Continue what already was started.
As Bob O'Neill moves to the national stage after a short but positive tenure as Fairfax County executive, the county sits at a crossroads.
O'Neill initiated reforms that were designed to make county government more responsive, and members of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce -- many of whom pay taxes as residents and business owners -- will insist that these reforms be implemented so that the county can build on its already outstanding economic success.
O'Neill borrowed a page from business and proposed a bold plan to offer financial incentives, along with real accountability, to reward county employees for providing taxpayers with the most efficient service possible. He also attempted to restructure the government bureaucracy by combining departments and eliminating redundant operations. Additionally, he showed that the private sector can do a better job than government in providing certain services.
As business leaders, residents and, most important, taxpayers, members of the chamber believe the county executive took the right approach. Translating sound business practices into government operations can be challenging, but incentives are a proven means of motivating workers. We must constantly examine our operations and eliminate those areas that are outdated, redundant or do not provide the results that justify our investment.
In order for O'Neill's initiatives to be implemented, the board of supervisors must select a new executive who has the ability to tell the board and the county what they need to hear -- not just what they want to hear. The board in its turn must be prepared to give the new county executive the latitude to run the day-to-day operations of the county government. Board members must abstain from micromanagement, which is driven more by what they think their local constituents want than by what is good for Fairfax County as a whole. If that does not happen, other structural changes might need to be considered.
Being able to rise above parochial concerns and focus on what's best for the county requires the commitment to public service that O'Neill exhibited. For the sake of our county and its chances to build on our current economic and quality of life advantages, I hope the next board, to be elected on Nov. 2, will provide a fitting legacy for the O'Neill era.
-- James W. Dyke Jr.
is chairman of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.
Focus on four critical issues.
In 1950, the year I was born, Fairfax County had 98,557 residents. It had no large shopping malls and no Beltway, and its landscape was dotted with pastures and dairy farms. Tysons Corner was a sleepy crossroads. Back then, almost all of Fairfax's commuters traveled to Washington.
Today, Fairfax is home to 948,636 residents, most of whom commute to commercial centers within the county. Fairfax has the highest median income in the country, the 11th-largest school system and the largest number of high-tech jobs outside of California. Tysons Corner is a hub that drives Northern Virginia's booming economy.
As the county undertakes a search for a new executive, we need to address several critical issues:
Education. Our public school system is one of the best in the United States, but 14,000 kids now go to school in trailers, and dozens of schools need renovation and equipment. With 3,000 new students a year, we also need more teachers. Financing these needs during the next decade will be our number-one challenge and priority.
Public Safety. Fairfax County has the lowest crime rate of any large jurisdiction (more than 100,000 population) in the country. We need to keep it that way. One cloud on the horizon is youth and gang-related violence. Promoting crime prevention, community policing, neighborhood watches and funding youth activities will help us stay ahead of the curve.
Transportation. Fairfax County subsidizes the rest of Virginia's transportation portfolio, and it is time that the state provided a significant infusion of funding for our transportation needs. Extending Metrorail through Tysons to Dulles and along the I-66 median to Centreville ought to be priorities. Lots more state funding for secondary road improvements is also essential, as are better tools to control the pace of development.
Finance. Seventy-one percent of the county's $2 billion annual budget is derived from real and personal property taxes. With the car tax phase-out and stagnant real estate tax assessments, income tax-driven surpluses experienced by other jurisdictions have eluded us. We must be able to tap into the income tax revenue we send to Richmond to fund our education, public safety and transportation needs.
Fairfax County is a safe, well-educated and fully employed community with lots of public services and amenities. But it can't rest on its laurels. The next county executive must find innovative ways to finance the demand for more services and more infrastructure.
-- Gerald E. Connolly
a Democrat, is a member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
Clearly define the separation of powers.
Fairfax County gained much from the communication skills that Robert O'Neill brought to the job of county executive, and the fulfillment of much of what he had begun should be a major consideration in the selection of his replacement.
O'Neill's tenure was about innovation and communication. He tried to break down the bureaucratic walls between county departments that made each a separate fiefdom. He began the first of many meetings with citizens' associations before his executive chair was even warm. And he and Fairfax County School Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech worked together to get rid of the "us and them" attitude that too often has existed between the schools and the county, especially at budget time. These efforts, and his work in the substantive areas of revitalization, storm-water management and planning, must be continued by O'Neill's successor.
Beyond that, the role of the next county executive must become better defined. Supervisors, in their attempt to respond to constituents, have had a tendency to second-guess and micromanage county affairs. But some supervisors have become overinvolved -- in the recent selection process for the county police chief, for example. Machinations of individual supervisors must not be allowed to tarnish the selection of O'Neill's successor.
In searching for a new executive, supervisors must find a balance between candidates who may know how the aberration called Fairfax County works -- and how to work within it -- and candidates who could bring innovative ideas and outside experience who are less likely to be bogged down in the system.
To avoid the appearance of patronage, the selection process should reach beyond the county for applicants while also including a careful examination of the qualifications of outstanding executives within the county. The $25,000 expected cost of a search is a small price to pay for finding the right person to lead Fairfax County into a new century.
-- William B. Bailey
is president of the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations.
Make the county executive an elected official.
Creativity. Vision. Leadership. Innovation. We all agree, those are qualities the next Fairfax County executive should have.
In an appointed, administrative, bureaucratic post? Get real.
With the departure of County Executive Bob O'Neill, the county once again is in search of a chief administrative officer. Should we conduct a national search again or simply acknowledge that we have a first-rate executive in Tony Griffin and persuade him to step up?
Regardless of which direction the board chooses, the real issue here is leadership. Under our present form of government, a 10-member board of supervisors (nine district members and an at-large chairman) combines legislative and some administrative functions. The board then appoints a chief administrative officer -- the county executive -- to run the day-to-day activities of government.
So where does the long-range vision come from? The supervisors are too busy fixing potholes and making certain their districts get their fair share of funding for schools, parks, etc. The chairman has no more legal power than any other member and, therefore, no ability to steer a course without cajoling five other board members to go along. The executive runs the risk of being fired any time he or she doesn't satisfy six board members.
The time has come to consider an elected county executive and an overhaul of our form of government. Fairfax County has changed tremendously in 30 years. While it may have looked good when the voters adopted it in 1966, the so-called urban county executive form today looks like an Edsel.
In Maryland, county executives run for election, and candidates offer their visions for where their jurisdiction should go, backed by the legal and financial authority to implement that vision once elected. Unlike in Virginia, there is direct accountability to the people.
Other than a major league baseball team, I usually find little about Maryland that I would want for Virginia. Maybe it's time to admit that that state does do something else right.
-- Michael Frey
a Republican, is a member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.