited safety and security concerns, including some related to last summer’s police reform protests and the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol.

Whereas the public — including news outlets like ARLnow and local TV stations — used to be able to hear more details about a police incident in progress in Arlington, now in most circumstances only the initial dispatch and basic information from the scene can be heard.

“Once a call for service is stabilized, it may be moved to an encrypted channel to protect the personal and confidential information of members of the public interacting with law enforcement and for tactical, operational and investigatory security reasons,” Arlington police spokeswoman Ashley Savage said in an email.

Authorities drafted a policy and created a memo in February after a workgroup focused on police radio traffic hashed out details and the department’s now-permanent police chief, Charles “Andy” Penn, wrote that he expected “questions/complaints” about the encryption.

The Feb. 23 police memo gives information about why the department encrypted an administrative channel and details that other channels were encrypted, too, including special ops for presidential and dignitary escorts and other special events, a civil disturbance unit’s operational channel, a frequently-used “talk around” channel for officers on the scenes of incident to communicate with one another, and an outreach zone channel involving school resource officers.

Authorities shared their reasoning in wanting to encrypt more channels, noting police in Illinois and Texas heard on their radios the hip-hop group N.W.A.’s anti-police song — apparently transmitted by someone with access to a radio capable of broadcasting on police channels — amid nationwide protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020.

“During the summer of 2020, protests and civil unrest across the country highlighted the growing threat to public safety communications and exposed its loopholes,” one email said. “Factions in Dallas and Chicago targeted these vulnerabilities by playing music over unencrypted radio channels, preventing legitimate use. This sort of tactic threatens both public safety personnel, who rely on the radio to communicate with each other, and the general public, who are in potential danger during an incident.”

An Arlington County document also stated that the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol rioting also involved bad actors trying to gain access to police radio systems to cause disruptions. Additional details were not given in emails obtained by ARLnow, some of which were redacted.

“We also took into consideration the events of January 6 as we witnessed bad actors actively trying to gain access to radio systems to cause disruptions,” one email said.

When asked about the alleged Jan. 6 police radio incident, Savage said Wednesday in an email that they weren’t aware of this happening on ACPD’s own channels. In D.C., Metropolitan Police Department also noted they didn’t observe this.

But ACPD’s emails did cite unspecified incidents in which individuals used police transmissions to create disruptions.

“We have experienced numerous occasions where individuals created problems for first responders by having had access to information conveyed over unencrypted channels,” the department said in drafting its policy. “This includes but is not limited to people coming to scenes and disrupting or causing delays in the handling of the call.”

Without the added encryption, authorities say criminals could have advanced warning of police actions, citizens could arrive at a scene before emergency responders, and law enforcement tactics and movements could be compromised.

Savage said all dispatched calls for service, including emergencies such as an armed robbery or school shooting, are broadcast over the primary radio channel, which is not encrypted and available for monitoring by the media or interested members of the public, using either commercially-available scanner radios, online services or smartphone apps.

Savage noted the department shares information about some police incidents through daily reports, an online crime map, Arlington’s Open Data Portal, news releases and Arlington Alert for emergency notifications in the event of public safety threats and traffic disruptions.

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Broadcasting legend Larry King died on Saturday, at the age of 87. Though his status as a television celebrity is well established, less well known is where he rose to fame: here in Arlington.

King moved to Arlington from Miami shortly after his Larry King Show picked up national syndication from the Arlington-based Mutual Broadcasting System in 1978.

King’s show was produced in the Mutual Broadcasting studio at the top floor of the office building at 251 18th Street S., next to the Crystal City Metro station. Back then, the building’s street address was known as 1755 South Jefferson Davis Highway, the Crystal City Underground shopping plaza had recently opened, and the neighborhood was only beginning to emerge as a major commercial center.

“Mutual radio moved to Crystal City when no one was there and nothing was there — there were four buildings and the Crystal underground,” recalls Tammy Haddad, King’s radio producer in the early 1980s and later the founding Executive Producer of his CNN show.

It was from that studio that the late-night Larry King Show was broadcast across the country until it went off the air in 1994. Initially, it aired from midnight to 5:30 a.m., though the hours shifted over the years. The radio show featured an extended interview followed by live listener call-ins, and eventually aired on more than 500 radio stations nationwide.

The quirky program was a hit: King’s following grew so quickly — with millions of listeners staying up into the wee hours — that the open call-in portion of the show would crash the circuits of the entire 703 area code, at least according to King.

When Larry King Live launched in primetime on CNN in 1985, King would drive from the CNN studios in D.C. to Crystal City to host the radio show. Famous for his work ethic, King kept that grueling schedule up for years.

While working out of Crystal City, King lived in the Rosslyn area. For a couple of years he lived in The Virginian apartment building, before moving to the nearby Prospect House condo building, famous for its monumental view of D.C. and the Iwo Jima memorial.

King later briefly moved to McLean before decamping for Los Angeles, according to Patrick Piper, who produced King’s radio show after Haddad. (An Associated Press article from 1991 noted that King was arguing to have one of his divorces heard in Arlington “where he lives and works,” instead of Philadelphia where his estranged wife still maintained a residence.)

Stories from King’s radio days abound.

For one, King was cast as himself in the 1984 comedy classic Ghostbusters.

“The people filming the movie Ghostbusters called and asked me to play myself in the movie,” he wrote in his autobiography. “They shot me, cigarette in hand, behind the mike.”

While the setting depicted in the film was definitely the Crystal City studio, Piper wasn’t sure whether it was actually shot in Arlington or on a soundstage. It did look like one of the secondary studios in the office, he said.

Getting to the studio late at night was not easy for the in-studio guests, Haddad remembers.

“The guests used to have to enter the Crystal underground entrance, which was unmarked, it never said Larry King radio show, it never said Mutual radio… and then they’d have to go to the building and [get] let up,” she said. “So you have to really want to be a guest on Larry King to get there.”

Many celebrities arrived via humble Arlington taxis

“We used to send the guests on Red Top Cabs,” Haddad said. “So we pick up Mel Brooks, Danny Kaye, you know, all these guys.”

One regular on-air guest was then-Congressman Al Gore, who lived five minutes away in the Arlington Ridge neighborhood and would drive himself over to the studio late at night.

“Al Gore and Larry had a special relationship,” Haddad said.

Crystal City might not have been as centrally located as downtown D.C., but King wrote that it helped him stay much more plugged in to national news and media than staying in Miami.

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Thanksgiving is two weeks away. Hanukkah is four weeks away. Christmas is six weeks away.

The holiday season is upon us, which may be why today local radio station 97.1 WASH-FM is making its annual switch to all Christmas music, starting at 5 p.m.

That’s three days sooner than the station’s switch two years ago, which perhaps could be cited as an example of Christmas creep. Yesterday the anchors of the Fox 5 morning show debated the merits of Christmas music in mid-November.

https://twitter.com/HollyLiveFox5DC/status/1326852935209406464

We posed a similar poll question in 2018, but perhaps the intervening two years — and the pandemic — has resulted in a shift in attitudes, so today we’re asking: is today too early to start listening to Christmas music?

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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Morning Notes

Fall Officially Starts Today — “While many of us think of the first day of fall as a full calendar day, the equinox itself is a rather fleeting astronomical event. It happens at a precise moment when the sun’s direct rays are straight over Earth’s equator. This year’s equinox is at 9:30 a.m. Eastern time on Sept. 22.” [Capital Weather Gang]

JBG Acquires Local 5G Radio Spectrum — “JBG Smith Properties has paid $25.3 million for licenses to use small parts of a new class of wireless spectrum to set up a 5G internet network in National Landing, home to Amazon.com Inc.’s second headquarters and Virginia Tech’s innovation campus.” [Washington Business JournalPress Release]

County Board Challenger Amps Up Rhetoric — “Is Arlington’s political ruling elite a bunch of preening political poseurs unwilling to do the heavy lifting of implementing a truly progressive agenda for the community? That somewhat uncharitable (and decidedly paraphrased here) assessment comes  from Audrey Clement, the perennial independent candidate for office who this year is facing off against County Board Chairman Libby Garvey.” [InsideNova]

County Launches New Data Portal — “Arlington County today unveiled a new Open Data Portal with several benefits and features that make it easier than ever to access and use Arlington data. The new portal, a centerpiece of the County’s Open Government Program, builds upon the first open data solution that launched in 2016.” [Arlington County]

Robbery Suspect Arrested in Pentagon City — “At approximately 3:36 p.m. on September 19, police were dispatched to the report of a larceny in progress. Upon arrival, it was determined that the suspect allegedly stole merchandise from a business without paying. Upon being confronted by loss prevention at the exit, the suspect allegedly brandished a knife, then fled on foot. The victim was not injured. Arriving officers located the suspect in the Pentagon City Metro, still in possession of stolen merchandise.” [Arlington County]

Postal Service Keeping Rosslyn Office — “The United States Postal Service has tacked on an additional 3 years to its office lease at the International Place building in Arlington, Virginia, but will give up one of its floors in the process.” [CoStar]

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People singing and playing music from their balconies has been something of a trend during the quarantine, and the Crystal City Business Improvement District (BID) wants to get it started in Arlington.

The Crystal City BID is starting Front Porch Fridays tomorrow (Friday) afternoon.

“We may not all have a front porch — we may not all even have a balcony — but what we do have is our community,” the Crystal City BID said on the event page. “Music has always brought people together and now is no different. We can still gather together to listen (virtually)!”

The BID is encouraging residents to open their windows or bring a radio to their porch or balcony, tune to the same station and crank up the volume.

This week, the station is Hot 99.5 at 4:20 p.m. Next week it’s DC 101.1 at noon.

“The station will change each week, but the party atmosphere stays the same,” the BID said. “And best of all — we want you to select the playlist! Visit our Facebook page each week Monday-Wednesday to vote on the songs you want to hear. Then listen in on Friday to see if your pick made the cut!”

The music will be commercial-free, courtesy of the BID.

Videos of people singing in the streets went viral early on in the pandemic, though results to replicate that have sometimes been mixed.

Separately, the BID announced Thursday that it would be donating $100,000 to Arlington’s small business grant fund.

“Small businesses throughout National Landing have adjusted their operations to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Just as they have supported us, we are focusing our efforts on ways to assist and enhance the long-term viability of these businesses,” Crystal City BID President Tracy Sayegh Gabriel said in a statement. “We are pleased to contribute to Arlington County’s GRANT Program, which will enable countless small businesses to stay afloat, retain their staff and continue to serve the community.”

File photo

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Morning Notes

W-L Alumni File Suit Over Name Change — “A local alumni group is filing suit in federal court over their high school’s name change. The Washington-Lee High School Alumni Association claims the public did not get the chance to weigh-in on the school board’s decision to change its name to Washington-Liberty High.” [WTOP, DCist]

Wrong-Way Driver Nearly Strikes Officer — “As officers approached the vehicle to investigate, they observed a handgun with extended magazine in plain view. The suspect disobeyed the lawful commands of the officers, placed the vehicle into drive and allegedly accelerated towards an officer. The officer quickly moved out of the way to avoid being struck and the vehicle fled the scene at a high rate of speed.” [Arlington County]

NPR Highlights W-L Esports Team — NPR’s All Things Considered profiled the Washington-Liberty High School esports club this week. Colleges are offering millions in scholarships for esports players, the segment noted. The W-L team was also profiled by the Washington Post this fall.  [NPR]

New Credit Union Open in Ballston — “Northwest Federal Credit Union recently celebrated the grand opening of a new branch in Ballston… its ninth public branch and first in Arlington County.” [Press Release]

ART Switch Successful Thus Far — “So far, so good, as the Arlington Transit (ART) system has a new contractor settling in. ‘The transition to ART’s new service provider – First Transit – has gone well during the initial weeks,’ County Manager Mark Schwartz told the Sun Gazette.” [InsideNova]

APS Launches Superintendent Survey — “The Arlington School Board is seeking community input through an online survey to help shape search criteria for the next superintendent. The survey is now open.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Flickr pool photo by GM and MB

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Morning Notes

Now Might Be the Time to Sell Your Home — “‘Some sellers are thinking ‘gosh, why don’t I just wait until Amazon gets into full bloom before I sell my house, because maybe values will go up even higher,” Christine Richardson, president of the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors, told WTOP. ‘But I’m not sure that is necessarily the right way to think about it, because often that initial exuberance is actually higher than reality turns out to be.'” [WTOP]

Local CVS Sold Millions of Opioids — “The largest recipient of pain pills in Arlington, according to the database, is a CVS Pharmacy located at 3133 Lee Highway. A total of 1,465,700 pills were shipped to this pharmacy between 2006 and 2012, which would be enough for one pill per year for each of the 106,612 people who live within five miles of the pharmacy.” [Patch]

Lots of Booze Sales in Arlington — “The eight Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) stores in Arlington accounted for 2.8 percent of total ABC purchases Virginia-wide during the state government’s last fiscal year, which saw a new statewide record set in total sales volume. A total of $29,052,507 in sales (excluding tax) were made at Arlington’s ABC stores from July 2018 to June 2019.” [InsideNova]

Cristol on Kojo — Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol went on WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show on Friday. Among the topics she discussed: the federal government’s search for a new shelter for detained, unaccompanied immigrant children in Northern Virginia. [Kojo Nnamdi Show, Twitter]

Local Restaurants Coming to Memphis — A pair of local restaurants — Matchbox American Kitchen and Arlington-based Big Buns Best Damn Burger Co. — are opening new locations in Memphis, Tennessee. [Washington Business Journal]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Morning Notes

County Board Roundup — As expected, the Arlington County Board on Saturday voted to approve a contract for Nauck Town Square, a purchase agreement to acquire Virginia Hospital Center-owned property, and a permit to convert former administrative offices next to Washington-Lee High School to classroom space for up to 600 students.

Adding Amazon Acquisitions in Arlington? — “Keep an eye on what companies Amazon.com Inc. buys next. It could be what fills HQ2. Acquisitions will likely determine what jobs and teams develop at the second headquarters in Arlington, said Holly Sullivan, Amazon’s head of worldwide economic development.” [Washington Business Journal]

Drivers Work to Inflate Prices at DCA — “Every night, several times a night, Uber and Lyft drivers at Reagan National Airport simultaneously turn off their ride share apps for a minute or two to trick the app into thinking there are no drivers available — creating a price surge. When the fare goes high enough, the drivers turn their apps back on and lock into the higher fare.” [WJLA]

Garvey Endorses Stamos — “I believe we could use a healthy debate about equity in Arlington and how our legal justice system works. However, a healthy debate means using facts about what is working and what is not… I hope you will join me in voting for Theo Stamos for Commonwealth’s Attorney on June 11.” [Libby Garvey]

Sun Gazette Endorses Favola, Lopez — “In its endorsements, the paper said neither Nicole Merlene (who is challenging Favola) nor Julius Spain (who is taking on Lopez) has reached the rather high bar set for an endorsement of challengers to sitting office-holders.” [InsideNova]

Merlene on Kojo — “On @kojoshow, @NicoleMerleneVA says a second bridge over the Potomac, perhaps in Loudoun County, is needed, especially in light of the recent Beltway closure. She also expresses support for marijuana decriminalization and medical marijuana in Va.” [Twitter]

Arlington Firms in Fortune 1000 — Four Arlington-based companies are in the new Fortune 1000 list: AES, CACI International, Graham Holdings, and AvalonBay Communities. Fairfax County, meanwhile, is home to ten Fortune 500 companies. [Fortune, Twitter]]

Man Sentenced for Threatening Ajit Pai — “Threatening to actually kill a federal official’s family because of a disagreement over policy is not only inexcusable, it is criminal. This prosecution shows not only that we take criminal threats seriously, but also that online threats of violence have real world consequences.” [Twitter, USDOJ]

Another Amazon-Adjacent Acquisition — “Amazon’s planned second headquarters continues to attract the interest of major investors to the National Landing area.  Newmark Knight Frank announced Friday it brokered the sale of Presidential Tower at 2511 Jefferson Davis Highway on behalf of the seller, Beacon Capital Partners. The building sold for $123M, according to CoStar information.” [Bisnow]

Photo courtesy @zachzsnapz/Instagram.

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Arlington officials plan to cut funding for the county’s independent TV and radio stations next year, as part of a gradual effort to wean the nonprofit that operates the stations off government funding.

County Manager Mark Schwartz hopes to shrink the county’s contribution to Arlington Independent Media by about $18,100 in fiscal year 2020, a roughly 5 percent reduction in funding from a year ago.

In all, the county plans to send the nonprofit about $415,000 to support its operations under the new budget proposed by Schwartz late last week. Established in 1982 as Arlington Community Television, AIM operates a public access TV channel and the WERA radio station and offers training in all manner of media technologies.

Schwartz proposed a much larger cut to the county’s support for the community broadcaster last year, with plans to slash about $90,000 in ongoing funding for AIM as the county sought to cope with a tough fiscal picture without raising taxes. But in the face of outcry from AIM employees and its viewers, the County Board ultimately decided to restore $70,000 in funding to the group on a one-time basis.

The county manager’s proposal for the coming fiscal year maintains that $70,000 in the budget, once again on a one-time basis, but Schwartz is warning that the county will likely need to start rolling back its support of the nonprofit moving forward. In a message attached to his proposed budget, Schwartz suggested that he’d like to slash AIM’s funding by 5 percent for the next three years, as well.

AIM has faced a precarious financial situation ever since the county signed a new franchise agreement with Comcast in late 2016. The cable provider traditionally chipped in cash to support the nonprofit media company, but the county’s new deal allowing Comcast to operate in Arlington removed all dedicated funding for AIM.

That has forced the county to provide a bit more funding on its own for AIM, which otherwise relies on member contributions to stay afloat. But Schwartz cautioned in his message to the Board that the county likely won’t be able to continue backstopping the nonprofit, and he noted that a recent study of AIM’s operations suggested that it will likely need to more aggressively fundraise to support itself going forward.

“As the county continues to support AIM in their transitional period, AIM must work to diversify their revenue streams and re-evaluate their position in the ever-changing media industry,” Schwartz wrote. “To help with this, consistent with the findings of the independent study, the county strongly encourages AIM to develop a set of performance metrics that can help demonstrate its community impact and contributions, which could help it attract new strategic funding partners or like-minded community nonprofits with which it might share staffing or other resources.”

Schwartz added that the study of AIM also examined “Arlington TV,” the county-run cable network, and recommended moving some of its functions to the county’s existing communications and public engagement office to save a bit of cash.

The Board will have the final say on all these budget changes as it reviews the spending plan over the course of the next few weeks. It’s scheduled to adopt a new budget in April.

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