It happens at almost every meeting of the Fairfax City Council, as it has for about 10 years. Albert Litschgi steps to the podium.
Expression stern, determination fixed, notebook open, arms outstretched to either side of the lectern, Litschgi is asked to identify himself.
"The name is Litschgi," he says. "The address is 10607 Springmann Drive. I've lived there for 20 years."
With those familiar words, retired Army Col. Albert W. Litschgi, 68, establishes his credentials and is ready to say his piece one more time.
Fairfax City, Litschgi charges at council meeting after council meeting, "is losing its residential character." What with all the shopping centers, commercial development and now, especially, an upcoming bond referendum to widen Chain Bridge Road and to create a system of one-way streets through the city's historic downtown, Litschgi doesn't like what he sees.
At some council meetings, Litschgi is the only citizen present. Undaunted, he often speaks three or four times. Within the council chambers, Litschgi's vigilance on zoning cases has earned him a reputation as an implacable foe of development.
"He is actually like a watchdog to some degree," said Fairfax Mayor George T. Snyder Jr. "Somebody referred to him as a gadfly, like people who show up at a shareholders meeting.
"He's not always on target," said Snyder, who shares Litschgi's concern about commercial development. But "at least he's participating," Snyder said. "Sometimes he's the only citizen participating."
Litschgi admits to keeping a close eye on city affairs, but he doesn't see himself as a watchdog. He speaks not so much to influence others, he said, as to vent his views. "I think it's a good outlet for anybody to express their ideas," Litschgi said. "I think everyone should speak up occasionally." Whether the council takes his advice is not important, he said, "as long as you say what you want and you have your piece."
For Litschgi, that involves more than just speaking at public meetings. Twice a week, he calls the tape at city hall to find out about any meetings he has missed and any announcements. When the tape isn't working, Litschgi is quick to tell someone. Grounds that need to be cleaned, street lanes that need to be painted or any other suggestions, Litschgi thinks nothing of calling the city manager, public works director or anybody else.
Away from the public podium, Litschgi seems a relaxed and gentle man. He spends his days at his house on Springmann Drive where he lives with his wife Mary Jane and son John Kevin. A grown son and daughter live elsewhere. He retired last year from his job as a computer security specialist with Computer Data Systems.
Litschgi's home includes a room full of photographs and medals from a 34-year Army career that took him to Europe, South America and Vietnam. Litschgi retired from the Army in 1975 and spent 11 years in the private sector. He has lived in Fairfax City since 1966 when he was assigned to work at the Pentagon.
Except for participating in a fight against a proposed Metro stop and a roadway that would have disrupted his neighborhood, Litschgi mostly stayed out of public life. It was not until 1978, when a developer proposed building more than 40 houses on a 13-acre lot behind his house, that Litschgi became the public man he is today.
Litschgi and his neighbors fought the development, arguing that no more than 20 houses should be allowed. At the time, he argued that he moved to Fairfax because it was zoned for detached single-family houses around his neighborhood.
He and his neighbors eventually lost the fight against Rust Field;the rezoning for the expensive houses won approval.
A series of events that took place after the development was approved illustrated Litschgi's attention to details and his effectiveness.
To help preserve trees on the Rust Field development, trees that Litschgi and his neighbors argued were important to the community, the developer of the project agreed to put into the covenant of each house a provision that no large back yard tree could be cut down.
When Litschgi noticed that the provision wasn't in the covenants as promised, he quickly telephoned the city attorney. The attorney wrote him back, saying Litschgi was right and that the problem had been corrected.
But the new language said homeowners could cut down the trees with the permission of the zoning administrator. Wrong again, charged Litschgi, who again called the city attorney and spoke before the City Council. Again the city attorney checked and again Litschgi was correct. Language forbidding the cutting down of large trees was placed in the covenants of homeowners in the new development.
Litschgi maintains he has no political ambitions, but he does harbor disappointment at having been rejected twice for a seat on the Fairfax City Planning Commission. Yet, despite his sometimes blistering criticism of the council, he said he thinks council members have good intentions.
For his next project, Litschgi is walking around the city, photographing signs indicating empty office space. He will unveil the photographs the next time anyone mentions that the city needs more office space.
"I may sound negative at times," he said, but only because "I try to oppose things that are wrong . . . .
"I like to get my point across and not beat around the bush," he said, interrupting himself with a chuckle. "That's why I'm not in politics."