70°Partly Cloudy

by Mark Kelly — October 8, 2015 at 2:00 pm 390 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 a bizarre 3-2 vote last month, the County Board barely upheld the ability of a Courthouse dental practice to stay in business. By all indications, this is a thriving practice that provides a needed service for the community.

The renewal of a 22 year-old exemption allowing for a dental office in the location was being discussed as part of a site plan review. County staff pointed out that the dental office complied with the county’s new retail action plan.

The only opponents at the Board Meeting were the Clarendon-Courthouse Civic Association, which believes a different type of tenant would activate Courthouse Plaza. The point is arguable based on the size of the space and the other retail tenants currently occupying spaces nearby.

While listening to civic association input is important, most observers would ask why would you want to kick a business out of a space they want to stay in? And yet, retiring Board Members Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada voted to force the dentist to close up shop.

What makes this whole episode even more odd is that just last December, the Board voted unanimously to approve temporary continuance of this space and allow three other retail spaces to be converted to medical or office space.

Neither Hynes nor Tejada offered any debate at the Board Meeting that would explain their decisions to vote no. So, it is hard to comprehend why Hynes and Tejada would want kicking a local small business in the teeth to be one of their last votes on the way out the door.

This is particularly concerning at a time when office vacancy rates in general are alarmingly high. And, ground floor retail space in particular has been difficult, if not impossible to keep filled in Arlington.

As the county struggles to find a strategy to attract new businesses and retain existing ones, this episode cannot help. Instead of hanging a big “Open for Business” sign on the county, Hynes and Tejada seemed intent on making county policies towards new and existing businesses look absurd.

by Mark Kelly — October 1, 2015 at 1:30 pm 312 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.

Earlier this week, ARLnow ran a piece on Barbara Donnellan’s comments on the loss of public trust in relation to big ticket projects. The entire video interview with Donnellan provides an interesting insight into how the former County Manager did her job. Donnellan had 32 years of experience in the Arlington County government, so she has a tremendous amount of institutional knowledge to share.

As she began to talk about public trust, Donnellan said it was her role to listen, and help those who wanted to invest in our community. Kudos to Donnellan for taking this approach to her work.

The discussion turned to light rail, aquatics center, Artisphere and the Arlington Way. For Donnellan, the failure of these projects came down in large part to the erosion of the people’s trust of government at all levels.

She is exactly right. But it is not the people’s fault for not trusting government. Government at all levels continues to take more of our money, or take on more debt, and cannot seem to get the basics of government right.

 In Arlington’s case, instead of focusing on infrastructure, safety and schools, our elected leaders appeared focused on spending hundreds of millions on light rail and other shiny objects.

Donnellan cited the organized effort spreading misinformation for the downfall of the streetcar. After knocking on doors to talk to people in two elections for County Board, it was clear to me the organized effort merely synthesized already existing opposition in the community. While Donnellan may have been doing a good job listening to those with business before the County Board, she and the Board either missed this widespread opposition or chose to ignore it.

Donnellan went on to say that the only reason the aquatics center is not being built is that the bids came in to high. Exactly. The price tag kept going up all throughout the process to the point where the Board is now unwilling to go back to the public to ask for more borrowing authority.

A final revealing part of the conversation centered on the bailout of the Signature Theater. Donnellan admitted the reason for the bailout was that the County did not know the original deal they sold to the community was simply never workable. This is not unlike the over-promise, under-deliver problems the Artisphere had.

Is it any wonder that the public’s trust has eroded?

It should now be clear to our elected leaders that we have reached the point where the community is going to ask how much is too much for a swimming facility or insert boondoggle here, when we are still losing parts under our cars by hitting potholes? We want them to get the basics right first, then ask for the extras.

by Mark Kelly — September 24, 2015 at 1:30 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.

Last year, the County Board election was a referendum on shiny object budgeting by the County Board. The Board chased vanity projects like the streetcar, Artisphere and aquatics center without broad community support. The result was that an otherwise qualified Democrat nominee lost two elections he would have most certainly won nearly any other year.

Since that election, the streetcar and Artisphere projects are no more, and the aquatics center is still on the shelf. Now, we can focus on how a Board still dominated by Democrats is doing on the basics of governing.

The first obvious question for voters is do they believe the Board is really listening to them or were the decisions on the streetcar and Artisphere a way to release the political pressure without making fundamental changes to how they operate?

Do we believe the County Board is doing enough to work with the School Board to address school enrollment issues?

Should we be satisfied with what the Board is doing to maintain streets and roads? Will the Board put pressure on WMATA to drastically improve Metro?

Do County policies, and the staff who enforce them, work for Arlingtonians in a way that creates an environment to encourage more economic opportunity, fill vacant office spaces, create jobs and raise wages?

Will the Board ever acknowledge they use the closeout process to unnecessarily drive up spending, and thus our taxes, every year?

These are not headline grabbing questions like whether we should spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a single project without even giving voters a say on a bond question. But for the long term health of our County, they are equally, if not more important.

The CivFed debate did not provide a lot of insight into how these candidates would govern. But, all four will be out and about in Arlington asking for your vote. When you see them, you can ask them about how they will approach transportation, schools, economic development and budgeting in general.

You have an opportunity to elect two new voices to the Board on Nov. 3. Arlington deserves two new County Board members who will roll up their sleeves and get back to the basics of good government regardless of party affiliation.

by Mark Kelly — September 17, 2015 at 2:00 pm 501 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.

Today is Constitution Day. It is a time to remember the document on which our nation was founded.

 Unlike the process in the U.S. Constitution, the right to appoint justices to the Virginia Supreme Court does not rest with the executive branch. That right ultimately rests with the General Assembly according to the Virginia Constitution. A Virginia governor cannot even veto a justice they do not like.

 There is simply no other way to read it.

 Yes, the governor may make a temporary appointment. However, that temporary appointment expires 30 days after the General Assembly is called into session.

 The clock started ticking on the temporary appointment of Justice Jane Roush when the General Assembly convened on Aug. 17 for a special session Gov. Terry McAuliffe called on redistricting. The temporary appointment of Roush ended yesterday.

 In an unprecedented move, McAuliffe reappointed Roush yesterday. The problem is, he has no right under the Virginia Constitution to do so.

 The special session may have effectively ended shortly after it began on Aug. 17. That is when the 19 Senate Democrats were joined by one Republican and the lieutenant governor in voting to adjourn shortly after calling the session to order. The Senate Democrats not only refused to take up redistricting, but they also refused to take up the question of this Supreme Court appointment.

However, because one house of the General Assembly cannot adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other, and the House of Delegates never offered such consent, the General Assembly officially remains in session. Another temporary appointment is simply not in order, at least if you are following the Virginia Constitution – a document the governor swore to uphold.

Yes, both sides are engaged in a political showdown over this Supreme Court nominee. However, the rule of law is on the side of the Republicans whether or not the governor disagrees with the assessment of the Speaker that the House of Delegates is still technically in session.

 And, whether you might like McAuliffe’s decision to stand up to Republicans as a political matter or not, any case that Roush were to take part in moving forward could later be challenged as invalid.

 A big question remains. Why did McAuliffe instruct the lieutenant governor to cast the tie-breaking vote to adjourn the Senate for a special session the governor called rather than having a public debate on redistricting and this judicial appointment? In so doing, he jeopardized any chance of reaching a civil conclusion on either question. Now, he has put the validity of future Supreme Court decisions in question.

 The governor should instruct the lieutenant governor and Senate Democrats to return to Richmond as soon as possible to do their jobs, not run away from them. Otherwise, while there is always plenty of blame to go around when it comes to political posturing, any blame for this potential constitutional crisis will belong primarily to the governor.

by Mark Kelly — September 10, 2015 at 1:00 pm 818 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.

In an editorial last Friday, the Washington Post almost came to the conclusion that a massive overhaul of Metro is in order. The Post’s concerns – the possibility of “massive disruption” or some sort of “culture war.”

It is good to see that the Post is not condemning the possibility of a dramatic shake-up by the WMATA Board. To anyone who uses the system or watches as the failures pile up, it is pretty clear that disruption to the current culture is exactly what the flailing system needs.

If the Board does opt to bring in a “czar” to oversee such an overhaul, they need to be prepared for some discomfort, and they need to be committed to seeing it through to the end. If a small faction on the Board would even consider being peeled off by political pressure the first or second time a controversial decision is made, they might as well not move forward.

Affordable housing plan debated at CivFed.

As could have been predicted, the two Democrats vying for the County Board, Dorsey and Cristol, expressed support for the new housing plan. Clement opposes it and continues to back an additional layer of government bureaucracy through a housing authority to address the issue. McMenamin said the priorities for Arlington should be on economic development and schools, not necessarily affordable housing.

It does not require anyone to go too far out on a limb to predict the plan will ultimately pass. And, we can safely predict that in 10 years we will be debating the issue again because the plan did little if anything to make housing more affordable.

School is back in session.

If you are like me, that means often discovering a school bus stopped along your morning commute. If you are in a hurry, you may find yourself tempted to ignore the flashing lights and continue on your drive.

That course of action is unsafe for kids who, despite parents’ best efforts and instruction, will occasionally dart across the street. And, the Arlington police will pull you over and write you a ticket if they see you. Now, some of the buses are equipped with cameras that will send your photo to the police to determine if you will receive a ticket.

So, no matter whether you are behind the bus or it is on the other side of the street in front of you, please be prepared to stop for one or two minutes. Take a sip of your coffee as you wait. And then you can proceed when the red lights stop. It is safer for everyone and might just end up saving you time and money from a law enforcement stop.

by Mark Kelly — September 3, 2015 at 2:00 pm 706 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.

Election season kicks off in Arlington on Tuesday, Sept. 8, when the Arlington Civic Federation hosts its annual candidate forum. The forum traditionally allows CivFed delegates to ask questions of the four County Board candidates. If you are a delegate, here are some questions Arlingtonians might want to have answered.

None of you have held elected office before here in Arlington, what specific, singular professional accomplishment makes you the most qualified to serve on the County Board?

What three actions would you take to make it easier to start and run a business in Arlington?

Would you support a bond that asks voters for any more money to construct the currently mothballed aquatics center?

Speaking of bonding authority, would you support a County Board policy of not bundling any projects whose total cost would be $25 million or more with other projects in a proposed bond? In other words, would you commit to putting projects like the aquatics center or trolley up for a stand alone vote?

What is your position toward the current revenue sharing agreement with Arlington Public Schools? And if you are not satisfied with it, what would you do differently?

Currently the County Board either spends, or places, into flush reserve accounts, all excess tax revenue. Would you vote to return all excess revenue to the voters in the form of tax relief during the annual closeout process?

If you gained a seat on the WMATA Board, what are the first three specific actions you would advocate for getting Metro back on the right track?

Do you believe that any County Board housing policy can overcome market forces at work in Arlington without dramatically increasing spending of taxpayer dollars?

Would you vote to end the process of narrowing streets like Wilson Boulevard where it causes excessive congestion?

What is your position on predatory towing practices?

Will you vote to require the next County Manager to live in Arlington?

Will you pledge not to waste board meeting time by offering or supporting any resolutions that purport to tell the federal government or NFL sports teams how they should act or vote?

by Mark Kelly — August 27, 2015 at 1:30 pm 434 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.

Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Patrick Murphy received a raise at the School Board’s Aug. 13 meeting. Similar to the case with paying County Board controlled staff, the item appeared on the agenda with no report, no discussion and no recorded vote. If these top staff are doing such an outstanding job, why do Board members – County or School – feel the need to appear as though they are sneaking a pay raise through?

Being the Superintendent or County Manager in Arlington is no walk in the park. The job requirements call for a strong compensation package. At the same time, being the highest paid county employees means there should be the highest level of transparency when it comes to setting that compensation. If the Boards feel that strongly about increasing the pay, they should be willing to go on the record as to why.

On Sept. 28, the Columbia Heights Civic Association will host a meeting and discuss the idea of putting a gondola system along Columbia Pike. As pictured, the “pods” remind me of a childhood trip to the Magic Kingdom to ride the now dismantled Skyway. It is far too early too tell what the feasibility of such a system along the Pike would be, but the flyer says it would be privately funded. That would be a good place to start.

Delegates Hope and Sullivan picked up the endorsement of the Virginia Farm Bureau. Seems a little odd to endorse candidates with no real farming interests to speak of in their districts. But every political interest group likes to up its “win percentage,” so they can tell their members 90 percent or more of their endorsed candidates won. Endorsing Hope and Sullivan seem like an easy call to do just that.

A recent study from Realtor.com found a household income of $87,000 could afford a $403,800 home in the region. Not that you can find many places to live at that price in Arlington, but that income figure seems low, particularly if you have more than one person trying to live on it. It certainly would be difficult for a family of four or more to pay that mortgage and the rest of the family’s bills. By way of comparison, In Arlington the median income is just over $103,000, and the average home sales price is right around $600,000.

by Mark Kelly — August 20, 2015 at 2:00 pm 1,087 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.

Turns out inspectors had discovered the rail defect that caused the Aug. 6 Metro derailment at a July inspection. News that WMATA knew but did nothing about it is the latest safety failure for the system. WMATA is fortunate no one was injured this time as opposed to the tragic incident in January.

General Manager Jack Requa said what he should say about the defect being ignored. It is unacceptable, should never have happened, should never happen again.

At what point, however, do we say enough is enough?

In July, the Washington Post reported that Metro’s former general counsel Kathryn Pett quit her $200,000 job to sign a contract for more than $311,000, plus travel expenses. That contract was canceled, according to the Post, because it violated a ban of hiring former employees for a year.

In 2010, I campaigned against my opponent’s support for hiring an art director for WMATA. A six figure salary for the position, I argued, was money that could be better spent on a broken elevator or escalator or any of the other seemingly never-ending maintenance issues of the system.

The relative drops in the budget bucket from these personnel decisions were symptomatic of larger problems and a lack of the right priorities.

There seem to be a multiple of fundamental problems with WMATA, and its governing body seems incapable of getting the whole thing under control. The union contract was renegotiated in 2013 to require WMATA employees to contribute to their pensions, but personnel costs still put a tremendous strain on the system.

No amount of political pressure, including Congressional hearings, or public shaming seem to make a difference. Fares go up. Promises are made. But little improves.

So, is it time for a bankruptcy-like reorganization of the system? One where the federal government or a federal judge steps in temporarily to facilitate the process of turning Metro around.

Tearing down and rebuilding the current management structure or replacing it with a private contractor, reconstituting the WMATA Board, and creating a new labor agreement from scratch all seem like fairly reasonable options at this point.

Yes, it is a radical approach. But do we honestly a light at the end of the tunnel now?

It seems like the time has come for dramatic changes. But whatever the path forward for WMATA is, the end results need to be dramatically different than what we are getting now.

by Mark Kelly — August 13, 2015 at 1:00 pm 504 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.

It appears Arlington County is throwing a lifeline to the mothballed aquatics center at Long Bridge Park by floating the idea of a partnership with Alexandria. The pool project went on the shelf after the funding from a bond increase in 2012 still could not cover the projected bid.

Arlington not only needs a partner to cover the construction costs, but also what could be as much as a $4.3 million annual operating deficit.

The last round of bond funding included authorization for $42.5 million of the $79.3 million, at the time, projected to be needed to construct the facility. Many critics in 2012 called for such a large bond sum to be voted on separately from other parks and recreation funding. But the bond passed comfortably under the heading of “Local Parks and Recreation” not “$42.5 million for aquatics center.”

The County Board then issued $10-12 million in bonds to cover anticipated construction costs in 2013. We are paying interest on those bonds but the money is sitting idle.

Fast forward to today. Arlington Republicans are circulating a petition to call on the county to stop future bundling of bonds issues.

Specifically, the petition calls “on the Arlington County Board to commit to presenting stand alone bond referenda for projects that would represent more than 50% of the amount of the bond referendum dollar amount or authorize $25M or more in total project spending.”

Simply put, if the Arlington County Board committed to this course of action moving forward, they would have to let the funding for big ticket projects rise or fall solely on their own merit.

It still would be a tall order to defeat a bond question in Arlington. One could argue that all projects would still pass and move forward, particularly if they secured a positive recommendation on the Democrats’ sample ballot.

However, in the case of a project without widespread public support, it would require the County Board to at the very least debate its merits. Voters could decide if $80 million was too much to pay for a new swimming complex or not. That really is not too much to ask of our elected officials when it is our tax dollars that have to pay for it.

by Mark Kelly — August 6, 2015 at 1:00 pm 554 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.

The recent federal district court ruling on Virginia’s Congressional District lines has called into question how and why legislative bodies can create what are known as majority-minority districts.

Virginia’s Third Congressional District is currently about 56 percent African-American, a percentage that has not substantially changed since at least the 1990 Census redistricting. However, the court essentially ruled the most recent map unfairly diluted the voting strength of the African-American population by packing too high of a percentage into one district.

It was widely believed in political circles that the Congressional maps were drawn to protect all 11 incumbents in 2012 when the General Assembly was split between the two parties. The court found that while this may have been true, it was not enough to overcome the racial impact of the map.

However, yesterday a three judge panel rejected Republican requests for an extension from the court-imposed Sept. 1 deadline until after November’s General Assembly elections. So the Republican-controlled body has to decide its next move before the special session called for Aug. 17 to redraw the maps.

Republicans could follow the court order and draw a map that gives all eight Republican incumbents districts they can still win. This puts pressure on Governor McAuliffe to sign or veto it. Or, the GOP can make a bet that the Supreme Court will intervene and uphold the current map.

Regardless of the outcome of this case, the discussion surrounding these maps has re-opened the debate over using an “independent commission” to draw political boundaries here in Virginia, led by Governor McAuliffe.

A plan from the governmental integrity panel would call for a five member commission, four of whom would be appointed by the Republican and Democrat leaders in the General Assembly. These four would then pick the fifth member. Under this plan, those drawing the maps would still be political, just not directly accountable to the voters. What could possibly go wrong?

Supporters do make a good case to make districts geographically compact so that communities of interest are represented. Under the redistricting criteria Delegate Sullivan advanced earlier this year Arlington, for example, would almost certainly become a single State Senate district based on our population versus the average Senate district.

In the last round of redistricting, Senate Democrats divided Arlington into three separate districts in order to try and maximize its overwhelming tilt in their favor in order to secure secure three seats instead of just one. Using political data like this would be a ‘no-no’ under the Sullivan plan.

Supporters of these plans also argue that politicians should not be able to pick their voters, but that voters should be able to choose who will represent them. Yet in the last two redistricting processes the party in control of the Virginia Senate each time ended up losing their majority under maps they drew.

The bottom line is that while politicians may currently try to give themselves inherent partisan advantages when they draw district lines, voters always have the last word on who they want to represent them.

by Mark Kelly — July 30, 2015 at 1:45 pm 716 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.

You may not have heard much about it, but the State Board of Elections (SBE) is considering changes to the Virginia voter registration form and accompanying regulations in advance of the 2016 elections.

Under the Virginia Constitution, Article 2, Section 2, the Commonwealth “shall require the applicant to provide the following information on a standard form: full name; date of birth; residence address; social security number, if any; whether the applicant is presently a United States citizen; and such additional information as may be required by law.”

The proposed regulatory changes say that failure to provide some of these items, say a social security number for instance, is no longer a material omission, or bright line rule, that would stop someone from registering to vote. Worse, the regulations say that no registrar may disqualify a voter if they simply sign the form in the appropriate place.

While some may support removing the social security number requirement, or others, from the current voter registrations forms and regulations, SBE has no authority to remove it. The idea that an agency or department can simply write a regulation that re-writes the law is something we are seeing more and more of in America, but it should be unacceptable.

Governor McAuliffe supports the changes. His office said the changes were proposed by the staff at SBE, not the political appointees, in hopes of streamlining the registration process.

But well over 5 million Virginians are currently registered to vote under the existing system. Prior to these proposed regulations, there was not a stream of stories claiming the process was in any way a burden new voters are somehow unable to bear.

And according to the public comments thus far, Virginia Registrars are generally opposed to the changes. These are the public servants charged with reviewing the credentials of potential voters to ensure our elections are fair.

While voter fraud is relatively rare, it does happen. Creating a form that makes it the least bit easier to commit voter fraud is not only bad public policy, but it also undermines the public’s trust in the system. Whether intentional or not, when an ineligible voter is allowed to cast a vote, it improperly dilutes the vote of every eligible voter who goes to the polls.

While registering to vote and voting should be relatively easy, there must be safeguards in place to protect the sanctity of the vote. I am not prepared to declare this a Democratic conspiracy to propel Hillary Clinton to a win next November, but the changes raise serious questions and SBE should go back to the drawing board.

by Mark Kelly — July 23, 2015 at 1:00 pm 1,005 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.

This week, outgoing County Board Member Walter Tejada voted against the creation of an independent County Auditor. He blamed the new office on Republicans.

The County Auditor was not a partisan idea. It started with the Civic Federation. And as John Vihstadt pointed out, Delegate Hope, Governor McAuliffe and three other Democrats on the County Board ultimately supported it.

 Mr. Tejada contends the office only became a reality because Republican have passed out some sort of anti-government “Kool Aid.” Tejada further contends that hiring an auditor will only further cause a “timid and stagnant era of distrust.”

 Tejada’s speech reminds me of many of the speeches of his former Board colleague Chris Zimmerman. He often laid the blame of pretty much anything that went wrong at the feet of Republicans in Richmond or in Washington or in general.

 In Arlington, the math is simple. There are about two Democrats for every Republican and independent voters tend to lean to the left. The Democrats have essentially controlled the County Government for at least three decades. No amount of blaming Republicans for decisions in Arlington is going to change who is responsible for the decisions that have been made.

 If people in the community distrust Arlington’s government enough to elect a non-Democrat to the Board while Mark Warner was racking up 70% of the vote here, Mr. Tejada has no one to blame but himself and his own party. The Artisphere, the million dollar bus stop, the ill-conceived trolley, the overpriced dog parks and gold-plated aquatics center were not Republican ideas. And, Republicans alone were powerless to stop them despite our best efforts.

 The Zimmerman-Tejada line of thinking, though, really goes much deeper. They claim that Republicans hate all forms of government.

 Republicans believe government is necessary, but should be limited. We believe that government closest to the people is best. And we believe that government at all levels should be efficient, not wasteful. After all, the government is using money they have the power to take from us.

Republicans remember what our Founding Fathers warned us about — that the power to tax is the power to destroy. We know it is the duty of the people to be vigilant in watching carefully those who hold that power.

 So, if Mr. Tejada wants to oppose increased transparency and accountability and give credit to Republicans for creating the County Auditor’s office, then on behalf of the Republican Party — I accept.

by Mark Kelly — July 16, 2015 at 1:45 pm 472 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.

The Arlington County Board announced it is ramping up to hire an independent County Auditor. The Auditor is to be independent in the sense that the office is slated to report directly to the Board rather than going through the filter of the County Manager’s office.

For good or ill, the Auditor would operate along with an Audit Committee of up to seven other people representing the Board, the county staff and citizen advisors. In general, the larger such a committee is, the less efficient it will be. Let’s hope the Committee does not restrict the ability of the Auditor to be effective.

It is particularly good to see that the reports will be published online in a timely fashion. That will give the community the opportunity to review the findings and draw their own conclusions.

Arriving at this point began with the Arlington Civic Federation who first called for an Auditor a few years back. Several candidates, including myself, made it a part of our campaign platforms when challenging the all-Democrat County Board. As with the other changes, including the end of the streetcar project, it did not come to fruition until voters put an end to the one party rule on the Board.

Libby Garvey got on board with the concept after John Vihstadt’s election, and the two convinced their colleagues to consider it. To his credit, Delegate Hope then carried a bill to ensure Arlington had the authority to create the position. The effort has truly been bi-partisan. And it proves that good ideas in Arlington can come from outside the Board or the current power structure within the Democratic Party.

The true test will be when the Auditor finds waste or inefficiencies in the current county government. The question will be, just how committed is the Board to making positive changes that will save taxpayers money? And if the Board is willing to reduce or eliminate certain spending, will they find other ways to spend it or will they actually consider lowering tax rates?

Also, will the Board charge the Auditor to take an honest look at the regular annual budget process and the less well understood closeout process? As I have argued here, the closeout process itself unnecessarily drives up spending outside of the regular budget process. It is not difficult to imagine that we could change the way county staff builds budgets to the benefit of taxpayers.

While questions remain, we should be cautiously optimistic that an Auditor will increase transparency and accountability and even keep a few more tax dollars in the pockets of the people who earned them.

by Mark Kelly — July 9, 2015 at 1:00 pm 492 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.

Delegates Hope and Sullivan announced they would work across the Commonwealth to cut into the massive GOP majority in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Delegate Hope previewed his stump speech saying “Republicans are killing their constituents.” Hope’s over-the-top reference was reportedly to GOP opposition to expanding the Affordable Care Act and supporting coal.

Setting aside the Supreme Court’s failure to uphold the plain meaning of words as well as the fact there is nothing affordable about the law, it seems that the recent health care ruling breathed new life into this issue for Virginia Democrats. The wisdom of campaigning for this Washington program anywhere outside of the beltway remains to be seen.

Coal not only helps fuel the economy of southwestern Virginia, but shutting down all coal-fired power in the United States any time in the near future would cause utility rates to skyrocket. Higher electric bills impact those at the bottom of the economic ladder with the least amount of disposable income the most. In addition to home heating and cooling bills, it would drive up the price of every other good and service they need. Seems like a losing argument most places across the Commonwealth.

On balance, if Hope and Sullivan are going to bring their brand of being a Democrat to the campaign trail outside of Northern Virginia, GOP Speaker Howell might pay their way to stump for Democratic challengers. Their far left positions may play well in Arlington, but not in most, if not all, GOP-held seats.

Sullivan did argue the GOP would not change unless they lost elections over a specific issue. This is an argument I made about the Democrat-controlled County Board on the Columbia Pike trolley, and it proved to be true.

Mobile App “Saved”

Yesterday’s “breaking news” was that Arlington Public Schools mobile app has probably been saved from budget “cuts.” It seems as if Blackboard is willing to provide it for free.

You have to wonder whether or not the APS staff explored this possibility with Blackboard before announcing it would cut the $12,000 expenditure or whether Blackboard made the offer after APS notified them?

Whether it is a $12,000 mobile app or $1.2 million for Macbooks, the staff at APS owes it to Arlington taxpayers, students, parents and teachers to always look for innovative ways to save money, even though they have plenty of it.

by Mark Kelly — July 2, 2015 at 1:00 pm 520 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 week the Arlington School Board voted unanimously to add gender identity to its employment and harassment policies. The School Board did so rather quietly, adding it initially to its consent agenda before eventually holding a separate up or down vote.

Also included as part of the policy updates, the School Board made three additional changes related to the hiring of staff that received no coverage either before or after the fact.

On both the goals policy, which describes the staff the School Board seeks, and the equal employment opportunity policy they added “economic status” to the list of things the Arlington Public Schools would not take into account in hiring decisions.

Certainly, this is a change that would have widespread support. It is also almost certainly a change with no practical impact other than to comply with suggested legal language. No one would imagine discrimination of this type currently exists in the Arlington Public Schools (APS).

On the goals policy, the School Board struck “political affiliation” and “affiliation with an employee organization” from the same list. The accompanying memo did not state a reason for these changes other than to “align language across policies.”

While those items were never a part of the equal employment opportunity policy, it seems odd that the School Board would find a need to strike them from our goals.

Does the change mean the School Board now thinks it is ok for APS to consider whether or not an applicant voted in only Republican or only Democratic primary elections?

What about requiring an applicant to be, or not be, a member of the Virginia Education Association or another state’s teachers union as a condition for employment?

No, I do not think Superintendent Murphy will put these items on the job application or that he will assign a staffer to do a political background check. Yes, it is possible a lawyer told them they were better off to have the two lists match exactly.

But goals are just that, goals. It is disconcerting that protecting an APS staff member’s First Amendment free association rights are now somehow less worthy of a mention.


Subscribe to our mailing list