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Sunday, December 4, 2022
ArlingtonSmackdown of county governance draws both praise, flak

Smackdown of county governance draws both praise, flak

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A proposal by five former presidents of the Arlington County Civic Federation to demand more accountability of county-government leaders itself has run into criticism from some quarters.

And the result could be a grab-your-popcorn-here-comes-a-battle December meeting as the measure is considered for a vote by the Civic Federation’s membership.

The five leaders have penned a lengthy resolution, backed up by hundreds of footnotes, suggesting that the longstanding “Arlington Way” of bottom-up style of governance has been displaced by county leaders (elected and appointed) pushing their agendas on the population without listening to the public.

“We can do better in our community. We should do better – and we must do better,” said Stefanie Pryor, one of the five signatories of the document, explaining the group’s intent to the rank-and-file at the Civic Federation’s Nov. 15 meeting.

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Public officials, Pryor said, “can, should and must be held to a high standard.”

(In addition to Pryor, former Civic Federation presidents Michael McMenamin, Duke Banks, Sandy Newton and Allan Gajadhar signed on as patrons of the resolution. Pryor was dispatched to face the membership on her own.)

The proposal has been circulating since September and has ballooned in size (requiring 100 pages for the 695 footnotes until the authors called a halt to new additions). Given its breadth, perhaps it’s no surprise the document itself is coming under scrutiny.

Even those who liked the resolution had some concerns.

Simply tossing out criticism “is kind of insulting to some of the people we are trying to persuade,” said Civic Federation delegate Nicole Merlene.

“We are solution-oriented,” Merlene said of the Civic Federation’s role. “I would like us to flesh out more solutions.”

Pryor said it would be wrong to portray the resolution as nothing but a list of personal and neighborhood grievances that have accumulated over the years.

“Is it all negative? No. It’s not all doom and gloom,” she said of the work. “Not all of this is bad, not all of this is good. There are some amazing things going on [in local governance].”

The document is designed to serve as a road map, and its mere existence may be paying dividends, Pryor noted.

“Already some of the processes [in government] have started to change,” she said.

But the criticism kept on coming.

“This is a purely reactionary document,” said Jane Green, a federation delegate and president of YIMBYS of Northern Virginia, which has pressed for zoning changes to support more housing options.

Green said the resolution felt like an effort to preserve the power of homeowners in Arlington’s decision-making at the expense of other groups.
But others said county leaders were in need of a wake-up call.

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