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Votes

Council Notebook

<hd>Council Notebook

<hr><sh>It Ain’t Broke

<bt>The city’s spring elections, held once every three years, are a longtime political ritual in Alexandria. Since 1973, the Alexandria city charter has provided for a City Council election to be held every three years on the second Tuesday in May. Since 1994, members of the School Board have been elected on the same day. Yet after the dismal 20 percent participation of registered voters in last year’s City Council election, some people began wondering why City Council and School Board races weren’t lumped in with other items on the standard fall ballot. In November 2004, for example, 81 percent of registered voters participated — with almost 50,000 more voters casting ballots than in the 2005 spring elections.

The disparity struck Mayor <b>Bill Euille</b>, who created a committee earlier this year to investigate the possibility of making some changes. The mayor asked the committee to look at the possibility of moving the City Council’s election to November. After holding seven meetings, including a Saturday morning public hearing at City Hall, the group released its recommendations last week.

The committee’s conclusion? It ain’t broke, so don’t fix it.

"The committee considered the value of increased turnout, but heard from some residents that the consideration of local issues would suffer when joined at the November elections … and the increased turnout would be made up primarily of voters who were uninformed about locale issues," wrote committee chairman <b>Dick Hobson</b> in the committee’s final report. "Based on this and other concerns that were expressed (such as the difficulty local candidates would have in attracting campaign contributions and volunteers in the fall), the majority of the committee agreed that elections should not be moved to November."

The committee also considered the possibility of reinstituting the city’s old ward system, creating staggered terms for elected officials and moving to a four-year election cycle. Each of these possibilities were rejected, and the only substantive change the committee suggested was to promote the part-time council aide positions to full time jobs.

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<b>Furniture Code Orange</b>

The line between colorful and vibrant is typically a subjective one, informed by personal taste and predisposition. Yet at City Hall, the concept of vibrancy has a regulatory threshold.

During a discussion of proposed changes to the King Street Outdoor Dining Program, members of City Council considered the plight of Misha’s Coffeehouse on South Patrick Street. The bean-roasting café uses a trademark shade of deep orange on its coffee cups, a color that was recently replicated on some outdoor furniture that popped up as part of the city’s outdoor dining program.

But the orange hue was short lived.

City officials arrived at the coffeehouse soon after the tables and chairs appeared to demand outdoor furniture that was less "vibrant," a colorful yet vague category that is explicitly forbidden by the city’s outdoor-dining program. Yet the boundaries seem a little fuzzy.

During a discussion of the "vibrant" controversy Tuesday night, City Council members decided to ask city officials to spend the summer months coming up with a better definition — one that would be less likely to create a rainbow of potential meanings.

"I think if they had a soft orange, that would be OK," said Vice Mayor <b>Del Pepper</b>. "Pastels would be quite nice."

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<b>Mann Leads the Way</b>

The passing of former Mayor <b>Frank Mann</b> prompted a feeling of loss in the city, and a desire to memorialize his decades of service to the community. Mann served as mayor from 1961 to 1967, then again from 1976 to 1979. In life, as in death, Mann was a trailblazer — setting new standards and making his mark.

This summer, Mann will again lead the way as the first elected official to be honored in an area set aside to honor elected officials. On Tuesday night, the City Council voted unanimously to set aside the Market Square vestibule entrance to City Hall as "a place for plaques honoring Alexandria elected officials whom the council wishes to recognize."

City officials plan to install Mann’s plaque this summer.

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<b>Troubling Trends</b>

The state of the city’s financial health is strong, as indicated by the recently renewed "AAA bond rating" issued by Wall Street rating services Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. But even though the city government has a great credit score, City Manager <b>Jim Hartmann </b>warned members of the City Council to keep their eyes on certain trends.

"There are some areas where the statistics point to the City’s need to focus more on economic sustainability," wrote Hartmann in his monthly financial report. "These statistics include an office vacancy rate of 11.4 percent, a hotel occupancy rate that has decreased by 6 percent over the last year, and a development market which favors residential development more than commercial development."