Alicia Hughes responds to allegations her voice is absent from budget talks

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To the editor:           

Susan Kellom wrote a letter to the editor last week entitled “Hughes’ voice missing on city’s budget.” The title is catchy, but the implications of the allegation are inaccurate. It is true that I have not made a formal appointment to the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee in 16 months. So what? That’s my prerogative as a member of the Alexandria City Council.

According to Ms. Kellom, BFAAC’s budget analysis and yearly report are major vehicles for resident involvement in the budget process. The sound bite implies that members of the public are lining up at BFAAC public hearings to opine on recommendations to give to the council on the budget and budget guidance to the city manager. Untrue.

While I appreciate BFAAC’s report, work and my representative’s role as a personal advisor on the budget, BFAAC does not control or dictate our budget process, and council hears directly from the public through written communications, in person and at our public hearings. We do so as members of the city council. And we each avail ourselves to meet with the city manager and chief financial officer to discuss budget concerns … unfiltered.

Ms. Kellom is entitled to her personal opinion, but she is no more poised to tell me how to run my office as a city councilwoman, including my appointments, than I was to advise her on how to run her affairs as the chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee, a position that after my election found members of her organization calling publicly for her resignation.

When Ms. Kellom publicly insists that a fellow council colleague of mine, a Democrat, who went without a paid council aide for 10 months and went for months without a BFAAC representative, owes the public an explanation, then maybe I can take her seriously as an objective concerned citizen.

The fallacy in Ms. Kellom’s opinion is that my voice is missing in the budget process. While not always agreeing, citizens of Alexandria have heard me loud and clear. My voice was loud enough in May 2010 when I questioned a recurring $30 million line item and the council took a hard look on dollars spent on contractual services and consulting. It took more than a year for staff, working with BFAAC, and my former representative Matt Tallmer, a 15-year BFAAC veteran, leading the charge to sort out what was being spent. Unsurprisingly, given the media coverage and attention to the matter, everything budgeted in that line item was not spent and we even had a budget surplus. And that is but one example.

 – Alicia Hughes, Alexandria city councilwoman