Local Commentary

Editorial: Fairfax Water Keeps Bullying

It was bad news that came out Tuesday, from Fairfax County’s point of view. That was the news that nine different, qualified entities had responded to the City of Falls Church’s “request for expressions of interest” in the future of its water system. Everyone the City hoped would weigh in did so punctually and with enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, Fairfax County made it clear with its response last week that it does not intend to relent on its not-so-subtle use of threats and bullying in its effort to, effectively, confiscate the Falls Church water system, which serves over 100,000 customers in the county.

A six-page, single-spaced letter to Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields from Charles M. Murray, general manager of the Fairfax County Water Authority, was little more than a veiled threat, although Shields would never agree with that characterization.

First of all, it was propaganda, designed to persuade Falls Church citizens to insist that their leaders acquiesce to Fairfax’s proposal for a merger of the two systems.

That is evident from the fact that the letter was immediately made public, circulated to all members of the Falls Church City Council to encourage its dissemination to the Falls Church public. Normally, responses to “requests for expressions of interest” are confidential because of the sensitive nature of the competitive bidding process.

Secondly, the letter outlined a case for why doing anything but merge with Fairfax would spell disaster for Falls Church.

Thirdly, and here’s where the thuggery comes in, the letter contends that selling the Falls Church system to a private buyer “would likely face insurmountable regulatory hurdles, even putting other legal issues aside.” Outrageously, it asserts that no decision to convey the system to anyone but Fairfax can legally be made “without the blessing of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.”

Shields told the News-Press politely Tuesday that Falls Church legal counsel has “come to a different conclusion” about that.

Of course, the unanimous decision of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors in December giving itself the right to modify the water rates charged by systems operated outside its jurisdiction suggests the county believes it has the right to dictate the affairs of just about anybody.

The City of Falls Church and City of Fairfax have responded to that blatant overreach with lawsuits contending that the county’s legislation unlawfully presumes to undermine what is the legislative responsibility of Falls Church and Fairfax City governments to financially manage their assets in a proper manner.

If nothing else, Fairfax is hoping it can wear down Falls Church by continuing to pile on, legally. But yesterday’s news, that there are many more highly-interested eyes focused on the situation with the will, acumen and resources to impact the outcome, has to have bummed out the county.

We trust the F.C. Council will not be bullied, and will marshal the best deal for its citizens.