Arlington County Board Plans to Suspend In Person Meetings Till 6 Months After COVID Crisis

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, May 19, 2020

At first blush the ordinance to suspend public meetings and code enforcement during the COVID crisis seems eminently reasonable.

Obviously County Board and other boards and commissions can’t meet in public during a pandemic without jeopardizing the participants. The ordinance authorizes virtual meetings instead, and that’s good.

Also good is the removal of a provision that would have suspended Long Range Planning Committee and Site Plan Review Committee meetings, evidently at the urging of the Urban Forestry Commission, which protested the provision in an angry letter to County Board on May 15.

I’m also happy that the County plans to waive late fees and interest on delayed payments for County services.

But another provision calling for across the board suspension of code enforcement is troubling. I appreciate that enforcement of existing regulations against restaurants or their patrons for parking violations makes no sense when restaurants have been forced to switch to grab and go take out to preserve their businesses.

But I do not understand why enforcement of land use permits has been suspended or what hardship such enforcement would impose either on developers or County staff.

The County Manager has advised that no County staff have been laid off as a result of the pandemic. Some of them are now engaged in relief efforts. But what about the rest? Are they not available to do this kind of work?

Finally I object to the extension of this ordinance until six (6) months after the end of the COVID-19 disaster. Not only does the extension constitute overreach, it makes no sense. The COVID disaster will not end until the risk to public health and safety prompts the lifting of a state of emergency. With the emergency gone, on what legal basis does the County propose to suspend normal democratic processes for another six months?

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