LETTER: Thanks to ‘Byrd Feeder’ Sponsors for Helping All-Night Graduation

December 14, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

TO THE EDITORS OF THE FALLS CHURCH TIMES

On behalf of the All Night Graduation Celebration of 2010, we would like to thank Rebecca and David Tax of Clare and Don’s Beach Shack here in the City of Falls Church for their generous sponsorship of the 2009 First Annual Byrd Feeder benefit featuring our George Mason High School Principal Tyrone Byrd. They were very helpful in planning and developing a very successful event, and we appreciate their support of this very worthy program which provides a safe and alcohol free celebration for our graduating seniors.

We would also like to thank Mr. Byrd and his family for lending their wholehearted support to this event. He was gracious and welcoming and made a perfect host for the standing room only crowd that attended.

For those in the community, high school and otherwise, who came out on a cold, wet evening to support our program, we thank you for showing up and making clear to us that this is truly the first of many “Byrd Feeder” events to come. See you all next year!

MELISSA MORSE
Publicity Chair
All Night Graduation Celebration

Letters to the Editor should be submitted to contact@fallschurchtimes.com. They may be on any subject relevant to our City. Writers should include their full name and city of residence. All submissions are subject to editing.

GMHS Principal Ty Byrd with David Tax of Clare and Don’s Beach Shack

GMHS Principal Ty Byrd with David Tax of Clare and Don’s Beach Shack

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LETTER: Seek Other Ways to Boost Voter Participation

December 13, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

letterTo the Editors of the Falls Church Times:

I am writing concerning the proposed ordinance to change the date of City Council and School Board elections from May to November.

The advocates of this change are selling it as a motherhood-and-apple-pie issue, nothing more than a benign way to increase voter participation.  A change of election dates might increase voter participation, but that’s really not the overriding point.  Inherent in the proposal are consequences that are vitally important to every voter and taxpayer in Falls Church.  Both the decision to change the schedule and the nature of the change are matters that should be left to the citizens in a referendum election.  Moreover, the Council and the voters should examine every available avenue for increasing voter participation before blindly rushing to adopt one method.

An unusually diverse group of citizens view the Council’s actions as politically partisan and self-serving.  Opinions are split about the advisability of piggybacking local elections onto the general election.  However, there is wide-ranging, deep concern over the undemocratic method the Council has chosen to pursue such a consequential change, particularly given the almost universal opposition voiced at the Council’s first reading.

There is mounting suspicion that the election schedule change is a ploy to  take control of the election process away from the nonpartisan citizen groups who have been the backbone of the process in this City since its inception.  People who attended a meeting of the FC Democratic Committee (FCDC) in the prior city election cycle recall an aggressive move by the mayor’s husband and the editor of the local paper to have the FCDC nominate and support a partisan slate of candidates for the Council, thus likely ending our venerable nonpartisan tradition, and certainly putting independent candidates at an almost insurmountable disadvantage.  After a highly acrimonious argument, the move was defeated.

The urge for partisanship apparently is not dead. The mayor, if inadvertently, confirmed the partisan political nature of this latest effort at the first reading of the proposed election schedule change.  A diverse group of citizens appeared before the Council to speak out against the unseemly rush to change.  The mayor repeatedly dismissed  these citizen-dissenters as “the old guard” — that would be the members of both major political parties and members of the nonpartisan civic groups who created and nurtured the successful process we now enjoy — and told them to get in line or get out of the way.

The case for making the change has not convincingly been made, even less so the case for rushing to make the change by ordinance rather than posing the issue to the voters by referendum.  The primary arguments against quick action by ordinance bear repeating:

  • Making an immediate change by Council fiat could result in extending terms of office of several Council members for at least 6 months beyond the 4 years to which they were duly elected.  This is self-dealing at its most obvious.  Depending upon timing, the change could also cut short the terms of other Council members.
  • Coupling local elections with general elections inescapably will render local races partisan and, accordingly, substantially reduce the ability of federal employees (of which there are many) to fully participate.
  • Further, the schedule change will have the effect of divorcing the timing of the election from the budget cycle and, thus, diminish the citizens’ ability to timely hold the Council accountable for the fiscal and budgetary policies they set.

The voters have the right to weigh these substantial drawbacks against the possibility of increased voter turnout and to decide for themselves whether they want the change.  The Council has a duty to let the voters decide a question of this magnitude after a thorough public debate, and to help the voters explore whether other methods of increasing voter participation might succeed, without enmeshing local elections in state and local partisan politics.  In addition to VA Code Sec. 24.2-222 and Sec. 4.17 of the City Charter, which provide for a citizen-initiated referendum on the issue, the Council also has the power under Sec. 4.12 of the Charter to submit the issue to the voters for an advisory referendum before acting precipitously to make the change.  The Council should take advantage of this authority.

On that note, let’s dispense with a couple of canards.  First, reserving to the citizens the right to change the election schedule is not tantamount to opposing increased voter participation.  That claim is transparently false and dishonest.  Second, as noted above, putting a referendum question on the ballot does not require “an expensive and protracted process.”  In any case, we don’t traditionally apply a cost-benefit analysis to the democratic process.

There is a potentially more successful way to maximize voter participation, if the Council is truly and disinterestedly intent on achieving that goal.  I urge the Council to explore the possibility of a superior approach, one that does not risk subsuming our local elections to state and national elections, or enmeshing them in partisan politics.

Many municipalities have instituted vote-by-mail local elections, achieving significant increases in voter participation and cost savings.  Vote-by-mail is a technique that is being used successfully in states including Oregon, Montana, California, Colorado, Alaska, Florida, Kansas, New Mexico, and I am sure there are others.  Some municipalities automatically mail ballots to their registered voters, with instructions and postage-paid return envelopes; others require registered voters to request mail ballots.  Some jurisdictions even combine vote-by-mail with the availability of voting in person at a reduced number of polling stations.

We already know how to do mail balloting and maintain election security – we do it with absentee voting now.  All it would take would be to expand the concept, and incorporate vote-by-mail into our Charter, rather than a change in the election schedule.

Linda S. Neighborgall
Falls Church City

Letters to the Editor should be submitted to contact@fallschurchtimes.com. They may be on any subject relevant to our City. Writers should include their full name and city of residence. All submissions are subject to editing.

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LETTER: Study First, Vote Second

December 10, 2009 by · 4 Comments 

To the Editors of the Falls Church Times:

letterAlthough I ran over (literally) to the City Council meeting on Monday, since I was chairing a Planning Commission meeting, the public statements had ended, so I didn’t get a chance to talk.

I intended to speak out very simply against making any move now.  I was glad to hear that 2010 is off the table, but I still fail to see why the Council needs to act NOW at all.  I think that this deserves study and, frankly, I don’t know whether I want to change from May to November or not.  I can think of good arguments in both directions.  The question Councilman Dan Maller raised about what state or federal cycle we tie any date change to is very significant.  It deserves an answer.

I now hear that there’s talk of making the change in 2012 and letting Council members appoint “interim” members to fill out the terms of those up that year.  Huh?  For six months what would be the most responsible move?  Find three new people?  What if they’re running for Council?  Give them an “incumbent” advantage against people who were actually elected?  This makes even less sense than letting people vote themselves an extension in office.  And don’t get me started about the idea of reappointing those in office at that time.  Disingenuous at best.

I also hear there might be a resolution calling for a referendum.  Wouldn’t that then force a referendum in 30-60 days?  That wouldn’t help anything and would be a huge negative.  Talk about low voter turnout.

I think the Council should do two things:  1) require a report (led possibly by the League of Women Voters) that would study the issue and report back no later than May 1 on the question of May vs. November; and 2) pass a Sense of the Council resolution saying that after that report the Council (however constituted) should call for a referendum at such a time that it could be put on the November ballot.  Are better-informed voters good?  Use this report to inform them on the issue.  Is better turnout good?  Use it to decide this issue in November.  Sure, it may be an “advisory” referendum, but the Council should want advice on this, not run from it.  And if a change is made, do it in 2014.

John Lawrence
Falls Church City

( EDITORS’ NOTE: Mr. Lawrence is chair of the Falls Church Planning Commission. He has informed us that this letter was also submitted to the Falls Church News-Press. We have printed it in unedited form.)  

Letters to the Editor should be submitted to contact@fallschurchtimes.com. They may be on any subject relevant to our City. Writers should include their full name and city of residence. All submissions are subject to editing.
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LETTER: Citizen Petition on Election Change – Let the Voters Decide

December 3, 2009 by · 3 Comments 

TO THE EDITORS OF THE FALLS CHURCH TIMES:

We invite other citizens of Falls Church City to join us in signing the letter below, which will be presented to the City Council on Monday, Dec. 14.  Please visit http://www.fallschurchpetition.com to add your name.  Only current citizens of Falls Church City should sign.

letterOn Monday Dec. 14, the Falls Church City Council will consider final passage of an ordinance to change the elections for the City Council and School Board from May to November.

At its Nov. 23 meeting, the first opportunity for public comment, the nearly unanimous plea from the people who spoke or wrote on this issue was to slow down.  They emphasized that changes to how and when voting occurs is not a decision to be made by four individuals, but rather should be discussed in full by the community of voters affected.

Yet the Council voted 4-3 to proceed to Second Reading. The Council only began discussion of this topic on Nov. 2, and now it appears ready to make this important change in a mere six weeks based on limited research and without meaningful public discussion.

There are significant consequences of an election date change that must be considered by the voters.  Ultimately, if the City elections are to be moved from May to November, it should be the result of a citizen referendum, not a Council vote.

To state our strong opposition to the City Council changing the election date without a mandate of the voters, we are sending the letter below to City Council members, urging them to refrain from making this very significant change in haste and on their own.

We hope others will join us in this important effort.

Sincerely,

CHRISTINE SANDERS
MARTY MESERVE
BARRY BUSCHOW
LOUIS T. OLOM

Falls Church City

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LETTER TO BE DELIVERED TO THE FALLS CHURCH CITY COUNCIL ON MONDAY, DECEMBER 14

To the Members of the Falls Church City Council:

The undersigned citizens of the City of Falls Church urge you not to make a decision by ordinance to move elections for City Council and School Board from May to November.  Rather, if the date of these elections is to change, only the citizens of Falls Church should change it through a referendum.

To date, Council members supporting a change in the election date have stated primarily one reason for making such a change – increasing voter participation in City elections.  Increased voter participation is a goal we all share, but it does not trump all other ramifications.

As the League of Women Voters of Falls Church articulated in its 2001 study (www.lwvfallschurch.org) of this issue, there are potential negative consequences to moving the election date, including:

a)  City candidates and local issues could be overshadowed by national/state candidates and issues; b) the possible end of nonpartisan elections for City Council and School Board; and c) new City Council and School Board members would take office in the middle of a fiscal/school year and budget process.

These significant considerations call for direct decision-making by the voters, as numerous citizens stated at the November 23 City Council meeting. For an issue regarding voter rights, this City Council should not impose its own will.  Voting is the right of all the voters, not just elected officials, or in this instance, a mere majority of sitting City Council members.  City Council should not disregard this right.

We therefore call upon the Falls Church City Council to refrain from voting on its own volition to move the elections for City Council and School Board from May to November.  If the elections are to be changed, it should only occur after due consideration of all consequences of such change and a citizen referendum.

Sincerely,

CHRISTINE SANDERS
MARTY MESERVE
BARRY BUSCHOW
LOUIS T. OLOM

——————-

Letters to the Editor should be submitted to contact@fallschurchtimes.com. They may be on any subject relevant to our City. Writers should include their full name and city of residence. All submissions are subject to editing.

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LETTER: Concerned Citizens Trumped by Mayor’s Facebook

November 24, 2009 by · 21 Comments 

letterTO THE EDITOR OF THE FALLS CHURCH TIMES

In an amazing turn of events at last night’s City Council debate over changing the election from May to November, Mayor Gardner pulled out the ultimate trump card.  She cited multiple comments on her Facebook page supporting moving the election to November, nearly silencing the unanimous crowd of concerned citizens that came out to speak against the measure.

“I went onto Facebook and here’s the question I asked,” said the Mayor, “and I sent this to quite a number of people, some who are engaged in community activities, some who aren’t …”  She seemed reluctant to deliver this crushing blow, but nonetheless proceeded to quote multiple Friends and nameless comments in support of the measure. This gauntlet was thrown down after ten concerned citizens and community leaders spoke in person, and nine written messages were read, all posing thoughtful concerns and reasons why the Council should vote against the ordinance and instead take the time to study the measure before doing something so rash.  But the crowd was completely silenced by the unexpected due diligence of the Mayor. 

“Facebook? How can you compete with that?” commented one observer, “I’m guessing some of those responses may have actually been Falls Church City residents, and in that case it’s overwhelmingly in favor of the election change.”

Another member of the opposition who wished to remain nameless so the mayor would not “un-friend” her from the Mayor’s page, “I had no idea she would bring up Facebook comments.  I need to go back and check what I have on my Wall so she can’t use that at the next meeting.”

“I’m just happy she didn’t end her comments with “Booyah, how you like me now?” she noted further, which would have dealt a fatal blow to the opposition.

And if the Facebook retort weren’t devastating enough, Mr. Webb quoted an email that he solicited from a friend, Mr. Sze cited comments he received at Panera, and Mr. Lippman cited Richard Nixon and his defense of the “silent majority” for reasons to support the ordinance. Using Nixon was especially demoralizing to opposing arguments, as we all know how successful he was as president.  Collectively, these remarks served to humiliate the otherwise thoughtful, practical and reasonable comments from Falls Church citizens.

In a glowing sense of victory, one silent supporter of the ordinance noted “This is democracy at its best…Council first raised the issue publicly at their worksession on November 2nd, and they’re now poised to vote it into law on Dec 14th.  That’s over six weeks to consider the issue, well five if you don’t count Thanksgiving, but regardless it’s more than enough time to research, discuss with the Community, and make the best decision for the City”.

Stop.  Do you feel like you’re reading The Onion at the moment?  Sadly, you’re not.  This is the state of affairs in Falls Church, where “reason” seems to be squandered and “agendas” go to the top of the list.  In fairness, I’ve taken liberties in my quotes from those in attendance, but the quotes from the Mayor and references to Council Members are 100% accurate.  If you don’t believe it, watch the video for yourself.  (Visit www.fallschurchva.gov, select City Council Meetings on left, then see video for Nov. 23.)

I personally like having the election in May.  There are a lot of advantages to it, and I think it makes Falls Church a more special place for having the election then.  But I’m not opposed to having a real dialogue about it, and then letting the people decide it as a referendum.

The one reason that every supporting Council member uses to support this measure is to increase voter turnout. But as I understand it, we’ve had a lot of unopposed elections in the past…I’m guessing that’s the real reason for low voter turnout.  So is this really an assault on the CBC?  Perhaps endorsing only enough members for open seats is backfiring in a way?  What happens to CBC when the elections change to November, and political parties start to play more of a role?  To be honest, I’m a bit disappointed there weren’t more CBC members out last night to speak against this.

Perhaps new parties need to be formed to help provide that opposition?  G*d help us if it’s partisan groups, hopefully not, but maybe there needs to be another party that supports alternative candidates?  My guess is that will fix low voter turnout in May in a hurry.

Be that as it may, come December 14th the Council plans to pass an ordinance to change the election to either Nov 2010, Nov 2011 or Nov 2012. This is now a “back room” deal to be cut among the five supporting council members.  Democracy at work.

I would urge everyone to come out and speak against it on the 14th, but I’m not sure if I will turn out myself. Before deciding I’m going to try and “Friend” the Mayor first and see what’s happening on her Facebook page . . . this could unlock the secrets to what will happen next.

MIKE NOVOTNY
Falls Church City

Letters to the Editor should be submitted to contact@fallschurchtimes.com. They may be on any subject relevant to our City. Writers should include their full name and city of residence. All submissions are subject to editing.

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LETTER: Councilman Baroukh Says Focus on Budget, Not Moving Election

November 19, 2009 by · 8 Comments 

nader baroukhTO THE EDITOR OF THE FALLS CHURCH TIMES:

​I want to take this opportunity to express my thoughts regarding a suggestion by some of my City Council colleagues that we should push off the scheduled May 2010 City election until November 2010.

Each Council member has different life experiences and perceptions of what public service means in a democracy.  Those experiences often times cause us to view the initiatives and the process of government in a more critical light.  ​I came to the United States as a child, a Jewish immigrant from Iran – a country where any law or legal process can be twisted and perverted.  I am therefore extremely sensitive to any action which can be viewed as disregarding the democratic process for political purposes.  This is a criticism we are already hearing about the election date proposal, and consequently I think we must proceed with great caution.

While I don’t believe anyone would seriously disagree with the proposition of increasing voter turnout, achieving that goal should be free from the taint of anyone or any group attempting to achieve personal or political gain.  Accordingly, that objective cannot be accomplished by rushing through an election date change during the last busy weeks of the year and during the holiday season.  Our citizens deserve the opportunity to thoroughly understand and debate any change in their most basic right as citizens—the right to vote, as well as, in this case, when they wish to cast that vote.

Our citizens are likely to see a quick change in the election date as an attempt to deflect citizen reaction to decisions and actions by the Council that could have adverse political consequences.  In fact, Council Members voting in favor of changing the election from May to November would be voting to extend their term by six months.

I fervently believe that it is the responsibility of elected office holders not to undermine voters’ wishes in the name of increasing the democratic franchise.  Such action corrupts the democratic processes, leads to increased cynicism and diminishes the collective character of the community.​

It is not the City election calendar that needs immediate repair; it is the City budget and fiscal practices.  None of us welcome the serious and unique financial difficulties our small city faces.  The 2010 budget decisions have been difficult and the 2011 budget will be even more daunting.  Recent preliminary budget projections from City officials indicate a $7.6 million dollar budget shortfall for FY 2011.  I urge my colleagues on the City Council to put first things first.  The important task before us is to gain a solid financial footing.

We must own up to the challenges and make the best decisions possible for our citizens and concentrate our time and resources on the budget rather than focusing on moving the election calendar.

NADER BAROUKH
City of Falls Church Council Member

Letters to the Editor should be submitted to contact@fallschurchtimes.com. They may be on any subject relevant to our City. Writers should include their full name and city of residence. All submissions are subject to editing.

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LETTER: League of Women Voters on Election Date Change

November 17, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

TO THE EDITOR OF THE FALLS CHURCH TIMES:

letterIn recent weeks, there has been much discussion about a proposal to change the date of the Falls Church City elections from May to November.   In 2001, the League of Women Voters of Falls Church (LWV-FC) addressed this issue in a thoughtful and thorough informational report.  We appreciate the widespread interest in our report, but caution that because it was completed several years ago, some of the information is, naturally, out of date.   The study can be found on our website at www.lwvfallschurch.org.

We are gratified that this report has received so much attention.  As it always has, the LWV-FC has given the citizens of Falls Church a reasoned and unbiased assessment of the pros and cons of this issue.  We will continue, in any way that we can, to provide information to voters on this and other issues through forums and voters guides.

At the time of the study, the League did not take a position on moving the city elections to November and is not prepared to do so at this time.  However, the League believes that it would be a mistake to rush to make such a change before the end of the year, as the citizens of Falls Church will not have a chance to review and fully understand the tradeoffs involved in such a timeframe. It is important that this decision be made in an atmosphere that is non-biased and apolitical.  It is the hope of the League that as this process moves forward, proponents of both sides of the issue will treat the views of their opponents with respect.

We look forward to being part of this important decision and urge the Council to take the time to help educate the citizens of Falls Church and to listen to all sides of the issue so that an informed decision can be made.

Sincerely,

ELLEN SALSBURY
President, League of Women Voters of Falls Church

Letters to the Editor should be submitted to contact@fallschurchtimes.com. They may be on any subject relevant to our City. Writers should include their full name and city of residence. All submissions are subject to editing.

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LETTER: Election Move Is Attempt to Avoid Budget Backlash

November 5, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

letterTO THE EDITOR OF THE FALLS CHURCH TIMES:

The stated purpose of possibly moving the municipal elections from May to November is to increase voter participation.  It’s reasonable to conclude, however, that that is not the real reason.

If it were, any proposal to move the date would not be done on the cusp of the holidays and just before the 2010 Council election in May.  Council Members truly concerned about enhancing the democratic process would either put the issue on the ballot for change or take legislative action to moving municipal elections into a future November election schedule, as Alexandria has done, when they don’t have a personal stake.

The reason for the current effort is purely political.  It’s an attempt to dodge a very real problem. In that regard, many of us may not be aware of the serious state of our fiscal situation because the Council has resolutely refused to share with us what it may require in tax revenues and tax rate hikes in the near future to maintain the current level of support for city services and the schools.

But the previews are already being played out: The capital budget requirements have been frozen—and many key items maybe eliminated; policies governing our fiscal reserves have been breached; over a million dollars in misdirected revenues from the state had to be returned.  Who is watching the store?  The Council has approved multiple housing and other projects which if implemented would create huge fiscal burdens in the years ahead — and the list goes on.

During my eight years on the Council, Councilman Dave Snyder and I worked hard to broaden our tax base by adding commercial development to our tax base mix.  We were blocked at every turn. The CBC Council instead worked to convert existing commercially zoned property for condominium construction, upending the rationale of the zoning process, thus narrowing the tax base even further.  The outcome of their “residentialization” policy is to build-in huge, long-term service and school costs.  But the Council has gone even further: It is bailing out the condo developers who cannot sell their units by permitting them to convert to apartments.

The majority Council members would have you believe that we are much like every other city in Virginia suffering as a result of the near economic meltdown.  But that is not the case.  While Arlington and Fairfax counties can literally widen their physical girth to recover revenue growth as the credit crisis eases, we cannot increase the physical size of our 2.2 square mile city and thus are substantially inhibited from increasing our financial horsepower.

The rush to change the election cycle as is now proposed is nothing more than an attempt at a seductive political serenade to avoid a voter backlash in the May 2010 Council election.  After all, the election is scheduled directly after adopting the City budget in April highlighting the very strained financial state of the city—including very possibly one in a long line of future substantial tax increases. Thus, a November 2010 Council election serves the architects of this political construct very well: long enough after the adoption of the budget in April and far enough away from the proposed November election for memories to fade.

Council Members Dan Sze and Lawrence Webb are responsible for putting this political red herring on the table, and now that we have had a whiff of it, we hope they will remove it.

SAM MABRY
Falls Church City

(Sam Mabry was a two-term City Council member and served as Vice Mayor.)

Letters to the Editor should be submitted to contact@fallschurchtimes.com. They may be on any subject relevant to our City. Writers should include their full name and city of residence. All submissions are subject to editing.

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