Libby Garvey Named 2016 Arlington County Board Chair

Published on January 01, 2016

  • Calls for improving customer service, civic engagement

  • Cites need for strategic planning

  • Manager to report to Board this month on transit plans

  • Jay Fisette named Vice Chair

The Arlington County Board today unanimously elected Libby Garvey the 2016 County Board Chair, and Jay Fisette as vice chair at the start of its traditional New Year's Day Organizational Meeting.

Garvey, first elected to the five-member Board in March 2012, will be serving her first one-year term as Chair; she previously served five times as Chair in her 15 years on the Arlington School Board. Garvey said she will focus this year on improving customer service, making it easier for Arlingtonians to engage in civic decision-making, and bringing flexibility and efficiency into planning and zoning. IMG_0018

"Flexibility and open-mindedness do not, of course, mean that we abandon the thoughtful planning that has been at the root of so much of our past success," Garvey said, "but we need to be more intentional and strategic in our work."

The recently completed Facilities Study Committee process and the public survey the Board did as part of its search for a new County Manager "showed that many people feel that Arlington lacks a clear overall direction, that our mission statement is vague, our priorities many, and that we need an overall strategic plan of some sort," Garvey said. "If we are not clear about what our highest priorities are, we cannot achieve them well and our public cannot support us well."

Better customer service

The new Chair promised to "follow closely" in the coming year, efforts already underway to simplify the zoning and permitting processes for both businesses and private homeowners "to make sure the good work we've started keeps moving forward. The whole system is so Byzantine that even employees don't always understand it," Garvey said. "It can be hard to figure out whom you need to talk to or see." Large builders, she said, "find our processes frustrating and expensive. Private homeowners can find themselves totally lost."

The County already is moving to online procedures that will improve the system, she said, "but more coordination is needed?by this time next year we will have much more understandable and efficient processes in place."

Manager to report this month on transit plans

Saying the more than year-long wait for an alternative to the cancelled streetcar project for Columbia Pike has been "frustrating," Garvey moved that the Board direct the Acting County Manager to "report to us later this month about our transit plans, and in that report he address issues like signal prioritization, off-board fare collection, a mix of express and local service buses, and the feasibility of level boarding throughout our system so those with wheelchairs or strollers can easily get on and off our buses." The motion was adopted, and the Acting County Manager will make the presentation at the January County Board meeting (Jan.  23 or 26).

Broader civic participation

The County must find new ways to "tap the incredible talent of the people who live and work here," Garvey said, particularly those whose responsibilities such as "small children and/or demanding work schedules" keep them from being able to attend long meetings. "We must bring the Arlington Way into the 21st Century." The County must experiment with "new and improved ways to involved people, and use technology even more," she said. Read the full speech.

  • Jay Fisette said he will focus on "the need for facilities, including schools, while constrained by limited land; strengthening our economic competitiveness; housing affordability and balancing our budget and our values." He called for institutionalizing communication between County Government and Arlington Public Schools "at the Board, Manager and staff level" as the County continues to grapple with the challenges of increasing school enrollment. But the County, Fisette said, needs to do more than provide the core services of public safety, education and transportation. "What has always distinguished Arlington, and made us a great community," he said, "is our conscience and compassion that motivate us to stretch beyond the standard services to value the arts, help persons with intellectual disabilities, assist seniors on a fixed income with housing and services or create a Homeless Services Center for those living on the street, do our part to protect the environment, and provide quality recreation, trails and parks." Read his full speech.

  • John Vihstadt said his priorities include scrubbing the County's budget "to help ensure that we do first things first." With a budget of more than 1.3 billion dollars and more than 3,000 employees, Vihstadt said, "surely we can find programs and projects to reduce, recalibrate, eliminate or defer while ensuring that our schools, public safety, infrastructure maintenance and other essential services are protected." Vihstadt said he wants a Small Business Summit to "examine new ways to foster small business sustainability and entrepreneurship. He pledged to work for more transparency and accountability in County government. Read his full speech.

  • Christian Dorsey noted the "general satisfaction" residents have "with the kind of community that has been built?yet there is also an anxiety that the quality of life we are enjoying will not continue." The solution, Dorsey said, is to chart "a course toward sustainable growth?how we meet our present needs and overcome current challenges without compromising the ability of current and future residents to enjoy our great community." The County must have housing choices for young professionals, working families and retirees, Dorsey said. Read his full speech.

  • Board Member Katie Cristol said two of the "utmost priorities" for the Board are increasing the availability of entry-level ownership housing and childcare. The Board, she said, needs to begin implementing the Affordable Housing Master Plan it adopted in 2015, which set ambitious goals for creating and preserving affordable housing. Cristol also called for the County to "maintain our moral center by taking care of our most vulnerable residents" by strengthening the County's safety net. Read her full speech.

Using technology to promote transparency, accountability

Acting County Manager Mark Schwartz, in a report to the new Board, said he is focusing staff's attention on open data and service delivery to promote greater transparency and accountability. Schwartz said he looks forward to discussing with the Board the possible live-streaming some commission meetings. He also spoke about the staff's efforts to "make it easier to do business" with Arlington County, including One-Stop Arlington and mobile-friendly Arlington Today.

Board Members named to regional commissions

In addition to electing Garvey and Fisette as chairman and vice chairman, the Board adopted its 2016 County Board Meeting schedule and procedures and appointed members to regional commissions. The appointments include: