Politics

Alexandria Mayoral and City Council Candidates Answer Your Most Pressing Questions

ALEXANDRIA, VA–The November election is next week, and whether you are already decided on your candidates, or you are still doing research, the 2021 Mayoral & City Council Candidate Questionnaire put forth by the Alexandria Federation of Civic Associations (AFCA) could help inform or reaffirm your decisions.

The Questionnaire begins with a statement from AFCA:

“Founded in 1964, the Alexandria Federation of Civic Associations (AFCA) operates as a 501 (c) (4) nonprofit corporation and serves as a means of communication among its member Associations on common community interest.  City-wide in scope AFCA seeks to assure citizen involvement and public comment on matters before City Officials, their departments and agencies, Commissions, and the City Council.  AFCA, with membership concurrence will adopt an advocacy role on policy or procedural issues having an overarching impact on the public.[i]

This survey focuses on three pillars of governance, Transparency, Accountability, and
Fiduciary Responsibility
.”

The questionnaire goes on to pose pressing questions from each of the above four categories, eleven questions in total.

All candidates were provided platform, but not required, to answer. Some answers ranged from in-depth paragraphs to simple yeses or nos.

Questions addressed issues like the proper distribution of revenue to the concern for which it was gathered, whether or not the City should inform the public of project policy changes, whether or not Alexandria should adopt a new Master Plan, how well the City listens and responds to community voices, and top funding priorities.

Before November 2, make sure you know where your candidates, incumbent and incoming, stand on pertinent issues. For more resources like this one, visit alexafca.org.

View the full questionnaire below: 

ALEXANDRIA FEDERATION OF CIVIC ASSOCIATIONS (AFCA)

2021 MAYORAL & CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE

TRANSPARENCY

  1. From time-to-time City Council adopts an ordinance to increase fees for services, as an example, the recent ordinance to double the Stormwater Utility fee for investments in our storm sewer infrastructure. Will you commit to ensuring the preponderance of such fee-based revenue is dedicated to the improvement for which it was collected? For example, in the previous referenced ordinance will you provide oversight to ensure most of the revenue goes toward physical capacity-building and stormwater mitigation efforts rather other water quality projects or ancillary funding issues?
Candidate Mayor
Annetta M. Catchings Yes. I will strive to be both transparent and fiscally responsible in my decisions. I am aware of City Council’s decision to divert funds from stormwater mitigation projects to meet the state mandated Clean Water Act.  I will commit to ensuring tax dollars/fees are spent for the purpose for which they were collected.  This “bait and switch” tactic for obtaining and redirecting funds to possibly less popular projects must stop.
Justin M. Wilson The Virginia Code (15.2-2114) clearly specifies the purposes for which that the City may impose a Stormwater Utility Fee. The City created the fee, at my suggestion, to address newly imposed water quality requirements from the Environmental Protection Agency and to provide a revenue stream for stormwater capacity initiatives. All money that has been raised by the fee has been used for those purposes, in compliance with Virginia Code and the City’s audit requirements.  I strongly supported the creation of the Stormwater Utility Fee as it not only provided revenue to support stormwater capacity projects and Federal water quality mandates, but it also provided a way to ease the burden on residential taxpayers. Two-thirds of the revenue from the Stormwater Utility Fee is derived from NON-residential property owners, versus the real estate tax which primarily comes from residential property owners.
Candidate City Council
Canek Aguirre  
Sarah R. Bagley Yes
John Taylor Chapman  
Amy B. Jackson Yes, I agree and commit to providing that oversight to ensure that revenue goes to specific goals and budget line items as deemed appropriate with the project and programs the funding is geared toward. The City has implemented the Ad-hoc committee to oversee the stormwater/infrastructure fees in this example but is was implemented only after our citizens spoke up, spoke out about the issue at hand.  If not for that, and the AFCA and DrainALX advocacy groups, the City’s committee may not have been created.   I hope our citizens continue their engagement in our governance, since council members are elected to be the voice of the people.
Florence King I am a huge proponent of transparency in City Council.  As the Chair of the Alexandria Regional Council of the united way, I’ve often had donors specify which local organizations they would like their donations to support.  I honor their commitment by restricting the funds solely to those particular organizations.  Likewise, I will absolutely ensure that the allocated revenue is restricted to the dedicated project.  To promote transparency on City Council, I will provide oversight of the allocated funds for specified projects.

 

R. Kirk McPike Yes
Darryl Nirenberg Yes.  I will commit to working to ensure the preponderance of such fee-based revenue is dedicated to the improvements for which it was collected.  I disagreed with the city spending most of the initial stormwater fee on staff and activities other than addressing our storm drain crisis when homeowners have been dealing with flooded basements, unusable yards, and raw sewage in their homes again and again with no end in sight.
Glenda Gail Parker Most definitely!  This is the issue that prompted me to get on the ballot!  It is egregious that the City of Alexandria has continued to empty raw sewage into the Potomac (which empties into the Chesapeake Bay).  Fees have been collected for about three years now if I recall correctly and should most definitely be dedicated to the improvements for which the funds were collected.

 

  1. The city increasingly pursues grants to finance large projects. Will you support a requirement to inform the public whenever qualification criteria could result in changes to policy, project planning, design, scope, or implementation?  Does Alexandria rely too heavily on grant funding for its policymaking and planning, or should the City do more in terms of seeking grants?
Candidate Mayor
Annetta M. Catchings Yes, I will support such a requirement. I believe our residents have a right to know whenever there is a change in these factors.  One of the reasons why I am a staunch supporter for “Returning to Wards” is because having that direct line of communication with a Representative would improve on how quickly and efficiently information can get out to our stakeholders.  Too, because taxpayers are responsible for both the portion a grant does not cover and must live with the actual outcome of said projects, they have the ultimate Right To Know and should be involved in the discussion before large grants are acquired.  Virtual meetings have opened up a new channel that will allow for better and more frequent community engagement – not to mention it has proven to be more inclusive for our residents who are less mobile.  Projects like Seminary Rd, King St, and Duke Street are examples of how grants are approved, and proposals are decided on well before community engagement has been conducted. It sends a clear message to the people that,  “too much time, work and discussion has gone into this project, and at this stage your comments are just delaying the overall process.”  In short, the city should define what the residents want and need, develop a specific project to meet that need, and then obtain grants to implement and fund projects.  I would also like to add that I am one of the few candidates who signed the Alexandria Constituents Bill of Rights.
Justin M. Wilson Yes, the City should and does inform the public when there are changes to the implementation of major projects, whether they are funded by grants or not.

 

The City has been very successful in seeking state, Federal and regional grants to fund important City priorities. The successful receipt of these grants eases the burden on residential and commercial taxpayers, and I will continue to push for the City to maximize these funding sources.  In fact, in a time where a veritable tidal wave of Federal funding is coming to local governments, our ability to successfully seek grant dollars becomes even more important. This is an area the City should re-double our efforts to ensure that we get our fair share and beyond.

Candidate City Council
Canek Aguirre  
Sarah R. Bagley Grants, that are suitably designed to the needs of the City, are s necessary piece of funding to provide services to our residents and to maintain and improve our infrastructure.  As we have seen for example with our stormwater water and sewer projects, our tax base alone cannot support the pace and scope of the vital projects needed to update our systems.  Relevant Commissions, Boards and staff experts should be used to help evaluate those grant opportunities that best suit the project needs and outcomes sought by the City abnd that will also produce outcomes that align with City goals.  Where outcomes, process and plans would be impacted by grant conditions if accepted, that information should be available to the public.
John Taylor Chapman  
Amy B. Jackson I believe that the City needs to be more transparent concerning the grants we are seeking, why we need it, and what specifically it will be put toward to mitigate taxpayer cost, or boost what we already have budgeted for the specific programs and projects.  I do believe it’s hard to plan for the availability of grants… just last night, three stormwater/flooding/infrastructure grants were approved, but those grants have not always been available to be sought.  We also didn’t know and still don’t know if we will get approval for them and receive the money for designated work in our City.  We hope so, since it will either alleviate funding gaps for the projects or assist the City in doing more faster.  Or both if I can be hopeful!  Strategically, City’s want all the grants we can get.  However, the transparency issue remains, since we don’t want to hear about applying for grants until we know about the project and have had the community outreach surrounding the program or project the grant money for which it is needed.  I think it’s a case-by-case basis, but completely agree that we need to improve the communication around the grant conversation with our community and the projects that are supplemented by them.

 

Florence King Yes, I would wholeheartedly support informing the public of grants and any changes.  The city should do more in seeking grants, with the understanding that the process should have complete transparency.

 

R. Kirk McPike As someone who has served on the city’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee, I

recognize that grants are an important part of the city’s financing structure. I believe that grants should not drive our policy decisions, but instead our policy decisions should drive the sorts of grants for which we apply. I believe it is essential that the public be made aware of what grants the city is applying for, and how those grants will align with or impact our ongoing policies or projects.

Darryl Nirenberg Yes.  Absolutely.  To limit the possibility that decisions are effectively made in response to receipt of a grant, applications for grants should be made public, to include how the grant would be utilized if received. We should seek federal and state funding where available, but the funds should be sought to support policy decisions made by the city with participation of impacted neighborhoods, as opposed to the reverse. Please see my positions on government reform:  https://www.darrylnirenberg.com/reform-local-government
Glenda Gail Parker Seeking and obtaining grants can lessen the impact on City residents to correct infrastructure problems.  I do support that if the funds come with strings the “strings” should be fully and openly discussed and disclosed.

 

 

  1. The City Master Plan was crafted in 1992, while Small Area Plans are continuously updated the Master Plan continues to reflect demographic and growth assumptions that are now 30 years old. Will you advocate for a new Strategic/Master Plan?
Candidate Mayor
Annetta M. Catchings Absolutely ! On day one I will call for the start of a Comprehensive Master Plan to be conducted in conjunction with the Infrastructure Master Plan that the City has publicly stated is currently underway to address flooding and capacity. This plan is overdue and needs to be developed with as much public participation in the process as possible. The vision of what our City is to become should not be imposed on the citizens, but instead reflect their desires. Issues of density, transportation, green space, infrastructure, schools, housing, emergency planning and economic development areas are just a few of the most important aspects that need to be thoroughly vetted and incorporated into the Master Plan.
Justin M. Wilson Since the advent of “Plan for Planning” 2 decades ago, the City has undertaken comprehensive updates of our Master Plan. We have approved numerous updates and modernization of various small area plans in every corner of our City (Mount Vernon Avenue, Arlandria, Eisenhower East, Eisenhower West, Waterfront, Beauregard, Braddock Road, Braddock East, Old Town North, South Patrick Street, Landmark/Van Dorn, Potomac Yard, North Potomac Yard, etc).  Complementing these small area plan updates have been City-wide chapter updates, including Housing Master Plan, Transportation Master Plan, Open Space Master Plan, Sanitary Sewer, and beyond.  I believe these strategic, targeted efforts ensures currency in our Master Plan and DOES reflect new demographic and growth assumptions.
Candidate City Council
Canek Aguirre  
Sarah R. Bagley Yes. To the extent development of a new Strategic/Master Plan is economically feasible and necessary to developing accurate and relevant plans for our future, it should be competed.  Our Master Plan should reflect not only demographic and growth assumptions that have changed but also environmental, transit and economic factors that have changed.
John Taylor Chapman  
Amy B. Jackson I agree it is difficult to see the “big picture” of a master plan when we have parceled out the 18 small area plans within it to be updated individually and over time.  Our City has progressed, grown, modernized a great deal since 1992, and I welcome the conversation around how we progress from here based on a 1992 model and the opportunities we should not miss, that we have now that we may not have thought about then. Our community and city leaders should have that discussion pertaining to the vision and planning of the city as a whole, not just individualized parcels, but how those puzzle pieces all fit together successfully in the future of our city.
Florence King The 30-year-old plan is archaic.  We need update our Strategic plan to reflect our current demographics as well as our projected growth in population.
R. Kirk McPike Yes, I am open to updating the Master Plan.
Darryl Nirenberg Yes.  It is badly needed.  Alexandria is going to grow, but we need to manage our growth.  It is time to plan for our future, not muddle into it.
Glenda Gail Parker Most definitely:  young people today are looking for a certain quality of life in deciding where to live (then they look for a job –).  In order to keep Alexandria City vibrant and offering an excellent quality of life we need to rezone to make Alexandria City safer, walkable, bikeable and car-free.  Residents should be able to walk to obtain services and products to meet their needs.  This means all areas should be rezoned to mixed use.

ACCOUNTABILITY

  1. City administration works to retain and enhance Alexandria’s quality of life by ensuring that development proposals are consistent with the City’s Master Plan and Zoning Ordinance; consist of the highest quality building design, and site planning; and provide an overall public benefit. To meet these challenges the city employs a rigorous and responsive development review process, ensuring that the community is kept informed and encouraged to participate. On a scale of 1-5, in ascending order, how would you rate the city’s performance in responding to residents’ input on development projects?
Candidate Mayor
Annetta M. Catchings The city rates a 5 in listening and supporting and incorporating citizens’ input — as long as those inputs agree with what the city wants to do in the first place.  If not in agreement, citizens inputs are routinely ignored, belittled or condemned. In that sense the real rating is a 1 !!!!  The problem is with the leadership that pushes its preconceived notions as the only solution and then hires management to agree with them. We need leadership that really listens and that’s why I consider myself to be a Citizen Centric leader.
Justin M. Wilson I would suggest that the city is in the middle with a score of 3. We can always do better in ensuring that resident voices are heard in our development process.  One silver lining of the pandemic has been to force a large expansion of our capabilities to solicit and receive public input through electronic means. As we move forward, we will keep the technical capability in place and work to ensure that marginalized voices are always heard in the decision-making process of local government.
Candidate City Council
Canek Aguirre  
Sarah R. Bagley Rating of 3.  There is always room for improvement, particularly with the technology tools our disposal.  While there is a developmental process that provides for participation, many residents often feel the information comes too late, choose not to participate in the process for reasons we should understand, or are not left feeling that they understand the reasons for final decisions.  We can improve in all of those areas.
John Taylor Chapman  
Amy B. Jackson Scale 3-4.  I understand we have a community that has different perspectives and beliefs about development – where, when, what kind, etc.  I do give props to our City’s staff, who are tasked with many moving parts, not the least of which is community outreach.  Although no one is perfect, and we’ve had our share of missteps, I believe the balance of resident input has been positive – not in terms of specific development projects, but in terms of the engagement of our residents in the process.  Everyone has an opinion and I think we can agree that no one will agree all of the time.  That being said, I think that there is room for improvement.  I would like to see more advertising and messaging around our process, procedures, projects and programs.  I also would like to see our developers engage more with our citizens in community forums and outreach.  When I see a lot of webinars that don’t allow for questions and answers on a Zoom platform, it saddens and frustrates me that I can’t actually interact with the presenters.  I’m sure I’m not alone in that feeling.  Developers, Staff, and Council should be accessible, and in turn transparent, in the negotiations and planning of our city.  Residents need to continue to engage with their representatives and advocate.
Florence King I would rate the City’s accountability as a 1.  They have continually failed to communicate with citizens, and they have no accountability.
R. Kirk McPike I would give the city’s performance in this matter a 4, very good but with room for improvement. Alexandria provides numerous opportunities for residents to weigh in on projects occurring in the city. Of course, there is room for improvement in the city’s feedback policies. If elected, I will hold regular town halls around Alexandria to receive even more direct input from residents, and I will always carefully consider those opinions when voting on projects brought before the Council
Darryl Nirenberg I give the City a “1.”  At a threshold level, Development Proposals must be assessed as to their impact on the quality of life of all Alexandria residents, especially those living in the most impacted neighborhoods.  It makes no sense to continue encouraging more development when our infrastructure, schools and public safety cannot keep up with the population we already have.
Glenda Gail Parker I have found the City to be responsive to my concerns; however, issues that have existed for decades are NOT being addressed.  Issues  like affordable housing, safer schools, safer streets.  Adequately addressing these issues will require changes to the City’s Master Plan and Zoning.  The changes must continue to consist of the highest quality building design, site planning, public benefit in addition to considering the net revenue benefit to the City.

 

  1. What measures, if any, do you believe require improvement on the part of Council and City Staff regarding adherence to RESOLUTION NO. 2597, the establishment of civic engagement principles and supporting processes as set forth in the Alexandria Handbook for Civic Engagement to guide the City’s effort to involve the public in the development of public policy, program, and planning decisions in the City of Alexandria?
Candidate Mayor
Annetta M. Catchings Much depends upon the City Manager and it is irksome that the incumbent Council is trying to saddle the new Council with a new one rather than let the new Council make the selection. The hiring of staff that really understands that they work for the citizens is paramount. The Staff should also be encouraged to live in the City itself so that they can see and live with the results of their actions first hand. Surveys need to be properly constructed and conducted and participants should be residents of the City, not outsiders with special interests. Announcement of projects and hearings need to be more widely disseminated and not just on the City’s website. Agendas need to be made very clear when advertised and public engagement needs to occur before funding for a project is obtained, long before.  And if the citizens are dead set against a project or policy the citizens should not be overruled except in rare circumstances, and then only with a solid, detailed explanation as to why.
Justin M. Wilson While the Council’s intentions for civic engagement were positive, we have not provided the resources to support a faithful implementation of this roadmap.  As budgets allow, ensuring that we invest in the resources necessary to provide for timely and consistent public engagement will be a priority.
Candidate City Council
Canek Aguirre  
Sarah R. Bagley The Resolution emphasizes the vital role that engagement, with ample time for reflections, and consideration al all voices, should have on City planning.  Council can improve adherence to these principles by seeking a broader range of candidates for our Boards and Commissions, ensuring that appointed members are actively participating, and increasing the ability of residents to view and attend meetings virtual or in person by broadcasting them online and moving their locations around the City.  Council members themselves can engage in more policy-based discussions held around the City and outside of Saturday public hearing sessions, to give all members of our community an opportunity to be heard and interact with members with members.  Reviewing this Resolution also highlights the need to review and reflect on the work of the Civic Engagement Interdepartmental Working Group and what their assessments were and how they have implemented (or not) in the years since their findings were made.
John Taylor Chapman  
Amy B. Jackson I believe the adoption of Resolution No. 2597 was good governance and to this day remains enforced by Council and the City Manager’s Office.  That being said, I believe that managerial styles have been different among our city’s leaders throughout the years.  With that, adjustments and improvements are made accordingly.  As we see our current City Manager retire in the next few months, we will have another individual take the helm.  We will then, as a community, discover their managerial style and assist in this balance brought forth by Resolution No. 2597.
Florence King The average citizen is not aware of Resolution no 2597 which gives them the right to voice their concerns and hold their elected officials accountable.  I would support measures to enlighten residents that they have a say in public policy.
R. Kirk McPike I believe that it is important that we routinely review the city’s outreach and feedback-gathering systems to ensure that we are receiving input on policy decisions from a broad range of voices that reflect the diversity of opinions and needs in our city. I am particularly concerned with determining who is not at the table when Council, commissions, or boards are considering policies that impact specific communities or neighborhoods in the city and revising our public outreach programs to be more proactive and comprehensive. We need to go beyond our current methods of public outreach — emails, website postings, flyers, signs, etc. — to reach people where they are to invite their participation. I believe that a commitment to public engagement and responsiveness must be a focus of our next city manager. Transparency and accountability are essential in democratic governance, and as a member of City Council I will work to ensure that Alexandria’s government is proactive when it comes to civic engagement
Darryl Nirenberg The Council needs to take this Resolution, and its principles and processes seriously.  Clause 2 in the Resolutions states “Ensure that prior to the adoption of public policies which will significantly impact the quality of life of members of the community, (1) the nature of the proposed policy or action has been fully disclosed, (2) the public has had reasonable opportunity to be informed, consulted, involved, or to collaborate on the proposed action, and (3) the decision-making body has had sufficient opportunity fairly to consider and reflect before acting.  The decision by the Council to pull the School Resource Officers without giving parents a say ran directly counter to this requirement.

To assure better adherence to this Resolution, City Hall and the Council should seek more involvement from the community, particularly the directly impacted neighborhoods and their civic organizations, and community groups.  This is particularly true for the West End, which could see significant government-spurred changes in the coming years.

Also, we should start the discussion on having half of our Council elected by wards or districts, so neighborhoods have a voice.  We are the only city close to our size in America which holds partisan elections for council but has no districts or wards.  A compromise could be three members elected at large, and three by district — this would give neighborhoods a voice from a member of Council directly accountable to them, but still leave a majority of the Council (with Mayor included) representing the city at large.

 

Glenda Gail Parker I am not aware of changes required in the Alexandria Handbook, although I am open to recommendations.  I feel the changes required are in the political process.  The two-party system is broken and certainly not representing citizen’s concerns about the environment.  This needs to change.

 

  1. Do you support adopted Resolution 2950, which established a community policing review board?
Candidate Mayor
Annetta M. Catchings No. I believe Resolution 2950 was a knee jerk decision based on a false national narrative. It applied to the citizens of Alexandria the unique hardships of the people of Minneapolis. I believe in transparency even in term of policing, if not more so.  It is my belief that we can bring a level of transparency that does not rob a police officer of his/her right to Due Process under the law. I strongly believe that the framework of the existing Citizens Review Board is just another tool that brings destructive oversight to keep our officers from doing their jobs effectively. I do not support it.
Justin M. Wilson I did vote for the resolution that created the review board after making multiple amendments to the proposal to ensure that it provided a fair approach to providing increased civilian involvement in our Police Department.
Candidate City Council
Canek Aguirre  
Sarah R. Bagley Yes
John Taylor Chapman  
Amy B. Jackson I do support the community policing review board and support the adoption of Resolution 2950.  With the murder of George Floyd, we needed, as a community, to accept that everything is not ok in our world.  I appreciate Alexandria’s law enforcement and am proud of their integrity, talent, and consistency.  The same is true of our Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and our courts.  I do believe, though, that history has shown until now that the conversation can be one-sided at best. Other important voices in our community advocated for this and prompted Council to make a change in how we view situations and be more equitable in our perspectives.  We have enacted this resolution, and we are currently accepting applications for placement on this board.
Florence King Yes, I would support this.
R. Kirk McPike Yes. I believe that this board will improve the relationship and help to build trust between our city’s police department and the people it protects, will ensure that Alexandria responds appropriately to problematic incidents in the future, and reflects our city’s deeply-held progressive values and commitment to racial equity.
Darryl Nirenberg Watching the last moments of breath squeezed out of Georg Floyd’s life was horrifying. His murder brings to the surface issues that need to be addressed in our community and our nation It exposed gaps in standards across the country for training, recruitment and use of force by law enforcement.  However, I would not have supported the community police review board as established.  While serious officer misconduct needs to be addressed, I am concerned the board as constituted could infringe on an officer’s due process right.  As established, the board could conduct a public investigation concurrent with any legal process, including using subpoena powers and making disciplinary recommendations.  There is also no requirement that the board have any voting members with experience in law enforcement.  Our Police Department in 2019 responded to 80,928 calls for service and arrested 4,316 subjects last year, and 28 arrests required the use of force. My recollection is that each of these instances was deemed appropriate.   I support more funding for our law enforcement to help assure we have the best trained and most capable individuals serving our city.   Our officers are supposed to be paid at the median for the region but are now at the bottom.  This needs to be addressed. President Biden was on the mark in calling for more funding for Community Policing.  Our officers also need body worn cameras.   If elected, I will take a lead in seeking COPS grants, Body Worn Camera grants and other grants available from the Justice Department.
Glenda Gail Parker I support the Alexandria City police and am not aware of any issues with enforcement that plagues other large Cities.  That said I believe Community relationships could be improved if there were a review board in existence, so I would support.

 

  1. Would you support a resolution for the establishment of a community ethics review board?
Candidate Mayor
Annetta M. Catchings Yes. I would support an Ethics Review Board.
Justin M. Wilson In the aftermath of Former-Governor McDonnell’s scandal, the Commonwealth created the Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council, which now serves as a body to advise elected officials around the State on ethical questions that may arise. That Council acts in conjunction with our City Attorney who can also advise on these ethical questions in addition to legal compliance. I am happy to consider other proposals if there are gaps identified in our current processes. Earlier this year, all elected officials in the state were required to submit an annual Statement of Economic Interests. While these documents are subject to public inspection in our Clerk’s office, at my request, over five years ago, Alexandria became the first local government in Virginia to post these disclosures online. We may still be the only jurisdiction in the state that does so. Alexandria’s campaign finance reports were placed online about 17 years ago at my initiative, working with the then-Registrar. Alexandria became one of the earliest jurisdictions in Virginia to post local campaign finance reports online. In 2009, I along with then-Councilman Smedberg and then-Councilman Krupicka, successfully sought approval from Richmond to impose new restrictions on land-use applicants. Specifically, the new laws we adopted require land-use applicants to reveal any financial interests that they might have with policymakers on the City Council and Planning Commission. Eight years ago, we made improvements to the motions that the City Council makes and votes on to initiate executive sessions. These changes serve to provide our residents with more information about the closed sessions that Council conducts. Eight years ago, we moved the Council’s work sessions from the Council Work Room (off camera) into the Council chambers so that the public can more easily observe our discussions. At my request, the City also began posting online the reports of our Internal Auditor for public review. The public can now review the reports of elective and directed audits of City agencies online.  In January of 2016, the Council adopted a Transparency Resolution to consider ideas for improving transparency in City operations. The adopted resolution included language that I drafted requesting that our Clerk begin producing an annual report detailing the Council’s use of executive session during the previous year. The public now can refer to this annual report to determine why and when Council is meeting outside of the public eye. There is no other jurisdiction in the state that provides this level of transparency.  I strongly support efforts to improve the ethics and transparency of City government.
Candidate City Council
Canek Aguirre  
Sarah R. Bagley Our Council members are counseled on and sign a code of ethics and I intend to abide by that guidance if in office.  If AFCA can provide draft language for such a resolution, I would be happy to review it and consider my support.
John Taylor Chapman  
Amy B. Jackson I believe City Council adopted an Ethics Statement during the prior Council’s term in 2018, but I’m not adverse to the establishment of a community ethics review board should it be warranted.
Florence King Yes, I would support this.
R. Kirk McPike I support high standards for ethics and would support the establishment of an ethics review board.
Darryl Nirenberg I support the concept of a community ethics review board.  The more transparent the workings of our city are, the more confidence the community will have in the decisions made.
Glenda Gail Parker Yes.

 

  1. In your decision-making process how do you weigh, and balance data driven analysis and community input, particularly when they differ?
Candidate Mayor
Annetta M. Catchings I am a Flight Attendant. In my industry, data is important in terms of comparing one airline to its competition. However, we rely on market research that is derived, as much as possible, from the passengers themselves. The airline puts a lot of effort into ghost riders, and consistent solicitation from our frequent fliers to get a real review of what’s working and what’s lacking.  I believe that an institution gets it right when it prioritizes the needs and desires of its customer base and marry it with trends and analysis.

When sufficient community input is gained and it conflicts with data, being the customer service expert that I am, I would be inclined to side with the customer.

Justin M. Wilson Every decision a policymaker makes is the product of public input, data, analysis and judgement. Depending on the nature of that decision, various factors are given more or less weight, as appropriate. In a representative government, policymakers must give great deference to the input of those they are fortunate enough to represent.
Candidate City Council
Canek Aguirre  
Sarah R. Bagley It is the responsibility of any public official to take in the relevant data on an issue and that includes community input.  Part of that process should also include sharing the relevant data with the community so that all parties are reaching conclusions based on shared available information and expert guidance.  Ideally, we should strive for decision making that relies on facts and data incorporates to the extent possible, relevant feedback from the community, so that members feel that they ultimately understand the decision that is made even if it was not their preferred outcome.
John Taylor Chapman  
Amy B. Jackson I promote reasonable balance and compromise in situations when community input and data driven analysis (that differs) is available – which is most of the time in this role on Council.  It is Council’s job to listen to everyone – not necessarily agree with everyone, but listen and hear everyone.  Community members may have different viewpoints for different reasons, and their input is valued.  Greatly.  When data analysis is in the mix, I personally weigh the who, what, where, when, how of that data collection.  If it’s pertinent to the decision, and how much?  Is it local data or national data?  If the community has glaring argued for one thing, and the data differs, then I go back and thoughtfully dissect the situation to reach a usually reasonable decision.
Florence King When data driven analysis differs from community input, there needs to be a meeting of the minds where there are concessions on both sides.  When necessary, the city should include an objective moderator to come up with a compromising solution that would benefit both sides.
R. Kirk McPike The relative weight given to data-driven analysis and community input would vary from issue to issue. The matters that come before city council are diverse, and often touch on matters where expertise is essential and sometimes leads to counter-intuitive approaches. As a chief of staff to a member of Congress, we often have to seek this same balance on some of the most complex issues my boss has to vote on. We have worked hard to be a bridge between experts and their data-driven analyses and our constituents who may have differing views, so that each side can better understand the other’s perspective and reach for common ground. If electected to Council, I would take a similar approach of weighing all inputs carefully and attempting to foster greater communication and understanding.
Darryl Nirenberg Our city government traditionally focused on quality of life for all who live here and sought consensus on major decisions.  It was one of the key elements in building our remarkable community.  However, over the past few years, we have seen our city government lose its way by pushing a variety of divisive policies.  Having data is important and can help inform decisions.  But at the end of the day, Council needs to err on the side of the community and impacted neighborhoods and work to build consensus.

 

Glenda Gail Parker I strongly believe that we need to hear the voices of the community and let our decisions be driven by good City Planning Principles, such as those offered by Jeff Speck in his book “Walkable City Rules”.

 

FIDUCIARY RESPONSIBILITY

  1. According to Property Tax 101.org of the one-hundred-thirty-four counties in Virginia, the City of Alexandria is ranked 5th by median property taxes, and 22nd by median tax as percentage of home value.On a scale of 1-5, in ascending order, how would you rate city management’s stewardship of these resources?
Candidate Mayor
Annetta M. Catchings Rating of 2
Justin M. Wilson As a AAA/Aaa-rated jurisdiction that is annually given high-marks by our rating agencies for the strength of our municipal balance sheet, our City has a long tradition of exemplary fiscal management.  Continuing that tradition in the future requires prudent management of borrowing, maintenance of fiscal reserves, adherence to debt policy guidelines and timely investments in basic infrastructure and continued economic growth.
Candidate City Council
Canek Aguirre  
Sarah R. Bagley Rating of 4.
John Taylor Chapman  
Amy B. Jackson I give us a 3 on the scale of 1-5 for resource management.  Our budget cycle is coming up and Council has begun its work sessions for the CIP.  Our challenge every year is to operate simply, but not skimp on our services.  I’d like to see our budget this year include pay raises for our public safety personnel and teachers, since they have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 response and are the near last in pay in comparing surrounding jurisdictions. We cannot attract and retain our hires if we do not have competitive pay scales and benefits packages.  We can and should do better.
Florence King I would rate the City’s stewardship as a 2.
R. Kirk McPike From my perspective as a member of the Budget Advisory Committee, I would give the city a 4 in this regard, with a point deducted because, again, there is always room for improvement. Alexandria has deftly navigated an incredibly complex set of fiscal challenges over the past decade and done so while broadly maintaining city services. More fiscal challenges loom ahead, as the city emerges from the shadow of the pandemic and we seek to address long-term issues such as flooding and pay for our first responders, and we are fortunate that the city’s fiscal prudence has given us a strong foundation to work from
Darryl Nirenberg I would give the city a “1.”  Property taxes have increased over the past 10 years at twice the rate of inflation.  That is unacceptable.   I am worried that long term residents and middle-class households will be forced out of our city because of increased property values raising their property taxes to unaffordable levels.  The city’s goal should be to freeze property taxes where they are, and trim the fat from our budget.
Glenda Gail Parker As I understand this question, Alexandria City’s property tax is 5thhighest median in the Commonwealth, yet the tax rate compared to the percentage of home value is 22 of 134.  I am greatly disappointed that these resources have not been used better to correct the stormwater drainage issue and the flooding issue.  More can be done.

 

  1. List your top five funding priorities
Candidate Mayor
Annetta M. Catchings 1)     Raising the pay of our First Responders – both Fire Fighters and Police Officers

2)     Investing in our small businesses by putting the money into advertising and removing some of the financial barriers that make it hard to compete with companies with private/corporate equity

3)     Underground Infrastructure.

4)     Alleviating traffic congestions with connectors and access roads where applicable. This as opposed to free transportation

5)     Development that will bring new business to the Westend/ Addressing our need for affordable units. Over 19k lost since 2000

 

Justin M. Wilson 1)     Infrastructure

2)     Public Safety

3)     Education

4)     Transportation

5)     Human Services/Housing

Candidate City Council
Canek Aguirre  
Sarah R. Bagley 1)     Education

2)     First Responder Staffing and Compensation

3)     Sewer and Stormwater investment and Flood Mitigation Strategies

4)     ARHA/Affordable Housing committed funding and programming

5)     Addressing Equity in our programs, funding and development

John Taylor Chapman  
Amy B. Jackson 1)     Infrastructure (sewers, stormwater, pipes, drains, roads, municipal fiber, municipal buildings, environmental opportunities for Eco-City agenda, etc)

2)     Education (schools, programs, salaries)

3)     Public Safety (increasing wages)

4)     Affordable Housing

5)     Business/Workforce Development (funding/grants)

 

  1)     Education

2)     Public Safety

3)     Infrastructure

4)     Alternative/Affordable housing

5)     Older adult citizens

R. Kirk McPike 1)     Supporting our school system, including facility construction & improvement

2)     Addressing our city’s flooding problem

3)     Improving pay, and thus retention rates, for our first responders

4)     Addressing inequities in health and broadband internet access for underserved communities

5)     Securing land for the establishment of an affordable assisted living facility so that more older Alexandrians can stay in the city they love

Darryl Nirenberg 1)     Public Safety

2)     Infrastructure

3)     Education

4)     Tax Relief

5)     Affordable Housing

Glenda Gail Parker 1)     Stormwater/Sewage Infrastructure Improvement Completion

2)     Environmental clean up

3)     Smaller Community Schools

4)     Affordable housing

5)     Safer, car-free streets

 

  1. Demands on Police, Fire & EMS continue to increase while pay and benefits consistently lag neighboring jurisdictions exacerbating recruiting and retention issues. Funding for oversight measures, like body cameras, go unanswered; and the desire to establish additional mental health and social services are poised to compete with already under resourced public safety services.  Do you agree that the next Council will need to dedicate more energy toward addressing these complex funding issues?  Can you offer any new or innovative approaches to resolving the underfunding of vital public safety services, short of increasing taxes; or do you believe current funding levels are adequate?
Candidate Mayor
Annetta M. Catchings Yes. The above are all very important services that need implementing and it’s going to take vigorous discussions and the ability to think creatively and independent of any party agenda to meet the needs of our citizens as well as the people who work and do business in Alexandria.  Residential Property and Commercial Property  accounts for approximately 61% of our overall budget.  With that in mind, one of the most effective things we can do to improve on our community services while also adding to our tax base would be to  offer our first responders housing vouchers.  We have at our disposal a 2nd installment of 30 million from the ARPA funds as well as whatever Congress agrees on in reference to the 1 trillion dollar Infrastructure Bill.  I firmly believe the monies to be 100% allocated to fund projects that will add to the long-term vitality of our city and help us in the full recovery from this pandemic.
Justin M. Wilson I believe that the City’s AUTHORIZED staffing levels for the Police Department are largely appropriate (some reallocation is still appropriate, per recent staffing studies), while the AUTHORIZED staffing levels for the Fire Department likely need some continued investment to bring us to regional staffing standards. The City has worked over the past few years to make large increases in Fire Department staffing levels, but we are still not where we need to be.  Yet, there is considerable difference between the AUTHORIZED staffing levels and what is actually on the street. You can authorize and fund positions, but if there are not people willing to serve in those roles, the residents are not receiving the intended service. That difference is due to pay competitiveness issues, regional workforce scarcity, and a variety of other factors.  In 2018, I authored a pay compensation package that brought our public safety agencies back into the norm of our regional comparators. As always, these efforts prompt a response from our competitors. We have now found ourselves lagging and require additional investment to bring our public safety agencies back to competitive levels to ensure that we can attract and retain and best talent in the region. This will surely be a focus of our upcoming budget process.

Additionally, at the Council’s request, we recently received Federal resources to launch a body-worn camera program. We will work to find the necessary resources to launch a full program in the upcoming budget cycles.

Candidate City Council
Canek Aguirre  
Sarah R. Bagley Yes, we cannot continue aiming for the middle on this issue.  We must work to find dedicated funding for body cameras, a tool supported by police and residents, and improve compensation for our first responders.
John Taylor Chapman  
Amy B. Jackson The next Council will definitely have to resolve the underfunding of our public safety personnel.  I shared that last night at the City Council meeting.  As I stated in #9, I’d like to see our budget this year include pay raises for our public safety personnel and teachers, since they have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 response and are the near last in pay in comparing surrounding jurisdictions. We cannot attract, recruit and retain our hires if we do not have competitive pay scales and benefits packages.  We can and should do better.  The solutions are in the budget, we just need to prioritize our people and our programs.
Florence King Yes, the council needs to address funding issues for our public safety officials.  I don’t believe that the funding levels are adequate.  The top priority should be to make their salaries competitive.  The city needs to find creative solutions outside of raising taxes to increase public safety salaries.
R. Kirk McPike Yes, I believe the next Council must tackle the significant challenges facing our city’s first responders, including low pay and the lack of resources such as body-worn cameras. In terms of pay, we have been pennywise and pound foolish for too long, failing to achieve our own inadequate goal of paying the “average” rate for our region while spending more than we should on recruitment and training for police, fire and EMS professionals due to poor retention rates. I look forward to working with these essential city employees and their union representatives under the upcoming collective bargaining arrangement, which I believe will improve relations and help create the political will needed to substantially raise pay. With earmark authority now back in place in Congress, the city should work closely with our representatives in DC, and also those to Richmond, to address upfront costs for projects such as body cameras.
Darryl Nirenberg The fundamental responsibility of local government is to provide for education, infrastructure, and public safety.  The failure of the city to keep pace with regional averages on pay for police, fire & EMS had led to understaffing and recruitment challenges for these essential services.  Council’s goal should be to bring those salaries up to par as quickly as possible.  We also need a strategy to pursue federal grants from the Justice Department.  On behalf of a client, I lobbied for the creation of the Body Worn Camera grant program.  Other grants are potentially available, including COPS (community policing), Byrne-Jag, and HIDTA.  I lobby Congress for a living.  If elected, I will take a lead in pursuing these grant opportunities.
Glenda Gail Parker As a budget analyst by trade, I will want to take an in-depth look at the current budget and revenue sources.  It certainly appears that SRO funding should be re-visited.  Any development should be evaluated and re-evaluated in terms of net revenue to the City.  And where allowable, workload on services could be lessened by making the City as car-free as possible, closing off more streets, rezoning to make it possible for residents to walk to satisfy their needs, make it safe for children to walk to school and offer more schools in more communities.  Evaluate using buildings currently vacant.

 

[i] The current AFCA members are as follows: Brookville-Seminary Valley Civic Association, Inc.; Cameron Station Civic Association; Clover-College Park Civic Association; ​Fairlington Citizens Association; ​Founders Park Community Association; North Ridge Citizens’ Association; Old Town Civic Association; Parkfairfax Condominium Unit Owners Association; Potomac Yard Civic Association; Rosemont Citizens Association; Seminary Civic Association; Seminary Hill Association; Seminary Ridge Civic Association; Seminary West Civic Association; Strawberry Hill Civic Association; Wakefield Tarleton Civic Association; West Old Town Citizens Association

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