Integrity is a word that’s tossed around a lot, including by us. Do we aspire to be people of integrity, a community of integrity, a city of integrity? And what do we mean when we use the word?
To some, integrity is not violated so long as the letter of the law is not broken. That’s the “anything goes in love and war” approach to integrity, except it’s applied to everything, not just love and war.
To others, the concept of “my word is my bond” governs their actions. The notion that what’s legal is not necessarily moral prevails. Following this path is more difficult, and sometimes results in not getting all of what we want, when we want it.
The first definition is an attitude that seems to be gaining traction in an era defined by increasing rancor.
In Alexandria, examples abound of people and institutions acting in an “anything goes” manner. Three in recent years stand out:
1) When former Mayor Bill Euille refused to accept the result of the Democratic primary for mayor in 2015, after he lost to Allison Silberberg in a three-way race, and waged a write-in campaign that November. It was an unseemly ending to what had been an inspiring political career for Alexandria’s first Black mayor.
2) When Alexandria City Public Schools and City Council reneged on a widely accepted oral pledge to the Black residents of the Woods neighborhood that the football field at Alexandria’s high school, which abuts their property, would never be lighted. This commitment to not lighting the field was referenced in special use permits when the high school was rebuilt in the 2000s, but then disregarded in 2018. Several ensuing lawsuits cost the city millions in legal fees and resulted in a court ruling that strictly governs the use of the lighted field.
3) The current refusal of Inova Alexandria Hospital to abide by a private agreement it negotiated and signed with the Seminary Hills Association in 2001 to not seek rezoning until 2027. The exact language in that agreement states Inova is “… not to apply for a rezoning to the RA Zone or other less restrictive zoning district of the Principal Hospital Parcels for a period of 25 years from the date such application is approved by City Council.”
Note this agreement does not state that actual building is not to take place for 25 years, as City Councilor Amy Jackson asserted in the Times front-page story “What’s up with Inova?” It clearly says Inova is “not to apply for a rezoning” (italics added) during the 25-year period – and yet Inova has already applied for rezoning, which council has already approved.
Perhaps the courts, where this dispute may be headed, will agree with Inova’s assertion that the agreement with SHA became void when SHA voiced support for Inova’s request to the city to rezone the parcel to RB, which allows for greater density than the original agreement but not for apartments and condominiums.
Perhaps SHA should have had better internal processes that ensured important documents and agreements were passed down to its leaders through the years, so it wasn’t caught unaware by this.
But it seems to us that Inova should have known, from its copy of the private agreement, that it was obligated to renegotiate with SHA before moving forward with a rezoning request.
Inova Alexandria Hospital is a nonprofit provider of healthcare, a field in which the motto is “do no harm.” A prior Inova executive negotiated an agreement with SHA back in 2001 that former SHA President William Dickinson told the Times he believes is legally binding.
Institutions are run and represented by people, and all people have that internal voice – which admittedly may be faint from years of neglect – telling us when we’re doing something wrong. Having integrity entails listening to that voice.