Mayor James P. Moran, casting about for support for a City Council newsletter for Alexandrians, got no bites from council members last week.
Moran proposed that the city write and mail out a monthly newsletter to inform residents about the issues to be discussed at meetings of the City Council and other city offices. He said it would be a way to prevent controversies from developing when neighborhoods find out about plans for their communities after they've been formulated by the city.
But most council members objected to the newsletter, which would be mailed to registered voters only, saying it could become a political tool for council members to promote themselves. Some members expressed concern over the cost.
Arlington, Falls Church and Fairfax County's Board of Supervisors currently publish newsletters for citizens that include a broad range of items from city government agendas to school honor rolls and hours for farmer's markets and local festivals.
Moran, who ran as an Independent in the mayoral campaign, said that he didn't think the newsletter would become propaganda for the council, which also has three Democrats and three Republicans.
"If it does become a partisan organ, we'll be taken to task," Moran said. "We're not under a military dictatorship here. We have plenty of checks and balances."
Moran cited the local press as one check in the system. Four daily newspapers and one weekly cover news in this city of 107,000.
Council members Patricia S. Ticer and Lionel Hope, both Democrats, said that press coverage in Alexandria was more than adequate for informing residents.
"Other than D.C., we're the most well-covered city in the area," Hope said.
Moran said the newsletter would stimulate more citizen involvement by explaining the plans of city departments and commissions, such as the council, planning commission or architectural review board, in advance of council action on them.
He said that press coverage is selective in Alexandria. "It's reactive coverage. When there are problems, it repeats them after the fact. If there's not a lot of controversy surrounding them, it never gets reported," Moran said.
Ticer said a newsletter was unnecessary because anyone can pay $10 a year to get all the notices of department agendas. She also noted that council meetings and work sessions are open to the public and covered by public television.
Ticer said all it would take would be a "good solid campaign worker helping on the newsletter" to skew the items in favor of one member or another.
Council member Carlyle C. Ring, a Republican, said the general concept behind a City Council newsletter -- keeping the public informed -- was laudable, but not worth the substantial cost of producing it. Ring also suggested that a monthly newsletter might get tossed out as junk mail.
The proposed newsletter would be mailed to the city's 50,000 registered voters at a monthly bulk mail rate of about $3,000. A report from the city manager's office said that the city would need to hire a person to write and edit the council newsletter and a proposed city employe newsletter as well. Other area jurisdictions pay between $23,000 and $30,000 to writer/editors who produce their newsletters, according to the report.
Under former city manager Douglas Harman, Alexandria published an employe newsletter called "Municipal Highlights," which informed city employes of promotions and new and departing employes. Several council members said they favored the proposed employe newsletter because it would make workers feel a part of the city organization. A part-time editor for this newsletter would cost the city an estimated $7,200 a year.
The council voted to discuss the newsletter at a later date.