To the Editor:
Last Friday night, the Alexandria Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) voted 6-1 to ask the city to provide them with independent legal counsel as they face the city's high priced legal team in court. The city government, led astray again by the City attorney, Mr. James Banks, is determined to fight both the citizens on the BZA and the citizens who correctly filed the petition which challenged city zoning actions on the waterfront. This is worth reviewing.
Before this dramatic vote, the City attorney attempted to characterize the BZA's involvement as merely procedural and their exposure minimal. He seemed to say, “Trust me, I understand the law, you don't.” In yet another display of loss of trust in city government, the City's own BZA essentially said, “No way!” In their discussions, the BZA correctly pointed out the clear conflict of interest involved where one side's counsel in an adversarial proceeding attempts to dispense impartial legal advice to the other side. You don't need to be a lawyer to understand that the BZA heard the bus idling and chose not to be thrown under those wheels. Aside from the fact that their decision was completely correct in light of the city's own zoning provisions, their personal reputations are at stake. If you think not, go back to the first sentence …. Voted 6-1. City government should stop ignoring the obvious.
Talk about ignoring the obvious. The mayor pronounced that the BZA decision established a bad precedent for zoning actions throughout the rest of the city. Perhaps. The city attorney followed behind exclaiming that the BZA just didn't understand the law. Wrong. Two lawyers from the city attorney's office spent hours explaining the law that night, but couldn't convince a body of citizens, schooled in zoning ordinances, that plain English meant something else. But, this courageous body of citizens gave the city government the right answer to the mayor's problem. The second resolution passed by the BZA that night said effectively, “If you don't like the city's own zoning ordinance, change it.” Implicitly, they were also saying, “Do your legislative job and don't haul our reputations into court.”
The final insanity in all this was pointed out Sunday by an astute citizen at a gathering of citizens in Founder's Park. On Tuesday, when the City Council discusses how to answer the BZA, there is a most innovative solution at hand. Let the city use their own attorney to present their case, and supply the citizens and the BZA with the services of the high priced attorneys hired from McGuire Woods. Private citizen costs defending the rights of all Alexandrians and the city's own BZA is fast approaching $100,000. You simply can't make this stuff up!
Candidate for City Council