Rebuffing critics who said it was too tart-tongued and would prove counterproductive, Arlington County Civic Federation delegates on March 14 approved a resolution sharply critical of the county government’s relationship with the public it ostensibly serves.
On a 75-32 vote with eight abstentions, delegates approved a measure that had been percolating since last summer – albeit having been revised several times since – and laid out a host of concerns about how the county government has become increasingly insular and sets up public-policy processes to get the results it desires.
“Residents have been dismissed,” said Stefanie Pryor, one of four former Civic Federation presidents who sponsored the resolution. Getting access to information from those in the corridors of power, she said, “is getting more and more difficult and more contentious.”
The vote marked a defeat for the Arlington branch of the NAACP, which touted an alternate resolution that was less specific and, its supporters said, less incendiary.
“We seek to have an actionable document – not simply a litany of complaints and grievances,” said Bryan Coleman, a vice president of the civil-rights organization and its point-person in the debate.
Acknowledging that the NAACP alternative sidestepped polarizing issues, such as land-use matters, Coleman said that main resolution “poisons the waters” with county leaders, and would not be constructive. He also blamed supporters of the main resolution for pursuing their “preferred, pre-determined outcome” and being unwilling to compromise.
Pryor, however, said the NAACP document was too nebulous to have any impact whatsoever.
“It’s critically important to be specific about what we’re talking about,” Pryor said. “Watering down . . . simply encourages the county to continue disregarding” the community.
Pryor also pushed back at Coleman, saying many of the NAACP’s points of view had been incorporated into the main resolution.
The final resolution was trimmed down substantially from where it began, but still ran more than twice as long as the NAACP alternative.
“Yes, it is a long document, but we’re speaking for a lot of people,” said Sandy Newton, another former Civic Federation president who along with Pryor, Michael McMenamin and Duke Banks sponsored the main resolution.
The issue took a tortured path before getting to the final vote, with the initial resolution formally introduced last September, followed by discussion at several increasingly agitated federation meetings.
To get to a conclusion at the March 14 meeting, delegates that evening overwhelmingly agreed to a set of rules that saw voting members given the option of supporting the presidents’ resolution, backing the NAACP alternative, or abstaining altogether. No amendments were permitted.
It was a decision Daniel Weir, a delegate from the Barcroft School and Civic League and supporter of the NAACP alternative, called an “elegant and creative solution.”
Scott Miles, of Aurora Highlands, was on the other side of the issue from Weir (supporting the original resolution), but he too was eager to get the job finished, come what may.
“It has been way too long – I’m ready to vote,” he said.
(“We’re happy to have a resolution to this resolution,” chuckled Adam Henderson, who for the past two meetings had, mostly deftly, handled parliamentary procedure on the matter.)
The final vote went roughly as proponents of the original resolution expected. NAACP officials, however, left unsatisfied, and later that night announced the organization’s departure from Civic Federation membership, throwing in a few parting shots along the way.
Despite the months of institutional controversy and procedural chaos, Civic Federation president John Ford said it ended up proving to be “a fine process, a real competition of ideas.”
“This has been a long path,” he said. “I think, personally, it was worth it.”