Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

bartonmugThe petitions for a referendum proposing a highly destructive change in the form of the Arlington County Government were with Arlington’s Clerk of Court last week. They have been sent to the Registrar of Voters for verification of the signatures. If there are enough bona fide signatures (about 14,000), the proposal will likely be on the ballot in November.

The proposal calls for a change in our system of government from the County Manager Plan that has structured Arlington’s government for eighty years to the County Board form of Government that is currently used in several rural Virginia Counties.

The shift sounds deceptively simple, but is actually highly complex. Under the proposal, the county’s government body would be elected by district (with one at-large member) once every four years, rather than county-wide with one seat up a year, as is currently the case. The new County Board of Supervisors would directly control all department heads and staff. Currently, the County Board appoints a County Manager, who in turn controls the civil service system. There are many other differences. You owe it to yourself to learn what they are.

Some of the negative things that would happen include:

• The “Balkanization” of the county in which representatives of districts would be narrowly focused on their own neighborhoods rather than the county as a whole.

• The real possibility (probability) that county employees would become highly politicized. It would create a political patronage system that could be stultifying and downright pernicious.

• Even the county purchasing agent would be a political appointment.

• The county’s power to create and manage dozen of crucial programs such as sanitation, human rights efforts would be seriously curtailed.

• The County’s Civil Service Commission would be abolished.

• The implementation of many employee benefits would be in question.

• The purchase, sale, and lease of property by the County would be seriously affected – negatively.

And so on.

Arlington County’s firefighters and police organizations began the petition drive several months ago, joined by the county’s Republican Party and Green Party. The major reason is that they are upset with their relationship with the County Manager and want a shift in our form of government that would give a new County Board of Supervisors control over the appointment and supervision of county staff and their relationships with employee unions. Ironically, the likelihood is that the new form of government would probably inject people into the system who would be less supportive of unions than are the current county leaders. I don’t think the leaders of the unions have really thought this through.

The current system drives every member of the County Board to look at the effect of policies on the county as a whole, a system that has brought Arlington numerous awards and citations as one of the best – if not the best – governed counties in the nation.

“If it ain’t, broke don’t fix it.” Vote against the referendum if it is on the ballot in November!


Richard Barton may be e-mailed at rbarton@towervillas.com