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Editor’s NotebookEditor’s Notebook: Another ‘ready-fire-aim’ moment!

Editor’s Notebook: Another ‘ready-fire-aim’ moment!

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Perhaps the other, lesser members of the Arlington press corps[e] were Zooming in while wearing their jammies and sipping cocoa at home, but yours truly was on the case in person during a busy – nay, “bizzz-ay”! – meeting of the Arlington County Civic Federation Tuesday night.

Among the many facets of the meeting: County-government staff did their best to pitch the “Missing Middle” housing proposal to a decidedly divided audience during a meeting that was, owing to the hybrid format, a little tough to keep focused and on point.

(“Like herding kittens,” someone – I think John Vihstadt who was leading the program – was heard to chuckle.)

Big takeaway which will be one focus of news coverage: The county government not only hasn’t done a cost-benefit analysis of what the move to free-range zoning in single-family neighborhoods will mean for the bottom line of both the government and taxpayers, but apparently has no intention of doing so.

In other words, this is going to be another exercise in “ready-fire-aim” that come around with regularity in Arlington decision-making.

At a certain point in the forum, county staff stopped trying to answer questions, but did promise they’d write them all down and provide written responses.

One I’ll be waiting to see: A local Realtor asked if staff had actually dealt with anyone who truly understood Arlington’s unique real-estate market, or was just confabbing with outside, ahem, experts and those in communities thousands of miles away to come up with their expectations of how this will play out.

It’s hard to come down too much on county staff; they’re just following orders and marching this housing proposal to its inevitable conclusion. If they get yelled by an increasingly engaged community at along the way – even though things were more or less civil on Tuesday – that’s just the price of doing business.

MEN ARE FROM MARS, WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS, AND ARLINGTON IS . . . PLUTO? Among the curiosities of the now-on-hold study of Arlington governance by the Arlington County Civic Federation is the proposal that, instead of the usual one-year-and-out rotation among County Board members as chairman/woman/person/undecided, chairs get at least two consecutive years at the top.

I understand the rationale: Other locations have elected mayors or board chairs with, usually, four-year terms, and Arlington’s rotating band of leaders puts the county at something of a decided disadvantage in regional matters.

But in the end, is that really enough of a reason to make a change to a longstanding way of leadership succession?

Arlington occupies a weird position among localities in the, sigh, dee-emm-veeeeeeeeeeee. It’s neither fish (biggies like Fairfax, Mongtomery, D.C., Loudoun and P.W.) nor fowl (teensies like Falls Church). It’s stuck in the middle – a 1970s music reference there – with the slightly smaller Alexandria.

No doubt Arlington punches above its weight class on the regional scene, but it is something akin to Pluto (the astronomical body, not the Disney character) – either the smallest of the major planets or the biggest of the minor planets.

In either event, having a one-year-and-out rotation among board chairs is far less important for Arlington than it would be, say, for Fairfax or D.C., which set the priorities for the region (whether the rest of the localities like it or not). And I’m wondering if County Board members would be willing to give their colleagues multiple years as chair while they have to sit and wait their turn; one board member offered services to do just that – spend a second year in office – many moons back, but was quickly rebuffed by his colleagues.

Rather than a stopgap, why not go whole hog and elect a chairman-at-large who serves a full four years at the helm? Perhaps another thing to consider as the Civic Federation’s process evolves over the summertime.

– Scott McCaffrey

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