43.3 F
Wednesday, March 29, 2023
ArlingtonCivic Federation governance study coming in spring

Civic Federation governance study coming in spring

Must Read

A year after it was empaneled, the Arlington County Civic Federation’s task force on local governance is nearing its conclusion.

Civic Federation officials aim to present the findings of the body to the organization’s delegates in April.

The effort, agreed to by Civic Federation delegates in late 2020, is dubbed “TiGER” (Task Force in Governance and Election Reform). It has been assigned to study and possibly proffer changes to the county’s 90-year-old governance structure. Chris Wimbush is chairing it.

The panel has no statutory authority; Civic Federation delegates are not obligated to accept its recommendations, and whether the county government’s power structure (and the Democratic oligarchy that underpins it) will embrace any proposals is an open question. Some changes also would require General Assembly action, a matter that could be complicated (or, perhaps, aided) by the fact that there now is a Republican governor and Republican House of Delegates.


Among the issues that may end up on the County Board’s plate:

• Are the five-member County Board and School Board the right size for a geographically small but very densely populated community?

• Should the current at-large voting for County Board and School Board seats be changed to a district-based approach?

• How much should elected officials be paid?

• Should there be term limits imposed on local elected officials?

• Should the county manager be made an elected official?

• Should Arlington consider becoming a city, and if so, what powers should be delegated to a mayor?

If the effort gathers steam, it would be the first time since 2010 that serious structural changes to county governance have been considered.

That year, a coalition that included public-safety unions launched a change-of-government petition drive that, if placed on the ballot and approved by voters, would have turned Arlington’s at-large County Board into a district-based body.

The effort, however, was strenuously opposed by the Arlington County Democratic Committee and failed to reach the electorate, with the petition drive falling about 4,000 signatures short of the 14,350 needed.

From Reconstruction in the 1870s until the early 1930s, Arlington – then known as “Alexandria County” – was governed by a three-member board of supervisors, elected by districts and serving in effect as laws unto themselves. But on Nov. 3, 1931, after the General Assembly had approved Arlingtonians’ request for a new (“county manager”) form of government, the first five members of what came to be known as the County Board were elected to office.

In both the 1931 and 1935 elections, all five seats were elected simultaneously, with all winners serving concurrent four-year terms.

But as 1939 approached, some in the local civic arena thought a change was in order, and convinced the General Assembly to permit Arlington to elect its board members by staggered terms.

In the 1939 general election, the top five vote-getters (in a field of eight or of 15, depending on which news source you trust) won election, but for varying lengths of time: the top two vote-getters garnered four-year terms, the next a three-year term, the next a two-year term and the fifth earned just a one-year slot. The era of staggered elections had begun.

But by 1945, it appeared the bloom was off the rose of the concept; the Northern Virginia Sun in early October of that year reported that the Civic Federation had decided to ask members of the county legislative delegation to support revising the county charter (again) and reverting back to having board members elected all at once.

That request never made it through the General Assembly meat-grinder, and to this day there is at least one County Board seat on the ballot each November.

More recently, advocates have called for the county government to embrace “ranked-choice voting” for County Board elections. The local government has since 2020 had the power to switch from the current winner-take-all approach to the instant-runoff process, but has chosen not to do so, in part because of perceived splits among the five members on whether such a move should take place and how the technical complexities of doing so should be addressed.

County Board members are likely to wait until the Civic Federation issues its formal recommendations to move forward on ranked-choice voting, making it unlikely it could be implemented for the November 2022 election, where the County Board seat of Matt de Ferranti is on the ballot.

(Whether ranked-choice voting would have any impact on general-election results is an open question; last year, Democratic Takis Karantonis won 60 percent of the vote in a four-way race, meaning the instant-runoff provision wouldn’t have been triggered even if it had been in place.)

Instant-runoff voting could, however, be put into practice for the November 2023 election, when two County Board seats will be on the ballot, theoretically giving non-Democrats more of a shot at victory.

- Advertisement -

Latest News

New School Board member receives liaison assignments

New Arlington School Board member Bethany Sutton has her assignments. School Board members on Feb. 2 are expected to approve...
- Advertisement -

More Articles Like This