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by Mark Kelly — January 12, 2017 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 fireworks from the January 3 County Board kick-off meeting were generated by the partisan efforts of the three lowest vote-getters on the Board during the Vice Chairman election. The remainder of the meeting went to script, except for the little noticed move to make it harder for Arlingtonians to request a public hearing on an agenda item.

As with every year, each Board member also made remarks outlining their thoughts for the upcoming year. You can find links to all five here. And the speeches could be summed up like this: “We have a tough job, but take heart, we’re doing it pretty well.”

While re-reading the rather predictable speeches, I began to ask: what would a majority of Board members say in their speeches if they were being completely honest with the people?

“Projecting the future is hard.”

Just ask the local meteorologist. Or ask the county staff which never gets the revenue projections right (the underestimates fuel the annual year-end spending spree). Or you can ask the School Board who for years operated under the projections that school enrollment before having to pivot and face rising projections. The truth is enrollment was almost certainly never going to get as low, and may not get as high, as projected.

The bottom line: the Board should let projections inform decisions, but they should never be the only thing that informs the decisions.

“We cannot exactly account for how every dollar of the County’s budget is spent.”

John Vihstadt has asked county staff for a detailed accounting of payments to all of the county’s consultants and contractors. So far, it sounds like staff is balking at putting a spreadsheet together for him.

“But we sure enjoy spending as much as we can get away with.”

Every year the Board points to budget shortfalls but still manages to increase spending, increase revenue and spend all of the hefty year-end surplus. And they come up with shiny object projects like a Georgetown gondola as new priorities while Metro continues to flounder.

“Regardless of the initiatives we point to, we will not solve the affordable housing issue.”

Board members talk about it every year as a priority, and every year fight a losing battle because they are up against immovable market forces. But hey, the Board did pass overly restrictive rules on accessory dwelling units and Airbnb.

“We plan to blame the Trump Administration for everything that goes wrong the next four years. And if a Republican is elected Governor of Virginia, some of it will be their fault too.”

Some on the Board have already hinted at this move. It almost certainly will happen.

by Mark Kelly — January 5, 2017 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.

The traditional New Year’s Day meeting for the County Board moved to Tuesday night. Insert sad trombone sound here as this probably marks the end of the traditional January 1 meeting.

In what came as a surprise to few, three Democrats on the Board refused to give Independent John Vihstadt the position of Vice Chairman. Vihstadt has been a community leader for three decades and has served on the County Board for nearly three years.

Newly installed Chairman Jay Fisette, along with Board Members Cristol and Dorsey, rejected Vihstadt’s nomination. Instead, the Board chose first-year Board Member Katie Cristol.

The reasons given by each of the three Democrats could basically be boiled down to two things. First, they used the “we’ve always done it that way” excuse. The majority party, they said, has always elected one of their own to serve in that role. Second, they argued that Vihstadt did not represent the values of the community.

In case they missed it, Vihstadt won not one, but two elections over the Democrats’ nominee. And he won both handily. The message they should have received from those elections is that nearly 35,000 Arlingtonians do like Vihstadt’s values. In fact, that’s nearly 12,000 more votes than Ms. Cristol received, nearly 11,000 more than Mr. Dorsey, and more than the average votes received by Mr. Fisette since he was first elected.

The three Democrats’ message back to the voters was simple — at the end of the day, partisanship and protecting the status quo trumps all. Voters should take note as Chairman Fisette may be asking them to re-elect him later this year.

On a lighter note, under a unique quirk of Virginia law the County Board could elect an individual to act as a tie breaker to cast the deciding vote in the unusual event that the Board was deadlocked on a question. The Board waives the appointment of a tie breaker every year which means if there is a tie vote, the motion fails.

If the Board ever changes their mind, I am happy to serve.

by Mark Kelly — December 29, 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.

As ARLnow recaps its most clicked on stories for the year, I wanted to share three stories I found interesting from a local, state and regional perspective.

The Blue Ribbon Panel never gets off the ground.

While this panel may have had limited impact on Arlington governance, the incident shows what can happen if the right inner circle of people engages on an issue.

Libby Garvey has a record of being out in front on reform-minded efforts. She helped shine a light on the fiscal impacts of the now-shelved streetcar and still-possible aquatics center. She supported an independent audit function and worked to shine more light on the closeout process.

The concept for this Garvey Blue Ribbon Panel initiative was simple: on a short term basis, empanel a small group of Arlingtonians who possessed a level of expertise, to bring a fresh perspective to the county’s comprehensive plan.

My concerns were that even if the panel were truly independent and actually made a set of common-sense recommendations on county spending priorities, that those recommendations would be largely ignored.

However, there was a group of well-connected Democrats in the county that did not want to take a risk of any independent recommendations seeing the light of day. And as the June Democratic primary approached, they successfully lobbied the Board to stop it and leave us with the status quo.

Governor McAuliffe used unprecedented, sweeping executive authority to grant voting rights to around 200,000 felons.

The Virginia Supreme Court struck down the order. In fact, the court took the unusual step of granting an expedited hearing to tell the Governor what prior legal counsel, both Republican and Democrat, had already found: he does not possess that sweeping authority under Virginia law.

Here at ARLnow, one columnist suggested that to oppose the Governor’s action was tantamount to an assault on voting rights themselves. Many were willing to toss aside the protection of every voter’s rights as well as adherence to the rule of law in order to achieve a desired result.

But our system of government relies on checks and balances to ensure one branch does not run roughshod over the people. With a new president moving into the White House, it is likely many Democrats will now renew their belief in this concept.

We all should.

Metro entered full blown crisis mode.

As public scrutiny of accidents intensified, Metro took drastic action to address safety concerns with the announcement it would shut down sections at a time for repairs. And the General Manager even took the unusual step of firing employees.

At the same time the Chairman of the WMATA Board remained adamant that a massive infusion of money could solve the problems. But the pleas for $1 billion are meeting a high level of skepticism from government officials who look at the system’s track record.

So the question remains: will Metro to continue operating as we know it?

Or maybe it’s time for the system effectively declare bankruptcy and start over.

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

by Mark Kelly — December 22, 2016 at 1:45 pm 0

Mark Kelly

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.

While we were traveling for Thanksgiving, my seven year old lost both of his front teeth. It brought back memories of the old song, “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth.” And yes, I asked him to sing it for me.

As we wrap up what has been a crazy 2016, here are some things I would like to see “under the tree.”

  1. A promise from the County Board that this year’s closeout spending spree will be the last by dedicating all future excess revenues to tax relief. And start by cutting the tax rate this Spring.
  1. Our county leaders will never again claim they are making financial decisions based on “shortfalls.” We are blessed to live in a prosperous nation. And our county leaders are blessed to make relatively easy financial decisions for one of the most prosperous tax bases in the U.S. The financial decisions they make in this prosperity are just as important as the ones they would make in times of austerity.
  1. County leaders taking real steps to hold Metro accountable for the Arlington tax dollars they receive.
  1. If not a total reset, then a quick fix of the Airbnb regulations to ensure it is the least restrictive regulatory structure possible.
  1. A promise to restore the New Year’s Day meeting for 2018 before it is lost forever. Moving it from a Sunday was understandable this year, but let’s keep the tradition
  1. The announcement of Republican candidates for Arlington County Board and School Board instead of another year of no opposition. John Vihstadt could use the help.
  1. Knowing we would see the election of a Republican governor and attorney general who will follow and defend the law.
  1. An honest accounting by the School Board of per pupil spending.

by Mark Kelly — December 15, 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.

On Saturday, the Arlington County Board “legalized” Airbnb and other such short-term housing rentals. While many homeowners had been participating for some time with no real fear of reprisal, the Board rightly felt like they needed to ensure others who questioned the legality of the practice could participate as well.

Based on the Board deliberations however, it was clear that the rushed regulations had not been fully vetted and were still in need of more work. The Board even took the unusual step of passing the regulations with the promise to return to them at the next meeting to make additional changes.

When coupled with the fact the General Assembly is likely to address the issue in the new year, the Board has created a great deal of uncertainty about how these regulations will actually work moving forward.

Recognizing the regulations were not ready for prime time, John Vihstadt suggested the Board effectively give an interim “wink and nod” to homeowners that the practice would be made legal when the regulations were ready.

Unfortunately, Vihstadt’s common sense suggestion to delay a vote received no support from the other four members of the Board.

Arlington’s new towing ordinance also met with resistance this week.

As I wrote back in 2015 when Jay Fisette raised this issue, the problems with towing practices are not new.

Around 2000, I sat down to eat in the now-closed Taco Bell on Wilson Boulevard. A few minutes later, one of my fellow patrons sprinted out of the restaurant as his car was being hoisted into the air by a tow truck. Later we learned an “unmarked spotter” had identified his car for towing because he had first walked to the ATM next door to get cash before ordering his Taco Bell dinner.

The car owner showed the tow truck driver his Taco Bell receipt, but was told it did not matter because he had left the premises.

The use of spotters and removal of the property owner from the process leads to incidents where drivers have legitimate gripes when their car is towed. But they have virtually no redress. They have to pay the exorbitant towing fee and possibly complain to the county later.

It is certainly understandable that business owners feel the new measures create burdensome requirements. They have a right to ensure that parking spaces in their lots are reserved for employees, patrons or anyone else they choose for that matter.

In the Taco Bell incident I witnessed, the manager on duty said his hands were tied to stop the towing under the terms of the contract. Assuming it was true, then there really is a problem.

And despite a clear warning shot 18 months ago to voluntarily address aggressive towing practices, County Board members remained unsure any positive changes were forthcoming. So, the Board acted.

Now towing companies have until July 1st of next year to work with the county on the changes. Hopefully everyone can find a middle ground.

by Mark Kelly — December 8, 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.

Every December our leaders in Arlington begin talking about a mythical budget gap. It is the first step in building a case with the public to pay more next year in taxes.

It’s a mythical gap because every year, at about the same time, the County Board is spending tens of millions of dollars in the closeout process. This year end budget boost comes from additional tax revenue and reallocation of other unspent funds in the budget.

With only a $5 million “gap” on the horizon for the next fiscal year (practically a rounding error), Arlington’s County Manager is using a different tool in the public relations game — Metro. He’s “worried” Arlington may have to chip in a substantial, and still unknown, amount in the coming year.

Mr. Schwartz did go out of his way in his recent Civic Federation presentation to take Metro to task for putting itself in this position. And I would hope the County Board would not come to the taxpayers for more money without first requiring real reforms from the flagging system.

But in case Metro’s woes were not scary enough, the schools have announced they may need as much as $25 million more than last year’s budget — about half for projected enrollment increases. In case you missed it, the schools just received $8.6 million from excess revenues collected in FY 2016 as part of the closeout process. A similar unbudgeted amount is sent their way every year.

Schools and Metro are certainly core line items in the budget, and they are extremely popular with the public. This is precisely why they are being used as the rationale for us to pay more (again) in 2017.

And if there is any doubt as to the bent of our leaders to tax and spend more, you need only look at the legislative package being considered by the Board in the coming days. It includes support of a change in Virginia law to allow localities to raise their meals tax to 8% without a referendum vote.

It’s hard to make a case that Arlingtonians would ever defeat such a proposal at the polls, as it almost certainly would be sold to the public as an “investment” in schools or Metro or parks.

Maybe the Board just feels bad for neighboring jurisdictions after the November meals tax referendum in Fairfax went down to such a resounding defeat. A recognition, perhaps, that not everyone has such accommodating taxpayers.

by Mark Kelly — December 1, 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.

According to the Washington Area Boards of Education, Arlington is spending $18,957 per pupil for Fiscal Year 2017. That number went up by $341 over last year. And according to page 31 of the report, Arlington ranks highest in the region, by more than $500 per student.

If Arlington spent only as much per student as Falls Church, the next highest spender, it could save the taxpayers $14.2 million for the year or 2.4%. One local activist pointed out that by lowering our per pupil spending to be even with Fairfax County would lower total costs by $112 million, or 24%.

Lowering spending to Fairfax County levels is neither realistic, nor is it necessarily desirable. It does however provide a valuable data point as does the comparison to Falls Church.

The WABE uses its own formula to calculate the per pupil costs in an attempt to make an apples to apples comparison across the region. Arlington accepts the WABE methodology when reporting its budget to Arlingtonians each year. Who can blame them? It represents a much lower spending level than is actually occurring.

For those of you who like math, here is what Arlington is really spending per student in 2017: $22,032.

That’s the number you get when you divide the total $581.94 million budget by the 26,414 students the budget anticipates. The difference between total cost per student and reported per pupil spending is $3,075 per student, or 16.2%.

Some in Arlington are willing to spend much more on our schools and simply do not care what the topline number actually is. Others think we already spend way too much. Most want a high quality education for our students that gets the best bang for the buck.

So why not report both numbers? If Arlington schools want to be compared to others, then continue to report the per pupil spending that way. But, they should also report the total spending per student cost to give Arlington taxpayers the complete picture of school spending rather than hoping people will not check the math.

by Mark Kelly — November 17, 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.

The Arlington County Board is considering the passage of Airbnb regulations as early as December. The regulations leave a lot of unanswered questions, and here are just a few.

Should Arlington keep the requirement that the location must be the primary residence of the owner? Why couldn’t the owner of a rental unit use Airbnb to fill an empty space temporarily while he was waiting for a long-term renter?

Should Arlington keep the requirement that a homeowner obtain a business license for using Airbnb and should there be a minimum threshold a homeowner must meet before the regulations apply? What if someone just wants to use Airbnb to rent their home out for the Presidential Inauguration or the one week a year they are on vacation? Do we need to force them to abide by the same rules as someone who wants to rent a home four months out of the year?

And how does Arlington County plan to actually enforce the regulations once passed?

But maybe the biggest question is, why the rush to do it now?

Like it or not, Virginia is a Dillon Rule state. And all indications are the General Assembly will address the issue of Airbnb regulation in the 2017 session. The first attempt earlier this year did not result in a final legislative vehicle, but much work has been done on the issue in the intervening months. Since the General Assembly regulation would almost certainly pre-empt any Arlington rules, it could create massive confusion for Airbnb owners who would have to comply with two different sets of rules just months apart.

It is also unlikely that county staff has fully digested the implications of the successful Nashville lawsuit, which struck down the Airbnb regulations in that city in late October. And it’s not just Nashville facing lawsuits.

New York, which is imposing $7500 fines for violations of its regulations, is being sued. Chicago is being sued for an ordinance that among other things, says an Airbnb owner’s residence can be searched at any time without a warrant. San Francisco and other cities are facing lawsuits as well.

Arlington could learn something about what the courts will allow when it comes to regulating these private homeowners, who on average are earning just a few thousand dollars each year. And Arlington could save taxpayers the time and money used to defend itself against a lawsuit.

The emergence of the sharing economy should cause us to rethink our approach toward government regulations. Some may think Airbnb should not be regulated at all. Others may wish the regulations would go even farther.

But with all the uncertainty looming, Arlington would be well-served by taking this vote off the December agenda.

Mark Kelly is the chairman of the 8th District Republican Committee, a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — November 10, 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.

Rarely does this column touch on national issues. But so many, particularly here in Arlington, seem to be in shock at how and why Donald Trump was elected president. You probably have heard it from your friends and neighbors. You saw it all over social media. You may have even heard that your kids were asked how they felt about the election results at school.

It is easy to understand why the results might be confusing to some. If you still watch TV, your airwaves were bombarded with negative ads against Trump. The Washington Post ran one or two anti-Trump editorials every day. Most of your friends on Facebook agreed with you which means your News Feed was probably nearly unanimous in opposition to Trump.

So on election day, it was no surprise to you that 76% of Arlingtonians chose Hillary Clinton while just 17% picked Trump.

However, just a few hours down the road, in the 9th District of Virginia, Donald Trump received 68% of the vote to Clinton’s 27%.

Why such a huge swing between the two candidates? And why were the people in the 9th District, and around America, voting this way?

I suspect that if you could set aside any preconceived notions and had an open and honest conversation over a cup of coffee with a working family or two in Bristol, Virginia, it might open your eyes. I am willing to bet you will hear that people who live outside the beltway view politicians of both parties with great skepticism. You might hear they are unhappy that the people in Washington get richer, while they struggle to make ends meet. What you might even find is Washington is practically a four letter word to many people.

There is no point in rehashing all the charges levelled by both sides. These were not perfect candidates. But if you cut through all the ads, accusations and character flaws, you can find the choice this election offered.

Clinton ran a campaign based on Washington experience and claimed Washington solutions would make our nation stronger. Trump reminded people that Washington experience and Washington solutions are what brought us to where we are as a country today, and that he could use his real world experience to negotiate them a better deal.

When weighing these two options, the people of Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Michigan (likely) and Wisconsin, who had voted for President Obama twice, decided it was time for a change. They opted to give Trump a chance.

No one can predict with any certainty what the next four years will look like. But living in Arlington, we will have a front row seat.

Mark Kelly is the chairman of the 8th District Republican Committee, a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — October 27, 2016 at 1:45 pm 0

GOP county board candidate 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.

As many as 120,000 Arlingtonians will head to the polls for the November 8th election. Based on the last two presidential election cycles, it is likely 70% or more will vote for Hillary Clinton to become the next president. While many voters will not get past the top of the ticket, a strong majority of Clinton supporters will almost certainly give Democrat Libby Garvey another term on the County Board.

Garvey should be commended for breaking with her fellow Democrats from time to time. Her courage to back Independent candidate John Vihstadt, to stand up against the Columbia Pike streetcar, and to call for more accountability from county government is laudable.

Yet most Republicans recognize that Garvey’s overall governing philosophy is largely in line with her fellow Democrats. She has shown no real commitment to reducing the overall tax burden of homeowners. And she agreed to bring forward a vote on new regulations on homeowners who wish to list their properties on Airbnb even though Virginia General Assembly is likely to supersede those regulations in 2017.

Many Republicans looking to cast a vote against Democrat leadership in the county are likely to vote for Audrey Clement. The perennial Green turned Independent candidate has campaigned for greater fiscal restraint and tax relief. She also cites environmental concerns in opposing commercial real estate development and an additional express lane on 395. And Clement supports expanding Arlington’s efforts to preserve affordable housing.

The School Board race holds even less suspense than the County Board election. Only two candidates are on the ballot for two seats, and they are the two who won the Democratic endorsement earlier this year.

It would serve the community well if a Republican ran for these offices every year rather than leaving them uncontested. An electoral contest provides the voters with the opportunity to hear a real debate on the issues and forces Democrats to make a case for the vote. However, it is understandable that many Republicans who are qualified to serve take a pass on the race when they consider the uphill climb against the Democrat machine in the county.

Here’s a suggestion for Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents who want to vote for a Republican for County Board or School Board: write one in.

It only takes a few extra seconds of your time when you fill out your ballot. And there are many Republicans serving on board and commissions as well as leaders in civic associations who would be qualified to serve on the County Board.

You probably also know an education professional or PTA leader who is a Republican and would bring value to the School Board as well. For me, it will be a “no homework” candidate.

Mark Kelly is the chairman of the 8th District Republican Committee, a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — October 20, 2016 at 2:00 pm 0

GOP county board candidate 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 month County Board Chair Libby Garvey put forward the idea of giving a raise to County Board Members. Garvey suggested the salaries could be raised from the current $51,500 ($56,500 for the Chair) to the median income of Arlington, around $110,000.

Under our form of government in Virginia, the raise cannot occur until after the 2019 election when two seats are up once again which means any raise would not take effect until 2020. Every single member of the Board will have been elected or re-elected at that point, which would give the public plenty of time to speak on the issue.

Board Member John Vihstadt opposed the massive pay raise and said it was valuable for Board Members to hold other jobs. I agree.

There is no compelling evidence that turning the Board into a full-time legislative body would improve the outcomes, making a full-time salary unnecessary. Moreover, having to hold down a real job puts a Board Member on par with the average Arlingtonian who wants to speak on an issue at 9 a.m. on a Saturday after a long week at work.

While Garvey’s suggestion of essentially doubling the salary may set an unrealistic ceiling for the discussion, giving the Board some level of a raise is not something this fiscal conservative would dismiss out-of-hand. While it is public service, Board Members should be compensated fairly — taking into account that a Board Member cannot go out to dinner or even to a neighborhood block party without essentially being “on the job.”

But if a majority the Board really wants the public to be accepting of any raise, they could start by making a case for why they deserve it in this year’s close-out discussions.

The Board should be given credit for creating a close-out process that seeks more public input. However, they did not address essential questions for the public to consider.

Why is there always a revenue windfall? Why is the automatic assumption that the revenue windfall should be spent? Why not consider using the revenue to lower the tax rate for 2017?

Revenue once again came in significantly over projections — $29 million to be exact. And as I have pointed out repeatedly, this underestimation happens every single year. The money is spent at close-out time. Then the County Manager issues a report telling us we have a mythical budget gap requiring taxes to go up next year. And the cycle continues.

They call the revenue estimates the result of “fiscally responsible budgeting.” But the real result has been a bias towards higher and higher spending fueled by more property tax revenue.

If Board Members want public support for a raise in 2020, they should consider giving the taxpayers a “raise.” The Board should vote to give the next four years of excess revenue back to the taxpayers instead of spending it in the close-out process.

Mark Kelly is the chairman of the 8th District Republican Committee, a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — October 13, 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.

For much of the past decade, many community activists along with some political candidates have called for the County Board and School Board to streamline operations and avoid duplication of services. This month, the two Boards held a joint work session and produced a draft charter for a Joint Facilities Advisory Commission.

The new Commission would be made up of no more than 20 members, appointed to two year terms, who would not serve for more than six consecutive years. The members will be charged with long range planning of facility needs.

The draft charge also reads that the Commission should be a “forum where fresh and creative ideas can be discussed freely,” a directive that should be taken to heart. There should be no room for Commission members who are afraid to challenge the status quo or conventional wisdom.

While this is only a draft charge, it is unlikely to see major substantive changes. Here are some recommendations of changes to make before it is finalized:

  1. The Boards should appoint fewer than 20 members (12 may be ideal). In my experience serving on committees, smaller ones are generally more effective, particularly if the members are appointed for their substantive knowledge, not political considerations.
  1. The Boards should agree to charge the Commission with specific projects to consider each year. The current charge contains projects to be evaluated in 2017 (a list that may actually be a little long to cover adequately in just four meetings). Setting specific projects to be considered with a specific deadline for recommendations will keep the Commission focused.
  1. The Commission should be charged with quantifying savings to the overall county budget gained by consolidating a project. This is one of the main reasons people called for this process — to save taxpayers money (and maybe even return it to the taxpayers through lower property taxes). The budget analysis should also include any impacts joint use would have on the current revenue sharing principles.

While fiscal conservatives may hold out little hope our taxes will go down as a result of this process, we still value government that spends our money wisely. So, kudos to the Boards for bringing the idea one step closer to reality.

Mark Kelly is the chairman of the 8th District Republican Committee, a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — October 6, 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.

Another week brings yet another damaging news cycle for Metro.

This time, it was a series of scathing reports from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). FTA found Metro was not operating trains on a clear traffic pattern during SafeTrack surges. FTA officials were denied access for inspections. Metro officials delayed repairs identified by FTA. And earlier this summer, FTA found some Metro inspectors had been inadequately trained.

Despite the best efforts of Metro’s new General Manager to implement a culture of safety, the message has clearly not permeated through the ranks. And the FTA’s findings are just more bad news for the system.

Metro also announced in August ridership was down 11 percent in the preceding quarter. That’s 8 million trips fewer than the same quarter the year before. For the entire fiscal year, ridership was down 6 percent.

And Metro reported only 42 percent of riders viewed the system as reliable. That number would almost certainly be lower if those who had not already abandoned the system were also surveyed.

Some dissatisfied individuals have simply returned to their own vehicles as fares increased while gasoline prices have decreased. Many have turned to services like Uber and Lyft. Uber launched a carpooling service where multiple individuals share rides at a price that is comparable in some cases to riding Metro, in in most cases much more reliable.

The ridership losses accounted for $58 million in lost revenue for the 2016 fiscal year. And, the agency did not actually have an overall budget shortfall for the year. Yet, Board Chairman Evans called for $300 million more from Congress, and $1 billion overall, to bail them out.

The facts continue to point to mismanagement of the system and a broken culture as the primary reasons for its woes. But WMATA Board Chairman Evans continues to say all would be solved with “more money.”

At some point everyone should say enough is enough and demand a total reboot of WMATA. The last thing we should do is give the current leadership an additional $1 billion with no strings attached.

by Mark Kelly — September 29, 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.

The idea of a “Blue Ribbon Panel” charged with bringing independent thinking to Arlington’s strategic planning process left me cautiously optimistic. A temporary group empowered to break out of a status quo mindset and provide truly independent analysis could have been a good source of insight for Arlington’s leaders.

After initially moving the independent panel forward with the support of all but one of her colleagues, Garvey blinked in the face of pressure from a relatively small group of powerful insiders. And this week, the County Board officially surrendered to those who are afraid of what an independent group might recommend. Instead, the Board charged the County Manager with forming a staff team to review county priorities.

While I appreciate Board Chair Garvey’s desire to reach a compromise that advanced even the smallest of reforms, it seems like even calling it a small step forward is optimistic. This group may very well produce a new idea or two, but not from a fresh perspective. The County Manager will continue to control the process of how existing staff will provide advice to the Board.

Why isn’t the County Manager doing this type of ongoing review already?

And, if it so hard for the Board to agree to an independent panel to make reform recommendations, how hard would it be for them to vote for any real reforms?

Garvey is finding out about the biggest headaches of sitting in the center seat and holding the gavel: Arlington’s Board Chair only serves a one year term and really has only limited power in setting the Board’s agenda. If three of the other Board Members do not like an initiative, they can simply find ways to run out the clock.

This one-and-done tradition is long engrained in Arlington, and may very well prevent as many bad ideas from moving forward as good ones. But often it simply lends itself to allowing “the way we’ve always done it” to march on with little change for the better.

by Mark Kelly — September 22, 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.

Promise to ban homework: through middle school or at least at the elementary school level.

Nothing causes more stress on an ongoing basis in our house then ensuring homework is completed during the school year. Turns out academic studies continue to show it may just be a lot of stress for no (or virtually no) academic benefit in return, particularly in elementary school and quite possibly all the way through high school.

Worse, at the elementary school level, studies have found it has a negative impact on children’s attitudes toward school. And it’s certainly no picnic for parents who often find themselves at a kitchen table 30 minutes past bedtime forcing their child to complete an assignment.

If it’s not providing real benefits to our children, if it threatens to turn our children off to a love of learning and if it decreases quality of life at home, why do we continue to require it?

I have engaged in conversations with other adults about my belief in ending homework. Some were aghast at the suggestion. When I pointed to several academic studies on the topic, they had no real objective arguments in response other than something along the lines of, “well, it’s good for them,” or “it teaches them responsibility,” or “it’s good practice.”

A recent poll asked the following question:

A Massachusetts school system has now ended all homework and extended the school day two hours in hopes of improving student performance. Do you favor or oppose a no-homework policy coupled with a longer school day in your community?

After my informal survey, I’m not surprised that 51 percent of people polled oppose a policy to ban homework in exchange for a longer school day while 33 percent approved.

I cannot tell you whether people are more opposed to banning homework or to forcing kids to be in school longer every day. My best guess is it’s a little bit of both. But I would also venture a guess that a majority of those polled have no idea what the academic research on the topic actually says.

Arlington is among the most educated counties in the country. That should mean we are open to what the research says on the topic of homework. It is certainly worthy of a public debate, and could just be a vote-getter.

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