Happy New Year! As tumultuous 2011 passes into history, here are a few good and not-so-good events to remember and, in some cases, forget.
The “surprise” ice storm of January 26 wasn’t a surprise; it started almost exactly when the weather forecasters said it would. The problem was that few believed it would hit so quickly and viciously, and many workers waited too long to head home. The trip home was cold, icy, and dangerous, but a lot of lessons were learned. The federal Office of Personnel Management, working with local jurisdictions, fashioned a new system for release of employees during emergencies. It also was a good lesson about personal preparedness – a full gas tank, cell phones charged up, appropriate warm weather gear, and a shovel in the trunk, just in case.
The tragic suicide of a Fairfax County teen-ager prompted outcries for changes in school discipline and the zero tolerance policies. Mason District School Board member Sandy Evans and I held the only public meeting about the issue in March. Emotions ran high as parents and community members expressed their concerns about school policy and kids in crisis. The outpouring provided some momentum for the school system to reconsider its discipline policies. In fact, several candidates for the School Board focused on discipline issues in their November campaigns.
This spring also saw the redistricting process for magisterial and General Assembly districts following the 2010 Census, which indicated that Mason District needed to grow a bit.
A county-wide citizen group presented 24 different redistricting plans, and the Board of Supervisors adopted one that moved only seven precincts overall. Braddock’s Bristow precinct and Providence’s Walnut Hill 2 precinct were moved, giving Mason District about 116,000 people. Mason District also picked up Annandale and Falls Church High Schools, Annandale Terrace Elementary School, Ossian Hall Park, and the Providence RECenter. I am thrilled to claim all these county facilities as part of Mason District.
Backlick Road and Sleepy Hollow Road, two of our most notoriously bumpy and potholed streets in Mason District were repaved by the Virginia Department of Transportation. No longer will your teeth rattle and front end alignments suffer on these newly smooth roads. Overpasses at Gallows Road and Little River Turnpike are nearly complete as HOT Lane construction continues on the Beltway, and pedestrian connections are almost finished in the Bailey’s Crossroads/Seven Corners area.
An earthquake, Hurricane Irene, and Tropical Storm Lee, in rapid succession, tested our preparations and resolve as a very hot summer phased into autumn. While earthquake damage proved to be light, the hurricane softened us up for Tropical Storm Lee and its incredibly heavy rains. People exclaimed they had never seen such storms in the years they lived here – and they were right. Lee was a thousand year storm, and no one had seen flooding like that in modern times.
In November, voters faced the longest ballot in Fairfax County history and, for the first time ever, all 10 incumbent members of the Board of Supervisors were returned to office. In a year when some Virginia counties had an 80, 90, or even 100 percent turnover in their Board elections, the Fairfax County results reflect the progressive and stable nature of our large urban county that is the economic engine of the region and the state.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org