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After One Year in Office ... "I Love Being Mayor"

Euille critical of School Board, superintendent.

Despite rumors to the contrary, Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille said that he has made no announcement that he will serve only one term in his current office.

The rumors around the city began after Euille made an appearance at a recent meeting of the Alexandria Rotary Club. “I’ve talked to a number of people who were at that luncheon and none of us can figure out just how that rumor got started,” Euille said. “I love being mayor of the city where I have lived all of my life and I plan to seek re-election two years from now. After that, who knows? The only reason that I would not serve as mayor of Alexandria in two years is if the voters decide that they would prefer someone else.”

Euille reflected on his first year as mayor. “It was a very busy year and we accomplished a lot,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I think we accomplished more this year than in any one year that I have served on Council.

“We accomplished a great deal related to open space; we cut the real estate tax rate even further than we cut it last year and we dealt with some very complex development issues.

“I am not saying that the year was easy because it was not,” Euille said. “We had four new Council members this year and I was learning a new job. The seven of us didn’t always agree but everyone got to express his or her opinion on every subject on which they wished to express an opinion. I don’t expect people to agree all of the time – that’s what this is all about.”

Euille realizes that there are many challenges confronting City Council in the next few months. “First, we have to hire a new city manager,” he said. “And that search has begun.”

The current city manager, Philip Sunderland, resigned in June, stating that he wished to pursue other opportunities. “We will all miss Phil but he really feels that he wishes to explore other opportunities,” Euille said. “We wish him the best.”

THE CITY HAS hired a search firm based in Falls Church to conduct a national search to fill the job. City Council appointed a working committee to meet with the search firm to provide input on what qualifications are desirable in a city manager. The committee is comprised of representatives from a number of civic and business organizations and two citizen members-at-large.  Euille and Councilman Paul Smedberg, represent Council on the committee.

“The committee met with the search firm for about two hours and it was a very good session,” Smedberg said. “The members of the committee had copies of the profile that was used when a previous Council was hiring Phil and some other background. Their comments were very helpful.”

On July 13, Council met in executive session to further refine the profile that the committee and members of Council had worked to develop. Some Alexandrians expressed concern that the meeting was not open to the public.

“Personnel actions are one of the few exceptions to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act,” Euille said. “Members of Council have a right and a responsibility to have an open and frank discussion about the qualifications that we want in the next city manager. These comments could invoke the name of the current city manager in reference to qualities that we want and could invoke the name of someone in reference to qualities that we don’t want. Those comments in no way reflect on the over-all job that the person did but are just guidance to the search firm and those discussions should not be held in public. When the profile is completed, it will be made public, of course.”

Ads are already appearing in association magazines around the country. Resumes are due by the end of August. Council will receive up to 25 resumes in September and then will identify six to eight candidates that members wish to interview. From there, two to three finalists will be selected.

“Once the finalists are identified, some members of Council will make trips to the cities where those candidates currently work,” Euille said. “We hope to have someone under contract by Oct. 15 and on board here in the city by the first of December.”

Sunderland has agreed to remain in the position until a new city manager is under contract. Citizens who wish to have input into developing a city manager profile can complete an online survey on the city’s web site at www.ci.alexandria.va.us.

<roSchool Board Concerns

<bt>In addition to hiring a new city manager, Euille said he is concerned with recent School Board activities. Against Euille’s advice, the Board voted to retain Superintendent Rebecca L. Perry after her April 23 arrest for drunk driving and then gave her a 6.5 percent salary increase in June. Now, there is a petition drive to remove Board member Melissa W. Luby from office. Also, at the July 1 Board meeting, the Board elected Molly Danforth as vice chair, replacing the previous vice chair, Gwendolyn Lewis.

“The Board is certainly facing a number of challenges,” Euille said. “Everywhere I go in Alexandria, people are talking about what’s been going on. I don’t believe that the superintendent should have been given a raise but that was their decision. I expressed my opinion and they chose to do something else – that’s their right.”

Euille said he is concerned that Board members have lost touch with their community. “I served on the School Board for 10 years and have been a Council member and now the mayor,” he said. “I go to any number of school events and there are no School Board members present. How can you know what’s happening if you aren’t around? I’m not saying that they never go into the schools but I can tell you that I have certainly attended school functions throughout the city and they were not there.”

THAT IS A problem for Perry as well, according to Euille. “I have spoken to teachers who tell me that the only time they see the superintendent is when she makes her welcome speech at the beginning of the year,” he said. “I have known school superintendents since I attended T. C. Williams and I have never heard that said of any other superintendent.

“She also does not attend city functions. Most of the people who live in Alexandria don’t have children in the school system but everyone pays taxes,” he said. “One third of the city budget goes to support our public schools. I would think that the superintendent would want not only to know what’s happening in the schools but what people are thinking in the community.”

The mayor said that this lack of visibility with Board members and the superintendent could make it very difficult to obtain any further city funding for a new T. C. Williams High School. Before construction begins, the school is already going to cost nearly $20 million more than the School Board requested.

“When I saw that estimate I suspected that it was very low,” Euille said. “I have worked in construction for a long time and it just didn’t look reasonable to me. I suspect that it could get even higher because it is very unusual to have a project of this magnitude that does not require changes.

“I have made it clear that there really is no more city money available for this project. We have other capital needs that are critical in the next five to six years. The school system has identified $2.5 million in additional funding from the state’s increased sales tax that is earmarked for T. C. Also, they have agreed to find the rest of the money that they will need by deferring capital projects throughout the school system. This could be a problem depending on how much money they ultimately need and what projects are deferred.

"Many of our schools are old and need new roofs and heating and air conditioning systems. I hear that they are planning to defer Minnie Howard construction for three to four years. Again, it’s their call but I think parents are getting very concerned.”

Euille said that the school system may have to scale back the design at T. C. “One of the things that I am going to suggest is that they not build a full stadium at the school and use the new all-city sports facility as we have suggested. This could save several million dollars, I would think,” he said.