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by Mark Kelly — May 5, 2016 at 2:15 pm 0

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

Mark Kelly

 Governor McAuliffe recently issued an executive order restoring to 206,000 felons who successfully completed their sentences the rights to vote, sit on juries, run for office and become a notary public.

Previous governors explored this question and found that their Constitutional clemency powers required the restoration of these rights to be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Some Republicans are arguing McAuliffe is making a blatant political play to help boost Hillary Clinton’s chances win Virginia in November. But some form of restoration of voting rights is an issue with support on both sides of the political aisle.

By using an executive order, however, Governor McAuliffe did an end run around the General Assembly on an issue that clearly should have been subject to public debate and scrutiny. McAuliffe also left open the very real possibility the next governor could modify or eliminate the order altogether which would raise even more Constitutional questions about whether an individual had some, or all of these rights, or not.

The use of the executive order eliminated the opportunity for public scrutiny on important questions. Should individuals be required to apply for the rights or should they be automatic? Should we differentiate between repeat violent offenders and nonviolent first-time offenders? Should rapists be eligible to sit on a jury during a rape trial? Or should people convicted of fraud be given a public trust like being a notary public?

But elected representatives were denied the ability to debate any issues surrounding whether any or all the rights should be restored or in what manner. And not surprisingly, Republicans in the General Assembly are preparing to sue the Governor on the grounds his actions were unconstitutional.

The people of Virginia should be wary whenever a Governor attempts to unilaterally re-write the Virginia Constitution. When Democrat Governor Kaine explored the same question, his legal counsel determined such an executive order would re-write Virginia law and set a very troubling precedent of ignoring his oath to uphold the Constitution. Governor Kaine was right to defer to his oath.

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

by Mark Kelly — April 28, 2016 at 2:30 pm 0

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

All five members of the Arlington County Board were on hand last night for the ARLnow event at the Celtic House on Columbia Pike. It was a pleasure to share the forum with fellow columnists Peter Rousselot and Larry Roberts to discuss issues facing the county.

If you missed it, here are a few of the points I made to the questions our panel received:

  • The decision to stop the streetcar project is still a good one. It would have done nothing to improve traffic on the Pike at a massive cost to the taxpayers.
  • Using the influence of our seat on the WMATA Board to fundamentally reform Metro should be our highest transit priority.
  • Parents and teachers need to stop buying into the notion that increasing class sizes by just 1-2 pupils will somehow destroy their children’s education. It is a step that may be required to get through the short-term as we address the capacity crunch in the county.
  • Without dramatic increases in taxpayer subsidies or dramatic increases in density, the county will always be fighting a losing battle to make housing more affordable. Arlington has a limited amount of prime real estate available, and the laws of supply and demand will continue to prevail.
  • Few people, especially those with children, are going to walk to a new Long Bridge aquatics center. Supporters should eliminate it from their talking points in support of the project.

I did miss an opportunity during the aquatics center discussion to make a pitch for reforming the way bonds voted on in Arlington. Big projects like the aquatics center should be voted on as stand alone questions, not tucked into other bond projects.

As you might imagine, because of the time constraints, we did not get to all of the possible topics suggested to us by the staff at ARLnow.

What should the County Board have done on taxes? After the average out-of-pocket costs for taxpayers has increased $1,113 the past five years, the County Board should have taken a more aggressive approach to reducing the tax rate than just a half-cent reduction. The excess revenue spent every year during the closeout process proves there is room to provide tax relief without cutting any fat, let alone muscle in the budget. A two cent reduction in the rate this year would have simply reduced the funds available at closeout time this year by about $10.5 million over what the Board approved.

Does Arlington have a crime problem? No. But public safety is one of the big three in terms of core services along with education and infrastructure (includes transportation). It should always be treated as one of our highest priorities and given the resources law enforcement needs.

How should Arlington plan to handle infrastructure needs for an increased population over the long term? From potholes to sewer lines, investing in ongoing maintenance of and improvements to our existing infrastructure should always trump new “shiny object” projects.

by Mark Kelly — April 21, 2016 at 2:00 pm 0

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

The County Board decided to appoint a Blue Ribbon Commission to order future county priorities found in the Comprehensive Plan.

The Comprehensive Plan currently contains 10 elements and receives a comprehensive review every five years. The last five-year review was completed by the County Board in December of 2011. This new panel seems to be timed with a Board review this year.

Arlington has a history of creating a lot of conversation, but not always conversation that produces action. But rather than critiquing the County Board decision to appoint this panel, here are some suggestions to those who are selected.

  1. Be specific. The report from this panel should produce readily identifiable action steps and establish an order of priorities based on meeting community needs.
  1. Talk to critics. Understanding why there is disagreement with County Board decisions or staff actions will better inform your decisions.
  1. Be tough-minded. Do not attempt to reach a consensus that will appeal to everyone. Make hard choices and identify the most pressing priorities. The Board is appointing you, at least in some small part, because they have to play politics. You do not.

Here is a further note on this point. If you agree to serve on this Board as a stepping stone to run for the County Board in the future, please reconsider. The last thing we need is someone wondering how their recommendations will play in a political campaign down the road.

  1. Think outside the box. Do not confine your discussions or recommendations to the Comprehensive Plan as it currently exists. No one needs to read the same report that county staff could have produced on their own. And if the county staff sends you a draft report that does not reflect your discussions, send it back.

The bottom line: if the final set of recommendations does not ruffle more than a few feathers, the panel will probably have failed to do its job.

by ARLnow.com — April 14, 2016 at 2:00 pm 0

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

This week County Manager Mark Schwartz proposed a revised aquatics center plan for Long Bridge Park during a County Board work session.

The aquatics center at Long Bridge had been shelved when the costs continued to balloon. Former County Manager Donnellan ultimately announced they simply could not find a bid to build the pool complex within the allotted budget.

The County it seems was unwilling to go back to the taxpayers again to approve additional bonds for the project which was threatening to top $80 million. Bonds dating back to 2004 have been approved by voters and nearly $17 million have already sold but are yet unused on the project. $30.5 million of bonds have been approved, but not sold.

The new $65 million (approximate) plan seeks to reduce the size of the facility by a little more than one-third and is estimated to save 17% from the old estimate. However, these are only county staff estimates as there has been no final price tag from a construction firm.

Of course, it was not just the construction costs causing heartburn. County estimates pegged the project with an ongoing annual operating deficit of more than $4 million before it was halted. The staff says the new plan will only result in an operating deficit of $1 million.

As the aquatics center discussion moves forward, ongoing operating costs will remain an important issue. How much of a subsidy should we provide to Arlington residents? And will people from surrounding communities who use the facility be required to pay more?

In watching the County Board work session presentation on the new project, two other claims stood out. First, it was stated that the new facility would be designed and built to meet identified community needs. Second, that the previous design was biased toward better architecture and not better energy efficiency. This time around, energy efficiency will be given a higher priority.

It makes one wonder, why was it not done this way the first time?

by Mark Kelly — April 7, 2016 at 11:45 am 0

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

On Tuesday, the Arlington Civic Federation voted to recommend a 1-cent tax rate reduction to the Arlington County Board. The Board should adopt the recommendation.

The CivFed resolution noted that over the past five years, the average homeowner saw a $1,113 increase in taxes and fees. A 1-cent reduction this year would not cut a homeowner’s tax burden. It would only stop property taxes from increasing quite as much.

Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz already recommended a .5-cent rate reduction as part of his budget proposal, which would only lower revenue growth by $3.5 million. Either option would be welcome news to homeowners. In fact, more relief would be even better news.

The CivFed resolution also rightly notes lowering property taxes would relieve some of the upward pressure on the costs of both homeownership and rent.

After years of ramped up tax bills to pay everything from tricycles to bus stops and so much more, surely the Board can find an additional $3.5 million in a nearly $1.2 billion budget when they vote on April 19th.

If the Board is accepting recommendations, designating $3.5 million from closeout funds would certainly do the trick. The Board can also look to the CivFed report which proposed budget reductions to cover the price tag. (The CivFed proposed reductions had not yet been posted on its website.)

And what about the new honorary Poet Laureate position? The decision did catch the attention of a few budget watchdogs who are wondering what the County Board will think of next. But at $1500 a year, not all of which to come out of taxpayer funds, it is a bargain when compared to the now defunct Artisphere or the Signature Theater bailout.

The ARLnow story on the search for our first poetry chief did cause some commenters to audition for the job, including a couple verses written about me. In the spirit of good natured fun, I offer this haiku in response.

Trolley has been nixed.

Taxpayers are rejoicing

gondolas are next.

by Mark Kelly — March 31, 2016 at 1:15 pm 0

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

Late yesterday, news began to spread that Metro was considering shuttering entire lines for six months at a time. According to the Washington Post report, the discussion also included calls for a $1 billion increase in annual funding.

With the recent mid-week shutdown of the entire system, the region should not assume that General Manager Wiedefeld is merely posturing. However, there are undoubtedly some on the Metro Board who see the possibility of long-term shutdowns as leverage in the funding debate.

The simple fact of the matter is that Metro has lost the trust of the public. We cannot be expected to simply take their word for it.

Here are four things the General Manager and Metro Board should do as this debate continues.

  1. Produce a comprehensive plan for structural reforms to Metro’s operations.

When I wrote on this subject two weeks ago, I noted concerns from a WMATA official that the new General Manager could not rely on the people working there. The challenges Metro faces clearly go beyond current safety concerns and into why Metro got here in the first place. Mr. Wiedefeld has said things were worse than he thought, so he should show us how he intends to change course.

  1. Submit a full maintenance plan for public review.

Such a plan should identify both short-term and long-term maintenance needs. If Metro does not believe it can complete the immediately necessary repairs on nights and weekends, they must tell us why.

  1. Separate one-time needs from long-term funding in any new funding proposal.

What happens too many times in government is a failure to identify one-time needs versus ongoing needs. The result is an inflated baseline of ongoing spending. Budgets really should be built on an annual basis rather than with automatic assumptions that increases are necessary across the board.

  1. Identify possible cuts in any new funding proposal.

It is likely we will hear that all the fat has been trimmed from Metro. But if the General Manager honestly believes there is nowhere he can cut, he should explain where he looked and why he arrived at this conclusion.

It’s not that the region is unwilling to pay for Metro. It’s that after years of fare increases coupled with safety and maintenance failures, people are rightly taking more of a “trust but verify” posture before committing to another $1 billion per year.

by Mark Kelly — March 24, 2016 at 1:15 pm 0

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

Next week, Arlingtonians will have their opportunity to weigh in with the County Board on the annual budget. The two night event will feature opportunities for Arlingtonians to provide feedback on the advertised tax rate and the proposed budget — both on the same night if they so choose.

Many fiscal conservatives in the County tell me they do not go to speak because they feel like their voices will not be taken into account.

With two new Board Members and two others who have been willing to shake up the status quo, now is the time to speak out. Those in Arlington who want more spending and higher taxes will certainly be there to make their case.

Has bi-partisan love has broken out across Arlington?

First, Delegate Patrick Hope gives John Vihstadt an “attaboy” for his work with the Republican controlled General Assembly to reinstate the tourism tax. For years, Republicans in Arlington campaigned for on the idea of producing a better working relationship with Richmond. Turns out it was not just an empty campaign promise.

Then Democrat Electoral Board Members Dave Bell and Charlene Bickford showed up at a — wait for it — Arlington Republican Party meeting. Granted, the appearance in enemy territory was for a salute their outgoing colleague Allen Harrison. The consummate gentleman, Harrison was rightly being honored for nearly three decades of service to the voters of Arlington.

Allen is without question a dedicated and fiercely loyal Republican. But Allen always treated his appointment to the Electoral Board as a non-partisan protector of the rights of Arlingtonians to vote.

On a more serious bi-partisan note.

I did not know Tiffany Joslyn well, but I did have an opportunity to cross paths with her from time to time. We first met when I was running for County Board. I found her to be someone who you could disagree with politically without a trace of acrimony.

We also had an opportunity to talk about her professional passion — criminal justice reform. And, we agreed quite a bit on the issue of reforming our criminal laws. Even if we had not found an issue of agreement, she still would have made her points in a way that left a favorable impression.

It goes without saying that her death was tragic, and she will be missed.

by Mark Kelly — March 17, 2016 at 2:00 pm 0

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

While the mid-week Metro shutdown was sudden and shocking to the area, it sent a clear message that the new General Manager Paul Wiedefeld is prepared to make unpopular decisions in the name of safety. And that’s a good thing.

During the shutdown Wednesday, safety inspections revealed at least three other locations where cables required repairs because they were fire hazards.

It was unquestionably a good decision to put safety first. But, the timing of the move also got the attention of both elected leaders and the public at large by sending a much-needed shockwave through the entire region.

Metro riders have long known about the system’s problems, but it didn’t really impact everyone directly. That is, until Tuesday evening’s announcement when suddenly every commuter had to think about Metro.

Wiedefeld has said Metro’s situation was worse than he originally thought, and that he is working to make systemic changes.

However, there was something very troubling in this Washington Post story. One WMATA official said, “The bottom line is he can’t rely on the people working for him.” The, albeit anonymous, source went on to say, “Nothing fundamental has changed to guarantee that the information he’s getting is accurate.”

So, in addition to a culture of safety, it sounds like Wiedefeld must institute a culture of accountability. He must institute a culture of trust. And, he must institute a culture of sound financial management.

In other words, there is a long way to go before WMATA is truly back on the right track. Hopefully the WMATA Board has given him all of the authority and latitude he needs to make all of the needed changes.

Not surprisingly, the discussions turned to the question of funding.

Regional leaders should evaluate the funding mechanisms in place and how best to move forward. However, it is clear that there are still more questions than answers about Metro’s future and funding alone will not solve them. Leaders must insist that a real plan to fundamentally transform how WMATA operates is in place and working before any funding changes are made.

by Mark Kelly — March 10, 2016 at 1:30 pm 0

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

Last week, the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) narrowly recommended the County Board use $1.5 million in economic development incentives to attract new businesses. The vote was 7 to 5 with one other member abstaining.

Some of the dissenting FAAC members thought the county should stay out of the business of using taxpayer dollars to incentivize businesses altogether. Others thought the money should be used elsewhere to get more bang for the buck. Many of those who back such economic development efforts believe that Arlington must use incentives to stay competitive with Fairfax, Alexandria and DC.

On multiple occasions, I have advocated that Arlington County take a holistic approach to making Arlington open for business. This means improving the fundamental environment for new businesses to start-up here as well as making it a priority that existing businesses can grow.

No amount of up-front financial incentives alone will ensure businesses will make a permanent home in Arlington. From the penalizing BPOL tax to the zoning process and everything in between, Arlington’s leaders must recognize the need to create an environment that allows businesses to thrive and create new jobs.

As part of its recommendations, FAAC did ask for the periodic review of the success of such incentive efforts. Hopefully FAAC members will continue to ask the question – is it working? They should make every effort to ensure taxpayers receive a good long term return on investment, not just let county leaders pat themselves on the back for “doing something.”

The volunteer FAAC members dedicate a lot of their time and energy to provide input on how your tax dollars are spent. We should applaud the FAAC members who thoughtfully raise concerns with, and are not afraid to oppose, the County Manager’s recommendations.

Did you know there were nearly 50 County Board established advisory groups in Arlington?

We hear about a number of them regularly. The Planning Commission, the Arlington Commission for the Arts, or the Sports Commission may also jump to mind immediately.

What about the Industrial Development Authority, or Urban Forestry Commission, or even the Out-of-School-Time Advisory Council? Have you heard of those? Do you know what they do?

If you want to give the Arlington County Board advice on an issue that is important to you, applying to serve on one of these groups is perhaps your best opportunity. You can apply online here if you are interested.

by Mark Kelly — March 3, 2016 at 3:45 pm 0

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

Thumbs Up to Republican Voters

On Tuesday news broke that some Arlington precincts were running out of pre-printed Republican ballots. Only time will tell if Tuesday’s primary results in Arlington mean Democrat enthusiasm is down and Republican enthusiasm is up, or that Democrats crossed over to vote for the candidate they most wanted to run against their likely nominee — Hillary Clinton. We do know that statewide Virginia Republican Primary results smashed previous records.

Thumbs Up to Revisiting New Day-Care Regulations

County officials acknowledged that new day-care regulations in the works at the Department of Human Services were being met with significant opposition from parents and day-care providers. Beyond basic health and safety regulations, it is always a dangerous path to go down to tell parents what their child must do at day-care, particularly since parents are paying the bill.

Thumbs Down to the Advertised Tax Rate

The Arlington County Board’s decision to advertise a flat tax rate is not bad news, but it should not be celebrated either. The County Manager’s budget made it clear that revenues were going to meet budget needs, and he proposed a small rate cut to reflect that reality. Of course, in either scenario, you will be paying more. The average single family home assessment is up 2.8%. Even with a half-cent rate cut proposed by the Manager, that means your taxes will go up 2.3% or $133 annually — $163 with no rate cut. Last year, the average homeowner saw a $270 increase.

Thumbs Up to Hearings Changes

Board Chairman Libby Garvey announced changes to the upcoming budget and tax rate hearings. The tax rate hearing has been sparsely attended in recent years, so moving it to the front end of the two budget hearings makes a lot of sense. Lower tax advocates who do choose to speak will also now have an audience, albeit not necessarily a friendly one, as higher spending advocates will already be filling the room.

Tourism Tax Back

John Vihstadt proved he could have some influence in Richmond with Republican legislators. Unfortunately, it was to get them to approve a tax increase that will be used to fund additional tourism promotion. I’m not sure who the real winner is here as tourism is a given for Arlington due to its close proximity to our nation’s capitol. It does signal there may be an end to an icy era with Richmond created in large part due to a tussle with the Board Member Vihstadt replaced, and that is a good thing to be sure.

by Mark Kelly — February 25, 2016 at 1:15 pm 0

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

The Virginia General Assembly is considering a bill to grant police and sheriff’s departments virtually unlimited latitude to refuse to release the names of its officers via Freedom of Information Act requests.

Senate Bill 552 passed the Senate on a 25-15, bi-partisan vote. It would classify all officers names as personnel records, exempting them from mandatory disclosure. By all accounts, it is the most sweeping measure of its kind in the country.

Governor McAuliffe has thus far been silent on the bill. The House of Delegates is holding hearings today.

Supporters claim the bill is necessary to protect our law enforcement officers from the threat of deadly retaliation. Opponents, both on the left and right, warn it goes far beyond safety and essentially would create “secret police” in Virginia.

The bill is being heavily scrutinized as it should be. Any time an agency that exercises the police powers of our government wants to become in any way less transparent and less accountable, it warrants the most intense public scrutiny.

Clearly, the safety of our law enforcement officers is critical. No one would argue, for example, that an undercover officer should have his or her identity revealed while they are in harm’s way.

However, this bill appears to have come about because a news organization was interested in whether officers with disciplinary problems in one department were finding work in departments elsewhere. If so, Virginians are right to be concerned about its origin along with its potential implications.

Our law enforcement officers deserve our respect and deserve to do their dangerous jobs in the safest manner possible. At the same time, the public deserves the strongest levels of accountability from those who can deprive them of their liberty. In fact, the bill’s supporters should be concerned such secrecy could erode public trust with law enforcement.

The bottom line is, there are serious questions about whether this legislation is warranted, and the Members of the General Assembly and the Governor must carefully consider all of its implications.

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

by Mark Kelly — February 18, 2016 at 1:00 pm 0

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

The Arlington County Board today heard a presentation from County Manager Mark Schwartz on his proposed budget. (As of Wednesday night, when this column was written, the details had not been posted online.) It will be the first look at where the Board may be headed for FY 2017. And if history is any guide, it will not be without at least a few minor controversies.

The County Board’s guidance late last year directed staff to prepare a budget that did not raise tax rates. However, it has been the practice of the Board in the past to advertise a tax rate increase even with such guidance.

Some have argued that ongoing concern about the taxes we pay is overblown or somehow anti-government. But longtime homeowners here in Arlington know that our out-of-pocket property taxes over time have increased at a rate much faster than the rate of inflation.

Many ask, as they should, are they getting a good return on their tax dollar? Are potholes being adequately prioritized over gondolas? Is public safety adequately addressed before theater bailouts? And, what exactly is the plan to meet school enrollment increases?

Some may argue it prudent to advertise a higher rate and give the Board options in case revenue estimates fall dramatically over the next two months. The Board will almost certainly call it giving themselves “flexibility.” Flexibility usually means a reason to ignore their guidance and spend more later.

Here are three reasons the Board should advertise a flat tax rate for fiscal year 2017 and entertain the possibility of a rate cut:

1. The Board just added a new audit function as a nod to fiscal responsibility. Why not give the new office a year to make recommendations on changes the Board can make before even entertaining a rate increase?

2. The average homeowner’s taxes are going up even with a flat rate simply because of increased assessments.

3. If the last decade plus of history is any indication, revenues will comfortably exceed estimates – again. The “worst” thing that will happen is the Board will have a few million less on hand to spend at the end of the year in the closeout process.

by Mark Kelly — February 11, 2016 at 1:45 pm 0

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

Thumbs up to new County Manager Mark Schwartz for seeking out public input at a forum February 24th on how to better respond to and recover from major snow events. I know one burning question for many parents is, should it really have taken an entire week after a major snow event to return to school?

Let’s face it though, we do not have major snow events inside the beltway on a regular basis.

There is no need for the county to spend millions on heavy snow removal equipment like they may have in many places to our north. However, improvements to the contingency planning for such events may be in order.

County officials and the Virginia Department of Transportation should focus on how can we avoid the rush hour disasters of 2-4 inches of snow that fall just as millions in the area are heading home from work. Regional officials, most certainly looking ahead to “Snowzilla,” essentially ignored the snow forecast two days before the blizzard which resulted in hours of gridlock.

It is not the first time a smaller snow event timed with the commute home wrecked havoc on the region. It certainly seems like a more pressing problem than figuring out how to move 20-30″ of snow off county streets once every few years.

For both the major and more minor snow events, hopefully the forum is worthwhile in fostering practical solutions for the future.

A big thumbs up to all the police officers, firefighters, health care professionals, and County emergency personnel that worked during the storm. As we hunker down in our homes, we can forget about the people who are working to make sure we are as safe as possible.

Thumbs up to good neighbors. I don’t know about your street in Arlington, but I find a storm often brings out the best in a neighborhood. Neighbors spend time helping neighbors. Children of all ages play together. Long conversations replace quick hellos. Not to wish blizzard conditions on the county all the time, but it’s not so bad every once in awhile.

by Mark Kelly — February 4, 2016 at 1:30 pm 0

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

In every press release, Arlington refers to itself as a “world-class residential, business and tourist location”. It ends the standard paragraph with “Arlington stands out as one of America’s preeminent places to live, visit and do business.” It is easy to find support for that statement and fault with it, depending on who you talk to in Arlington.

Our main economic engine, the federal government, is not going out of business any time soon. The question is, will Arlington put itself in a position to maximize the health of our economy to withstand any BRAC-like changes in the future? And, will it do it by empowering businesses to grow rather than by taxpayer-funded shiny objects like streetcars, swimming pools and gondolas?

Now that Mark Schwartz* is our County Manager, I hope he will accept the challenge to look at every aspect of Arlington’s budget and ongoing day-to-day operations. If he takes a reform-minded approach rather than embracing the status quo, we will all be better off for it.

Over the next two weeks Schwartz and his team will put the finishing touches on the Manager’s proposed budget.

If you read the Budget Guidance from the County Board, it does represent a fairly fiscally responsible path forward. No tax rate increase. Consider tax rate cuts if revenues exceed 2.4% in growth. Present options for program reductions or eliminations as well as for the elimination of duplication and inefficiencies, including partnerships with the school system.

The Board has been known to ignore its own guidance before, and could very well do it again, but this is a good place to start.

The Manager should also put in the FY 2017 budget proposal parameters for closeout spending. What projects does he support spending extra revenue on or would he support giving that money back to the taxpayers? By doing so, the closeout process would be subject to the same scrutiny in public budget hearings as every other line item in the budget.

Finally, the Manager should also give a detailed report on the revenue estimating process. As noted in this column multiple times, revenues in recent history have without fail been underestimated when the budget is passed. This is what gives the Board the opportunity to spend tens of millions each year in the closeout process.

Speaking of the Budget, A Word on Bikes

When it comes to the Bikeshare program in the region, it seems few people care deeply about it as an issue. But the ones who do have extremely strong opinions on it, on both sides. Whether you’re for it or against it, one thing is for sure, eventually it’s cheaper to buy every Bikeshare member their own bike and lock.

*Last week I failed to properly proofread my column and referred to Mark Schwartz as “Michael”. For those who missed the correction, my apologies again for the error.

by Mark Kelly — January 28, 2016 at 3:00 pm 0

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

Missed Opportunity

The announcement that Acting County Manager Mark Schwartz was elevated permanently to the top post comes as a surprise to no one. It does represent a missed opportunity to change course in Arlington.

The Board undoubtedly viewed their last attempt to bring in an outsider on as County Manager as a failure. Michael Brown’s short tenure ended when he and the County Board did not see eye to eye. While Brown graciously offered an excuse of his wife’s health when he resigned, it is no secret that the Board did not like having a County Manager who desired to do things differently.

The Board then elevated Barbara Donnellan, a long-term county employee to the post. Donnellan certainly was by all accounts well-liked and well-respected, a quality not to be taken lightly. More importantly to the Board, she was well entrenched in the status quo way of doing things in Arlington and already had an established reputation with Board Members.

Now Mark Schwartz has been given the job. His resume certainly backs up the hire on paper. Qualifications aside, Schwartz is someone who, like Donnellan, was part of an Arlington government that brought us the Columbia Pike streetcar, the artisphere and aquatics center. These were bad ideas that have since been mothballed because of public pressure or mounting costs that the Board could no longer support.

Maybe the national search the Board said it conducted did not find anyone equally or more qualified. That certainly may be true. But, it seems doubtful that any premium was placed on bringing in a fresh perspective to how Arlington County operates on a daily basis. And, that is a loss for Arlingtonians.

On the upside, Schwartz is an Arlington resident. So, if he recommends a tax increase, he will have to pay it.

Parents Deserve to Know

Surely what we experienced last weekend was a storm of historic proportions. However, many parents are beginning to ask why school has now been canceled for the entire week. Superintendent Murphy posted a news release on Tuesday, but as of the writing of this column has said nothing at length since then. So, it begs the question, what are the criteria that lead to school being closed for the entire week?

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