To the editor:
Mayor Justin Wilson appropriately insists that the field lighting special-use permit need not be revisited, even after the public has belatedly discovered that the light poles block the running track’s lanes, something presumably City Councilors knew at the time, but did not tell the public, when they voted to approve the special-use permit.
Many of us who testified exhorted City Council to include the claims staff made about the lighting proposal in the special-use permit, to no avail; City Council approved the special-use permit with but one condition, that it be brought back for review after five years. City Council clearly foresaw there might be issues which later arise and changes which need to be made in order to accomplish lighting the playing fields and gave staff carte blanche to make whatever revisions proved apt.
Community leaders, however, should blame City Council, not staff, and, as with so much of what happens at city hall, put the pieces together to figure out what went on out of public view.
At the City Council hearing, a large contingent from the Alexandria Soccer Association was present in the room and among those speaking in favor of the special-use permit. In all likelihood, the Alexandria Soccer Association was the impetus behind lighting these fields. The Alexandria Soccer Association, recognizable by its white-shield logo on many vehicles and front doors around town, has its offices in the same building as the Parks, Recreation & Cultural Affairs Department.
Presumably, the soccer association pitched this request first to the department. But in 2021, the department had issued a report complaining about hundreds of unused programmable hours at convenient times, so, quite plausibly, the department might have turned down a request from the soccer association.
The Alexandria Soccer Association is a premier charitable organization serving thousands of Alexandria children, many of whose parents vote, so the organization may have next taken this request to elected officials, explaining, as some did during the hearing, that the department’s unused programmable hours weren’t convenient for players and their parents.
Showing that organized entities focused on a special interest get better treatment from the government than unorganized groups or the general or public interest won economist James Buchanan a Nobel Prize. It’s not a stretch to posit that’s what happened in this instance. Now the School Board watches in silence as its running track is defaced. Are they fearful of crossing 1,000 potential voters who might turn out in next year’s election around this issue?
Regrettably, we do not have a city bureaucracy which functions like the one in the British sitcom, “Yes, Minister,” where the institutional bureaucracy feigned allegiance to the party in power’s program, only to subordinate and even confound it in favor of the bureaucracy’s long-term self-interest.
Staff in Alexandria are expected to take direction from elected officials and take the heat for elected officials’ decisions so the elected officials escape true accountability. Community leaders should never fall for politicians’ sleight of hand when this happens and should always focus our ire on our elected officials, not on staff constrained to follow orders or risk dismissal.
-Dino Drudi, Alexandria