Letter to the Editor: Alexandria needs an ethics ombudsman

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To the editor:

Allison Silberberg, the outgoing mayor of Alexandria, recently suggested that a permanent ethics commission be established by the incoming city council, which is something council refused to do during her term. Without a citizens’ ethics commission, or even better, an ombudsman, how will Alexandria provide ethics oversight? Other jurisdictions have faced up to this challenge, yet Alexandria remains mired in timidity, indifference and hesitation concerning oversight of ethics.

It is unfathomable that city council, city staff and various boards and commissions have never encountered ethics dilemmas, especially concerning management of new developments. As an example, although there are zoning laws that have been in existence for years, a developer often need only make a quid pro quo “proffer” of $100,000 or so to Bikeshare in order to build a structure that is at variance from the enacted zoning laws of the community. This “pay to play” brings up a number of potential ethics concerns, yet no one seems to curb this business practice that has been tolerated over the years.

For years, I have stated that Alexandria needs an ombudsman to investigate potential fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement and corruption. This office would operate as an independent directorate. The head should be elected to this job in a non-partisan manner for a period of at least five years. The ombudsman should demonstrate a high degree of integrity, and have professional credentials in accounting, auditing, investigations and public administration. I would envision that the ombudsman would perform audits, inspections and generally conduct in-depth investigations of the city’s programs. There is no doubt that millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money could be saved annually.

The website of the Toronto, Canada ombudsman says it all: “We promote fairness in city services. We help the public resolve problems with the city. We help the city serve the public better. We investigate, we mediate, we find solutions and recommend system improvements. We help the city to hold itself accountable in its duty to provide services that work for people. Our work makes Toronto a better place to live, work, play and do business.”

Is there any reason why we deserve less?

-Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet, Alexandria

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