I hope this finds everyone getting ready for a relaxing Thanksgiving. We have much to be grateful for in Arlington.
RANK CHOICE VOTING
At our Saturday meeting we discussed rank choice voting which has been under consideration for some time in Arlington and which is used by a number of jurisdictions across the nation. In rank choice voting, voters rank the candidates running for a position and mark their ballots for their first, second and third choices and more for an office. I see several benefits to this. Some years ago in a race for state delegate with 6 candidates, I came in second with about 25% of the vote while the winner had about 33% of the vote. I am fairly sure that I was the second choice for many who voted for the other 4 candidates. Many people told me I was their second choice when I asked them for their vote. With rank choice voting, I likely would have won. While I’m glad now that I did not win and have had the career I’ve had, I do think the voters’ desire for representation would have been better met if their second choice had counted. I’ve also been in a number of races where voters have two votes for two positions. “If I can’t have your first vote, can I have your second?” was a common refrain. Everyone involved in those races tended to be more positive because no one wanted to turn off another candidate’s supporters and hoped for the second, if not the first, vote.
The Board agreed we should try it and adopted a resolution to use rank choice voting in primaries next year. If it goes well and voters generally like the approach, the Board is likely to then adopt rank choice voting for the general election. While rank choice voting is not very difficult for voters to use, it can be more challenging for election officials to tally, and we may need to purchase new voting machines a few years earlier than planned. At our meeting, we took the opportunity to thank our Registrar, Gretchen Reinemeyer and our Electoral Board for their excellent service. While Arlington is better than many places, our election officials have not been immune to the wave of threats and unpleasant accusations we see around the country. We can all be thankful for our election officials. For more information, visit the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center.
BUDGET CARRYOVER FUNDS
Every year there are some funds left over that have not been allocated or spent, which we call carryover. Most of us never let our checking account get to zero and the County is no different. The amount carried over is usually around 2.5% of the budget. The Board must decide every year what should be done with that money. I was pleased that the Board took the Manager’s recommendation and decided to roll all of the $26.9M unrestricted funding ($2.4% of the total FY22 budget) into the FY24 budget. This next budget will be a challenge with inflation and needed pay adjustments increasing expenditures plus a continuing high commercial/office vacancy rate decreasing revenues. We can be thankful that we have that carryover.
CLARENDON LIVE ENTERTAINMENT GROUP
On Tuesday we renewed use permits and amended ordinances for the Clarendon Live Entertainment Group. Clarendon continues to be challenging as we try to balance the need for that entertainment district to be vibrant and attractive to patrons with the need for near neighbors to be able to enjoy their homes and a peaceful neighborhood. Great progress has been made with the Arlington Restaurant Initiative (ARI) which helps restaurants set boundaries for drinking and works directly with our police to keep behaviors safe. Limits on hours of outside entertainment or music help to balance needs as well. Tuesday’s vote standardized hours of outside music and entertainment for sidewalk and rooftop areas among other changes. There was concern from business owners that the changes would make it more difficult to attract customers. There was concern from neighbors that we did not do enough to control noise and trash. We will review these changes again at our May 2023 meeting to determine if any more changes are needed to balance the different needs and interests. We are lucky to have these sorts of challenges and I am thankful for them as well.
This is our first year for collective bargaining with our police, fire and trades unions. Agreement was reached with our trades union on a one-year salary increase while other issues are worked out for next year. Agreements were not reached with our
police and fire unions so they went to mediation. The mediator’s decisions, which basically upheld the Manager’s offers, came so late that the Board needed to meet for an unusual Friday session to hear the financial analysis of arbitration decisions as required under the new Section 6-30 of the Arlington County Code. A major issue is not only the size of pay increases for next year, but also how increases are distributed, whether using pay ranges or providing automatic step increases. The relatively simple short-term decision for the Board will be whether or not to accept the mediator’s decision. Even if we accept the mediator’s decisions (which I expect we will), the difficult issue of pay increases will remain. Arlington has an excellent police force and works hard to provide good support and benefits, but attracting and retaining good police officers is a major challenge throughout the region and the nation. I certainly am thankful for the excellent quality of Arlington’s first responders who help keep us safe.
I wish everyone a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!