Council Notebook

Council Notebook

<b>The Rise of Rescindtion</b>

Former members of the Alexandria City Council are a unique club. Some reappear at City Hall in new roles such as chairman of the Chamber of Commerce or leader of a fund to privately fund a new all-city sports facility. For <b>Joyce Woodson</b>, the only member of City Council to not seek reelection last year, returning to City Hall was a moment of obvious weight.

"In this country we have laws that come all the way down to the lowest level, to citizens like me and you and to members of the Alexandria School Board," said Woodson. "And they seem to have forgotten that in a democracy, process is also important."

On May 21, the Alexandria School Board voted five-to-four on a motion to not renew the employment contract of Superintendent <b>Rebecca Perry</b>, which expires on June 30, 2008. The controversial vote was haunted by accusations from four board members who said that they had not been consulted before School Board Chairman <b>Arthur Peabody</b> informed Perry that a majority of the board had already made up their minds about the matter. Then Peabody issued a public notice three days before announcing that the board would be considering how to renegotiate her contract. Opponents of the decision cried foul, citing sections of the Code of Virginia requiring evaluation, notification and transparency.

"It’s over," said the chairman after a May 23 public hearing.

But it wasn’t over. By early June, opposition had festered into several toxic showdowns in the board’s chambers on the West End — with the final one terminating into a dramatic mass exit from the chambers as Peabody delivered a prepared text. On June 7, School Board member <b>Sheryl Gorsuch</b> announced that she will be offering a motion at the next School Board meeting to reconsider the May 29 decision.

Although the meeting was originally scheduled for June 21, the chairman announced last week that board members would consider Gorsuch’s motion in an unusual Tuesday evening session on June 26 — a meeting that will not be broadcast live on Comcast because it conflicts with a City Council legislative session.

"The public outrage has been significant and needs to be addressed and not ignored," said Gorscuh, adding that she didn’t know how many board members were likely to support her motion. "Many of the people campaigned on statements that they would evaluate the superintendent before making a decision, and they should do that."


<b>Ice House Blues</b>

The blue building on Commerce Street and Payne Street is an icon in Old Town, a throwback to the days when the Mutual Ice Company chilled cocktails and preserved muttonchops. Even those with no interest in old buildings are intrigued by the large word "ICE" emblazoned across the top of the building, an Alamo-style frontage that’s nestled in the acute part of the angular intersection between Duke and King streets.

"I bought the building because I love the building," said<b> Boyd Walker</b>, a historic preservationist and real-estate investor during a Saturday public hearing. "And I want to restore the building."

Walker admits that he failed to follow the city’s policies regarding the submission of necessary permits. He said that he regrets the error, and he apologized for seeking after-the-fact approval of the project. Nevertheless, he felt the wrath of the city’s Board of Architectural Review — an appointed body who ignored the city staff recommendation to levy a $10,000 and fine and stuck Walker with a $25,000 penalty. Board member <b>Arthur Keleher</b> admitted that the BAR wanted to use Walker’s predicament to make a point.

"I think that the BAR was trying to send a message to the folks who come before us with after-the-fact applications," said Keleher, adding that the fine could have been calculated at $262,000. "The number of after-the-fact applications are increasing, unless we put some teeth into these fines this will continue to come up."

Several speakers said that the board was picking on Walker, who filed a lawsuit against the board to protest the demolition of a 1913-era townhouse in the 1500 block of King Street. One Walker supporter suggested that <b>Kurt Vonnegut</b> had nothing on the City Council when he wrote "Welcome to the Monkey House." In the end, City Council reduced the fine to $6,500.


<b>Metro Hobbyhorse</b>

During a discussion of "bus-rapid transit" lanes on Route 1 north of Old Town — a tree-lined vista reserved for public transportation vehicles — Vice Mayor <b>Del Pepper</b> resurrected one of her favorite hobby horses: a new Metro station in Alexandria. Pepper has favored a Metro station at Potomac Yard for years even though few of her colleagues seem to share Pepper’s enthusiasm. When Councilman<b> Rob Krupicka</b> said that he would like to see a dialogue between Alexandria officials and Arlington leaders, Pepper interjected with a command.

"Let them know that we get the Metro stop," she insisted.