Local Commentary

Editorial: A Vote of Confidence

With the sweeping changes made in the government of the City of Falls Church as of July1, including three new members on the seven-member City Council, a new mayor and a dramatic downsizing of the City government from 200 employees to 183, there are rumors swirling around City Hall about major impending changes at the top administrative levels.

Yet to anyone taking a careful look at the numbers, it is clear that the City has been managed extraordinarily well, including through the record contraction of the global economy that has left state and local jurisdictions across the U.S. gasping for breath. Even with the unsettling increase in the City’s tax rate approved by the City Council last April, the City remains “in the middle of the pack” on regional tax rates, and has seen a major Wall Street bond rating firm upgrade its standing to the best-possible AAA rating. There are other solid indicators of the City’s sound fiscal management in the report delivered to the Council last week by its consultants on such matters, Davenport and Company.

All this represents no mean achievement given the unique difficulties that a small jurisdiction faces and the fact that Falls Church also had to absorb an extra $2 million revenue loss due to a court ruling on its water system that is  being appealed. The water matter flowed from legal action, approved unanimously more than once by the F.C. City Council, that was deemed indispensable to the City’s interest.

In sum, in the four years since City Manager Wyatt Shields assumed the reigns upon the passing of Dan McKeever, Falls Church has maintained one of the finest school systems in the United States while providing top shelf delivery of its services to the general public, achieving a modicum of commercial economic development in the teeth of the recession, and maintaining exemplary AAA-rated levels of both its debt and fund balance. This spring’s dip in the fund balance, due to the water ruling and the effects of the recession, is now being restored to conform with the guidelines set out by the City when first developed under McKeever’s leadership earlier in the decade.

Shields and his Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester have worked with a talented and dedicated City Council and City staff since 2006 to navigate Falls Church through the horrific economic downturn, and the acute consequences the precipitous decline in housing values had for real estate tax-dependent local jurisdictions, in an intelligent and responsible manner.

Unfortunately, when the wider economy goes sour and squeezes the pocket books of local residents, there is a predictable knee-jerk reaction to blame whomever is running government at whatever level.

But the decision on Mr. Shields’ future in Falls Church is not subject to a popular vote, but to the Council itself. We trust it recognizes how valuable Shields’ leadership has been to date and will continue to be.