LETTER: No Harm, No Foul in GOP Candidate Forum
By Mark Rhoads
May 2, 2012
A few weeks ago, an opinion was expressed in the Falls Church Times to the effect that it would not be proper for the Falls Church City Republican Committee to sponsor a non-partisan open forum for candidates for the City Council. But members of the FCCRC including me argued that there was no inherent taint involved in the choice of an otherwise state partisan-affiliated group to sponsor a non-partisan forum open to all candidates and all citizens of any party who wanted to come to meet candidates in a public forum.
On a rainy Sunday afternoon, April 22, about 73 citizens of Falls Church City affiliated with both state parties or no state party, attended a very lively FCCRC open forum in the Seniors Room at the Community Center to hear all the candidates for City Council including incumbent Mayor Nader Baroukh and candidates Phil Duncan, John Lawrence, David Tarter, William Henneberg, and Paul Handly . Incumbent Mr. Lawrence Webb could not attend due to a trip to New York but he did speak to the FCCRC meeting on April 19 at the American Legion Hall. I attended both the FCCRC open forum and the candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters at the City Hall on April 18. The LWV forum was well organized and timed and all candidates had a good amount of time to speak for about two hours and questions were submitted in writing from the audience. The LWV event was also televised on local community access TV.
At the FCCRC open forum on Sunday, most questions from the floor were about the newly-announced city plan to ban on-street parking on several streets including Hillwood, Lincoln, and West Street. The parking lanes would be replaced by bicycle lanes and funded mostly by federal grant money.
When asked for a show of hands on whether they would vote “no” on the plan if they were Council members, only David Tarter did not raise his hand. When asked whether they would vote to kill the plan and later bring back aspects of the plan that would not inconvenience neighborhoods, only William Henneberg indicated that he would. Mayor Nader Baroukh protested that such a vote was unfair to him, as a current Council member. He indicated that the bill should be preserved, with approval deferred until problematic issues could be removed and there was more consultation with residents.
John Lawrence said that although he participated in the plan’s development, it was with the Council’s direction and City staff’s guidance on vetting the plan with residents of Falls Church City. In response to a question about how much development of the plan cost, no estimate of staff time was available but the City may have paid a consulting firm up to $300,000.00 for work done so far.
No candidate responded to a question about whether the plan would require sidewalks in neighborhoods without them, such as Broadmont.
The proposal may already be dividing neighbors. Apparently, some residents of cul-du-sacs off Lincoln Street say they will ask the City for signs prohibiting parking in their cul-du-sac by anyone who has a Lincoln Avenue address. It was also reported that some Fairfax Country residents near Hillwood have already warned that they will seek to ban cars with Falls Church City stickers from parking in the area South of Hillwood and north of Arlington Boulevard.
GOP Committee Chair Ken Feltman, who is a resident on Hillwood, observed that regardless of the merits of the plan, the timing of its release and the failure by City staff to actively seek the views of citizens in affected neighborhoods has led to a contentious situation that could have been avoided. Other questions for candidates from the floor were about the full or part-time safety inspection duties of the fire marshal, recycling rules for apartment buildings, and why only one taxi cab company appears to have a monopoly on radio calls in the city. More than 100 questions from the community were submitted by email to the FCCRC and there was not enough time to ask all of them during two and a half hours so preference was given to calling on citizens in attendance who had their hands up.
While the formats were different and the topic areas very different, I could see no hint of partisanship in either the LWV candidate forum or the FCCRC open forum. The Republican forum even included a short presentation by a candidate for Congress in the upcoming June Democratic primary for the 8th District, Mr. Bruce Shuttleworth, who spoke about how his petitions were able to withstand scrutiny to qualify his name for the ballot. A Republican candidate for Congress in the same district, retired Army Col. Patrick Murray, had previously spoken to FCCRC members at their February public meeting at the Oakwood Apartments. Incumbent Congressman Jim Moran (D) is also invited to attend a future FCCRC event at a time of his convenience.
So I believe that fears that the FCCRC could not sponsor a non-partisan forum open to all candidates and all citizens of all parties and independents were not well grounded and that for the local Republican committee, where there is no harm there is no foul.
Mark Rhoads is a member of the Falls Church City Republican Committee
By (see byline)
May 2, 2012