CANDIDATE Q&A: Ira Kaylin

Kaylin is a member of the Falls Church Economic Development Authority and the former Chief Risk Officer of the Inter-American Development Bank.

Background Information:
In my last job, I managed the financial risks of $100 billion in assets.  The City of Falls Church has a much smaller budget, which, logically, should be easier to manage. Unfortunately, it has not been managed well.  The City Council has provided poor financial leadership and poor oversight, allowing a series of “surprises,” which should never have occurred.  Although times are tough all over, they are tougher in Falls Church than they should be.  I think I can help.  Here are my qualifications.

I am the former Chief Financial Risk Officer of the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, DC.  In addition to managing the risk of the Bank’s portfolio, I served as the Bank’s Auditor General and helped oversee $2.5 billion in pension investments.

I’ve been a Falls Church City resident since 2004, currently serve on the City’s Economic Development Authority, and am President of the Falls Church Crest Homeowners Association.

Johannah Barry and I are running a coordinated campaign, and we hope you will join us in bringing new ideas and energy to the City of Falls Church.  As part of our campaign, we have developed a 5-year plan that we call “Falls Church 2015.”  For more information, please visit our web site, www.barrykaylinforcouncil.com.

Specific Questions:

1.  Why do you want to be on City Council?

I have always believed that a person should try to give back to the community the benefits one has received over a lifetime.  For many years, I and many others like me have been beneficiaries of the work, financial sacrifice and commitment of others.   My parents, both of whom grew up poor by today’s standards, received excellent public educations; my dad, in fact benefited from a free (no scholarship required) education paid for by the state in which he lived  He was working toward his PhD in physics when the Depression ended his academic endeavors.

I believe that there is a debt that should be paid back to the society from one generation to another. Like so many others, over the years, my family and my work have come first, leaving little time for civic activities. Now, having retired from my full-time job, I would like to offer to Falls Church, if the voters wish, my energy and support to help sustain the independence of Falls Church, especially the school system.

2.  What has City government done well in the last 10 years?  What has it done poorly?

The best example of the City’s success is the school system including the construction of the Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School. The general level of City services is good.

I have also been impressed by the City’s staff responsiveness, attentiveness and personalized service that it provides its citizens. I am aware that this is not a universally held view as many individuals have different experiences and opinions; of course there is always room for improvement.

The City’s elected officials, however, appear to behave in a contrary fashion.  Citizen views, if different than the predisposition of the majority, are not well received.  Major issues are discussed aimlessly for extended periods and then shut down when convenient. City staff increasingly appear to be given directives rather than asked for their opinions.  The City Attorney is asked for legal rulings when the issues are those of governance and not related to interpretations of the law.

The citizens have little or no voice with their elected officials.

3.  If you could determine the physical nature of Falls Church, what would the City look like in 20 years in terms of buildings, green space, transportation, and other physical aspects?

If a viable long-term development plan can be designed and implemented, available commercial sites near metro stops and along Lee Highway could be consolidated and higher density commercial/office buildings constructed. These buildings would be designed, at the outset, to add green space and intermodal transportation connections. As such, the City could retain its charm and character while assuring its financial sustainability.

I would like to see a “walkable” City, where pedestrians are “invited” to see their City on foot, not behind the wheel of car.  I would oppose buildings that are jammed up against City streets — especially the major routes.

If we do not develop a long-term commercial development plan, in 20 years we will run the risk of having a City that physically may look similar, but will likely be less “user friendly,” not having the same quality of education or quality of life that we have today.  Public safety and other critical City services will likely decline, and housing prices will fall relative to adjacent jurisdictions.

4.  Aside from the physical nature of the City, what should change and what should remain the same?

We need to return the City to its citizens.  We should do everything possible to retain the quality of life that the City has worked so hard over many years to create.

5.  How would you propose to balance the City budget?  Please identify any specific spending cuts or revenue increases you would suggest.

As mentioned before, we need a comprehensive long-term economic development plan that will attract high quality developers.  The magnitude of the City’s fiscal requirements are significant, approximately $45 million in the next five years for Capital Improvement Projects alone.  We need to develop substantial new net revenue flows.  Increasing user fees will indeed generate more tax revenue but represents an increase in taxes; other revenue enhancers related to better utilization of existing commercial space will help but are not sufficient to maintain fiscal sustainability.

Regarding spending cuts, I would suggest consideration of further City reorganization/consolidation with a view to reduce the size of the City’s middle management.  City management reduces positions and services in response to year by year shortfalls as they occur.  There does not appear to be a medium- or long-term strategy to streamline the City’s operating budget to avoid ad hoc reductions.

The issue is not only identifying areas for possible budget cuts but the will to implement those cuts.

6.  When the City’s budget situation improves to allow capital improvement projects, which project would be your top priority?

Schools number one; “intermodal” transportation and watershed protection and system expansion would share the number two designation.

7.  What is your position on the proposed affordable housing project, “The Wilden”?

I have been involved, in depth, with the City Center South Affordable Housing project, now called the “Wilden” for over 18 months.  I have opposed the financial arrangements between the Falls Church Housing Corporation and the City.  As has been mentioned by other citizens, support or opposition to the project has become a “litmus” test of moral values triumphing over fiscal limits.

In fact, the supporters of the project really don’t believe their own rhetoric. If they did they would not have to continually repeat the inaccurate assertion that taxpayers are actually doing well by this project. It is incorrect and misleading to claim there will be no budgetary impact by “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” through a transfer of money from one City managed fund to another City managed fund. Supporters would not have to rely on the assertion that the City’s contribution is a loan, not a grant, even though it will have lost almost 70% ($1.4 million) of its value by the time it has been repaid.

If this is such a clearcut moral imperative, why did the City Council reject a request by a City Council member to have a City referendum on the $2 million borrowing?

The Wilden project has become a symbol of fiscal mismanagement — the influence of special interest groups, even if the objectives are socially desirable — and has significantly worsened the community’s trust in its government.  The City Council has abrogated its essential fiduciary responsibility to treat all citizens fairly by favoring one group of taxpayers at the expense of another without their consent, and indulged in a seriously flawed decision making process in which unsubstantiated data was accepted as fact and any questions from outsiders were ignored. Deadlines were manufactured to justify rushed decisions and avoid careful review.   New information was presented at the same time the project was being publiclydiscussed by City Council, thus preventing any meaningful citizen participation.

8.  What was your position on moving City Council and School Board elections from May to November?

If the process of approving The Wilden project is a symbol of much that is wrong with our political leadership, the change in election dates was the signature moment of failed City Council governance.

I agree with those who say that the origins of the discussion were well intentioned and were genuinely exploratory.  The discussion was, unfortunately, highjacked.  An issue that may have merited a careful review was rushed through the City Council at precisely the time the budget was unraveling.  Moreover, the deadline for the decision was entirely self-imposed by the City Council.

It is truly disturbing that an issue as basic as voting rights was given less discussion than predatory towing.

9.  What changes, if any, should the City make regarding its water system following the recent litigation with Fairfax County Water Authority?

We need to re-establish a better working relationship with Fairfax.  The water systems of these two entities will need to work harmoniously in the future. The Water System is going to require major investment in upgrades of existing infrastructure as well as expansion required for growing residential and commercial enterprises.

Regarding financial issues, talk about a “black box.”  Understanding the operational and financial issues will require fresh “eyes” to untangle years of mystery and apparent incorrect use of water generated funds.

The interior logic that the City Council used to justify a lawsuit against Fairfax is a mystery to those of us on the outside. It is normally not a good idea to pick a fight with an adversary 100 times larger.  It is hard to imagine that some form of settlement could not have been negotiated prior to the City’s first strike litigation.

10.  Are there any practices or programs you have seen in other communities – nearby or far away – that should be adopted by the City of Falls Church?

We have the great fortune to be near jurisdictions such as Arlington, Alexandria, and Montgomery County, which have conducted truly visionary planning, focusing on urban revitalization. There is every indication that the revitalization programs of the Arlington, Alexandria and Bethesda commercial districts are relevant to us and could serve as a useful benchmark to our own plans.

The Falls Church Times’ would like to thank all candidates for their participation in this Candidate Q&A series.  Prior to the May 4 election, we will republish the responses in aggregated fashion.  Until then, we invite readers to review the responses individually to compare answers.  We also encourage voters to attend the April 20 candidate forum at City Hall, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Falls Church and the Falls Church Village Preservation and Improvement Society.

Other Candidate Q&A
Johannah Barry
Barry Buschow
Lindy Hockenberry
John Lawrence
Hal Lippman
Ron Peppe
Dave Snyder

By
April 8, 2010 

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