Opinion Your Views — 10 October 2013
Don’t blame city staffers, blame their bosses

By Dino Drudi, Alexandria
(Photo/File Photo) 

To the editor:

At the public comment period of the September 21 city council meeting, the city attorney came under criticism for going ahead with the ill-fated public-private partnership to build a mega-sports center on Hensley Field before he had fully investigated its legal propriety. Another speaker pointed out how easily staff could have determined the park was purchased with federal funds, putting it off-limits to the kind of partnership proposed by The St. James Group.

Studies have shown substantially lower obesity among children who live closer to parks, so the public’s concern about Hensley Field is well founded. I believe, though, criticizing the city attorney is not well founded when it appears he merely was doing what his client wanted. His client did vote to go full-speed ahead, brushing aside a minority’s cautionary urgings.

The city attorney’s past advice resulted in city council voting three times on the waterfront. This advice proved accurate in the long run, because the third vote successfully mooted a lawsuit from “The Iron Ladies” — a lawsuit that had to be filed after city council’s egregious refusal to accept residents’ appeal during the waterfront plan public hearing.

I observe staff often trying to protect the public, only to be brushed aside by city council. For example, the September 21 session revealed that staff had tried to protect nearby residences by insisting a proposed gelato shop close its outside dining by 9 p.m. The applicant had objected but agreed to a planning commission compromise allowing later hours in the summer (defined as a range of particular dates). Our city council, without even being asked by the applicant, rejected the compromise — and allowed the applicant the later hours all year long.

Staff often tries to protect the public, even while city council — which went years without giving staff a pay raise — tramples its recommendations to serve narrow special interests. Surely, suffering this backhanded treatment must cause the best junior staffers to leave for such places as Montgomery, Arlington and Fairfax counties.

Staff may occasionally do things that warrant criticism, but residents should be more careful about criticizing city employees when the real culprits are those to which they answer.

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