Alexandria Letter: Citizens’ Role In Ethics

Alexandria Letter: Citizens’ Role In Ethics

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

Since the Alexandria City Council chooses not to engage in discourse concerning a Citizen’s Ethics Commission, an inspector general, or an ombudsman, how is Alexandria planning to handle its ethics infractions? Other jurisdictions have faced up to this challenge, yet Alexandria remains mired in timidity and hesitation where the oversight of ethics is concerned.

It is hard to believe that the City Council, city staff and various boards and commissions never encounter ethics dilemmas, especially concerning the management of new developments. As an example, although there are zoning laws that have been in existence for years, a developer need only make a quid pro quo “proffer” of $100,000 to Bikeshare in order to build a structure that is at variance from the originally enacted zoning layout of the community.

This “paying to play” brings up a number of potential ethics concerns, yet no one seems to curb this business practice that has been tolerated over the years. In addition, the recent unilateral decisions made regarding new food truck and Bikeshare locations and the Community Improvement District (CID) process for the Waterfront/King Street complex have not furthered our trust in our local government. It’s time to solve this problem. Although the City Council self appointed an Ethics Committee (what could go wrong with this?), it is no surprise that its recommendations were not germane to the oversight of potential ethics violations by the City Council, the city staff or members of boards and commissions.

It is therefore apparent that the citizens should establish a citizen’s ethics advisory board to craft ethics guidelines for the consideration of City Council. A likely home for this board is the Alexandria Federation of Civic Associations, whose membership consists of civic associations throughout the city, and which has members who are well versed in federal, state, and municipal government matters, and have the required ethics expertise. If the City Council continues in its ethics dithering, I am very confident that the Federation will be more than happy to step up to the plate, since there has never been a better time to make a real difference.

Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet