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Editor’s NotebookEditor’s Notebook: ‘Triangulation’ at work in A-town

Editor’s Notebook: ‘Triangulation’ at work in A-town

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Whether they are doing it intentionally or not, I am nominating Arlington County Board members for the coveted “Richard Nixon ‘Triangulation’ Award.”

(It’ll be coveted eventually, though probably not now, because I just made it up. Hey, think everybody wanted the Nobel Peace Prize from the very start? Heck no ….)

Ol’ Tricky Dick – not to be confused with the performance group Puppetry of the Penis, which once called Rosslyn home, but I digress – understood that you sometimes need to divide your adversaries in order to conquer them. He’d play the Russkies off the Chinese; conservative Democrats against left-wingers; etc.; etc.

In this case, the Arlington board – again, whether intentionally or not – has done a bang-up job of wriggling its way out of the firing line over the future of the Rouse estate, by tacitly allowing competing interest groups to go at each others’ throats.


The recent public hearing on advertising the creating of a local historic district for the parcel showed how it works. By the end of the meeting, housing advocates had tried to horn in on the action, wanting affordable apartments on the land, which not surprisingly enraged preservationist who have different desires for the house and grounds.

Meanwhile, neighbors are PO’d in various degrees at both groups, while the County Board members were able to say at the end of the two-hour discussion, “gee, wouldn’t it be nice if everyone could sit down and work this all out?” while painting the owner of the property as Snidely Whiplash, the evil cartoon character and one of my personal role models.

Classic triangulation!

Once the dust settled, nothing really had changed. It was clear Arlington board members have no desire to get involved in this preservation issue, or the housing sideshow, and that the house likely will be a pile of rubble and getting prepped for redevelopment by the time April’s hearing on the matter rolls around.

And when that day comes, Arlington officials will be able to say, doe-eyed if somewhat disingenuously: “We tried, we really tried.”

Being myself the product of the conjugal love (shudder) of two federal-government workers, it’s in my DNA to recognize that the purpose of government is not so much to do something, but to be SEEN as doing something – or at least seen as TRYING to do something. By that standard, Arlington County Board members deserve credit for being clever.

DROPPING LIKE FLIES: It’s worth remembering that of the five members serving on the Arlington School Board a mere two years ago, two (Nancy Van Doren and Tannia Talento) have left, a third (Monique O’Grady) appears to be out the door this year, and a fourth (Barbara Kanninen) attempted to escape by running, unsuccessfully as it turned out, for County Board.

Hey, I have no beef with any of them (they’re likable enough, to paraphrase Barack Obama on Hillary Clinton), so comparing board members to rats deserting a sinking ship would not be fair or nice. They’re not rats, although the SS Arlington Public Schools certainly has been taking on water.

Things appear even worse in Falls Church, where, as reported by that community’s News-Press newspaper, a School Board member (Shawna Russell) last week announced she would resign at the end of February. Russell becomes the second recent Falls Church School Board member to depart early; member Lawrence Webb skipped town at the end of the year after deciding to move to Springfield – presumably the one in southeastern Fairfax County, not the one the Simpsons call home.

These folks aren’t even waiting for the end of their terms; they’re just getting out.

The News-Press article didn’t give a reason for Russell’s departure, perhaps because it came so close to the paper’s weekly deadline. But inquiring minds want to know.

The cynical would say that, for years, local School Board members have been able to operate under the radar, with few in the community knowing or caring about their work. The increased scrutiny of recent times, coupled with long hours and limited pay, could be reasons that we are seeing them skedaddle.

– Scott McCaffrey

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