Aug. 15 will bring to an end Arlington’s 885-day state of local emergency enacted to address COVID.
County Manager Mark Schwartz announced July 19 that he planned to rescind the emergency declaration that day, having put it into place on March 13, 2020.
The declaration provided the county government some additional powers, but largely in terms of internal actions such as on procurement and zoning. (State officials, true to form, were not eager to devolve too much decision-making authority to the local level.)
“We’ve been innovative and nimble in ways we really never conceived of,” Schwartz said in remarks to County Board members, adding that the emergency declaration had “served us well” but that the time had come to end it.
Despite little likelihood COVID will be disappearing, the community has learned to address it, so “the need for those emergency authorities has dwindled,” the county manager said.
Schwartz also noted changes to policies regarding meetings of county-government advisory bodies, based on state legislation that will kick in Sept. 1.
The new regulations require most advisory-body meetings to be held in person, but do provide some carve-outs both for meetings in their entirety to be held in a “virtual” setting, and for individual members to participate remotely if meeting certain criteria.
County Board Chairman Katie Cristol said the changes mandated at the state level represented “an expansion of opportunities” for participation compared to pre-pandemic times, but lamented that they did not go as far as Arlington officials would have hoped.
“There is no reason our public bodies, our appointed bodies, can’t meet virtually,” said Cristol. But the General Assembly thought otherwise, and to paraphrase, decision-making in Virginia rolls downhill.
Kendra Jenkins, who serves as clerk to the County Board, said her staff had been taking steps to implement the changes brought forth from on-high in Richmond.
“We have been working with the chairs of our advisory commissions – we will continue,” she said.