Behind the Dais – City Government Could See Independent Inquiry

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Alexandrias city government could be subject to an investigation by a third party if the Cameron Station Civic Association gets its way. Last week, the organization requested that the City Council take an independent inquiry into consideration to flesh out how a potentially explosive ethanol transfer station occupied the West End without the citys knowledge or capability to fight an ethanol fire, last April.

Close to 1,000 internal city emails have been released since June indicating a breadth of miscommunication on the part of both city officials and Norfolk Southern Corporation, the company that set up shop and transferred the highly flammable chemical in the backyard of Samuel Tucker Elementary School and the Cameron Station and Summers Grove housing developments.

Despite various city officials and NSC employees admitting flaws, effected residents are still outraged.

My neighbors and I believe the City Council will agree that the ramifications of the staffs reaction and inaction on this subject for the past 12 months and even before are very serious and far reaching, said CSCA President Ingrid Sanden at a public hearing last Saturday. Not only has this situation helped erode our confidence and trust in our city government, we were also left with no way to fight this facility before it was completed.

The City Council last week voted four to three to discuss the inquiry outside of a closed-door executive session. It then added the item to next Tuesdays meeting docket when discussion of a request from community members for an independent inquiry of actions related to the Norfolk Southern ethanol transloading facility will occur.

Mayor Bill Euille and Council members are taking a pragmatic approach to the delicate situation; the entire city government not just the Council would be affected by the inquiry. However, because the city has already released scores of internal email correspondence, official letters and a timeline of events, officials are uncertain what more can be divulged.

I dont know whats going to happen Tuesday night other than the fact that its a docket item, Mayor Bill Euille said by phone Wednesday. I dont see any formal action taking place [Tuesday], not to say we are or are not going to do anything. Well have a lively discussion and take the next steps.

Officials expressed the need for a succinct description of what the outside examination would address before they act on it. Councilman Paul Smedberg, who voted to take the inquiry suggestion public, wanted to know the purpose and scope of such an idea. Ive never heard anyone articulate that clearly enough for me yet, he said. It would be helpful to have a very clear articulation of what [the CSCA] envisions. What kind of information do they hope to gain, what do they feel is missing? Its important to have this open session to figure out what it is that everybody wants.

Sanden was one of three citizens to speak in support of the investigation and she said her cause has gained significant support from other organizations. She did not specify exactly what she envisioned, only that if an inquiry were to occur it would have to be completely separate from the city managers office.

Our goal is not, as some have suggested, to have heads roll at City Hall Our goal is to prevent this type of egregious lapse in judgment from ever happening again in Alexandria and getting back to being able to trust and respect our city government, Sanden said.

Though officials are still unsure how Tuesday will play out, Mayor Euille does not expect complacency. Its our job to intelligently discuss and respond to the matter, he said. I thing the response may ultimately be that we will do something, maybe with some parameters. He added that Council has not yet had many conversations about the matter, but he expects more ideas from both city officials and private citizens to surface as Tuesdays meeting approaches.

The City Councils next legislative session is Tuesday, Sept. 23, at City Hall.

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