COVID-19 continues to dominate all of what the County Board does and our May meeting was no exception.
This week we voted to extend our continuity of government ordinance until June. This legally allows us to continue to do our work virtually; and for some of our commissions to continue their work virtually as well. There was some concern that we were granting too much authority to the County Manager during the pandemic. While the ordinance allows the Manager to take actions that he ordinarily would bring to the
Board first, he does have to bring those actions to the Board for approval after the fact. In an emergency, this is appropriate. For example, our Manager, Mark Schwartz, authorized the COVID testing site set up at Quincy Street without getting express permission (he did, however, let us know). That allowed the testing to get underway as fast as possible. Mark presented it to us for approval at the next Board meeting. I believe these kinds of approvals – after an action is taken – are completely appropriate and necessary during an emergency.
Can Advisory Groups Meet?
Commissions are integral to our “Arlington Way” of local government. We all value their input on the myriad issues that come before us. Arlington residents have direct experience with how our policies affect them and this makes their feedback crucial to our government working well for everyone, However, our commissions
are subject to Federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requirements, as are our Board meetings. Currently, running our meetings so that they comply with FOIA takes a lot of staff work, and while it may look simple to do, it is not. Our staff created an excellent chart showing how we decide which commissions need to meet and prioritize them accordingly.
The Board voted to accept $20.66M dollars in Federal CARES Act funds from the State of Virginia. Virginia received $3.33B total, and half has been distributed on a per capita basis. The State has not yet determined how the second half will be distributed, but we hope it will be per capita or based on the severity of
the COVID-19 pandemic. Federal restrictions mean that we cannot use the money to replace lost revenues, but only for expenses directly related to COVID. This will likely be a challenge in the future. For the moment, it is not difficult to spend this on our increased costs. It helps us insure that everyone has food, can stay in their homes, that businesses can survive, and that we have the ability to test for and trace COVID cases as well as have enough PPE for our workers. We are relatively lucky in Virginia that the Governor has allocated CARES funds to localities; this is not true in some states.
Parking at Fleet Elementary School:
Finally, we had one non-COVID related item: whether we would amend the use-permit for Fleet ES to allow school parking on the SW corner of the site. It is a small lot formerly used for parking, but currently roped off. When we approved the construction of Fleet ES, the Board voted to do a study to decide if it should be used as a park or parking lot. The study has not been done. Because the lot is not currently used and APS teachers and near neighbors are finding the limited parking for Fleet difficult, I was in favor of an amendment to allow parking for 5 years until the study is done. My colleagues felt that the principle of doing a study before a decision was taken is important. So I lost the vote 3-1, which was a big disappointment to me and the many stakeholders.
On a positive note, our parks will begin partially reopening this Memorial Day weekend. I encourage people to enjoy them wisely. Maybe get a carryout picnic from one of our restaurants and spread out a blanket on the grass at least 10 feet away from any other picnickers.
I continue to be busy on government coordination issues. I expect the Governor to announce that Northern Virginia will move to Phase 1 on May 29. Hopefully, our entire region will agree on our approach, and we will have similar messages on wearing face coverings, handling outdoor dining, parks management, etc. Enforcement will be a major challenge since we have few enforcement tools. We will depend a lot on voluntary compliance. The more united everyone is, the more likely compliance is.
I feel very lucky to be in Arlington and honored to be able to serve our community during this crisis. I hope this information is helpful to you and, as always, welcome comments or questions.
P.S. Please note that we have two upcoming elections: 1) our School Board caucus is this month with 5 candidates running for 2 seats. Make sure your ballot is received by Arlington County Democrats by May 30th. 2) July 7th is the Special Election to fill Erik Gutshall’s open seat on the County Board. Send for your absentee ballots for this race at: https://vote.arlingtonva.us/absentee/absentee-voting-ballot-application/