They came about it from different directions, but the four contenders for Arlington’s two open County Board seats all said the local government has to do a better job on transparency.
“Everyone should have access to the same information,” said Democrat Maureen Coffey, who said the county government makes it “cumbersome” to request (and see responses) to Virginia Freedom of Information Act requests, and that the government’s Website is far from user-friendly despite numerous updates.
“It is impossible to find what you need,” Coffey said at the Sept. 5 Arlington County Civic Federation forum, the unofficial kickoff the to the fall campaign season.
Coffey and fellow Democrat Susan Cunningham are taking on Republican Juan Carlos Fierro and perennial independent Audrey Clement. The winners will pick up the seats of Katie Cristol, who left the board in July, and Christian Dorsey, whose term expires at the end of December.
(Cunningham, Clement and Fierro participated at the forum in person at VHC Health/Virginia Hospital Center; Coffey was suffering from a mild case of COVID and participated from her home.)
Republican contender Fierro said he agreed with the controversial Civic Federation resolution adopted earlier this year, which hit the county government hard on its transparency and having little real interest in hearing what the public has to say.
“There is the perception that the county [government] does not fully engage with its citizens,” he said, urging that the County Board return to its traditional, but since discarded, practice of allowing the public to sign up to speak at board meetings on the day of the meeting, rather than having to reserve a slot in advance.
Cunningham, who finished second to Coffey in the Democratic ranked-choice primary (but garnered the most votes in the first round), said county officials needed to provide more information, not less.
“Availability of data is absolutely critical,” she said.
Clement, who has been running non-stop for office for more than a decade, pointed to County Board members earlier this year setting the stage for a whopping pay raise for themselves without advance public notice.
The action was “a slap in the face to Arlington County taxpayers,” but ultimately such behavior is the fault of an electorate that lets Democrats get away with it in Arlington, Clement said.
“The solution is to end one-party rule,” she said.