To the editor:
At the Sept. 14 public hearing on Seminary Road repaving, Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker criticized single-family residents and civic associations, claiming to have visited residents whom she believed to have been excluded from the Seminary Hill Association. She cited this as a major basis for her vote in support of trophy bike lanes. The vice mayor asserted that her research occurred “along Seminary Road,” basing it upon a map of SHA boundaries that was never validated for accuracy.
In fact, she used the wrong map.
Further, the vice mayor claimed – to the astonishment of many – that there were 3,000 residences that were ineligible for SHA membership and she was only able to knock on about 200 of these residences because “many of these [3,000] residences are not accessible.”
Bennett-Parker did not say why she attacked SHA for being unable to access residences that a sitting vice mayor could not. Nor did she say how many of the 200 residences she knocked on answered, or why she made no effort to treat the nearly 5,000 residents of SHA equally in gathering input and feedback to determine her vote on the road diet proposal.
We tried asking the vice mayor for information about where she got her numbers. We also asked about the general location of the residences she visited, specifically the 200 doors where she knocked.
She refused direct engagement and communicated only through staff. Her office failed to respond directly to our questions, despite our repeated attempts to get the facts. Instead, her office offered non-sequiturs and sent the map she used be- fore stonewalling completely.
For obvious reasons, it is alarming that the entire basis of the vice mayor’s personal canvassing and her vote on Seminary Road were based upon concealed research with many troubling inaccuracies. It is regrettable that Bennett-Parker chose not to validate the integrity of her research before attacking an entire civic association, and the broader civic association network across the city.
Seminary Hill and other civic associations personally met with her prior to the council hearing and she never raised her research. It would have been the ideal time to let her know that SHA’s expansion of membership was underway long before the trophy bike lane issue came before council. Instead, we got a condescending public soliloquy.
The ripple effects of the bad research were profound. Councilor Canek Aguirre went on an extended oratory criticizing Alexandria’s single-family residences and civic associations. Mayor Justin Wilson and Councilor Del Pepper joined in the attacks. Councilors John Chapman, Mo Seifeldein and Amy Jackson should be credited for seeing through the spin.
While we take the vice mayor at her word that she knocked on 200 residential doors somewhere in Alexandria, in light of her major errors and evasions, we will never know where this happened. Were the residents within SHA boundaries? How did she get the numbers she relied upon? What did she ask those residents she visited?
We can only stress the importance of transparency, integrity and fairness and encourage her, Wilson, Aguirre and Pepper to learn from this failure. We hope they will be more forthcoming and respectful of civic associations, which represent all Alexandrians – even the residents they made clear they would rather not have any more.
-Frank Putzu, Alexandria