When I was first encouraged to run for office while being a Planning Commissioner, I looked upon the opportunity as another way to serve our community by bringing to this decision-making body my background in public administration, engineering and planning. Since I was first elected, our Town has faced any number of challenges/issues from heavy winter storms/flooding, getting the Community Center completed, difficult development review decisions, to security concerns with protests in DC. I fully believe that for every hour of meeting, it takes a Council Member 3 hours to appropriately prepare for discussion, strategies and approaches to move any given issue…more in budget season because we are looking forward with the fiduciary duty to support our community’s goals with our fiscal resources.
Over the last 3-4 months I have been doing a lot of thinking on the balance of where my time is spent, the roles in my life, where I serve, and goals I want to accomplish. Time is finite and time is limited…In light of what became a much more extended trip at Thanksgiving than was originally planned to simply assist with my mom’s knee replacement rehabilitation; helping my wife with her elderly aunt who has Alzheimer’s Disease, and my desire to work with my father to publish a book of his photography before his eyesight fails. I note this not without a touch of irony in light of being accused of “making ageist and discriminatory statements” by a member of the public last week…I guess as public officials we should just simply accept that people will attack us personally…such is the tone of conversations in our country today.
I have had lot of conversations with my family and a few others. After thoughtful consideration, I will be extremely challenged to prepare for every meeting in my current role of Council Member, let alone spend the time in campaign season to talk to people about the real issues that are facing our Town. In that light I do not plan to run for reelection this Spring, though I plan to serve out the remainder of my term.
Thank you to the people who have supported me over the last 4 years. I would also thank our staff that our Town Manager Mercury Payton has assembled since I was on Planning Commission…the improvement in knowledge and professionalism across all levels and all departments is noticeable. I did want to say that I want to thank (and blame) Linda’s mom for getting me to serve the Town, Mayor DiRocco for coaching me on how to serve in an elected role, and more recently Coucilmember Potter’s thoughtfulness and preparation for these meetings even though we may come to different conclusions.
Brian Trompeter asked me for what I consider the Town’s priorities for the next two years…and so here are few:
- Need to get the zoning code update right and finished, plus the associated updates to the Comprehensive Plan. For the April Council meeting for that contract award, I have already requested that the Town Manager to add an agenda item following the award to refer to the Planning Commission a motion rescind the MAC code elements in their entirely. What comes out of the zoning code update process must govern commercial property development in the future not “fixes” to a MAC code that has flaws.
- Not be distracted by petty arguments and the next shiny new object like a W&OD trail bridge over Maple Avenue or a property purchase — what is their value in comparison to construction of sidewalks and storm drains on 10-15 blocks of streets, or a parking garage, or speed humps or roundabouts, or a park.
- “Small Town” — We as a community need to have a really frank conversation about what that means…come to grips with the idea that we haven’t really been a small town since the 1950’s…maybe we are in the context of activities and people…but what we really are is an independent suburb in the 6th largest metropolitan area of the country, 2 miles from the 12th largest employment center in the country that is supposed to add 60,000 jobs and some 30,000 people in the next 20 years. We need to figure who we really are…there needs to be a hard conversation – and a conclusion… falling back to saying “we are a small town” is NOT the answer.
- Getting the Town’s performance dashboard on the website….at my insistence we are doing much better at getting minutes and such posted (not perfect yet)…but need to be diligent to keep and add more forward facing information for the community
- Need to look to standards and noteworthy practices to frame the processes and structure of what the Town does, while leaning forward to make the applications distinct for Vienna. We need to be better at moving studies and projects forward toward implementation in timely manner even in the face of an anti-professional practice narrative being created by some people.
…and looking back at what has been accomplished:
- The Community Center is finished and open after sorting thru all the challenges with the original budgeting, contingency funds, architect and contractor.
- Starting the Police Station with those lessons learned and bringing in the Town’s project manager early to do meaningful w/ value engineering.
- Improvement of the department performance measures in budget…still a work in progress…but there is progress.
- Expanding community events like Chillin’ on Church.
- Completing updated Strategic Plan for the Town.
- Initiating the work to install the traffic adaptive signal system for Maple Avenue.
- Adding staff positions for Traffic Engineer, Economic Development Manager, and Sustainability Coordinator.
- Preparing (or working on) three items that I stated were necessary when I was Chair of the MAC Steering Committee when the code amendment passed five years ago: 1) Visual Design Guidelines, 2) Multimodal Transportation Study and
3) Economic Development Study…these finally moved forward once I joined Council.
- Budgeting for water and sewer improvements after looking at the gigantic gap in investment.
Looking forward to this election I do have a few observations… In a representative government, the role of your council members is to represent you in weighing the legal basis, resource challenges, difficult facts, public interest, community aspirations to make decisions to move our Town forward. One thing I would hope for this election (really for any election) is that voters become informed on the issues before them. What candidates are really saying about their perspective for the future…to really listen…rather than simply a reaction to one or two past decisions you didn’t like by a candidate. I don’t mean just listening to candidates talking points or some opinion piece on the web or social media. Who is doing the work? Who is taking credit? Where are their ethics amid all the calls for transparency? If the Council is making decisions that affect all property owners, are they themselves equally affected?
To be informed look to original sources, primary information… For example, you are going to be hearing a lot about “smart growth”…I want you to learn what that means, from independent sources like the American Planning Association, Smart Growth American, and the Coalition for Smarter Growth here in Northern Virginia. I know Stewart Schwartz the Executive Director there (at CSG), we have had a number of conversations. I will tell you that some of the ideas spinning about being labeled as “smart growth” have little to do with what it actually is in professional practice.
What I am saying is that voter has a responsibility to be, really must, be a discerning consumer of information. I welcome anyone who is willing to try on this chair to come forward and explain how they plan to bring people together rather than separate…to do the hard work that is necessary.
After my term concludes, I may serve our Town again if invited to specific small roles…otherwise, you are welcome see me about negotiating for a return shipment of Italian beef, fixin’s for real hot dogs, or real pizza prior to my next trip to Chicago…or to stop by and kibitz about gardening as I try to transform my disaster of a yard, or talk about old sportcars…