When I ran for City Council this past year, as part of my platform I said, “Together we can ensure inclusive, accountable, transparent government.” It is a conviction that to this day I stand behind and the reason I did not cast a vote for a citizen appointment to the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority at our City Council meeting last Tuesday. I still hold my position that Alexandria citizens without an inside government track did not have ample opportunity upon having actual knowledge of the ARHA vacancy to timely apply.
My writing today is not about ARHA. My writing today is about fair procedure and fair process. I further hold that we as a City Council need to provide more stringent guidance to when board and commission vacancies are advertised. I believe this measure is imperative to ensuring fundamental fairness to the public we have been elected to serve by providing open and full discourse properties inherent to ensuring transparent government.
Admittedly, resignations from city boards and commissions can come in to our clerk’s office multiple times a week. As a general matter, they are placed on Council dockets within about two weeks of receipt. However, I take issue when vacant positions resulting from resignations are advertised and circulated through Alexandria e-News or any other medium before Council formally accepts resignations. This recently happened with the resignation of Kerry Ann Powell from the ARHA Board. The facts are these: 1.) Ms. Powell submitted a letter of resignation on January 20. 2.) Ms. Powell’s resignation was placed on the January 26 Council docket for formal acceptance. 3.) The advertised vacancy to fill Ms. Powell’s seat on the ARHA Board closed on January 29, just three days after Council formally accepted the resignation.
Who had time to apply? Obviously, two people did and imagine the wonder of this: Both had members of Council listed as references on their applications. What about the public at-large, who we as members may not know personally but who may be quite qualified and worthy of consideration?
Clearly, the ARHA vacancy was advertised before Council action. I consider this action a disservice to the public because there is not a full and fair opportunity for the public at-large to decide to apply. While Council generally accepts resignations perfunctorily and without contest, the possibility of asking a board member to reconsider or not accept a resignation is not unthinkable.
Alexandria is fortunate to have an extraordinarily educated population and a remarkable talent pool. Ours is not a closed but should rather aspire to be an open government with fair opportunity of which everyone should be part. Appointments to city boards and commissions are the way that we as Council members can ensure the engagement of unengaged and under-engaged residents. We are not a government for select people but for all people and we have an obligation as a Council to promulgate policies that reflect the same. We should start by making changes to how we do business surrounding the appointments to our boards and commissions.
One of the benefits to diverse representation on Council is the diversity of viewpoints and perhaps greater discourse over issues. While at the end of the day my view may not have prevailed and caused a re-advertisement of the ARHA position, I hope that my sharing of my view has elucidated our need to consider change. How great it is that we live in a democracy and are entitled to share our diverse opinions to get to the best of what government has to offer.
Alicia Hughes is a member of the Alexandria City Council.