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Editorial: Do more landmines await Arlington government?

Maybe snafu on legal advertising was a one-time thing, but maybe not

While credit is due Arlington County Board members and staff for publicly acknowledging last week that there had been a major procedural error in meeting legal requirements when enacting a sweeping policy shift, the community is left with more questions than answers.

Perhaps the most pressing item to be hashed out: What was the failure, last December, to correctly advertise a major overhaul to how the county government charges property owners stormwater fees? Was it merely a one-off lapse, or are there other similar landmines hidden beneath the surface, waiting to detonate as forensic examiners start their digging?

The stormwater issue, in fact, marks not the first but the second time in recent months the county government has had to contend with a legal-advertising snafu (with the emphasis on the “f” and the “u”). The Virginia Court of Appeals recently ruled the county government hadn’t advertised a major Pentagon City development package the correct way. Unless county leaders can convince the Virginia Supreme Court to reverse that interpretation, it’s back to the starting gate for the proposal.

If it turns out that a fair number of other legal-advertising problems come to light in Arlington, the headache it causes county leaders will be the end result of lax oversight by those paid (amply) to ensure things are done right the first time.

One hopes local governments, if they had not already, are taking more seriously the advertising rules and other procedural safeguards that are key tenets of open government. Leaders in both Arlington and Fairfax at times project an arrogance in dealing with the public; the occasional slice of humble pie should be eaten with grace.