Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey is questioning whether fellow board member Chris Zimmerman should vote on a matter related to the Columbia Pike streetcar project because he is a consultant with a major international construction firm that has worked for Arlington on transit issues.
Garvey, who wants to delay a scheduled vote Monday which would set guidelines over how Arlington could manage a public-private partnership on major transit projects, noted that Zimmerman disclosed in an October letter to the board and county manager that he has been working as a consultant with AECOM Canada East on a project in Montreal.
“There’s nothing in the vote Monday that has to do with AECOM or anybody,” Zimmerman said Thursday evening. “I take these things very seriously ... [A conflict] might never arise, but if it does I’m going to do the right thing.”
AECOM has worked on many Arlington projects and briefed the County Board about public-private partnerships three weeks ago, and about streetcar system design this week.
In her own letter to the board and county manager, Garvey said “anyone would assume that it is quite likely [AECOM] will be doing additional work for the County and, should we adopt the [Public-Private Transportation Act guidelines], they will be submitting an unsolicited bid.”
She said Zimmerman’s participation in a vote “clearly could be an appearance of a conflict.” She said she asked him to delay or recuse himself from Monday’s vote but he declined.
County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac said that under Vriginia law, not only is Zimmerman’s vote not a conflict of interest, but the vote Monday is procedural in nature.
“There’s nothing of substance happening,” he said in a telephone interview. “One day in the future, we may have to see if Chris Zimmerman has a personal interest in something, but that’s a judgement call and we’d advise him whether we think he should recuse himself... We’re not at that point now. It’s so speculative right now and to suggest otherwise is unfair.”
Garvey disagrees, arguing the vote Monday is substantive in that it sets up guidelines that will help determine that Arlington gets truly competitive bids. She also wants to delay the vote because she thinks safeguards are needed for county taxpayers, citing recent criticism of the law itself by the Southern Environmental Law Center and about the procedures used in the construction and management of the Metrorail Silver Line.
“In Arlington we have a tradition of public participation in public processes. The staff said there’s no need to do this until April at the earliest,” she said. “There’s no risk to waiting and I see real risk to rushing forward.”