Fairfax County Executive Edward L. Long Jr. announced Tuesday that he will retire in September, ending a 40-year career in county government that paralleled the development of Virginia’s largest jurisdiction into a wealthy model of suburban living and lately focused on tight budgets, overcrowded schools and traffic-clogged roads.
Long, 64, began working with the county as a budget analyst in 1977 and rose through the ranks of county administration. He retired briefly before taking over as county executive in 2012 when Anthony H. Griffin retired from the post.
During Long’s tenure, Fairfax become one of the country’s most affluent communities, with tens of thousands moving into new residential developments throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Today, the county has 1.1 million residents, more than any other city or county in the Washington region.
Long, whose current salary is $330,000 a year, oversaw some major developments that deepened the county’s growth — most notable being the overhaul of Tysons Corner and Reston around Metrorail’s Silver Line extension toward Dulles International Airport.
Those revitalization projects created new skylines of office towers and residential buildings and cemented Fairfax as an economic powerhouse in the region.
“My initial enthusiasm did not wane over the years, and I have thoroughly enjoyed my long career with the county,” Long said in a letter to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors announcing his Sept. 15 retirement. “My last five years as County Executive have been especially rewarding, and leading Team Fairfax has been the highlight of my career.”
But the past few years have also been marked by headaches for Long as he struggled to fund schools and other services during a tepid economy that has not kept pace with the demands of growing populations of elderly and low-income residents in Fairfax.
During county budget meetings, Long frequently has been a voice of gloom, outlining in his straightforward style the rocky fiscal road ahead.
“This is probably going to be one of the most somber budgets that I’ve had to deal with in my 40-plus years with the county,” Long told county supervisors last fall when he introduced the budget proposal for fiscal 2018.
On Tuesday, the 2018 budget received final approval. It left some priorities unfunded and fell $47 million short of what school officials had requested, the latest sign of belt-tightening in Fairfax as revenue has remained relatively flat.
Mostly apolitical and uncontroversial, Long has nevertheless experienced some challenging moments in his years with the county.
In 2000, as director of the Department of Management and Budget, Long and other top county finance officials were caught by surprise when an employee in the Office of Investment and Cash Management embezzled $2 million from county investment funds.
Officials later said they may have missed warning signs that showed the employee had considerable personal debt, a red flag for workers who are able to access their employer’s funds.
As county executive in 2015, Long tried to block the appointment of a longtime community activist to a police advisory commission set up to recommend a series of reforms in the wake of the 2013 fatal shooting of an unarmed man outside his home.
Long told Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon S. Bulova (D) he thought the activist, retired D.C. police officer Nicholas Beltrante, would use his spot on the commission to push for a civilian board to review allegations of police misconduct.
Beltrante was eventually included in the commission.
Also in 2015, Long proposed that the Board of Supervisors try to generate extra revenue by asking voters to approve a tax on restaurant meals and other types of prepared foods — a controversial idea in Fairfax that voters rejected last year.
In announcing Long’s retirement, Bulova called his pending departure “bittersweet,” noting that he had just passed his last county budget.
“I know how much he’ll miss it,” Bulova joked, before saying that the county will launch a nationwide search for his replacement.
Sitting nearby inside the county government center, Long grinned.