Groups at odds over Arlington structure

Mike Staples says his group, Committee for a Better Arlington, wants to give
Mike Staples says his group, Committee for a Better Arlington, wants to give "the government back to the citizens." (Family Photo)
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By Christy Goodman
Thursday, May 13, 2010

Does Arlington County's form of government need to change?

That is a question being posed by the Committee for a Better Arlington, which has been working to get more than 14,000 registered voters' signatures to have a proposal put on the November ballot. The committee, which won't say how many signatures it has, wants Arlington's government to be primarily run by a county board rather than county manager.

"The most substantive changes are about giving the government back to the citizens," said Mike Staples, chairman of the committee and president of the Arlington Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association. The committee was started by police and fire associations and is supported by the county's Green and Republican parties.

Staples said his organization's members are tired of seeing appointed county managers "push for things that would have really devastated public safety." Under the proposal, the county board would make decisions and be held accountable by residents, he said.

"This isn't a knee jerk," Staples said. "This is not a short-term issue."

Alan Howze is a co-chairman of the Coalition for Arlington Good Government, an organization that is opposed to the proposal. The coalition is supported by the county's Democratic Party and the New Direction Coalition, a civil rights organization.

"This is not really about gaining or losing partisan advantage," Howze said. "This is about standing up to defeat very bad public policy that would damage our community."

He also said that the fire and police groups want more money and equipment and that out-of-power political parties are trying to gain power.

"At its core, this is a resource-allocation complaint that can and should be resolved through normal community dialogue about Arlington's budget and community priorities," Howze said.

In Arlington's present structure, the county manager, as the chief executive, runs day-to-day operations under the direction of the County Board. Board members are elected in at-large districts, and elections are staggered.

Under the proposal, a county board would have more control of government operations. Board members would be elected in districts, and elections would be held every four years.

A more hands-on board might be more in touch with county departments' needs, but such positions could become too political if the board was responsible for hiring and firing, said Jeffrey S. Gore, a lawyer with Richmond's Hefty & Wiley firm, which represents local governments.

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