Local Commentary

Editorial: The Challenge Of Independence

The solid majority on the Falls Church City Council, the five of seven Councilmen who voted to move the City’s municipal elections from May to November beginning in 2011, are to be congratulated, especially the four who remained steadfast throughout the extended debate.

Mayor Robin Gardner, Vice Mayor Hal Lippman and Council members Dan Sze and Dan Maller never deviated in their commitment to make the switch, based on the clear evidence of far higher voter turnouts for elections held in November than those in May, and we were glad that Councilman Lawrence Webb joined them in the final vote this Monday night.

It was reassuring to witness this resolve on the Council, especially in face of one of the classic offensives thrust against them by long-time proponents of the so-called “Falls Church Way” determined to indefinitely delay the move and to subject it to a public referendum. As Mayor Gardner eloquently said Monday, “The citizens elected the Council to make decisions like this,” and so they did. Councilman Maller was also insightful in noting that those opposed to changing the date were those citizen activists who have enjoyed relatively greater influence and clout in elections with a smaller voter turnout, while those citizens who favored the switch were the “average Joes” who thought making the change, to encourage a higher voter turnout, was a “no brainer.”

The strong, principled resolve exhibited in this case by the majority on the Council is a refreshing and welcome development, a product of the political maturing of the current members, and is something of a new thing for Falls Church. It comes none to soon, either, as the City faces a period that will tax and test its resolve for survival perhaps more than any other in its over 60 years of formal independence.

Unprecedented budget shortfalls already announced have been significantly exacerbated by Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Nye’s ruling to prohibit, beginning immediately, the City from taking a $2.2 million annual “return on investment” draw from its water fund. Without that revenue source, the City is in even more dire shape for balancing its current year and next year fiscal budgets. On top of that, cuts in Virginia state spending may leave the City holding the bag on even more costs, including for education, pension and health funds.

In the face of these extraordinary challenges, some are counseling the City to give up its independence and to ask to be absorbed into either Arlington, with its 200,000 residents, or Fairfax County, with its million. We staunchly oppose that course.

Such a move would relinquish the decisions and control of the City’s destiny, including regarding the quality of its schools, to oversized government bureaucracies that would relegate Falls Church’s 11,400 citizens to the status of profound insignificance. No one would do this willingly, and if the Council continues to exhibit the strong political will shown in votes this week, it won’t have to.