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The Right Note: Dusting Off the Memory Banks

By Mark Kelly - ARLNow.com

Thursday - 8/22/2013, 1:45pm  ET

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyYou may remember three years ago when there was an effort to put the question of changing from a County Manager Plan to a County Board form of government to the voters. The effort started late and ended in a giant mess of fraudulent signature gathering.

One practical effect of the change in government would have been to require our County Board to be elected differently. The county would have been divided into four districts – each electing its own representative to the Board. A fifth member would be elected at-large or county wide. All of these elections would happen every four years.

Under this method of election, four of the Board Members would be more accountable to a smaller constituency. New York City Council Members represent fewer people than each of our at-large County Board Members do. Not only does this lower the level of constituent service from a part-time board, but it creates an additional barrier to entry for those outside the Democratic Party establishment.

So, the chances that a Republican or Independent could win one of the seats would likely have increased, even if the current board was able to draw the district lines. Diversity of opinion would be a breath of fresh air to one-party rule.

South Arlington would most certainly be guaranteed at least one Member of the County Board – two if the Board drew the lines with “compactness” in mind. There is a long-standing feeling that those who live South of Route 50 get the short end of the stick when it comes to Board decisions.

The change would have put more power in the hands of the board and less in the hands of the County Administrator (no County Manager in the proposed plan). The goal was to end the ability of the board to pass the buck to county staff whenever convenient.

However, the proposed plan was by no means perfect. It would not change the fact that the chairman would not be directly elected by the voters. We would not have ended the insider process of passing it around annually between board members. The change also would have seen our School Board move back to appointed positions by the County Board. And, the biggest loss of power for the County would have been in the number of authorized agencies the Board may create.

You can compare all of the differences between the County Board and County Manager Plan here.

Love or hate the idea of changing our form of government, it is a shame that this question never made it to the people of Arlington for a vote. It represented an important debate for our community to have about how our government currently operates. Ultimately, consideration of the merits was lost in the drama surrounding the signature gathering process.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.