In a brief moment Tuesday afternoon, after some routine happy-talk certificate presentations, the Arlington County Board distilled a big part of the case against re-electing Libby Garvey, its chair. It boils down to self-regard, condescension and noblesse oblige.
At issue was the poorly received, to put it mildly, proposal by Ms. Garvey in April to appoint a “Blue Ribbon Panel” to work on something having to do with strategic planning. The panel’s charge was obscure and, to some, a little threatening. The phrase “shadow government” was tossed around by some County Board cognoscenti.
Ms. Garvey sprung the “Blue Ribbon Panel” on the board in a public session without any public notice, and jawboned it through to a 5-0 vote.
The panel’s initial composition — six members (one to be appointed by each of the five Board members and one to be named by the County Manager) – was immediately called into question, because there was no direct representation from the School Board. So, presto/chango, the Gang of Six became the Gang of Seven.
Then, more substantive questions about the panel were raised, staring with: what the hell was it for? What was it going to do that had not already been done by the Community Facilities Study (CFS) Committee and covered in the committee’s well-received report? Well received by almost everyone, that is, except Ms. Garvey — seemingly because the CFS was not her idea. And so any possible added value from the Blue Ribbon Panel would be limited to the fact that it was a creature of Ms. Garvey’s design.
As Board member Jay Fisette pointed out Tuesday:
“To remind us, the CFS Committee was tasked to identify the principal strategic challenges that Arlington faces, point out barriers to overcoming those challenges, and recommend ways to address them.”
“Honestly,” Mr. Fisette said, “if anything deserved the Blue Ribbon moniker, it was the CFS Committee. It was a model process with compelling and serious recommendations to guide our future. It was a true collaboration between the schools and the county, with a clear and broad representation, and it concluded within the established 10-month timeline.”
But it wasn’t Libby’s, and, by God, she wasn’t having it. (As I said, self-regard.)
The public blowback was so severe that even the sometimes tone-deaf Ms. Garvey had to listen up. It may have had to do with the timing: she faces a renomination primary on June 14 against a younger, spirited, community-involved challenger, Erik Gutshall.
Even so, Ms. Garvey wasn’t happy about having to give any ground. As late as a Chamber of Commerce debate on Monday night with Gutshall and irrelevant independent candidate Audrey Clement, Ms. Garvey was writing off the hoo-hah to public obtuseness. The only problem with the Blue Ribbon Panel, she said, was the failure to realize that it would not be “easily understood by the community.” (As I said, noblesse oblige and condescension.)
But the growing unrest, especially among existing county commissions, NGOs, and interest groups – not to mention the political timetable – commanded her attention.
So, the County Board meeting on Tuesday, at which the seven members of the Blue Ribbon Panel were to have been appointed turned instead into full-blown retreat (and, one could guess, as her smug smile turned a touch sour, into a pity party for Ms. Garvey).
Mr. Fisette, who is supporting Mr. Gutshall, kicked off the festivities:
Since we voted on the charge for this Blue Ribbon Panel in April, I have been inundated with questions and concerns. Many in our community are either angry at how this happened or confused about what actually happened. I was challenged to explain how I would vote for something after having publicly expressed significant concern about it. I had no good response.
Mr. Fisette continued on for several more paragraphs regarding public objection to the panel which were, judging by her expression, agonizing for Ms. Garvey.
Mr. Fisette moved that implementation of the panel be deferred until July (which Ms. Garvey grabbed at like a life preserver), but he signaled deeper concern and some hope for scotching the panel altogether. Mr. Fisette said his support for the delay “should not be taken as support for the Panel. I remain skeptical, yet I am glad the process will be opened, and I am willing to see if the purpose can be clarified and made useful.” Don’t hold your breath, Jay.
The vote on Mr. Fisette’s motion was 5-0. It was nothing less than a vote of no confidence in Ms. Garvey – a vote in which she, for impending political considerations, had to join.