Good morning, thanks for joining us.
A special congratulations to our new Chair, Libby, and a hearty welcome to our newest colleagues Katie and Christian. I look forward to working with each of you as we step forward to embrace the challenges and opportunities of 2016. And I tip my hat with thanks and anticipation to Mark Schwartz, our Acting County Manager, and his relentlessly talented staff.
I also want to acknowledge my departed colleagues, Walter and Mary, for their years of selfless service to this community. Last year was one of the most productive years I can remember, largely due to the leadership of Mary. Many large projects and plans were tied up and we start the new year in a strong and solvent position.
Change is the only constant in life, and is reflected in the faces smiling at you from the dais today. Change can be healthy, and is no stranger to Arlington! Today’s Arlington is a dynamic place and doesn’t look anything like the Arlington I moved to in 1983. These changes have greatly enhanced our community and our quality of life.
Healthy organizations and communities pro-actively guide change that is inspired by a vision and unfolds from thoughtful dialogue and debate. And according to Warren Bennis, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”
So, where do we stand today?
In 2015, Arlington was rated America’s 3rd best place to live, the 2nd best place to retire, and the 7th most hipster city in America. Imagine that, a destination for seniors and hipsters!. We are small, yet smart. We are ground zero for the Creative Class. Our public schools are outstanding. Our crime rate is low. Our streets are safe. Neighbors help neighbors.
Our smart growth planning is a national model and provides a balanced tax base between commercial and residential properties. Transit and thoughtful land use planning have been our prime engines of redevelopment.
Our tax rate is among the lowest in the region and our triple-AAA bond rating reflects strong fiscal management. We embrace diversity and care for the most vulnerable among us.
And 8 months ago, our residents’ overall satisfaction with the quality of services remained at 89%, which is 32 percentage points above the national average.
That said, we have challenges and room for improvement. I support the Chair’s focus on improving customer service, particularly with building permits – and I know the Manager is focused on this as well. We can always do more to streamline processes, improve predictability, and enhance customer service.
Some of our largest challenges, and those that I intend to focus on, are: (1) the need for facilities, including schools, while constrained by limited land; (2) strengthening our economic competitiveness; (3) housing affordability, and; (4) balancing our budget and our values.
On facility siting and approval, the Community Facilities Study provided us with a strong framework for refreshing the Arlington Way as we make these decisions. Several schools, a fire station, bus storage needs and a community center are all on the immediate horizon.
The South Arlington Working Group that recently recommended a site for a new elementary school was a successful process. Though real civic engagement is often messier, slower and more expensive, it serves to forge a broader consensus and reinforce trust – thus is always my preference. It clearly places a greater responsibility on all of us to be informed, involved, respectful…and to be willing to compromise.
And a special shout out to the School Board, as the partnership and collaboration between our two bodies is stronger than ever, and is needed more than ever. The communication needs to become institutionalized at the Board, Manager and staff level. I will also encourage greater collaboration among our county and school citizen advisory groups.
Regarding economic competitiveness, while our unemployment is the lowest in Virginia, our commercial vacancy rate remains too high. We must continue to make progress in branding Arlington as a hub for the innovation economy and marketing our assets aggressively.
Affordable housing has become a bell weather issue – that embodies the soul of our community. The recently adopted Affordable Housing Master Plan established our policies, and we must now implement those policies.
Finally, we must ensure that the budget is a living, breathing reflection of the values of our community. One value is getting value. I remain committed to scrutinize every dollar spent, leverage outside funds, and partner to get the best value possible. As a former GAO auditor, I hate to waste anything, and look forward to working with our new County Board Auditor to find some savings and improve program performance. I also, however, believe in making smart investments for the future.
Arlington continues to excel in the provision of our core services (public safety, education and transportation). What has always distinguished Arlington, and made us a GREAT community, is our conscience and compassion that motivate us to stretch beyond the standard services to value the arts, help persons with intellectual disabilities, assist seniors on a fixed income with housing and services or create a Homeless Services Center for those living on the street, do our part to protect the environment, and provide quality recreation, trails and parks.
Moreover, we value diversity and embrace people’s differences as a source of this community’s strength. These core progressive values fuel our pride and our passion for Arlington and should not be diluted or dismantled. They are what makes Arlington Arlington.
I am confident that just as we have remade ourselves during the past decades, Arlington will again meet our challenges. We will tap our collective creativity and compassion to ensure a bright and sustainable future for generations to come.
Thank you and Happy New Year.