Opinion Your Views — 27 February 2012
Opinion: City government’s status quo is the bare minimum

To the editor:

The City of Alexandria has appeared to embrace minimum standards as the highest possible performance level it is willing to accept, regardless of outcome. Even more dismaying is City Attorney Jim “Unwinnable” Banks’ arguments against his constituents, who as conscientious residents were pressed to bring a lawsuit over how and when the city notifies its residents about public hearings. He attacked a litigant using the argument that this person was in attendance at the sessions referenced in the lawsuit. This is simply indefensible.  Without being in attendance, a necessary a priori event for this lawsuit, this person could not have taken action, because without being in attendance the problem would have remained hidden.

A good example of how the city uses minimum standards to inform its residents of public hearings can be found in the February 9 edition of the Alexandria Times on page 13. Here we are advised of “King/Quaker/Braddock – Public Information Meeting.”  Everyone is “invited to learn more about the project, scope of work and construction schedule.” Perhaps everyone knows what this concerns, but it took a phone call to learn what it was all about. This was published on the same day as the meeting, and this is less than 24 hours in advance. Perhaps the city is seeing how minimal a minimum can be without failing legal standards.

Another example of this, which I hate to expose, is publicizing Alexandria as an eco-city.  At the moment, it’s much like Earth Day — lots of earnest good wishes and voluntary actions and guidelines rather than legal mandates.  Where federal and state agencies have forced compliance — i.e. requiring more than minimum standards — the city has yet to step up to the plate.

By aspiring to minimum standards in anything we fall behind the curve. We become less competitive and less responsive to our constituents, commercial entities and others who use city services. This is a dangerous path to take and even foolish when it is deliberate.

In the private sector the best and leading-edge companies have long embraced pushing ahead of the pack, finding answers that count toward better solutions, producing green products and processes and always working hard to improve. The most progressive of today’s cities are following that same course, but unfortunately, Alexandria seems determined to achieve the lowest standards it can get away with.

Just look at the draft waterfront plan — which is riddled with ambiguity, contradictory and inconsistent structure and language — which has been perpetuated ad nauseum by the apparent refusal of the city staff to provide a clear, coherent, consistent final plan. It’s a clear demonstration of striving for minimum standards by not requiring staff to provide in a timely manner a final plan, so city officials and their constituents can understand exactly what we’re voting for.

- Kathryn Papp
Alexandria

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