Sunday, April 19, 2009

New Faces, Fresh Ideas for Council

New Faces, Fresh Ideas for Council
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
April 19, 2009

Before enjoying the local Cinco de Mayo festivities around Alexandria, take five minutes on Tuesday, May 5 to cast ballots for City Council and School Board candidates. The polls are open from until and that a mere 19 percent of eligible voters bothered to turn out three years ago, there should not be any lines.

Of course this is more than just a public service announcement – my readers expect me to opine on those most worthy of the votes of the fair citizens of Alexandria. After six years of one-party rule on the council, and less than effective rule at that, it’s time for some new faces and fresh ideas to make Alexandria a more business-friendly city as well as a destination place for people to live, work and play.

Phil Cefaratti, Frank Fannon and Alicia Hughes are just the candidates to provide balance to an unbalanced city council. While the incumbents seeking reelection and a former mayor slap each other on the backs during candidate forums over ineffective policies making it nearly impossible for new businesses to make Alexandria their home, thus stunting the economic growth of the city as well as the city coffers, Cefaratti, Fannon and Hughes are bringing fresh ideas to the table.

“Business development is the key,” said Hughes at one forum calling for the process to be “streamlined,” and that the reason doing business in Alexandria is so challenging is the fault of the incumbents. Hughes, who works at the Patent and Trademark office has called for increased business development in that immediate area in order to maximize the dollars spent by the roughly 9,000 PTO employees. Hughes also supports a reduction in the tax obligation of small business.

Fannon, on the board of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, calls for the lowering of taxes and reducing the budget as a way to make Alexandria an “All-American City.” He would also like to see the privatization of a number of city jobs. Fannon called for city government’s accountability saying “the deal is the deal,” meaning the city has changed it policies and procedures too often making it difficult for people to conduct business in Alexandria.

Turning his attention specifically to the West End, Cefaratti said it is vital to provide financial incentives for businesses to want to come to Alexandria, not impediments. The decline in business forces people to spend their money in Falls Church or Arlington, said Cefaratti, calling for the Landmark project to be stepped up sooner rather than later.

Fannon added that he would like to see Landmark become a destination center similar to the Reston Town Center, while Hughes called for mixed-use development, tax credits and incentives to spur growth at Landmark.

Fannon and Cefaratti double-teamed during a recent forum to suggest a way to save the city money on its education expenditures. “The council has not been pro-active,” said Cefaratti regarding the growth in the public school population, noting that there has been an influx of students illegally enrolled in APS when they are not actually Alexandria residents. Children whose legal residences are in Maryland or the District are attending Alexandria schools, said Cefaratti.

“We need to enforce school regulations,” said Fannon, pointing out that if there are 100 such students as described by Cefaratti, that costs Alexandria $1.8 million. That is money of which the city is being defrauded.

Incumbent Rob Krupicka confirmed that no such policy is currently on the books, but should be by the fall.

Cefaratti also called for a reduction in the size of city government. “We need to reduce the headcount,” he said, noting that the department of planning and zoning has increased by 42 percent. Fannon supported this notion specifically calling for a reduction of city employees from 2,400 to 1,900.

Government “needs to get out of the way and let the free markets work,” said Fannon, calling for more public-private partnerships in the city, an expansion of the commercial tax base and a lowering of tax rates.

Aside from business issues, Cefaratti took a swipe at the incumbents regarding the environment and how there is no penalty phase regarding the Mirant Plant. He, along with Fannon and Hughes took stances for smart growth and improvements to transportation throughout all of Alexandria, including better bus routes to ensure that a trip from the West End to Old Town via public transit does not take an hour as some citizens have testified.

There is no question change was the mantra of the past election cycle, and it is clear that positive and productive change is what Phil Cefaratti, Frank Fannon and Alicia Hughes will bring to the Alexandria City Council when they are elected on Tuesday, May 5.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and political consultant living in Alexandria.

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