Target Practice

Target Practice

By Michael Lee Pope

Last year’s experiment with setting budget targets is getting mixed reviews from City Manager Jim Hartmann. In an effort to be more responsive to public demands for accountability, the City Council set two targets for the city manager, requesting that the growth over last year’s budget be somewhere between 6 percent and 8.5 percent. The final budget ended up being $494 million, a 5.5-percent increase over the $478 budget council members voted for in 2005. In an Oct. 6 memorandum to City Council members, Hartmann praised the idea of the targets but criticized its execution.

“Last year the presentation of the budget was difficult for the public and the City Council to understand because it was difficult to know what the ‘starting point’ was for the debate,” Hartmann wrote. “The city manager’s proposed budget provides that starting point and last year it seemed as if the city manager had two starting points on the table.”

In the end, Hartmann recommended that City Council set one target next year.


Not Just an Idiot Box

During Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, council members took some time to watch television. They weren’t checking out a rerun of “Seinfeld” or the latest episode of “Dancing with the Stars.” Instead, they were viewing video clips from “The CK Connection,” Cora Kelly Elementary School’s public-access show that appears on the school system’s television channel.

On the flat-screen monitors mounted on the walls at City Hall, council members and the assembled audience watched vignettes about a book called “Loudmouth George and the Fishing Trip” and a motivational film encouraging students to perform well on Virginia’s standardized tests. The footage included Cora Kelly Principal Darren Reed doing a dance known as “the robot” and a cameo appearance from Mayor Bill Euille.

“The technology is only as good as the people who use it,” said Reed, who praised Cora Kelly Librarian Tim Nielson as the mastermind behind the slick televised skits. “This is a really good tool for us to communicate with parents too.”

Reed is the host of “CK Connection,” which can be seen on cable channel 71 on Fridays at 8 p.m. Each week, he interviews a special guest to provide parents and families with information to help them have a successful elementary school experience.

“Wow,” said Euille, who attended Lyles-Crouch Elementary School in the 1960s. “We didn’t have all of this when I was in school.”


Two Cents on Jones Point

With the Oct. 18 deadline for public input on Jones Point Park fast approaching, City Council voted this week to formalize its opposition to the National Park Service’s environmental assessment of several designs for the park. A majority of council members voted to reaffirm a previously approved proposal to build two full-size sports fields north of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge— a controversial plan that pits advocates of sports fields against neighborhood residents who live near the proposed site.

“I don’t think there’s anywhere in the city where we wouldn’t run into opposition if we wanted to put fields there,” said Council Rob Krupicka. “But there seems to be a growing consensus that we need to do something about the lack of sports fields in Alexandria.”

The original plan — and its recent reaffirmation — was opposed by Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald and Councilwoman Del Pepper, both of whom reiterated their opposition Tuesday night. Macdonald reminded council members that the National Park Service has the final say in what happens at the park, and Pepper suggested that the council should be looking for land to build sports fields where the current Woodrow Wilson Bridge headquarters is currently located in the Eisenhower Valley.

“I’d like to see us putting some real pressure on that,” Pepper said. “We need to have at least a portion of it.”


Unintended Consequences

One of the hottest election issues this campaign season is the unintended consequences of the proposed Virginia Marriage Amendment, a measure that will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot to deny legal recognition to unmarried couples. Arguments against the amendment include an array of concerns about what will happen to elderly siblings who live together or legal contracts between members of the same sex — not to mention the rights of gay people, whom the amendment was designed to discriminate against.

“Virginia is known for its Bill of Rights,” said Councilman Paul Smedberg. “And here we are talking about taking away rights.”

But councilwoman Del Pepper wanted to explore other unintended consequences of the amendment.

“What about common-law marriages?” she asked. “These are issues we need to consider.”

“So you need to get married, Ms. Pepper,” Mayor Bill Euille joked, prompting laughter in the council chamber.

“Now that’s how rumors get started,”

Pepper protested. For the record, Pepper said, she has been happily married since 1966. Also for the record, the City Council voted unanimously to oppose the amendment.