In a ceremony complete with music, flags and speeches, Fairfax City’s mayor, City Council and School Board were officially sworn in, last Thursday, June 30, in the Veterans Amphitheater outside City Hall.
Taking office for new, two-year terms following the May 3 election were Mayor Scott Silverthorne; City Council members Michael DeMarco, Jeff Greenfield, David Meyer, Janice Miller, Ellie Schmidt and Jon Stehle; and School Board members Jon Buttram, Carolyn Pitches, Bob Reinsel, Toby Sorensen and Mitch Sutterfield. All were incumbents, except for Stehle.
The City Police and Fire Joint Honor Guard presented the Colors, with Boy Scout Troop 1887 leading the Pledge of Allegiance. The City of Fairfax Band played the National Anthem and the “City of Fairfax March,” and Charles Bicknell sang “America the Beautiful.”
In his remarks to the crowd, Silverthorne – starting his third term as mayor – said how “deeply grateful and humbled” he is for the confidence the residents have placed in him.
“I can’t thank our City enough for standing with me during what has been described by many as the ugliest political campaign in our history,” he said. “I now have my health, I have my friends and I have a lot to do as your mayor.”
He said all the Council members bring with them a “renewed sense of energy and an unwavering commitment to serve our City.” And to deal with many of the most serious challenges Fairfax has faced as a community in many years, he said he and the Council must continue working with a “spirit of collegiality and mutual respect.”
He then laid out a blueprint for the City’s future, while explaining his goals. “The residents, business owners and visitors take great pride in our City,” said Silverthorne.
“We’re a special City – and we must think responsibly and thoughtfully about its future. As mayor, my top three priorities are: Strengthening our local economy, completing an overdue rewrite of our Comprehensive Plan and focusing on issues that improve quality of life for all of the City.”
He noted that, over the past two years, Fairfax has begun to turn the economic corner. “Last month, the City’s unemployment rate posted its strongest number in years, 2.3 percent,” he said. “This represents a 47 percent drop in the City’s unemployment rate in the four years I’ve been mayor.”
But, said Silverthorne, “We cannot rest on that success. As a governing body and as proud residents, we must now think about how to ensure exceptional levels of services. We must think about what kind of City we’ll leave to our children and future generations; we must begin to tackle the hard questions together.”
HE STRESSED that Fairfax’s tax rates are among the lowest in the Washington, D.C., region. But to maintain them and support City services, he said the local business community must be bolstered.
“Our top economic development priorities must support the creation of good jobs, the development of stronger businesses and an enhanced focus on a robust, community-based economy,” said Silverthorne.
“We must address the redevelopment of our aging commercial centers and continue to revitalize our historic downtown,” he said.
Furthermore, he said, the City must complete its Comprehensive Plan rewrite. “Through the revisions of our current zoning ordinance, we’ll create opportunities to streamline City government, including a lessening of regulatory burdens for starting, expanding and doing business,” said Silverthorne.
“My colleagues on the council will have many critical decisions to make regarding redevelopment, and none of them will be easy,” he said. “We all love our small-town feel. Naturally, this makes all of us resistant to change. But change, if done responsibly, is not necessarily bad. Change is happening all around us; if we do nothing, we will begin to fall behind; and for our City’s future health, we cannot afford that.”
Noting the popularity of the Mosaic District and Fairfax Corner, Silverthorne said that, if Fairfax isn’t more creative and flexible about future development, it risks becoming a city of “nail salons, mattress stores and title loan companies – essentially a pass-through-city without any meaningful destinations. If [our] growth is done in a smart way; we can continue to create a sense of place for our residents and visitors with interesting and unique buildings and businesses.”
He said sensible redevelopment of aging shopping centers is directly tied to maintaining a low tax rate. And, said Silverthorne, “We must either grow our economy or face cuts in services or raise taxes. I prefer to grow our economy.”
He wants the Comprehensive Plan to be a vibrant, strategic planning document for the next 20 years. “This will include improving our transportation network, walkability, affordable housing and parks,” said Silverthorne. “We’ll work to create a sustainable, livable City. Our Planning Department staff has never been stronger; they care deeply and are as much a part of this community as you and me.”
He said the City must preserve open space, protect the environment and expand residents’ recreational opportunities. “The City of Fairfax must continue to be a place where people of all ages can enjoy life,” said Silverthorne.
He also pledged to provide residents with two, major updates each year via a State of the City address and an annual report. The annual report will improve transparency, while communicating Fairfax’s successes and failures alike. Providing meaningful and affirmative information, he explained, will spur residents and businesses to become more involved in their community and engage in civic affairs.
“I’m deeply honored to serve as your mayor,” said Silverthorne. “I’ve often said that the City of Fairfax is rich in history with unlimited possibilities for the future. It’s a City filled with pride, and that should include pride in its elected officials. It’s time once again for us to get to work for you, and we couldn’t be more eager to do so.”
SCHOOL BOARD CHAIRMAN Toby Sorensen then spoke about her group, saying the Board members “share a love of education, in general, and [Fairfax’s] four schools, in particular.” She said they monitor the City’s educational contract with FCPS to ensure that City students receive the same level of services as in all county schools. And they’re responsible for major repairs and Capital Improvement Plans for the four school buildings the City owns.
Equally important, she said, “We aim to keep our schools neighborhood schools – places where our kids have a sense of belonging and a link to the overall community. [And] we have high school student representation on the School Board and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.”
She said the School Board members do what they do “to ensure our children have a great education and a successful future. But we also want to make them feel like an integral part of our community.”