Arlington is gearing up for a special election to replace Senator-elect Barbara Favola on the County Board, with the caucus dates now set for 2/2 and 2/4 (at the NRECA Building and Kenmore Middle School, respectively), and with numerous candidates announcing at this past Wednesday’s ACDC meeting (see videos of their speeches here). I recently sent out questionnaires to all the announced Democratic candidates, with a deadline of this morning. The first interview, with Elmer Lowe, is available here. The second interview, with Melissa Bondi, is available here, and the third interview, with Terron Sims, is available here. The fourth interview, received a bit after the deadline, was with Kim Klingler. This interview, received a bit after the deadline, is with Libby Garvey. The final interview will follow (from Peter Fallon) this afternoon. Thanks to Mr. Lowe, Ms. Bondi, Mr. Sims, Ms. Klingler, and Ms. Garvey for returning their Blue Virginia surveys (and to the first three for returning them on time), and to the remaining candidate (Peter Fallon) in advance for his responses as well.
1. Why are you running for Arlington County Board and what makes you the most qualified candidate at this time?
I am running because Arlington is my home for almost 35 years and we are facing some big challenges. After 15 years leading change on the school board and helping to make our schools among the best in the nation, I have the proven leadership skills and experience coupled with a fresh perspective which Arlington needs on the County Board to help manage the unprecedented growth and change we’re experiencing at this time. It is important to maintain what we value most about our community as we grow and change. In order to do that we need to be clear about our priorities and have transparent public processes. This is how I’ve worked for 15 years.
Back in 1996, when my children were young, there were inequities in our school system. Our capital program was a mess: the Washington Post headline said $25M missing from Arlington Schools Capital Fund
I called for a fair distribution of resources, a focus on student achievement and closing the gap; for better management, and more responsiveness to citizens. I ran for school board.
We have come a long way since. Over the past 15 years, I’ve worked with 11 different school board members and hired 2 chief executives. We’ve faced some tough issues. Our school system is complex with a budget of almost a half a billion dollars this fiscal year. We run a large transportation and food service system. Arlington Public Schools employs more people than anyone in the County except the Federal government. I have been Chair 5 times.
Our schools are now nationally recognized. People like Arne Duncan and companies like Boeing move to Arlington because of our good schools. We’ve come so far as a school system because the School Board has had clear goals and priorities and stuck to them. We are transparent. We monitor how we are doing and report to our taxpayers – even when the reports aren’t so good.
And we keep looking ahead to work strategically. For example, we pressed forward with getting Wakefield High School designed and built. Because we were ready, we could take advantage of suddenly lower construction costs and saved the taxpayers about $30M. Wakefield will be an asset to the entire community.
I think this way of working is what we need from our next County Board member.
In sum, I am the only candidate who has proven skills leading successful change in a large complex organization working with a board and chief executive. At the same time, I bring a very different perspective which will be very helpful as we work through difficult economic times to set priorities and ensure we keep what matters most to us.
2. What would you say are the top three challenges facing Arlington County right now?
Managing growth, setting priorities, continuing to be a community that welcomes people from all income levels with excellent core services.
3. What rules do you believe should apply to Arlington County Board members with regard to campaign contributions from donors with past, present, or upcoming business before the board?
As per state law, all contributions over $100 should be publicly disclosed. Contributions should not be taken from people who have past, current or future business before the board.
4. In general, do you believe that Arlington County Board members should conform to the Arlington County Code of Ethics, including items such as “Adhere to conflict-of-interest rules and avoid activities with real or perceived conflicts of interest?”
Yes. The Arlington Code of Ethics sets out clear rules that promote personal integrity, oversight and the ethical treatment of all people. The appearance of a conflict is as important an issue as an actual conflict of interest. Citizens must have confidence in their elected officials.
5. How, in your view, should Arlington County best work within the constraints of the Dillon Rule and a state government dominated by Republicans in order to achieve the most environmentally friendly and most progressive community (e.g., in the areas of human rights and immigration) possible?
With the legislature in Republican hands, local governments will be needed more than ever to continue progressive policies. This is hard in Virginia with the Dillon Rule. For example, the non-discrimination policies of Arlington County Government and Arlington Public Schools include sexual orientation. While some in Richmond might argue that this violates the Dillon Rule, Arlington has stayed true to its principles. I have and will continue to support this. With respect to the environment, Arlington should at least consider a ban on plastic bags, which could be justified, despite the Dillon Rule, under the County’s authority to protect the environment.
I’ve often heard how bad relations are between Arlington and Richmond. Some major repairing of those relationships needs to happen. We need to listen and be sensitive to concerns from around the state while at the same time educating others about the benefits of progressive policies. Given party politics, this will not be easy, but working to build relationships over time and treating people respectfully will help.
6. Do you support requiring, or at the minimum strongly incentivizing, all new commercial buildings constructed in Arlington County being constructed to the highest possible energy efficiency and “green” standards (e.g., LEED Gold or Platinum) possible? If you favor incentives, what specific incentives do you favor? If not, why not?
We should continue the policies of granting bonus density to green buildings and always be exploring other incentives that could be effective. We also need to do as much as we can with County facilities. During my tenure on the school board as we rebuilt or renovated nearly all of public schools, we have built the first LEED certified public school building and maintained a high standard of LEED certifications for our newer schools. As a member of the Arlington County Board, I will always work to expand the number of county buildings that are LEED certified and encourage private businesses and developers to be pro-active in making their facilities as green as possible.
7. At the present time, do you see Arlington County as not friendly enough to small business, just about right, or overly permissive?
Delays are difficult for any business, but especially small businesses. Arlington could do a better job explaining the use permit process and streamlining or expediting approvals for small businesses.
8. Would you support putting strong incentives in place to encourage homeowners, businesses, and county facilities to install permeable pavement and other measures to prevent runoff of water?
Yes. We have started putting in rain gardens, some green roofs and tanks to capture rainwater on our new school buildings. We have also used permeable pavement and find there are issues with maintenance. Incentives can include technical support and advice for businesses and homeowners to use these techniques.
9. When the county orders the height of new residential buildings near Metro reduced in the name of aesthetics, what benefits do Arlingtonians see, and does that benefit offset the resulting reduced availability of housing?
I think Arlington residents understand in general the concept of increased density near metro stops. It is important to work closely with the nearby community whenever there are large buildings planned to make sure the near neighbors are included as much as possible in density decisions and understand the tradeoffs both for their immediate community and the County as a whole. It is critical that the County be consistent and clear in its decisions on density, and not make these on an ad hoc basis. The need for affordable housing, and the opportunities to finance affordable housing in part through bonus density, must be considered.
10. What is your definition of “The Arlington Way,” do you believe our county’s been living up to it, and what can be done to strengthen it?
The Arlington Way is how we do public business in Arlington and engage citizens in that process. Arlington has an incredible resource in its talented, educated and active citizenry. However, if processes are not clear and structured, that resource can be ill-used and result in time wasted and frustration. Because engaged citizens are such a valuable resource, it would be good for Arlington to set some criteria for, and measures of, successful civic processes and then evaluate how those processes are working. We want citizens to feel their time is used efficiently and result in real substantive actions. This is not always the case.
The School Board has worked hard to be inclusive and efficient in our public processes. We have many ongoing public engagement efforts, including standing committees which work closely with staff to make recommendations on curriculum, facilities, the budget, accountability and minority achievement. We often hold work sessions as a board on large issues and include relevant citizen groups in those work sessions. We receive recommendations from our advisory groups. Because our citizens work closely with our staff, these recommendations are often incorporated into staff recommendations before we even we hear them.
During my first term as Chair, we began holding weekly open office hours during the school year. These are well used. In this diverse community, we use translations, meetings in neighborhoods and on-line surveys to do more to engage citizens who traditionally do not participate. However, on both the School and County side, we could always do more with better outreach, communication and support/training in how to participate.
11. Do you believe Arlington has the best possible process for determining which new capital projects to undertake and which to defer? If you believe this process could be improved, which specific improvements do you recommend and why?
No, but we are improving. We need an overall strategic plan to set clear priorities. The County and Schools CIPs should be worked jointly so there is, in the end, a single set of priority projects. While the schools have been evaluating and scheduling and budgeting for ongoing maintenance needs for many years now, the County has not. This has resulted in many County facilities and parks not being maintained as they need to be while money is spent on building new facilities and new parks. The maintenance study the County Board recently completed is an important first step to setting County priorities. It is important to maintain what we have before we build more. It is important to know what the annual budget needs are for maintenance of buildings and parks. Whenever a new building or park is brought on-line, maintenance must be budgeted for.
Arlington Pubic Schools has had both a minor maintenance budget and one for major maintenance/minor construction for some time now. This annual maintenance budget helps preserve our investment in our buildings. We are currently planning for our rapidly growing capacity needs. This is a very structured process to lead to clear priorities. Our criteria are developed and laid out clearly for everyone to see. We will soon have detailed short, medium and long term plans.
12. What is your vision for the optimal Arlington County in the short term (5 years or less), medium term (10-15 years) and long term (20 years and out)? How would you go about achieving that vision?
My vision is of a diverse community, with affordable convenient public transit systems and housing diversity that will enable those on lower incomes to continue to live and work here. Every part of the county will have access to parks including walking and bike paths for both recreation and commuting. Public safety will be a given. The future for us is in a knowledge based economy. Our schools will be world class. Our infrastructure will be solid and there will be schedules for regular maintenance to keep buildings, sewers, water and roads functioning well. Arlingtonians will know our priorities as a community, what our goals are and how we are planning to get there. People will feel connected to their government and that participating in public processes is worthwhile and not burdensome. Everyone coming before the board will be treated with respect both in manner and in process. It will be easy to know how to get things done and processes will be efficient and timely.
In 5 years, I hope we will have an overall strategic plan to get to this vision, with clear priorities for the short, medium and long term. That plan will help determine what we do short, medium and long term. I would go about achieving this vision by working as I have on the School Board: developing an overall strategic plan with clear priorities that do not change every time the board chair changes; setting up monitoring systems so all parts of the County government are regularly evaluated and systems for continuous improvement set up. Whenever there is a big question, the citizens of Arlington usually have the answer. We just need to make it easy for them to work through and provide that answer. I would work to make sure we communicate clearly with our public about goals and criteria and time-lines for public processes and make it easy for people to participate. People should always understand how particular board positions and decisions were arrived at and, hopefully, even when they disagree, realize the positions and decisions are reasonable.
Looking to the medium and long term, we have some very big decisions to make because we are not going to be able to do everything we want as quickly as we want. In the medium term, we should understand our limitations and be comfortable working through them to get where we want to be. Strategic planning and a culture of continuous improvement will be an integral part of how we work. In the long term, I hope we will have achieved the general vision I set out, or be clearly on the path to getting there, but the particulars will have been determined by working with the whole Arlington community through effective and clear planning and communications systems we will have set up.