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Letter to the Editor: Give Citizens Recall Power

— The Alexandria Gazette Packet got to the heart of the matter when it pointed out that City Council’s decision to put aside its established priorities to consider a public-private partnership proposal shows that, city hall’s diversionary rhetoric to the contrary, this deal to give public land to a private for-profit entity is already a “done deal” not necessarily because the deal has already been cut, but because most of the current incumbents (other than Councillors Silberberg and Smedberg) are favorably disposed toward doing business this way. Did, for example, City Council recently discontinue earmarking funding for open space precisely because city hall wanted to signal that open space would no longer be a priority to pave the way to erase 15 acres of open space for the right price?

If this appears to be a done deal, opponents should be shrewd about our approach, by having a fall-back requiring:

  • Annual revenues from the public-private partnership all be earmarked into the open space fund and

  • These earmarked revenues be used to identify land zoned otherwise for purchase and conversion to open space/parkland until the full 15 acres is matched elsewhere in the city.

Moreover, there is no guarantee this project will prove viable, so if the project proves otherwise, the city must have priority to obtain the newly constructed buildings based on the lower of their actual value or the outstanding mortgage debt on them. Otherwise, Alexandria will lose the value of the 15 acres while a partially occupied or constructed derelict property in bankruptcy sits on them.

Finally, elected officials who surely are putting on a list the folks communicating with them in favor of this project to recontact them for contributions, campaign workers, and votes at election time cannot collectively be trusted to make public-private partnership decisions in the public interest any more than folks like me can be trusted to “eat just one” Lay’s potato chip or pistachio or M&M. Concerned citizens should not waste too much time with their City Council whose track record of supplication to business is well established. Citizens should, instead, press the Virginia legislature for a charter amendment allowing for citizens to recall their elected city officials and appeal City Council actions, including DSUPs and public-private partnerships, to referendum. Politicians now believe they have several more years before they face the voters, and even if voted out the “courageous decisions” they made, which look like egregious give-aways to many of the rest of us, will not be able to be easily reversed. But the threat of recall and the prospect of referendum would be immediate, and this threat would lead to more measured decision-making and better public policy outcomes such that neither tool will need often to be used.

Dino Drudi

Alexandria