By Mayor Allison Silberberg
I want to thank you, residents of Alexandria, for this great honor of serving as your mayor. This is a time for a new, shared sense of purpose, to paraphrase former U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. The priorities of our citizens speak to us. The question is: what will future generations say when they look back at our actions?
Alexandria should be a national leader in ethics and transparency. There are ethics commissions all across our nation, and countless universities and think tanks are focusing on this very topic. Our interests should not be driven by a problematic situation. In other words, we should repair the roof while the sun is shining.
We have many city commissions, including a beautification commission, but we don’t have an ethics advisory commission. The employees of our city sign an ethics pledge. Our elected leadership should be held to the same standard. As one of our first council decisions this year, we should establish a study group to look at these matters and report back to city council in the spring. I believe we must create an ethics advisory commission to educate and advise us and do so only in a forward-looking way, setting a higher standard for us all. Our citizens want it, and future generations will thank us.
So I say to Alexandrians from the West End to Old Town, let us think about what is possible. I ask for your input, energy, and active support. Together we will forge ahead and make a difference for the sake of our beloved city.
Below is a note I sent in mid-December to my colleagues on the incoming city council.
“Following our informal discussions, I would like to move toward a consensus that in 2016 we will begin to establish Alexandria as a national leader in ethical standards. The input from many of you has been very helpful.
“To help develop proposals for consideration by city council and the public, I would appreciate your continued consultation and participation. As I have mentioned, the purpose of an ethics commission is to educate and advise. Our work will pay off in better government, improved citizen confidence in our work, and increased attractiveness of Alexandria for new businesses.
“The path for this work has been paved by others in years past. There were the campaign finance reform efforts of city councilors Justin Wilson and Paul Smedberg, along with then-City Councilor Rob Krupicka in 2008. With this note to city council, I attach their October 28, 2008, memo. A few years later, city employees developed an ethics initiative. At the state level in 2015, the Governor’s Commission on Integrity and Public Confidence in State Government has proposed new ethics standards.
“We all have seen rising citizen interest in the subject. Yesterday, the Alexandria Federation of Civic Associations sent us a letter recommending the creation of an ethics commission. Communities all across the country have such a body, which provides guidance to its elected leadership.
“I propose that we adopt a resolution to establish a Transparency Study Group to look at these matters. The study group would look primarily at three areas: an ethics pledge, areas of focus regarding ethics, and structures and duties of a future ethics advisory commission. In 2004, Fauquier County adopted an 18-point ethics resolution, and this can help guide us all. With this note, I attach Fauquier County’s resolution. Both attachments will be on my website, www.allisonsilberberg.com.
“I propose that the study group be comprised of seven members and that they be requested to report recommendations to council by March 31. The seven members would come from the following: the mayor would select the chairperson; council would select three members; and one member would be sent from each of the following: the Alexandria Bar Association, the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce and the Alexandria Federation of Civic Associations.
“In short, my immediate proposal will be for council to establish a study group to report back to us with recommendations for an ethics pledge, an ethics code, and an advisory commission. As you know, in December I asked the city attorney for an opinion in order to properly prepare for council action in January.
“I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts and working with each of you. Thank you very much.”
The writer is the mayor of Alexandria.