Abraham Lincoln is credited with stating: “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis.
The great point is to bring them the real facts.” During 16 years on City Council, including as mayor, this summarizes my philosophy of City government. I add this corollary: After giving the people the facts, we should listen carefully to them, and as a rule, do as they ask.
Our citizens are an impressive and diverse group of people, with breathtaking knowledge and expertise. Whether as diplomats, chief executives, journalists, advocates, scientists, litigators, judges, soldiers, teachers, or physicians, they have life experiences that are second to none. It is an honor to serve them. They deserve respect and civility.
Here are five keys to the City’s future sustainability.
First, the Council needs to heed the people they represent. When the City’s elected and appointed officials have listened to our citizens, we have always been right. But in recent times, some City Council actions have gone against their wisdom, whether in certain real estate developments or in summarily moving the elections against the weight of citizen opinion and without according the people the right to determine their governmental framework. As bad, citizen dissenters, including our most revered activists, have been categorized and marginalized.
Second, Falls Church is not an island, and we have a long tradition of mutually beneficial cooperation with our neighboring jurisdictions. I believe firmly in regionalism and have sought to further it as former chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Air Quality Committee and as a charter member of the DC Region’s Emergency Preparedness Council. This regional cooperation has benefitted us all handsomely over the years in improved service, quality of life, and efficiency.
Citizen dissenters, including our most revered activists, have been categorized and marginalized.
Nowhere have these benefits been greater than in the transportation. As previous chairman of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and now of the Region’s Transportation Planning Board, I have been able to support the Region on major infrastructure improvements, including Rail to Dulles, with more to come, even as I have helped assure that Falls Church is treated fairly. Yet, this tradition of regionalism, too, has recently been ignored, most notably in the City’s preemptive strike against Fairfax over water in the form of a lawsuit subsequently thrown out by the courts. Now, we are embroiled in a retaliation lawsuit that has potentially dire consequences for the City.
Third, the relationship between State government and Northern Virginia localities must change, and I have strongly advocated for that. Richmond takes millions of dollars of sales and income taxes from Falls Church families and businesses, but returns pennies on the dollar, even as it exerts control over what we can do, and issues unfunded mandates. Meanwhile, the State shifts financial burdens to localities even as Richmond increasingly fails to fund its own obligations and exerts control that prevents us from securing the safety of our citizens through its restrictions on our ability to address highway safety, guns and other critical safety and security matters.
Fourth, the City’s current budget crisis is partly the result of the general financial turmoil, but also the consequence of management mistakes and the financial fallout from the failed water litigation. I have advocated a long-term planning citizen advisory body that is now finally in place. And, while we on the Council ask our citizens to support cuts and increased tax rates, we should lead by example. That is why I opposed the pay increase City Council voted itself on the eve of the financial crisis and refuse to accept it.
Fifth, as Bobby Kennedy said: “Some men see things as they are and ask why. Other men dream dreams of things that never were and ask why not.” Our job is to ask both why and why not. It means preserving and supporting the core services-specifically our schools, emergency and environmental services, and public infrastructure as well as maintaining the uniqueness of our heritage and arts-while constantly looking for better ways to deliver these services. It also means visioning and planning for the future, supporting and attracting increased commercial activity and providing the long-term funding for improved infrastructure, such as a transit hub, a parking garage, and light rail or improved bus service. That is why I have opposed the current management’s proposals to all but eliminate the funding for capital projects.
I have been privileged to serve the citizens of this city and know that they have the intelligence and commitment to meet any challenge. Listening to them and doing as they ask, applying the values and principles that had successfully governed this City, and searching for better ways to do things, is the surest way to the best future for us all.
David Snyder is a member of the Falls Church City Council, currently in his fourth term.