A combination of summer vacation, election season and the contentious debate over Missing Middle housing policies moved it off the headlines, but Arlington County Civic Federation leaders aim to return to the question of county governance sooner rather than later.
It is “almost certain” the Civic Federation’s November meeting will be focused at least partially on the issue, organization president John Ford said on Oct. 11.
“This is not locked in, but I think this is the way we are headed,” he said.
The leadership of the Arlington County Civic Federation in June announced a delay in consideration of a slew of recommendations on changes to Arlington governance, opting to take the summer to gather additional feedback.
The extra months were designed to give the federation’s TiGER [Task Force in Governance and Election Reform] the ability to further think through the pros and cons of some of its proposals.
“The consensus . . . is that they need more time,” was the rationale for the delay given in June by Allan Gajadhar, who until earlier this year had served as Civic Federation president and has been tapped to lead the TiGER process for the coming year.
The task force, at work for much of the preceding year, in the spring proposed a number of changes to Arlington’s 90-year-old governance structure, including expanding the County Board and School Board from five to seven members each and moving from local elections every year to every other year.
Also proposed was having board chairs serve for longer than the current one-year-in-and-out rotation, and moving from winner-take-all to ranked-choice voting for elections. But the recommendations do not include one potential seismic change that has garnered limited but fervent support: Moving from at-large elections to those based on districts.
(From 1870 to 1932, Arlington did have district-based governance, with a three-member Board of Supervisors elected from districts that roughly paralleled the north, middle and south of the county. That governing body was supplanted by the five-member, at-large County Board system that remains in place today.)
While wanting to come back to the issue as soon as practicable this fall, the Civic Federation deferred discussion to accommodate its annual candidates’ forum in September and a Missing Middle discussion in October.
Still an open question is whether the final TiGER package will be presented as an up-or-down vote, or broken up into pieces. (The entire draft proposal is online at civfed.org.)
Any adopted recommendations will go to the County Board and state legislative delegation for follow-up, but there is no guarantee proposals will be enacted.
So far, County Board members have only taken up one of the proposed recommendations, giving themselves a whopping pay raise that kicked in over the summer, with pay slated to go even higher in coming years.
Expanding the number of County Board seats, by contrast, would require approval of the General Assembly and governor, which may put it out of reach for several years at a minimum given current political realities in Richmond.
Any proposed change also would likely have to pass the Al Eisenberg test, named for a former County Board member who often posited the question, “what problem are we trying to solve?” It also would have to surmount a currently agitated populace, many of whom – particularly in single-family neighborhoods – are increasingly irritated with county leaders on matters that start, but do not necessarily end, with Missing Middle and what some feel is a county leadership that is not listening to the public it serves.