Our View: New year, new leaders

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(Photo Credit: Alexa Epitropoulos)
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The new calendar year often seems a bit superfluous, coming right in the middle of the existing school and fiscal years. A third grader is still a third grader on Jan. 1. Likewise, FY2019 city projects are underway, not just beginning.

But, as the musician Brad Paisley said on New Year’s Eve, “Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one.” That blank book, or clean slate, of a new year does offer opportunities for fresh beginnings. Whether last year’s book was scintillating, dull or horrific, it’s time to put it aside and start a new one.

The biggest noticeable difference when January begins is that new political leaders take office. At the national level, it means new members of Congress will assume their seats and control of the House of Representatives will shift from Republicans to Democrats.

In Alexandria, our new mayor, Justin Wilson, and members of city council were sworn in last night. Joining Wilson on the dais are four newcomers – Canek Aguirre, new Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Amy Jackson and Mo Seifeldein – along with incumbents John Chapman and Del Pepper.

On Monday evening, school board members will take their oath of office, with newcomers Meagan Alderton, Jacinta Greene, Michelle Rief, Chris Suarez and Heather Thornton joining incumbents Cindy Anderson, Ramee Gentry, Margaret Lorber and Veronica Nolan on that body.

This means that more than half – nine out of 16 – of Alexandria’s elected officials will be newcomers, while Wilson is occupying a new role. That’s a lot of change all at once.

It will be fascinating to see how it all plays out. The new school board is jumping into the midst of an ongoing process to alleviate a capacity crunch at T.C. Williams High School, plus its members will also have to deal with serious school maintenance problems. A vote for a path forward on capacity alleviation is slated for later this month.

We continue to believe that a larger conversation around whether the long-term solution is one brick-and-mortar high school or two should occur along with planning for immediate capacity alleviation.

Meanwhile, new Mayor Wilson is hitting the ground running, with council members already assigned to committees, commissions and boards as that body gears up for the FY2020 budget cycle. See our page one story, “Justin Wilson steps into the mayoral office,” for an in-depth look at the new mayor’s plans.

We think Wilson is smart, well-versed in local policies and processes and likely to be successful in implementing his agenda. However, his backing of seemingly endless development as a budgetary cure-all does give us pause. Development should be one tool in the budgetary toolbox, not the only or even primary one – with spending restraint and line-item audits being additional key elements.

There are unintended, and often unforeseen, consequences to an over-reliance on development, with traffic congestion, pollution and school overcrowding being just a few. Those consequences negatively impact livability, which should be considered with each development decision.

Finally, the new year brings new roles for some of us at the Alexandria Times. Our outstanding former reporter and photographer, Missy Schrott, has been promoted to managing editor and will eventually assume the editor’s mantle in 2019. And we are pleased to announce that Cody Mello-Klein, a talented writer and photographer, is our new reporter.

Keep an eye out for new looks and series in the Times this year. We launched one new initiative, an ongoing examination of our city’s parks, with this week’s page one story on Windmill Hill Park. We have a lot more in store for our readers in 2019.

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