Tradition holds that Arlington’s governing body should meet on New Year’s Day, starting the new year with a meeting that lets citizens know how the county will operate in the coming year.
County Board members obliged on Jan. 1, 2004, with a meeting outlining their planned initiatives for the coming year — following through on some old promises, and a new initiative from the new chair, designed to emphasize the “Arlington Way.”
Arlingtonians responded as they traditionally do: the seats in the Board Room at the county government building were full of Board members’ friends and families, with activists, with former and current county leaders and with interested Arlington residents.
Paul Ferguson, the 2003 Board chair, announced before the holidays that Barbara Favola would take over as chair for 2004. She did, on New Year’s Day, following a unanimous vote by her four board colleagues. The board named Jay Fisette as 2004 vice chair. As she began her address as board chair, Favola noted the events of the year past.
“The beginning of a new year always inspires one to take stock of a year gone by, and to dream about possibilities for tomorrow,” she said. “The initial shock and sadness we experienced over the passing of our dear friend Charles Monroe, last year, turned to an even stronger commitment to the ideals that Charles exemplified.”
That said, Favola said she would push to ensure that a high-tech conference center, one of Monroe’s priorities in his Jan. 1 speech last year, would move towards completion this year.
“This center will be ideal for mid-size conferences that are too big for hotel ballroom spaces and too small for the D.C. Convention Center,” she said. “It is my hope that the location and the design of the project will be decided by the end of 2004.”
In 2003, the county explored the possibility of putting a conference center on the site of a planned massive development in Pentagon City. That site, and others, are still on the table for negotiations in 2004.
Arlington has a tradition of naming county buildings for deceased board members, and board members have considered the possibility that the conference center, once built, could be named for Monroe. That will only be an option in 2008, however, since such honors can only be bestowed five years after the death of the honoree.
<b>AS A NEW INITIATIVE,</b> Favola announced plans for a Civic Engagement Institute, to build up civic engagement among Arlingtonians in their 20s. “This institute would consist of several components,” said Favola, “a resource center, enhanced volunteer outreach and training programs for community leaders.”
The resource center will be organized at the county libraries, and available online at the county government Web page.
In addition, Favola said, a Civic Engagement Institute would could mean making better connections between young working adults in Arlington and volunteer opportunitities to mentor, clean up the environment, or take part in other community-building activities.
Favola also pledged to stress continued work on long-time Arlington priorities: making the county more walkable, with increased trails; increasing economic sustainability by diversifying the county’s business base, in part with construction of the conference center; and upping the availability of affordable housing.
In fact, in the first two meetings that Favola will chair this year, the Board is set to consider an expanded affordable home ownership program and increased site plan requirements for developments, designed to increase the amount of affordable units in the county.
Those follow on the heels of new goals for affordable housing, adopted by the Board during their final meeting of 2003. “With the ambitious goals and targets we adopted … the Board in effect ‘threw our hat over the wall,’” said Board member Chris Zimmerman. “Two more steps are necessary to put in place policy that genuinely seeks to achieve them.”
<b>OTHER BOARD</b> members echoed Favola’s commitments to expanding affordable housing and making the county economy more sustainable into the future.
At the same time, they noted that the county could be helped or hurt by tax reform discussions that will take place during the coming General Assembly session.
“We will either become stronger partners with a more secure future,” said Fisette, “or the state will become our Achilles’ heel, cutting our funds and flexibility while further shifting the burden of maintaining services to us.”
Walter Tejada came to the board in March 2003, after winning a special election to serve out the remainder of Monroe’s term. With the Jan. 1 meeting, he began his first full term as a County Board member, while coming closer to his one-year anniversary on the county’s governing body.
So while other members talked on Jan. 1 about long-standing commitments during their board service, Tejada took the opportunity to lay out some new goals for himself.
<b>FOREMOST AMONG</B> them will be a push to implement an Office of the Public Defender, a publicly funded defense attorney’s office paralleling the prosecutors in the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney.
Legislation allowing the implementation of such an office was already submitted by Arlington legislators for consideration by the General Assembly, with Del. Adam Ebbin (D-49) sponsoring the bill in the house and state Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (D-31) in the upper chamber.
“With the help of our delegation … Arlington will join the rest of Northern Virginia in providing better justice for our indigent residents,” said Tejada, noting that increased case loads have made the current system of court-appointed attorneys untenable.