The Board added a third day to our regular monthly meeting in July to handle everything. It was not so much the number of issues, but the importance and complexity of several issues, especially Collective Bargaining and establishing a Community Oversight Board for our police. Both of these were just authorized by the General Assembly this year. We began working on both ordinances even before the enabling legislation was passed. During our meetings we also received a report on much good progress made by our Chief Race and Equity Officer, Samia Byrd; and were updated on COVID-19 as well as plans to address problems at the Serrano apartments.
While collective bargaining will not directly affect residents, it is a big step for our employees. For me, collective bargaining is about how you treat people. Although I believe Arlington County is respectful and collaborative in working with employees, making our employees more officially partners in decisions that affect their work is a good step. Over the past months both employee representatives and our management team have been meeting to hammer out differences. Everything had been resolved but for a few issues by the time we voted on Saturday.
One major issue was what happens if the Manager does not take the recommendation of the arbiter after non-binding arbitration. We decided that the Board would ask the Manager for an explanation as to why he or she did not take the recommendation so it would be clear to all why the decision was not to agree with the recommendation that came from non-binding arbitration. Collective Bargaining will likely lead to some increased budgetary costs due to the new personnel needed to administer it and possibly due to the effect on area pay scales that collective bargaining may bring about. But it helps move us into a more collaborative work structure which should lead to better employee satisfaction and performance.
Community Oversight Board (COB)
The new Community Oversight Board (COB) ordinance was developed largely from the work of our Police Practices Group (PPG) and the experience of groups like NACOLE (National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement). The new ordinance creates an oversight board with an independent auditor and staff to support them in examining instances of possible police misconduct. Our Arlington Police are an excellent and professional police force that maintains strong internal oversight to prevent misconduct. To increase public confidence in their performance, our police asked for and have been wearing body cameras for months. However, we agreed that a civilian oversight board was needed in these times to maintain confidence throughout our community that our police are treating everyone fairly and with respect.
There was disagreement on what sort of power the oversight board should have. Some people think the oversight board should be able to conduct separate investigations, decide on discipline for an officer, and subpoena any information they want if they cannot obtain it otherwise.
The PPG and Manager recommended that an Independent Auditor for the COB work in close collaboration with the police on any case of possible misconduct or citizen complaint. The Board agreed that two parallel investigations would require expensive duplication of effort and most likely create confusion. The Board also agreed that, while the COB could recommend disciplinary measures, the final decision on discipline should come from the Police Chief and Manager. Subpoena power was the major disagreement among Board members. I thought that if there is disagreement about making information available to the COB, the Board should decide and keep the subpoena power we have now. I was, and am, concerned about giving subpoena power to a group of residents who, however professional and well-meaning, are not really accountable to anyone. They are not elected and not hired. They also could face strong political pressures if a subpoena were sought because such a disagreement would likely only occur for a politically difficult and emotionally fraught case. To me, It seems unfair and inappropriate to subject resident volunteers to pressures like that. So I think that if the COB ever decides it needs to subpoena information, it should come to the Board to request the subpoena. Christian Dorsey agreed with my position, but our 3 colleagues did not. Therefore the COB will have subpoena power under the new ordinance.
I’m very hopeful there will not be a case that will cause a subpoena request by the COB. We are lucky in Arlington to have an excellent police force and a safe community. However, improvements always can and should be made. I look forward to implementing many of the PPG recommendations, including our new mental health crisis units getting police out of handling many mental health incidents. I also hope to see a reduction in the racial disparity in traffic stops. Getting the COB set up and underway will not be a small task. The Independent auditor needs to be hired along with staff for what will be, essentially, another department in our County government. The cost of this new department will become clearer in our next budget. The Board will receive training by NACOLE on best practices for appointing and setting up the COB.
Dialogues on Race and Equity (DRE)
As Samia Byrd reported, our Dialogues on Race and Equity (DRE) continue with many groups in the County holding discussions. I found the new Racial Time Line for Arlington to be particularly effective as a tool for increasing understanding of how we got to where we are today and recommend you check out the timeline. It is a work in progress as you will see.
The serious maintenance and service issues with the affordable Serrano apartments continue. With a new acting Executive Director and a new supervisor for maintenance, I am hopeful they will finally be effectively addressed. However, I believe they are the tip of the iceberg of issues faced by our aging affordable buildings in Arlington.
As I write this, the Delta variant of COVID is bringing many areas of our country back to the pandemic situations of last year. Arlington is lucky to have a high level of vaccination, but our case rate, while low, is starting to go up. I do not anticipate serious problems here because so many are vaccinated and we continue to push hard to vaccinate those who are not. Unfortunately, the new variant is causing even some who are vaccinated to get sick, although usually not seriously. I only briefly stopped wearing a mask in group settings, but have begun doing so again to protect myself and others. It has been determined that even vaccinated people without symptoms can spread the Delta variant virus.
The County still has 2 vaccination Clinics open 7 days a week, and don’t forget everyone over the age of 12 may receive the shot.
Recognitions: Arlington #1 of America’s Fittest Cities & ACPD Service on January 6
I was pleased to see Arlington again ranked #1 by the American College of Sports Medicine in their annual American Fitness Index for the 100 largest cities. “The index rankings consider 34 health behaviors, chronic diseases and community infrastructure indicators…. The fitness rank for Arlington is No. 1 overall. In addition, the city ranks No. 1 in personal health and No. 1 in community health, the index states.” For the whole article, please see this link: https://patch.com/virginia/arlington-va/see-where-arlington-ranks-new-fittest-cities-list
Our Arlington Police officers protect not only Arlington but, through mutual aid agreements, help other departments in the region. Their service and heroism protecting the Capitol and everyone who worked there against the violent insurrection on January 6 was recognized at our meeting by Congressman Don Beyer.
Finally, I hope you will contribute to my team “Phoenix Phanatics” for their Raise + Ride effort. I give every year in memory of Kennan.” Although, I won’t be riding, it would be great if you could join, too, as Phoenix Bikes continues to help the environment and change young lives for the better!
As always, I welcome feedback and questions. My next newsletter will come after our September meetings. This is a good time for everyone to take a bit of a break after a difficult 18 months.
Have a good rest of the summer,