A petition campaign is underway in Arlington, Virginia to put a referendum on the ballot to change the county’s structure of government. Currently, Arlington has a County Manager form of government, adopted in 1930. At that time, Arlington also instituted an “at-large” rather than “district” election of County Board members.
Committee for a Better Arlington is organizing the petition drive started by the Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association They claim the changes, “are about giving the government back to its citizens.”
Currently, the County Manager as chief executive runs day-to-day operations under the direction of the County Board. With the proposed change the County Board would have direct control over operations. Change proponents say the County Manager has too much control over the flow of information. The Firefighters point to recent budget cuts to public safety as evidence. And they argue at-large voting dilutes individual votes.
The Coalition for Arlington Good Government (CAGG) opposes the change, claiming they will undermine Arlington’s local autonomy and politicize county operations. Virginia’s General Assembly permits the County to craft laws specific to the County Manager form of government. The CAGG notes the change will end the county’s local authority to set land use regulations, civil rights, child care regulation policies. In addition, a ward system might magnify parochial interests.
With a petition deadline of July 15th to collect 14,000 signatures the debate is intensifying.