Short Term Thinking Schwartz Short Changes Arlington Again

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Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz rarely misses an opportunity to place his personal short-term agenda ahead of Arlington’s long-term strategic interests. But a November 12 memorandum that Schwartz sent to the County Board reaches a new low even for small-minded Schwartz.

Background

Over 1,825 days ago, the Community Facilities Study Group recommended that Arlington adopt a long-term public facilities plan locating new school seats and other new public facilities like parks, fire stations, and stormwater infrastructure, at specific sites. After prolonged delays, a new commission—the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission (JFAC)—was created to help develop such a plan. Schwartz quickly intervened, successfully pleading with the County Board for JFAC to be given a series of short-term planning assignments on items like the Buck and Virginia Hospital Center properties, thereby diverting JFAC from its primary mission: long-term, county-wide public facilities planning.

In recent months, JFAC finally began to show signs that it might be on a path to creating the critically important, but MIA, long-term public facilities plan. Re-enter Schwartz to try once again to side-track this vitally needed plan.

Schwartz strikes again

At a time when COVID-19 makes long-term planning for Arlington’s future even more important than it was before, short-term-thinking Schwartz’s latest petulant memorandum to the County Board again tries to deflect us from the strategic thinking Arlington desperately needs. We just can’t afford to do it, according to Schwartz, because:

“The work in [JFAC’s] outline, to be done well, and to be accurate and thorough, requires staff from virtually every department to be involved, including department heads.

“Such a plan requires subject matter expert advice, along with citizen input beyond the JFAC members. In addition, the outline focuses on areas that I see as squarely within my purview as Manager.”

No shit, Sherlock! If you had been doing your job right, instead of spending years preventing JFAC from doing its job, Arlington would now have the long-term public facilities master plan it desperately needs.

Conclusion

It’s important to note that the public has not been consulted about any of the policy suggestions floated by Schwartz, including any radical long-term permanent shift to virtual classrooms. Whether APS or parents will accept that result is not even considered in the memo. But make no bones about it, yet another  “pause” to locate school locations, and JFAC’s  diversion to review virtual classrooms will cover up Schwartz’s own failure to plan for brick and mortar schools up until now, and will result in no other option but virtual learning.

Similarly Schwartz’s suggestion that level of service reviews for facilities, including those for infrastructure and parks, are exclusively under his purview is designed to shield Schwartz from any independent critical thinking for how facilities can be used more efficiently or removed from Arlington’s exclusive management through things like partnerships with neighboring jurisdictions. 

Mark Schwartz does not have the strategic vision required of the Chief Executive Officer of a $1.5 billion enterprise.  The County Board should replace him with someone who does.

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Voting Blue isn’t Enough

In “Knock Down the House” candidates took a critical look at what was happening in their Democratic districts and said, “this is messed up and our communities are not being served fully. “Knock Down the House” articulates what is happening in Arlington.

How much engagement should we expect of our County Board Members?

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 It’s been two months now since the surfacing of Christian Dorsey’s financial problems and some campaign reporting issues. He made the declaration that he is still committed to serving Arlington. “My personal financial issues do not in any way impinge upon my ability to work with staff and with our community to find practical, innovative solutions to all these issues,” Dorsey added. “I love this County, and I will continue to work hard to ensure it remains one of the greatest places on the planet to live, work and rear a family.”

However, I haven’t seen much of Dorsey since the scandal and when he’s chosen to attend a meeting, it’s been a quick appearance. Most recently, at the joint meeting of Amazon-impacted civic associations with Amazon and JBG, Dorsey was noticeably missing – if he showed up, he wasn’t participating in any meaningful way. As the board liaison to these civic associations and the incredible impact that the Amazon arrival has on Arlington, as well as, the documented lack of appropriate staff engagement in these neighborhoods, one would think that Dorsey should be onsite to hear the communities’ issues and engage in the conversation. And, when Dorsey has made public comments, one questions whether he may also have a slight conflict of interest. First, with the unpaid referees debacle asking for patience working with a vendor who has yet to pay referees a year out and then with the affordable housing initiative.

Katie Cristol has been much more measured in her comments and staying out of the fray. She has created clear boundaries and, with but a look, makes a person think twice before asking for a meeting or engaging her in conversation. Katie has been completely off my radar and in reviewing recent board comments has been relatively silent. 

There’s no doubt that the County Board role is a big job with lots of critics. However, let’s not forget that the County Board voted themselves a significant pay raise in June 2019. This pay raise gives them the comparable FULL time median salary for the PART time gig. And, that the County Board role is a choice; no one is forcing these folks to run and each of them have the capacity to make several times what they could make on serving on the board. 

This calls to question – what should the expectation be of our county board members in participation in the conversation and understanding the nuances of the conversation at a deeper level? Perhaps, it is simply that candidates are so available pre-election that there is a vacuum after they win. However, the larger issue remains, how much engagement should we expect of our County Board Members?

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