Local Commentary

The Little City Weed

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Falls Church City officials failed to publicly disclose they negotiated a quid pro qou agreement to give the schools the Easter Seals CDC property in exchange for the city council approving the $3 million dollar QSCB school bond resolutions and school officials agreeing not to submit a CIP budget through 2019.

 

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Falls Church City officials failed to publicly disclose they negotiated a quid pro qou agreement to give the schools the Easter Seals CDC property in exchange for the city council approving the $3 million dollar QSCB school bond resolutions and school officials agreeing not to submit a CIP budget through 2019.

The agreement was made during so-called “Gang of Eight” meetings which were not recorded. The meetings were originally intended as informational-only gatherings of key council, city and school leaders. The agreement was not disclosed during forums held on the QSCB initiative, in the QSCB application itself, or as part of the council resolutions approving QSCB. The school CIP was modified after council approved the QSCB resolutions in November 2010 by adding an asterisk footnote which referred to the CDC property. The earlier draft of the school CIP, and not the asterisk-modified final version, was posted online.

The agreement is controversial because it will likely lead to the eviction of the popular Easter Seals program. The Easter Seals programs have been used by area working families and families with special-needs children for over 50 years. At least two members of council said they were unaware of the quid pro qou and would not have approved the QSCB resolutions if they had known about the CDC property contingency.

Multiple people with knowledge of the agreement spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern about council using informational meetings to make policy decisions on controversial subjects away from public scrutiny. The sources cited frustration with the lack of transparency in Gang of Eight meetings, EDC meetings, closed mayor meetings with city staff, and the revelation about the secret Sunday night email meeting disclosed by the Falls Church News-Press last week.

According to sources, the quid pro qou was a product of Mayor Baroukh and council members Kaylin and Barry trying to limit future investment in schools. Baroukh asked school officials if the QSCB renovation was “all they needed” for CIP through 2019. School Board Chair Wodiska and Superintendent Berlin pushed back, saying unless schools were also given the CDC property they would still have a facility need. Baroukh, Kaylin and Barry indicated they would not approve the QSCB resolutions unless the school officials agreed not to make additional CIP budget requests through 2019. The school officials agreed on the condition they get the CDC property.

The fact the CDC property was traded as part of QSCB was not publically disclosed. The impact on the families using the Easter Seals program was not discussed or disclosed. The fact school officials have agreed not to pursue school CIP through 2019 was also not disclosed.

The task force approved this week will only have a brief opportunity to see if some cost-neutral accommodation can be made at the last minute for the Easter Seals organization and the families which depend on its services. The task force will also have to work within the parameters pre-negotiated by local officials who did not want their secret agreement publicly disclosed.

 


Michael Gardner is a quixotic citizen and founder of the Blueweeds community blog.