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Week in Alexandria

New Leadership for Schools

Alexandria City Public Schools is beginning 2013 with a bang. When School Board members gathered for their organizational meeting, neither of the veteran members were selected for leadership positions. Newly elected member Karen Graf was selected as chairman and newly elected member Justin Keating was selected as vice chairman.

“With seven brand new people, the odds are that you may to have a change in leadership,” said new School Board member Kelly Carmichael Booz. “There’s nothing to read into.”

The school system has been under intense pressure since an accountant’s report indicating a “dysfunctional environment” in the budget office. Former Vice Mayor Kerry Donley called for Superintendent of Schools Dr. Morton Sherman to step down, but School Board members stood by their embattled superintendent. Most of those members decided against seeking re-election, and one was defeated at the polls. Neither of the two returning members were selected for chairman or vice chairman, which some are interpreting as an indication that the new School Board is interested in seeking a change in leadership.

“I think that’s a fair assessment,” said new School Board member Bill Campbell. “But I don’t think that says we are not going to have the appropriate respect for the experiences that Ronnie Campbell and Marc Williams bring to the board. In fact, I think that we are going to lean on both of them very hard to figure out why certain decisions were made.”

Third-Party Tagline

What’s in a name? As William Shakespeare once observed, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But City Council members are learning that changing the name of wastewater treatment services can smell, well, unpleasant.

City Hall has been flooded with complaints ever since city residents started receiving strange new bills from an Ohio company for water services in Alexandria. Many residents simply tossed the notifications into the trash, leading to late fees and disgruntled taxpayers. Alexandria Renew Enterprises chief executive officer Karen Pallansch appeared before City Council members this week to defend the new billing system — especially confusion created by the increased rates.

“I own that mistake,” said Pallansch. “We probably did not communicate as well as we needed to because we got overwhelmed with the billing change.”

The problems started when Virginia American Water announced that it would no longer be conducting billing for wastewater treatment, a service that it had provided since 1954. So Alexandria residents began receiving a strange bill from a third-party vendor in Ohio.

“People were not about to start sending their money to Cincinnati,” said Councilwoman Del Pepper.

Councilman Paul Smedberg criticized the name Alexandria Renew Enterprises, describing the moniker as confusing and misleading. He was especially critical of the organization for failing to have a tagline explaining what it was and its role as the successor to the former Alexandria Sanitation Authority.

“Have you thought about adding a tagline?” asked Smedberg.

“We’ll go back and think about it,” responded Pallansch.

“So that’s a no,” said Smedberg.

“No,” said Pallansh. “We will seriously consider it.”

Inopportune Moment

With City Manager Rashad Young’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2014 weeks away, the budget season is already in full swing. That means a very difficult few weeks for new Budget Director Nelsie Smith, who began working for the city this week.

“We’re trying to keep the trend going of starting a person at the most inopportune and demanding time, as was done with me,” said Young, who began last year as the budget season was beginning.

Smith worked as an assistant to the city manager in Greensboro, N.C., and a program analyst for the city of Baltimore. More recently, she was business development specialist at PayLock and associate director for Fitch Ratings in the public finance department.