The Arlington County Board has once again displayed a lack of thoughtfulness, preparation, and financial prudence in their quest for equity and inclusion. On March 2, the board hosted Mitch Landrieu for a special work session to talk about achieving racial equity in Arlington through budgeting.
“The more you get into it and look at things, it’s clear there’s more we need to do to ensure equity and that the government’s working for everyone,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey told ARLnow, prior to the meeting. “Arlington reached out to Mitch, after seeing some of the work he did… it’s part of the budget process. We’re trying to infuse equity into all of our budget discussions.”
Lack of thoughtfulness: Why Mitch Landrieu and what makes New Orleans comparable to Arlington?
In a metro area with ten higher education institutions that all have diversity and equity centers, along with research expertise, why hire a white guy from the south? Landrieu is recognized for his work as Mayor of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Per his Washington Speakers Bureau bio: “[New Orleans] was on the brink of bankruptcy, had the highest-in-the-nation murder rate, and a police department under federal investigation. Under his inspiring leadership, New Orleans is recognized as one of the nation’s great comeback stories.”
As far as I can tell, Arlington hasn’t survived a hurricane that took out thousands of homes and we have an ethical police department with a very low murder rate. It’s not like Arlington’s baseline data is anything like New Orleans’ either. New Orleans has over 169 sq miles of land (compared to 26 sq mi), 390,000 residents (compared to 240,000 residents), and a $722M budget (compared to $1.4bil) – the constraints are very different. Furthermore, New Orleans is 34% white (compared to 71%), a median age of 37 years old (compared to 34), and has a median household income of $38,423 (compared to $112,138).
I can only surmise that the County Board was seeking his experience bringing “fiscal management, balanced budgets, ethical contracting, and transparency” as that is certainly a set of skills this county is needing.
Lack of Preparation
My favorite part of the ArlNow reporting is this:
“Much of the discussion was generalized, with Landrieu noting that he didn’t know how some of the specific mechanisms functioned within Arlington, and County Board members admitting they hadn’t read Landrieu’s book.” And, according to ArlNow, “Two of Landrieu’s colleagues told the County Board that part of the process is going to various department heads to educate them and work on restructuring the budgets within the department. Changes included adding documentation in multiple languages, making accessibility improvements for people who were visually impaired, and holding meetings in places more accessible to public transit.”
If the goal is to use the conversation for budget preparation, you better have prepped your speakers on the unique issues in Arlington and, furthermore, at least read the book of your guest. Are these suggested changes really going to impact our budget or are they actually the things that we are already doing?!
I was unable to access the price paid for Mitch’s appearance, but suffice it to say that the Washington Speaker’s Bureau is not cheap….and neither the speaker, nor the board was prepared to have the conversation. I want the County Board to start thinking judiciously about how they use our funds whether it is $250 or $25,000.
The irony of having a guest discuss how to use the budgeting process to support change and then misuse the public dollars with no goals or desired outcomes is not a positive reflection of our community.
Come on County Board; get your act together, already. Let’s start with some data and a definition of what equity means to Arlington.