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Wednesday, March 29, 2023
FairfaxVienna's wish list will go to General Assembly, not Santa

Vienna’s wish list will go to General Assembly, not Santa

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Vienna leaders are crafting a 2022 legislative agenda that would back qualified immunity and body-worn cameras for police, maintain local zoning authority and help the town save money on construction contracts.

Several items on the agenda by now constitute boilerplate, having been there for many years. Town officials want state legislators to preserve localities’ land-use authority, resume full state funding for local law enforcement and provide more road-maintenance funding.

The Vienna Town Council, which discussed the proposed agenda Oct. 18 with state Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax-Vienna) and Del. Mark Keam (D-Oakton-Vienna), is keen on modifying or overturning a recently passed state law that prohibits the town from riding some contracts. The measure has led to increased costs borne by taxpayers, they said.

Based on a comparison with another local jurisdiction, town officials estimated that in 2018 the town paid about $150,000 extra on the half-million dollars it spent on construction contracts valued at $200,000 or less.


The Council would like the General Assembly to allow localities to use cooperative procurement for competitively bid construction projects costing no more than $200,000.

The Council, which will adopt the proposed legislative agenda later this year, is considering asking the General Assembly to:

• Not end or make changes to qualified immunity, which protects police officers as they perform their duties and sometimes make difficult, split-second decisions.

Altering the current qualified-immunity arrangements would have a “chilling effect” on retaining and recruiting officers, as well as increase the town’s liability costs, Vienna officials said.

“There already are enough exemptions codified in the law” to hold officers accountable, said Town Attorney Steven Briglia.

Two recent U.S. Supreme Court cases reversed lower-court rulings and sided with police, said Council member Ray Brill Jr.

“They’re strengthening qualified immunity,” he said.

The General Assembly is “looking for some middle ground” on the issue, said Keam, who added that much would depend on political dynamics in Richmond, which could change following the Nov. 2 election.

• Ensure “orderly implementation” of police body-worn cameras and provide appropriate funding for the initiative. While the cameras themselves are comparatively cheap, the program’s real costs involve data storage and screening, Briglia said.

• Give towns in Northern Virginia one collective membership seat and vote on the region’s Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. Petersen noted this request long had been on the town’s wish list.

“I think when that was proposed, Milli Vanilli was at the top of the charts,” he said.

• Allow towns in Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties to publish legal notices on the localities’ Websites instead of in a general-circulation newspaper in the area.

Such newspaper advertising generally is not viewed by the public and costs at least $500 per public-hearing ad, which can become even more expensive if such hearings are continued, town leaders said.

• Require electrical and telecommunications providers to underground utilities in urban and suburban areas within a time frame yet to be decided. The cost of such undergrounding, which can be quite expensive, should be folded into the statewide utility-rate structure, town officials said.

• Pass a code amendment to allow localities seeking special license plates with the jurisdictions’ seal, symbol, emblem or logotype to pay initial fee costs so that the plates could be issued immediately. Current law requires localities to have a plate design ready and obtain at least 350 paid applications, the latter of which is hard to achieve, town officials said.

• Make new sidewalk projects eligible for state transportation funding, on the grounds that they provide alternative transportation means and reduce vehicle use and traffic congestion.

• Amend open-meeting requirements under the state’s Freedom of Information Act to allow members of public bodies to participate virtually or remotely in times other than declared emergencies. The request would apply not only to regular meetings and public hearings but also to work sessions where no formal votes are taken.

Doing so would “open the door to a much more representative cross section of the community to public service,” said Council member Charles Anderson.

• Give the town zoning authority to give tree-canopy credits for builders who preserve medium- and large-sized trees and/or require developers to provide 20-percent tree canopy within 10 years instead of the current 20 and improve sites stormwater management and water quality.

Developers working in large jurisdictions can contribute toward a “tree bank” in order to meet canopy requirements, but that process cannot be applied in small localities such as Vienna, Briglia said.

• Consider changes to the state’s long-prevalent “Dillon Rule” to give localities more input and decision-making authority on matters that traditionally concern local governments.

Keam encouraged Council members to reach out to other legislators with expertise in areas where they would like to see changes.

“Don’t think you have to carry all these issues on your own,” he said.

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