It is time to rein in the rampant disregard of the public trust by the Alexandria City Council. U.S. Rep. Don Beyer has just introduced the Fair Representation Act, which advocates multi-member congressional districts for elections in states with six or more members. Mr. Beyer indicated that Congress instituted single-member districts in 1842, because at-large elections could be used as a “partisan tool.” In a recent opinion article, he cites the example of Massachusetts, which has had nine congressional seats held by Democrats for the past 20 years, although nearly a quarter of voters in the state are registered Republicans. He states that these Republicans feel “left out and disillusioned.” To have some diversity, he makes the case for ranked choice voting in districts, where voters would rank the candidates.
This would also make sense for electing Alexandria City Council members, who are currently elected at-large, but are out of touch with their constituents as they address their own agendas. They regularly vote 6-1 or 7-0 on every issue, despite continued opposition by the citizenry on most of them. Of all the major decisions made by this council just this year it is nearly impossible to point out any “real wins.” Essentially, it appears that they vote against the wishes of their “constituents” 100 percent of the time. Examples of this behavior are plentiful, to include draconian tax increases and fees assessments; establishment of another special tax zone ( namely the BID); a mammoth debt (over a half billion) and a $90 million a year debt service; a proliferation of hotels despite a current 70+ percent occupancy rate; continuing to rubber stamp developments (with parking reductions for all of them), which has caused a lack of parking and other woes; and the ignoring of traffic lawlessness on all our streets. Those shortcomings and a host of others have contributed to a sense of cynicism about the City Council members. We citizens in Alexandria also feel “left out and disillusioned.”
I can just see my direct ancestor George Mason IV spinning in his grave; he was a member of the first Alexandria City Council (along with George Washington), and it would surely cause this first council much pain to witness the current council’s total disregard for its erstwhile constituents. Only the current mayor is totally engaged in a constructive manner in solving our many complex issues. We need to come up with a much better way to elect our City Council “representatives.” We can use an election ranking process similar to the one advocated by Congressman Beyer, or establish a ward system so the each individual member of council is accountable to some portion of the population. Another way would be to have seats apportioned by voter registration, in which case, one quarter of the Alexandria City Council seats would be Republican. Term limits would also allow for some diversity. A one party system has no checks and balances, which is essential for the well-being of any organization.
Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet