In the midst of the most severe recession since the 1930s, Falls Church City is facing arguably the most difficult budget cycle in its history. As our community begins to focus in earnest on the budget, it is heartening to see our citizens, city staff, and elected officials noticeably increase the level and quality of their civic participation.
The perspective being offered by our diverse groups and individuals – budget professionals, managers, elected officials, newspapers, bloggers, social media sites, community activists, friends and neighbors – is providing valuable information that will undoubtedly lead us to make the best long term decisions for our community. It is, quite simply, Falls Church City at its very best.
While it is true larger economic forces are making it necessary that we confront difficult decisions that will affect our everyday lives, in recent years we have accomplished a great deal that has put Falls Church in a good position to weather the storm and to thrive as the economy improves. For example, despite pressure from opposition elements, Falls Church has invested in funding its outstanding public school system. Considered the crown jewel of our community, our schools not only benefit those that go to them, but also the City as a whole, teaching respect, patience, and thoughtfulness to create informed, responsible citizens for the future.
The City has also invested in scalable mixed used development which has provided us with much needed revenue, innovative green technologies, and improvements to our infrastructure. It is hard to imagine how our community could have weathered the current financial crisis if our community had not had the foresight to invest in mixed use and commercial development. Our bond rating is strong due to the policies and investments we have put in place over the past 10 years. And, even with recession-inspired limitations, we are continuing to steadfastly pursue development that will help us meet the challenge to create a walkable community and keep our City economically sound and viable.
In addition, the City has invested in more accountable, responsive, and professional local government. We have moved away from parochial local politicians who bullied and threatened city staff, to empowering those who work for us all in executing our core planning, safety, development, management, and financial strategies. This investment in professional management has increased transparency in our local government, allowed the City to be more responsible in its management of its utilities, and dramatically increase commercial investment. Investments have also been made to improve our parks, add to open space, and create a city that welcomes the arts. We continue to be good neighbors in the regional community, making sure that our Little City is heard locally, in Richmond and in Washington D.C.
Through this difficult economic time, we need to remember that in the past we have been successful in keeping the City strong, and we can do it again. At the same time, our community has been struggling with diverse opinions and struggling to find a middle ground. We have watched with dismay the bitter divisions that have all but paralyzed government entities at the Federal and State levels. And, we too are not immune to issues that create angry public discussion and pull our community apart. What we need to do now, though, is remember that we are a small community with diverse needs and priorities. We need to come together to find the best solutions to meet the needs of all of our citizens. We have been here before – debate on a new community center, debate on the cost of a new school, debate on various referendums, and the list goes on and on. The important take-away from this is that we are still here and we remain intact as a vibrant community with citizens who continue to participate in the processes of deliberation and decision making.
With over 11 years of active involvement in city affairs, nine of those serving on City Council, I am not naïve about the challenges we face. Still, I am optimistic given our recent successes in bringing about genuine improvements in our basic system of local government. Through various mediums, we have increased the ability for citizens to not only learn about the issues facing the City but to actively participate in the debate. Facebook, blogs, Granicus, websites, and on-line news sources have brought an added transparency to our decision-making and governance. This added transparency and participation underscores the fact that there has always been, and will always be, intense public input and discussion in our local government affairs. From my perspective, this special feature of our City is valued and appreciated. Please keep it up!
Robin Gardner is currently serving her second term as mayor of the City of Falls Church. She is in her third term on the City Council.