Local Commentary

Editorial: The Mouth of A Gift Horse

The decisive decision by the Falls Church City Council and the School Board to reject the unsolicited proposal by Clark Construction to build a new high school, renovate the middle school and aggressively develop the portions of the 39 acres of newly-acquired City land near the West Falls Church Metro station comes with risk.

On the one hand, the Council and School Board, which held three lengthy closed session discussions on all this, opted in its “no thank you” to Clark in favor of its original plan to spend more time talking about what it wants to do on the land and issuing “requests for proposals” (RFPs) in the open market to see who responds with the best plan.

The Clark offer to take the land and, first of all, build at no cost to the City a $100 million new high school, was breathtaking. It still may be the plan that wins out in the end, but only after an intervening year of process.

Those who insist on maximization of transparency and the elimination of even the suggestion of playing favorites are undoubtedly happy with the actions taken by the Council and board this week.

But it should not be overlooked that there is another side to this. The Council and board passed up a very lucrative and veritable “sure thing,” which it would have been legal to accept, for a more extensive and time consuming process.

As the saying goes, “There is many a slip between cup and lip,” suggesting that the more time and events are allowed to intercede, the greater the chances of setbacks. Another analogy is the Nationals’ shortstop, who passed up a very generous offer for a multi-year contract during the off-season, and may now be nervous that he’ll be able to command such terms as the quality of his playing begins to fall off.

It’s one thing if the offer was mediocre to begin with, but that was definitely not true with the shortstop, and also was not true for the Clark proposal.
It should be of great concern if the basis for the decision was counsel given the City and school bodies that they should avoid, at all cost, any perception of favoritism or conflict of interest. But there is a huge difference between a real conflict of interest, and only the perception of one.

On the other hand, the decision would be justified if it was considered that the outcome will be even more favorable for the City and schools.

The region as a whole has been stumbling along ever since the federal sequestration tore into the regional economy. No one knows what the future holds, especially as interest rates rise and potentials and as destabilizations of the U.S. or European economies loom.

We’ll keep our fingers crossed that the outcome of the longer process that was chosen will be better, or at least equal to, what’s been turned down.