Monday night’s town hall to discuss hiring a replacement for retiring Fairfax County Executive Anthony H. Griffin
produced a impressive list of qualities that his successor should have: wisdom, decisiveness, political savvy, financial acumen, managerial finesse and more than a passing knowledge of regional problems, such as transportation and Virginia’s quirky laws and customs.
In short, the four panelists and 30 attendees at the 90-minute forum at the Kings Park Library came up with a job description that could fit “Superman,” said Supervisor John C. Cook (R-Braddock), who sponsored the event. Or maybe superwoman, as several participants also suggested.
As the Board of Supervisors opens the new year with its first regular meeting Tuesday, one of their top assignments over the coming months will be to recruit and hire a new county executive for the first time in more than a decade.
Griffin, 64, has said he plans to step down this spring after 12 years of quietly overseeing the daily workings of a government that serves more than 1 million people. The board intends to hold a nationwide search for a new county executive with the skills to manage the suburb of more than 400 square miles that has grown more diverse and urban in recent years.
The county executive “is probably the least known and probably the most important person in the county,” said Stuart Mendelsohn, a former Board of Supervisors member who moderated the town hall. “I think Tony is probably one of the longest serving county executives we’ve had primarily because he’s not somebody who seeks the limelight. He’s somebody who works behind the scenes.”
Members of the panel included Jon Peterson, an executive at The Peterson Companies, a significant developer in the region; Karen Conchar, president of the Fairfax County Government Employees Union/Service Employees International Union (FCGEU/SEIU); Ann Zuvekas, the current Braddock appointee to the Health Care Advisory Board; and Paul Liberty, a businessman.
Conchar, who represents most county employees outside of the public safety agencies, compared the search to “Mary Poppins,” a nanny who would be up to a demanding job. A survey of the workforce found that the most important quality for them would be to find someone who would respect them and use them as a resource.
Peterson and Liberty emphasized the importance of finding someone who understands economic development.
“I would describe it as walking on water without wetting the feet,” Zuvekas said. “You’ve got to have somebody who’s a good executive in general. Obviously, the person has to be smart. They have to have experience. They have to be listeners. They have to be a leader and inspire the workforce. They need to realize we’re in the midst of change due to the increasing diversity in the county and the fact that we’re moving from a suburban area to an urban area.. . It’s just an incredibly complex set of skills that’s needed.”
Zuvekas said she would urge the board to find someone who has managed a jurisdiction with similar characteristics.
Mark Werfel, a retired federal employee who served on a budget committee for Braddock, said the new county executive should work harder to make the county’s workings more transparent to its residents. Although the county often produces a welter of information on its budget and other affairs, Werfel said the county can still be resistant to sharing information about programs with the public or within its agencies, making it difficult to assess what’s really going on with policies such as affordable housing.
“The common complaint is, you don’t get information, you get frustrated,” Werfel said.
The county has also asked the public to share their thoughts through an online survey. The survey asks participants to rank qualities in areas such as fiscal expertise, experience handling economic development, working with school officials and emergency management. The survey also asks participants to list the top two challenges the county faces and invites additional comments and opinions.