- Katie Cristol to serve as Vice-Chair
The Arlington County Board today unanimously elected Matt de Ferranti its 2021 Chair. The Board unanimously elected Katie Cristol its Vice-Chair.
This is de Ferranti’s first term as Chair of the County Board. Elected to the Board in November 2018, de Ferranti will serve as the official head of the County and set the agenda for Board Meetings.
Nearly 10 months after the County declared a local emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic, with cases continuing to mount across the region, de Ferranti led the Board in observing a moment of silence for the 182 Arlingtonians whose lives were claimed by COVID-19 in 2020, before saying that his focus in 2021 will be on “stabilization, recovery, and building a County and community that is systemically committed to racial and economic equity.”
The County’s ongoing pandemic response, including vaccine distribution, and strengthening Arlington’s response to food insecurity will be his priorities as Chair, de Ferranti said. “Our health care response to COVID-19 is clearly the biggest issue we face as a community…We must get the vaccines out quickly to our health care workers, nursing home residents, essential workers, seniors, and eventually, our community as a whole.”
Stabilizing the community will also require prioritizing the County’s hunger response and eviction prevention efforts, de Ferranti said. The County Board and School Board are supporting the County Manager and Superintendent in forming a Hunger and Food Insecurity Working Group to “help sustain the work so many have been doing to fight hunger, better address the gaps and racial inequities of hunger, and to better collaborate and coordinate to maximize our resources,” de Ferranti said. In 2019, before the pandemic struck, 15,000 Arlingtonians, or 6.8 percent of the County’s population, were food insecure, he noted. That number has grown to 26,000 residents, or just over 8.8 percent of the population today.
The County will continue rental assistance to help keep families hit hard by the pandemic from being evicted from their homes and will support APS’s efforts to safely reopen schools. The County will accelerate efforts to make broadband affordable and accessible for all Arlington residents. But even as the County focuses on its continued response to the pandemic, de Ferranti said, it will be laying the groundwork for economic recovery.
With 38 percent of Arlington businesses indicating in an October survey that they are at risk of closing, “our recovery will require full partnership between County government and our businesses to navigate a drastically altered economic landscape,” as well as community support for local businesses, he said. “From my heart to yours: shop local in Arlington this year.”
The progress Arlington made in 2020 toward building “a County Government that is systemically committed to addressing racial and economic equity,” must continue, de Ferranti said. He cited the County’s Missing Middle housing study, which is exploring new types of housing to diversify the County’s housing inventory, as an integral part of economic opportunity and achieving racial equity in the County.
2021 Vice-Chair Katie Cristol announced that the County will convert its Complete Count Committee, which achieved 100% participation in the 2020 census in Arlington, to the Complete Vaccine Committee, “to help our hardest-to-reach neighbors” get information about and access to the COVID-19 vaccine in 2021.
The County needs residents to trust the vaccine, Cristol said, “but ours is the nation of the Tuskegee Study and the Public Charge rule; our past of medical exclusion and worse on the basis of race or citizenship status is not even past. Vaccination hesitation can be a rational response to these real circumstances that requires an all-out effort, and trusted community leaders, to address with candor and listening.” Cristol said that she and School Board Vice-Chair Barbara Kanninen will work closely with the group “on a trust-building effort as big as it is important.”
Board Member Christian Dorsey said the response to the pandemic in 2020, by both government and the community, give him confidence “that Arlington has the stuff to tackle whatever we are required to adapt to over this year and to repair the frayed fabric of our society so that we emerge even stronger.”
Arlington “should and must be held accountable for building upon the work of normalizing the concepts of race and equity and deepening our analyses of who benefits and who is burdened by our actions,” Dorsey said, “even when doing so requires grappling with data that offer inconvenient truths such as those who are the subject of complaints to authorities.”
Dorsey called for the thoughtful reform of systems “so that government’s power to be punitive is not brought to bear on individuals when complainants are acting upon animus, implicit bias or narrow perspectives.” He expressed hope that “we can begin a process for our community to better understand what constitutes suspicious and offending behavior and activity, and that our enforcement promotes compliance and when punitive measures are necessary, that they are scaled to the magnitude of the problem.”
Board Member Karantonis said that his focus, beyond continuing to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, will be on fiscally sound, sustainable, and accountable governance; advancing the County’s sustainability goals by helping to put in place a strong implementation framework for the Community Energy Plan, and helping update Arlington’s Forestry and Natural Resources Masterplan. He also will support “our efforts to find new and creative approaches to housing affordability by adding more and more effective tools in our policy toolbox,” including the ongoing Missing Middle study, Karantonis said.
Key systemic elements of economic recovery he will focus on including pursuing a new and long-term, effective framework of support for Arlington’s small businesses; finding the best way to provide essential social infrastructure, such as affordable and equitable broadband access to those who need it most, and partnering with public employees as County Government engages for the first time in collective bargaining, Karantonis said.
He joined his colleagues in committing to advancing the work done on racial equity thus far, and to “transform (that work) into actionable steps forward. From reevaluating our policing practices to making public participation accessible at all levels: these conversations will continue in 2021.”
Outgoing Chair Libby Garvey thanked the community, staff, and her colleagues for working together to get through “a year that challenged us like no other in memory.” She pledged to “continue to do whatever I can to support our efforts to end systemic racism and to continue to build a more resilient Arlington” in 2021.
Garvey said she will continue to promote civility in public discussions. “We will be facing some major issues in the next years,” she said. “These include setting budget priorities as our economy struggles to recover and putting an end to systemic racism. We really cannot afford to fight among ourselves if we are going to effectively tackle these big issues.”
Garvey said she also will continue to work on higher pay for elected officials. “If you look back at what our work was in 2020, it’s totally unreasonable to treat these positions as part-time,” she said. “A strong democracy and government require a broad and representative pool of candidates to run for office. It’s getting harder and harder for good people to run for local office.”