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Editor’s NotebookEditor’s Notebook: Do they really need more than five?

Editor’s Notebook: Do they really need more than five?

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One of the proposals that has been floated by the Arlington County Civic Federation to modernize Arlington’s governance is increasing the number of County Board members and School Board members from the current five to at least seven.

Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves: Making that happen would require action by the General Assembly and the signature of the governor, neither of which is exactly known for pro-Arlington sympathies.

(To steal from an old joke and make it my own: When someone, in talking to a downstate Republican in the state Senate, suggested that the Democrats were the enemy, the legislator corrected him. “Democrats are the opposition,” the lawmaker replied. “Arlington is the enemy.” Face it: There are even some downstate Democrats who feel the same way ….)

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But even if it was politically feasible, does it make sense to expand the County Board to more than more than five members? After all, a cynic might suggest that it’s hard enough containing all those sometimes fragile egos in a single board room already.

(Not talking about you, Takis Karantonis! You’re never a problem. And I’m not just saying that because I’ll be at a lunchtime event with him today and am trying to avoid him throwing rolls, or worse, at me from across the restaurant 🙂 )

Am I getting to a point? Oh, wait, yes, here we go.

Consider this: The Arlington County Board has five members for a total countywide population of about 250,000, and some think that is too many constituents per board member to handle. But the Los Angeles (County) Board of Supervisors also has just five members, with a total constituency of just under, wait for it, 10 million people!

I mentioned this to a community notable Tuesday night and he seemed dubious, but Mama McCaffrey’s eldest son knows his [stuff] — California’s constitution limits most boards of supervisors to no more than five, no matter how populous (or not) the jurisdiction.

Even making adjustments for the fact each of those supervisors is in her (as it’s an all-female body at present) own district, that’s still one elected official for nearly 2 million people.

I’m sure Arlington’s County Board members would be happy to trade with their L.A. counterparts, as those folks make nearly $220,000 a year and have staffs of somewhere around 40 apiece. Cushy!

And here’s fun fact for those out there who are somewhat seasoned citizens (or fans of old-time TV sitcoms). One of those supervisors is a woman named Sheila Kuehl, who a long, long time ago played the sidekick teenager Zelda on “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.” Find some interviews with her on YouTube; instead of hiding from her past as some do, she embraces her full Zelda-ness and appreciates the good times that it brought.

— Scott McCaffrey

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