Thank you to all my colleagues for your partnership and teamwork last year during my Chairmanship. Thanks to everyone here and tuning in, with a special shout out to the Arlington County Civic Federation for holding their first meeting here with us later this evening. We’re all starting the new year with a great emphasis on civic engagement.
Even though last year was a transition year with two new Board members, a new manager, and a new chair, we weathered it quite well because of who we are. Our staff and employees, who do the heavy lifting year in and year out, are always a source of strength. I appreciate the good work everyone does even more after serving as chair, and having the chance to work closer with all of you. But most of all, thank you to our residents, who make this community what it is.
In looking ahead, given the state of uncertainty around us, local government is more important than ever. I have confidence in us because ours is an involved, hard working, and talented community from top to bottom, and that is key to our success. As I said during my swearing in last month, our goal must be to connect our government with our people, and our people with each other so we can embrace all our resources to make our wonderful potential as a community a reality.
The most important way we connect with our community is by having excellent public services. Government works pretty well in Arlington, but it can and must get better. Last year, we worked hard to demonstrate our commitment to continuous improvement. I really appreciate our manager’s leadership in this area. One of my goals for 2017 is that by this time next year, you will be able to pay for permits online. This may seem small, but it’s an important improvement. As I said last month, I can’t wait until the day when people actually describe our permitting and zoning office as “customer friendly” and the process as “easy.”
I look forward this year to continuing to expand our use of technology to connect with people. We began last year with webcasting of County Board work sessions and the meetings of the Planning and Transportation Commissions. Within this new year we should begin to video cast and record every commission meeting, and find more ways to get feedback from everyone who wants to comment.
In recent years, I have been taking a more active role in working with our business community. I plan to continue that work as liaison to our Economic Development Commission. As the regional economy changes, we continue to adapt and work to bring down our commercial vacancy rate. I believe that has become important Board work. From large corporations, to tech start-ups, to local small businesses, a connected business community is one of Arlington’s biggest strengths.
Last year we increased the frequency and quality of our meetings with the School Board. Our schools face many challenges and are crucial to our success as a County. From my time on both School Board and County Board, I know how important it is for the two boards to maintain a strong partnership and I look forward to continuing this partnership to make sure our schools are the best possible for our children.
This year I also look forward to continuing our efforts to improve transportation along Columbia Pike and throughout Arlington. As we all know, transportation is not just an Arlington issue, but a regional one. I will continue to work with colleagues from around the region to connect all of us in safe, convenient, and reliable ways.
As always, we have much work to do this year. We will have new issues to handle, but we must be sure that we follow through on projects already underway. I believe our local government and community are as important now as they have ever been. The better we work together, modeling the core values of our community and our nation, the better we will do. When we are all connected, we can solve any problem. And so, as always, I welcome your feedback, ideas, concerns, and – yes – friendship.