Our View: Hopes for a new city council session

Our View: Hopes for a new city council session
Alexandria City Council

City council kicks off 2018 – and the third year of this council term – with its first meeting of the New Year on Tuesday night.

Many important issues will be considered during the coming six months, and the Jan. 20 public hearing is chock full of important discussions and decisions. We hope Alexandria’s citizens are paying attention and are ready to engage. Though the holidays are over, below is our wish list for the rest of this term.

It’s important to remember that while routine issues are being considered, our legislative body is also in the midst of an election season, which will certainly color dialogue and actions taken. If the pattern holds true to the past two election cycles, there will either be no or a small increase in the local tax rate this spring.

Even if given for cynical reasons, a respite from higher taxes would be welcome following last year’s mammoth 5.7-cent hike.

Like the all-SEC college football championship to be played between Georgia and Alabama on Monday night, the real maneuvering these next few months will be a one-party affair as local Democrats continue to declare their candidacies for council. Robert Ray recently announced he will run, bringing the total so far to four candidates who will join four more incumbents vying to be on the Democratic slate. While local Republicans are also likely to run, it’s been many election cycles since the GOP has had a contested primary with more than six candidates.

And as most residents know, Vice Mayor Justin Wilson announced last fall that he will challenge incumbent Mayor Allison Silberberg to be the Democratic candidate for mayor. Our wish for this primary season, particularly in the mayoral contest, is that the candidates and their surrogates avoid cheap shots and keep the dialogue civil.

We also hope, at the Jan. 20 public hearing, council decides to take a less authoritarian route than is being proposed on parking.

While the proposal is being couched in pro-business language, it is not helpful to businesses for government to limit the amount of parking they can provide for their customers. As a representative from a restaurant association recently told the parking reduction task force, if there’s not enough parking, diners will go elsewhere. In a nutshell: Alexandria businesses lose if there’s not enough parking.

Also up for discussion on Jan. 20 are recommendations from the city-schools task force. We agree that a better process is needed for prioritizing capital improvements projects. We are also hopeful that processes will be changed in two other important CIP-related areas: first, that the city, fire department and Alexandria City Public Schools stop operating as separate silos regarding maintenance. Cost savings can be achieved if maintenance of all city facilities is integrated.

Most importantly, we hope a new process emerges from this discussion that results in better oversight of building projects citywide. Schools and other public buildings have come in significantly over budget for far too long, wasting precious resources.

We hope more public/private projects for affordable housing like that at the Church of the Resurrection are on the horizon. It would also be nice to see clear timeframes for meeting Alexandria’s obligation to fix its outfalls into the Potomac River.

Finally, we look forward to finally having a public hearing on ethics policy in Alexandria. As a refresher, Silberberg made ethics reform a major part of her campaign for mayor in 2015.

Though council created a task force to study ethics in Alexandria, the measure that was passed had no teeth and the issue was discussed at two legislative meetings rather than at a public hearing. This means council and the city manager deliberately avoided public
input on ethics – something we condemned at the time.

But the measure that was passed contains the following requirement: “Include in a public hearing during each term a review of the effectiveness of this code of ethics and conduct” –
meaning that in 2018, the public will finally get a say on ethics in Alexandria.

We eagerly await that discussion