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The Right Note: Board Watching

By ARLnow.com

Thursday - 1/24/2013, 2:00pm  ET

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column by published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

GOP county board candidate Mark KellyIf you like two hour debates on the placement of chairs for outdoor cafe seating, then get ready, because the Arlington County Board will conduct its first regular business meeting of the year this Saturday. While this month’s Board’s agenda itself may not produce big fireworks, there is one sub-plot that many of us will be watching.

Last January, Libby Garvey was not Chris Zimmerman’s choice to replace Barbara Favola on the Board. Melissa Bondi was. Now we may know why.

In December, Garvey rocked the boat by making public her concerns about the newly formed consulting arrangement between Zimmerman and AECOM East Canada. The company stands to benefit from work on the proposed Columbia Pike trolley.

When Garvey raised the issue in light of the vote to move forward under the Public-Private Transportation Act (PPTA), the other three Board Members quickly rallied to Zimmerman’s defense. However, they seemed more upset that Garvey aired the matter in public than the very real concern over any appearance of impropriety from the Zimmerman arrangement.

For his part, Zimmerman checked with the County Attorney who maintains there is no way for him to manipulate PPTA guidelines to benefit his new employer.

On its face, Zimmerman’s consulting contract is to only do work for the company in Canada, and none of us should begrudge our “part-time” Board Members having a day job. In fact, some rightly contend more Board Members with regular day jobs would bring much-needed perspective to the debate on Arlington issues. At the very least, people with day jobs might not carry on debates ‘til the wee hours of the morning.

That said, it is right for Garvey to question Zimmerman’s impartiality on issues that could impact his new employer. The arrangement, at the least, seems a little cozy and conveniently timed to the Board’s pressing forward on the trolley project. What should concern Arlingtonians is that only one Member of the Board appears to believe this contract should be subject to additional public scrutiny.

At the New Year’s Day meeting, Garvey continued the back and forth by using her time to call for a new community dialogue on the trolley. Zimmerman, the trolley’s chief backer for at least a decade, indicated that the decision had already been made and the Board would move forward.

Then last week, the new multi-partisan Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit launched. The group may give Arlingtonians a real platform to put pressure on the Board to revisit the issue in spite of Mr. Zimmerman’s pronouncement that the decision was final. (In the interest of full disclosure, while I was not asked to be an original member of this group, I am joining it.)

We can watch the meeting Saturday to see how the next scene in the Garvey-Zimmerman drama plays out. If nothing else, watch to learn a little more about how our local government works.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.