Each September should be of interest to every Alexandria resident. Not because it means the end of swampy humidity or the long-awaited final wilting of another woeful Nationals season, but because it is the beginning of another kind of season the kind in which our elected officials comprising the City Council make policies affecting each and every resident either directly or indirectly.
Council is charged with listening to constituents, discussing issues and attuning policies to the city, reflecting those voices as best they can, though sometimes they make judgment calls (which they are elected to do) that may be disagreeable to individual residents. Some pay attention to city politics because of politics, and some because of policy, but it is pertinent to everyday life in the city whether or not you know the mayors name.
Our view for the upcoming legislative year is one of expectation and realistic hope. The citys band of leaders includes a new diversity of convictions and character on which it must capitalize with discourse and compromise in the citys best interest. A difference in opinions elicits critical discussions, leading to informed and multifaceted judgment calls that at least provide a deeper understanding of an issue for all parties involved, even if unanimity is lacking.
That being said, we hold certain issues high on the docket and believe that this policymaking year, characterized in part by a lackadaisical economy and new voices on Council, provides an atypical opportunity to carry some of them out. Though it provides the same opportunity for harsh realities to exhibit themselves, too.
In the wake of a recession, spending money to make money seems like the best way to use money. Catering to local businesses and attracting new ones should be an overriding concern this year, especially in the short term, as should other economic development strategies like enhancing the citys tourism pull. In the meantime, major development projects that will bring in substantial dollars to the city like the redevelopment of Landmark Mall and Potomac Yard, should be cohesively planned though implemented relatively earnestly per the citys financial ability as long-term solutions to diversifying the citys residential-dependent tax base.
Some leaders have pledged to catalyze these issues and acting on those pledges is paramount. Enhanced economic development now will provide a trickle-down of dollars to regain city services and programs that are crucial to the quality of life for city residents from all income levels.
The slow economy has victimized all rungs of society but perhaps it is the low-income residents that feel the harshest blow. The social safety net, or network of nonprofits and city services, needs attention that we know the City Council can deliver. The recession can actually be seen as a blessing in disguise in this sense; the mentality of the City Council right now is one of frugality, providing an opportunity to readdress where and how money is spent on social programs to mitigate overlapping and wasteful spending. Reorganizing, retaining and regaining programs catering to long-term sustainability are a higher priority than short-term fixes. Focusing on early childhood education, job training, financial education and home-ownership education to the homeless or at-risk homeless residents, for instance, influences social mobility, leading to a higher quality of life and more participants in the citys economy.
Creating a comprehensive affordable and workforce housing plan, which is on the docket this year, is key to the success of individual sustainability. Alexandria must be an accessible place for the array of individuals to which it is home. The Council has been cognizant of these issues in the past, and the new group has the ability to coalesce their ideas into more action under the umbrella of a streamlined, more efficient economy.
One major municipal earthquake that we would like to see smoothed over is the issue of moving local elections to November, which the last City Council pushed through at the tail end of its term in what was rightfully perceived as a political motion by a sitting-duck governing body. The move had support by many residents, but the opposition was louder and seemingly greater in number, despite the outcome. The job is only half-done and will continue to smack of rushed, partisan action until the specifics are laid out over the tenure of this City Council. The local election schedule needs further amendments so that municipal elections never coincide with national elections, by creating four-year terms if necessary, or staggered terms to mitigate overshadowing of the local election by national politics. The compromise would go far in the name of cooperation and would better reflect the citys many and varied voices.
The new year of policymaking comes with new opportunities out of somewhat bleak realities. A newly diverse City Council should induce dynamic conversations and well-rounded, well-represented solutions to the citys issues by which every resident is affected.