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by Mark Kelly November 16, 2017 at 3:45 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.

This week ARLnow posted a letter to the editor on the ongoing school boundary discussions:

For full disclosure, our children have always attended South Arlington schools, and we currently have at least one child in elementary, middle, and high school. They ride a bus to elementary school and high school and are in the walk zone for middle school.

The author’s thesis seems to be that diversity in our schools should be given the highest priority. The author says it is “arguably best for the future of the entire school system, and in turn, the country.” Though nowhere does the author argue why other than calling it a “value” of the county.

I hope the underlying suggestion is not that if an Arlington school has more low income kids, by definition it offers an inferior educational experience? Lower incomes in a community could be a major factor in an area where a school district is relying on a limited tax base for funding, but it is certainly not for lack of financial resources here in Arlington.

If any school is not performing here, then there should be pressure on the school board, the superintendent, the principal, and the teachers to fix what’s going on at the school immediately.

The author does note that 55 percent of families with middle schoolers live in the walk zone. In the next paragraph, the author argues that this is a “small group,” a subset of Arlington that should not be allowed to use proximity to override diversity as a priority.

But it’s not a small group. It’s a majority of the families which is why the school board should give them a great deal of consideration when considering school boundaries. And many of them value their proximity to school, and it’s not a value limited to North Arlington.

School boundary decisions are never easy. Some families will be forced to move schools. There is no way to avoid it. But after reading this letter, it is still unclear why forcing more kids to move in the name of diversity would be best for our kids, Arlington’s school system, or “the country.”

While the School Board sorts through the landmines of the boundary issue, on November 28 the County Board will consider whether to award a $60 million contract for a new aquatics center.

The price tag is still high considering they could add an expanded pool facility onto the next high school or middle school building at a fraction of the cost. Maybe they could even set aside closeout funds the next two years to pay for it rather than borrow more money.

by Mark Kelly November 9, 2017 at 2:45 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.

The 2017 election is in the books. Well, it’s almost in the books. One race in the Virginia House of Delegates is separated by just 13 votes.

If that lead holds, Republicans would have a 51 to 49 majority in the House of Delegates. If not, it will be a 50 to 50 split. This falls into, “if you don’t think your vote counts in an election, think again,” category.

While the overall size of the win for Democrats across Virginia was bigger than most predicted, polls had shown this was the likely outcome since the statewide candidates won their nomination in June. Time will tell all the reasons Democrats turned out in such big numbers on Tuesday. But the bottom line is, the party which turns out more of its voters wins. In 2017, the Democrats had the winning strategy.

It was disappointing to hear State Senator Barbara Favola call Republicans “evil” at the end of the campaign. It was equally disappointing to hear those in attendance laugh and applaud in approval of the comment. This should go without saying, but just because someone believes strongly in an opposing political philosophy does not make them evil. Hopefully that was a comment made in the heat of the moment that Senator Favola now regrets.

Now that the ominous campaign ads are done airing and the rhetorical flourishes are set aside, Virginians can focus on the issues that impact our future.

We cannot rely on the federal government to prop up our economy forever. What will politicians in Richmond do to stop Virginia’s slide in the national business rankings? Will they make the regulatory environment easier to navigate? Will they provide any tax code reforms to make us more competitive with states like North Carolina who are reforming their codes?

What more can they do to improve our transportation infrastructure here in Northern Virginia? Will Virginia and Arlington demand that Metro reform its ways?

Also here in Arlington, will our County Board and School Board offer new ideas, reforms or even increased accountability? Will they ever stop the annual cycle designed to raise taxes and spend more, regardless of needs or even the bounds of our annual budget? Will our economic development plans move beyond offering taxpayer-funded incentives and into creating a business-friendly environment?

As we weigh back into the public policy debates, we will be reminded this weekend of Veterans Day where we honor those who served our great nation. These women and men defended us, so that we can have free elections as well as the freedom to say and write things to try and shape public opinion on important issues. To those who served, thank you.

by Mark Kelly October 26, 2017 at 3:00 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.

Arlington County started its annual ramp up to raise your taxes by saying there could be a $10 to 13 million “funding gap.”

This could be called a “lie.” Lie is certainly a strong word. After years of using nicer words to describe a process with a singular goal of making you feel OK about sending Arlington more of your money, you have to wonder whether this three letter word would give anyone even a moment’s pause.

It’s not that County Manager Mark Schwartz can’t hand you a spreadsheet that shows a negative balance. It’s that Arlington always takes in more revenue than the county projects in its budget. Always.

And Arlington never spends everything it projects to spend in its budget. Never.

What do County officials do with the millions of dollars in excess? They put it into a slush fund to spend at the end of the year in the closeout process – just like they did last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.

But let’s assume for a moment the funding gap is real.

This year taxpayers have sent in $15.6 million in excess tax revenue. County staff is talking about $11.1 million, but that’s after sending $4.5 million of the excess taxes to the schools. It does not take a math major to figure out that applying this surplus to next year’s budget wipes out the “funding gap,” with or without the revenue that is heading to the schools.

And it’s not just the County budget that has a slush fund. The schools did not spend $13.6 million of their budget either, but they are still being given $4.5 million of the surplus revenue as well as an additional $6 million appropriations. Added together, school officials have $24.2 million more to spend outside of their annual budget process. No funding gap here either.

What does all of this mean? There is no funding gap. There is never a funding gap. There is a willingness to act in a fiscally irresponsible manner, and to make taxpayers feel obligated to help them do it.

by Mark Kelly October 19, 2017 at 3:00 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.

It has not been a good week for Ralph Northam.

First, The Washington Post editorial board excoriated Northam for his failure to articulate a plan for K-12 education. The Post said, “Mr. Northam claimed to believe in accountability but was utterly unable to explain what he means by the word.”

The Post went on to note that Northam was unable to state what he would replace SOL standards after calling for them to be tossed out: “Astonishingly, after almost four years as lieutenant governor and a month away from the election, Mr. Northam had no answer.”

The lack of substance is not an unprecedented issue for Northam. Just last month, he was knocked in the media for failing to produce a tax plan despite promising one for months.

Then yesterday the Northam campaign had to explain why Justin Fairfax was left off a campaign flyer that contained the other two members of the ticket. According to The Washington Post, Fairfax said, This should not have happened, and it should not happen again, and there needs to be robust investment in making sure that we are communicating with African American voters and we are engaging our base.”

That Northam is having trouble with his base and with one of the core issues Democrats rely on — education — are not good signs for his campaign.

Even more troubling is that Northam seems to have little message to offer the average voter at all. His latest campaign ad running in our area spends most of its time trying to tie Ed Gillespie to President Trump. Being a Democrat may be enough for the party faithful, but expecting fair-minded voters to give you their vote just because you are not a member of President Trump’s party is a dangerous, if not insulting, campaign message.

Voters still care most about what Virginia’s economy will look like moving forward. The central question for this election is, will Virginia’s economic policies look like the ones in states which are growing or look like the ones in states that are states which are flagging? And who has put forward real plans to make sure that happens?

Ed Gillespie has spent months talking about getting Virginia’s economy growing again, with tax and regulatory policies that make sense for new and existing businesses to provide good jobs with higher wages.

Ed has also demonstrated a commitment to other policies that are critically important to the overall strength of Virginia. Ed introduced detailed policies on education, transportation, healthcare, public safety and energy. And to help rebuild trust in our government in Richmond, Ed released detailed proposals on government reform and ethics.

No doubt, Ralph Northam wants to be governor. But he has never quite been able to articulate why he should be, at least not to someone outside of his political base.

Ed Gillespie is a better choice for governor because he has put forward clear, specific and detailed proposals on issues across the spectrum aimed at making Virginia a better place to live, work and raise and family. At the very least, take a look at all of his specific plans for yourself, and then decide.

by Mark Kelly October 12, 2017 at 3:00 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.

Arlington is hosting community discussions around the county through the end of the month where up to 25 county residents can offer input into the budget process each time.

If you cannot make a forum, the county is seeking input online. (As of the time I submitted this piece, there had been no ideas submitted on the website, so you could be one of the first.)

When you click through to the online input page, the first question you will be greeted with is: “To what extent do you believe Arlington residents and businesses would be willing to pay more for services or programs through taxes or fees?”

According to the county, the average household pays $8,582 in taxes and fees now. Maybe the better question is, do you feel like the county is giving you what you pay for?

To be fair, the other prompted question is: “What, if any, services or programs, could be reduced, if necessary?”

With the desire for input in mind, here are six questions that county staff should answer during the roundtables:

1) Do you consider slowing the projected growth rate of spending in a program to be a reduction or cut, even if spending actually goes up year over year?

2) What specifically in the formula used to forecast revenue causes the county to underestimate tax collections each and every year?

3) With reserves more than adequately funded, why is that excess tax revenue not returned immediately to taxpayers?

4) In addition to extra tax revenue, the closeout process spends tens of millions of dollars each year. Many Arlingtonians feel like the county treats the closeout process like a slush fund. Why does nothing on the county’s Budget Fact Sheet talk about the closeout process?

5) While school enrollment continues to go up, it is not up as much as projected when Arlington Public Schools created its budget. Last year, enrollment was projected to increase by 1,176 students in the budget, but only increased by 914 students. This year, enrollment was projected to increase by 1,124 students, but has only increased by 789 students. Does the county work with APS to ensure money saved from the lower actual enrollment is reallocated to next year’s budget to ease the burden on county taxpayers?

6) The county’s closeout process occurs after the enrollment figures are known, but always allocates additional money to APS. Does the county require any accountability measures or evaluate additional budget needs before allocating money to the schools each year in the closeout process?

by Mark Kelly October 5, 2017 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.

In Progressive Voice last week, Delegate Alfonso Lopez expressed the opinion that redistricting reform is the only way Democrats can push their agenda through the Virginia General Assembly. Redistricting reform, he argues, would result in Medicaid expansion, a minimum wage increase and more education funding.

Surely Delegate Lopez knows Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in a majority of the House of Delegates districts in November of 2016. Despite the existence of a majority of Clinton districts, Republicans currently hold a 66-34 majority in the House. And, I have noted before, Virginia Senate Democrats drew their own district lines in an attempt to maintain a majority, but voters gave Republicans the majority instead.

In other words, the notion that the placement of the district lines is why Democrats cannot win races across Virginia seems misleading at best.

Lopez bemoans the fact that policies supported by Democrats in Arlington are not embraced by other parts of Virginia. He goes on to claim that more competitive districts would cause Republicans to work with Democrats on the Democrat agenda, like raising taxes to pay for more programs.

As with most liberals, the Lopez definition of bi-partisanship is when Republicans work with Democrats to expand government. Rarely is it the other way around.

Lopez also suggests that voters in rural districts vote against their own self-interest when they elect Republicans now. This is another typical liberal argument that people would be better off if they voted for the government to expand, particularly when it means giving them more of someone else’s money.

What Lopez does not seem to contemplate is that voters have looked at the this Democratic agenda and have rejected it. Or at the very least, maybe Virginia Democrats have done a bad job of explaining their agenda to the voters.

You do have to hand it to Delegate Lopez. He wrote an entire opinion piece on redistricting reform in order to make a gubernatorial endorsement at the end.

Of course Lopez wrote the piece before Ralph Northam released an ad saying he was willing to work with President Trump. This is quite a reversal for Northam who had resorted to calling the president names in his primary ads in order to win over the base in his party. Maybe Northam finally realized that running a campaign aimed at running up the score with the liberal base in Northern Virginia was not a winning strategy in 2017?

by Mark Kelly September 28, 2017 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.

A few weeks ago, Peter Rousselot revisited the issues surrounding launching or expanding a business in Arlington. If you missed it, you should definitely read the story about the business owner who had to install a front door system three times before getting it approved because two inspectors gave them different interpretations of the code.

The conclusion we can draw from the piece is that for years of promoting itself as a world class community, Arlington is still woefully short of offering world class service to businesses who wish to call Arlington home. This is unless you are a big name company who promises two hundred new jobs, in which case, Arlington will probably pay you to locate your business here.

The Board is also quick to jump into a national debate and put out a statement on immigration policy, but cannot provide the County Manager with a directive to streamline these processes. Board members have talked about the need for change, but no one seems to be held accountable.

This is not a question of tight budgets and resource allocation either. For years, I have opined that tens of millions county closeout funds be given back to taxpayers each year instead of being spent. A one-time exception to use unspent budget funds to fix this issue would certainly be appropriate.

At the October meeting, Board members should direct the County Manager to provide a good faith estimate on the cost to implement an online system that integrates applications, payments, approvals and inspections which can be used throughout the process by applicants as well as county staff. The estimate should include the cost of giving mobile devices to inspectors to access and update the system in real time.

The Board should direct the Manager to set aside an amount equal to the estimate in the closeout spending package he proposes. If the County Manager cannot provide such an estimate before the November meeting, then the Board should set aside any consideration of the closeout spending until the estimate is provided.

If you want a real incentive, include in the directive that the Board will refund 100% of the closeout revenue to taxpayers if the process is not complete before the January meeting. I would not hold my breath that three members of the Board would vote for a refund provision, but it would put in place a real incentive for producing the work in a timely fashion.

by Mark Kelly September 21, 2017 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 County Board is back from its traditional August break. Three items from the meeting remind us of how the Board too often operates.

The Board heard complaints from Crystal City area residents about cut-through traffic. This is my neighborhood, and I drive through the area every morning and evening on my commute.

It seems that residents have been complaining that the driving app Waze is sending people onto neighborhood streets to avoid U.S. Route 1 and S. Eads Street. Blaming an app is convenient, but it is not the source of the problem. Over the past two years, the County completed a narrowing of S. Eads Street from two travel lanes each direction to one as part of Arlington’s anti-car philosophy.

The action has caused dramatically increased congestion on S. Eads Street during the morning and evening commutes. So now drivers are bailing out onto neighborhood streets. This was a totally foreseeable consequence of eliminating travel lanes on a main thoroughfare, and is almost certainly not going to get any better.

The Board also deferred action on lighting the Williamsburg soccer fields. The County wants to light more fields and the growing soccer community supports it, but some in the neighborhood are opposed to it. The Board seemed to offer no good reason for the delay. They seem unprepared to deliver bad news to one side or the other.

The Board did have to deliver some bad news at the direction of the Governor and General Assembly. Arlington was forced to adopt the changes to its towing ordinance after the Chamber of Commerce and the industry successfully lobbied Richmond to tweak the law.

Board chair Jay Fisette largely gave Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) a pass along with Arlington’s State Senator Barbara Favola, also a Democrat, who helped lobby for the towing industry. Instead, the Board wanted to lay the blame at the feet of Republicans. The Board inexplicably fails to recognize that years of antagonism directed at Republicans in Richmond is not going to help their cause in situations like this one.

In typical politician fashion, there was no acknowledgment of the Board’s contributions to problems mixed with a little kicking the can down the road and a healthy dose at pointing the finger at someone else.

by Mark Kelly September 14, 2017 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. 

The Washington Post reported that the Democrats’ nominee for governor Ralph Northam ran a recent television ad where he encouraged voters to compare his tax plan to Ed Gillespie’s.

The problem? Ralph Northam has never published a tax plan.

Back in April, he promised to put out tax reform principles within a week, but he never did. At one point, the Northam campaign  removed the promise to release the principles from the campaign website according to the Post report.

Northam confirmed he would run for governor over 30 months ago. The logical question to ask is what has he been doing to formulate ideas on tax policy, a key factor in economic growth, between February of 2015 and last month when he cut his TV ad? We do know he attended less than half of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership meetings in his role as Lieutenant Governor.

Virginians are tuning in with less than eight weeks to go to Election Day. Right now, it doesn’t look like Ralph Northam is working very hard to earn their vote.

Metro Reforms

Yesterday’s report of a possible fire at or near the Rosslyn Metro station, and the resulting single tracking of trains, reminds us once again that WMATA is still in need of major reform and real accountability.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) met recently and recommended principles for WMATA reform, including reducing the number of members, changing the representation and eliminating some committees and meetings from the Board.

The NVTC also called for the development of proposals to address labor costs, unfunded retirement costs, safety improvements and other operational improvements.

The NVTC’s efforts to push for substantive reforms should be applauded. Unfortunately, we should remain skeptical that WMATA is ever going to get the job done unless forced to by a change agent much greater than an NVTC resolution.

by Mark Kelly September 7, 2017 at 2:45 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 Civic Federation’s annual debate reminds Arlington voters that there is an election just two months away.

While much of the focus is on who will win seats in Richmond including the Governor’s Mansion, Arlingtonians will be able to vote on local issues as well when they choose a new School Board and County Board member.

According to Inside Nova, Erik Gutshall, the Democrats’ nominee for County Board, was said to have positioned himself as a “fiscal conservative” in his campaign. Once you move past the “laugh out loud” nature of that notion, Arlingtonians must ask themselves what options they have in this November?

To his credit, Gutshall has put forward a comprehensive list of policy positions, but it is one that puts him right in line with the current majority on the County Board. While he certainly will have his own take on the issues, voters cannot anticipate a major shift from the status quo.

Perennial candidate and former Green Party endorsee Audrey Clement’s electoral fortunes have ebbed and flowed depending on who else is on the ballot. Her left-leaning views on most issues, however, are well known.

Newcomer, and currently Green Party endorsee, Charles McCullough is calling for the expansion of housing assistance, the creation of a program to begin school spending on infants and taking away the rights of property owners to build on their lots.

McCullough is not alone on the political left. New York City’s Democrat Mayor Bill de Blasio recently commented that he would essentially like to overrule our nation’s protection of private property rights and give government the right to control how and where people can live.

Many in Arlington probably share this notion. But not all Arlingtonians are ready to endorse what de Blasio called the “socialistic impulse.”

Regrettably, Arlington Republicans (myself included) failed to find a candidate to run this year despite the County Board race being an open seat contest. So Arlington voters are left with a limited choice on a scale that ranges from status quo left to far left.

The “Vihstadt coalition” of Independents, Republicans and fiscally conservative Democrats could still produce a majority of votes in a non-presidential election year. Maybe it’s time for a spirited write-in campaign for County Board?

by Mark Kelly August 31, 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 Arlington League of Women Voters (LWV) this week announced the screening of the Zach Galifianakis “documentary” which purports to examine the process of drawing legislative districts in North Carolina and the influence of money on the political process.

The project is part of a series designed to fight against Republicans who are advancing public policy initiatives, particularly at the state level. In other words, Galifianakis and the LWV want you to believe that redistricting is an “evil Republican” issue which result in bad policy outcomes.

For decades, Democrats took advantage of the redistricting process to maintain control of state legislatures and Congress. Virginia Senate Democrats even drew the most recent map to in a failed attempt to maintain their majority.

Under redistricting precedents, courts have looked at districts to see if they are equal in population, compact, and represent “communities of interest,” with population being most important to ensure everyone’s vote had the same impact. Compactness and keeping communities of interest together were secondary. The standard has never been to create as many competitive districts as possible.

Take Arlington as an example. With a population almost exactly equal to the average Senate District after the last Census, our county should have been a single district. It is both compact and contains a clear community of interest. Instead, Virginia Senate Democrats put Arlington into three districts in order to maximize the Democrat political advantage.

In Maryland, Democrats drew this contorted map in order to win every Congressional seat but one.  Democrats there proved willing to use any means to gain a partisan advantage when they connected the Second and Third Congressional Districts using bodies of water.

Regardless of who is drawing the lines, the LWV in Arlington stated they want voters to “demand reform” in Virginia. The reform organizations like this one typically favor is a “non-partisan” redistricting commissions. (To be fair, Maryland’s Republican governor has called for the same.)

But who appoints the commissioners? The answer is almost certainly politicians. Are these commissioners accountable to the voters for the decisions they make? No. In other words, voters are even further removed from the redistricting process then they were before a commission gets involved.

And what is the goal? Is it competitive districts? The argument for competitive districts is that voters will elect more centrist candidates who will theoretically work together. However, it is virtually impossible to draw maps in a way that would not leave both political party bases in control of their caucuses, and thus in control the legislative agenda.

Do they believe competitive districts will bring in less money into the political process? Of course, groups like LWV favor limiting the ability of individuals to contribute to the candidate of their choice. They favor restricting 501(c)4 political spending, but allowing labor unions to spend without further restriction. And they often favor public financing of elections where you as a taxpayer are required to pay for the campaign of someone you fundamentally disagree with.

Redistricting has always been an inherently partisan process. Those on the losing side have always complained about it. And while reform sounds nice, it will result in a less accountable body controlling a process and having little impact on the laws that ultimately pass.

by Mark Kelly August 24, 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.

Not a single member of the House of Delegates from Arlington received an endorsement from the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the nation’s largest organization of small businesses. To be fair, not a single Democrat in Virginia received one of NFIB’s 53 endorsements.

While NFIB’s legislative priorities of lower taxes and a common sense regulatory environment does not regularly line up with the Democratic policy agenda, it makes one think, how are Democrats doing when they can implement their own agenda?

While the General Assembly is controlled by Republicans, Democrats in Arlington have a 4-1 majority on the County Board. This is not new. As Arlington has become more urban, its voting patterns have increasingly trended toward the Democrats. The Democrats have controlled the Board since the 1980s and have spent most of the time since holding all five of the seats.

Erik Gutshall, the Democrats’ current nominee for County Board, is almost certainly going to maintain that 4-1 split this November. To his credit, he has posted a number of issue statements on his website. In one of them, Gutshall repeats the line that many Democrat candidates have used when he says, “it is more important than ever for Arlingtonians to embrace the shared progressive values that have always united us.”

When I hear a Democrat make such a statement, it makes me wonder do they spend much time talking to people outside of their own bubble? While “progressive values” do unite about one-third of Arlingtonians, one in four Arlingtonians typically vote Republican. The remainder are left of center and generally vote for Democrats, but they are open to a common sense message that paved the way for the election of Republican-backed Independent John Vihstadt to win a seat.

But year after year Democrats in Arlington run on a similar set of so-called “progressive” issues. After three decades of controlling Arlington, maybe it’s time to ask how have their results stacked up against their own agenda? Here are three issues to start the conversation:

Commercial Vacancy Rate: This issue has come to the forefront in recent years, but it boils down to a simple question: do Arlington’s policies as they relate to owning and operating a business attract new businesses to our county?

Housing Affordability: For all of the efforts to address this issue and talk year after year from Democrat candidates, has the all-Democrat county leadership made housing in Arlington more affordable or less affordable?

The State of Metro: Arlington is not alone in this one, but the WMATA Board has almost exclusively been made up of Democrats. Under that leadership, is Metro structured and operated in a way that is safe and fiscally sustainable?

Democrats may have a virtual lock on electoral politics for the foreseeable future here in Arlington. They also benefit from Arlington’s location directly across the Potomac River from the greatest concentration of power and wealth on Earth which protects are tax base and gives our elected leaders a big margin for error in how they manage our resources. They should be held accountable for how they measure up to their own “progressive” standards.

by Mark Kelly August 17, 2017 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.

As a result of numerous complaints about predatory towing practices, Arlington passed towing restrictions which required business owners to sign off on each tow.

The ordinance met resistance from some in the business community who felt the “second signature” requirement was unduly burdensome.

Unfortunately, managers of business, often restaurants, tell those towed they have no power over the decision. So what is a person to do as they stand in the parking lot with no car but a receipt from the business in hand? It is no wonder they often lash out at the Advanced Towing attendant like one ESPN reporter did.

There is little recourse for the person other to pay the $135 to get their car back. Most do not have the time or the resources to even attempt to get their money back, something Advanced knows. Even if they wanted to bring a small claims court action against the towing company or the business who owns the parking lot, the process seems daunting to most.

If business owners refuse to be held accountable and the towing company refuses to be held accountable, then who is to blame when the towing company gets it wrong? That is the question the Arlington County Board tried to answer with its new ordinance.

The coalition opposed to Arlington’s ordinance went to the General Assembly to overturn the County Board’s decision. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) initially rejected the legislation, but eventually signed it into law.

After hearing about another victim of Advanced Towing last week, I did another online search on the company. What did I find?

According to this NBC 4 report, the company made a $1,500 contribution to state Sen. Barbara Favola (D) to encourage her to meet with Gov. McAuliffe and share the “pros and cons” of legislation after she initially opposed it.

The contribution was made April 13. The meeting with the governor took place April 24. It was part of what was called “a full-court press by Democratic senators and the business community that convinced the governor to back the bill.”

Favola and McAuliffe eventually sided with Advanced Towing and the business owners who did not want to be hassled with signing off on each tow.

Arlington’s towing ordinance may not have been the perfect solution. To be sure, businesses have a right to ensure their parking lots are used by their customers. But Advanced has towed people who were lawfully parked and may continue to do so without fear of any meaningful repercussions.

by Mark Kelly August 10, 2017 at 2:15 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.

It’s August and the County Board is on its annual summer hiatus, so why not talk about bringing back an annual holiday tradition?

Last year, incoming Board Chair Libby Garvey convinced her colleagues to move the New Year’s Day organizational meeting. Garvey’s rationale was that it was easier on the families of county staff and Board Members not to come back one day early and work for a couple of hours.

The Sun Gazette noted last week that presumed 2018 chair, Katie Cristol is at least open to the idea of moving the meeting back to its traditional place on January 1, which is a Monday this coming year. The story touched on the number one reason to end the one year experiment of moving the meeting – the public was not as interested in attending.

While some of the rhetoric can seem stale, or even empty, it is the one time each year that Arlingtonians can hear from each Board Member on their individual priorities, not on the pressing issue of the day. Sure, the same speeches can be made a few days later, but this year proved, it’s not quite the same.

6,204 Reasons Democrats Are Unlikely to Win the Virginia House?

Politicos from across the country will be watching our November elections here in Virginia and studying the results to see what it foreshadows for the 2018 mid-term Congressional elections. Democrats in the General Assembly and their activist supporters on the left are excited about the prospect of winning House of Delegate seats across the Commonwealth as well as holding the three statewide elected offices.

Delegate Rip Sullivan is Chairman of the Democratic Caucus in the Virginia House. As part of his leadership of the Democrats’ efforts to win control of that legislative body, he launched Blue Dominion PAC last year.

ARLnow gave Sullivan a recent shout out for his efforts. But as the races are heating up throughout Virginia, Sullivan’s PAC reported raising just $4,296 in the most recent quarter and having $6,204 in the bank.

To put that in perspective, the PAC could send out about 12,000 of those full color, oversized post-cards you receive in the mail around election time. That’s roughly 700 for each of the 17 districts Democrats need to flip.

In terms of attempting to help win these campaigns, that is drop in the bucket and an anemic effort from a member of the Democratic leadership who represents one of the wealthiest districts in Virginia. Maybe the excitement to toss all the Republicans out of office is not quite as widespread as the Democrats think?

by Mark Kelly August 3, 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.

Ever been in your neighborhood grocery store and had to explain to a parent why their child will be switching schools next year because you voted to move an invisible boundary? If you have, you probably are, or were, on the school board.

Parents are, rightly, protective of their kids. Decisions about what happens in our schools is taken seriously, and changes can impact people on a very personal level.

It may be the job of the school board member to make those decisions, but it is not always an easy one. And on the tough calls, you almost certainly will be faced with heated dissent which may not be confined to the board room.

Right now, Arlington is in the painful process of redrawing its school boundaries and making difficult decisions on locating new schools. But hopefully our board members, parents and the community at large are looking well beyond seats for students.

What goes on inside the classroom is far more important than how old that classroom is or which school building it is in.

Our American education system is designed on a foundation from over half-century ago, built to prepare kids for an economy that is far in the rear view mirror.

We need elected leaders who are thinking about preparing kids in a way that does not just conform to the top-down models of the past. And, we should never make it a default position that a traditional four year college program is the next step for every student.

There are positive signs. Arlington Tech represents a new approach for high school students. The year-old school is encouraging students to tackle real world problem solving skills while integrating core curriculum.

We can and should get beyond infrastructure decisions and continue to look for new approaches to meet the needs of our student population. We have the resources here in Arlington to be a leader in the education system of the future.

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