To the editor:
It is regrettable that members of City Council and the Alexandria Planning Commission were not in the audience for the Zoom meeting on Feb. 10, convened jointly by the Seminary Hill Association, the Wakefield-Tarleton Civic Association and the Clover-College Park Civic Association.
What made it such a memorable evening was the public debut of new City Manager Jim Parajon, speaking not to staff, but to Alexandria citizens. Straightforward, knowledgeable and engaging, and only three weeks on the job, he said his new role calls for “a lot of listening” and that he “will be collaborative” in working with the residents.
Parajon noted that he will welcome involvement by the many Alexandria civic associations in future city deliberations. Inclusion will be part of his approach, the new city manager said, adding that he wanted to “be sure that every voice that wanted to be heard had that chance.” He stressed that his approach to civic associations and residents was “making sure that they received the information they wanted.”
He said he sees working with civic associations “as a great opportunity for engagement. … I like to get out in front of the issues. If we aren’t, it limits the options.”
Following his remarks, Parajon took questions from the audience for almost 90 minutes.
Carter Flemming, SHA president, told Parajon that, in recent years, many civic associations agreed that “there was an unwillingness to be heard” by city staff. Another audience member cited “the utter disdain” by some city staff toward public input, including in scientific decisions affecting the city.
“I believe in science,” Parajon stressed. “Science is an important aspect in making a decision. Doing the right thing is how I want my staff to operate.”
Erin Winograd of the Wakefield-Tarleton Civic Association told Parajon of the strong citizen “opposition to the Duke Street Transit Way. It was shoved down our throats.” She asked the new city manager to advise the city staff “to stop pushing tremendous density along this [Duke Street] corridor.” She noted that there is a “difference between being heard and having what we say being factored into the action. A lot of people [on the staff] making these decisions don’t live here.” And Winograd talked of the “utter disdain” of some city staffers as they rejected scientific data on Taylor Run and relied instead on outside contractors who were using incorrect data.
Prior to Parajon’s arrival, there had been very little listening recently by some city staff, the Planning Commission and City Council, especially with land use decisions.
On March 5, Parajon held another outreach Zoom call, this time with the members of 22 civic associations who are under the West End Coalition of Alexandria civic associations. And, again, he answered questions for 90 minutes. He also accepted invitations to “walk the neighborhood” offered by some attendees who will point out problem areas in their areas.
I encourage City Council and planning staff and T&ES staff to follow the lead of our new city manager who declares publicly to residents that he is listening and that he plans on a collaborative approach for his new job.
That’s a good start.
-Kathleen M. Burns, Alexandria