PRESS RELEASE: Arlington County Says Governor Calls the Shots During COVID Crisis

May 2, 2020

I’m Audrey Clement, the Independent for County Board on November 3, and I’m unhappy that County Board continues to waffle in its response to COVID-19.

At the April 25, 2020 County Board meeting, County Attorney Steve MacIsaac insisted that Governor Northam’s March 12 declaration of a state emergency superseded the County’s authority to act on its own.

While Title 44 of Virginia Code does require localities to coordinate with the Governor for goods or services they can’t procure themselves, there is no limitation on their power to act using their own resources during either statewide or local emergencies.

Also if the County Attorney’s reading of Title 44 is correct, why did the County Manager himself declare a local emergency on March 13, a day after the Governor’s March 12 declaration supposedly superseded his own authority?

Nothing in Virginia code prevents local authorities from taking action in local emergencies, and failure to do so can have dire consequences.

For example, because the Governor did not close bars and restaurants until March 24, the pandemic continued to spread along the R-B corridor and Crystal City for a full ten days. This period included Saint Patrick’s Day, which probably generates more disease spreading, bar hopping activity in Arlington than any other day of the year.

If Arlington had exercised its local emergency powers between March 12 and March 24, when the Governor finally shut the bars down, it might have enjoyed a head start in flattening the curve.

Now I know that’s water over the dam. But health experts are predicting another COVID-19 wave in the fall. If and when that happens, we need a County Board that is proactive rather than reactive.

Also the Virginia Health Department reports that a few jurisdictions in northern Virginia account for more than half the cases statewide. This situation begs for mutual aid or coordinated action among neighboring counties, which is already authorized under Title 44.

Yet my opponent Libby Garvey downplayed mutual aid at the April 25 County Board meeting, indicating that coordinated efforts are difficult. If Libby’s right, that could explain why the COVID curve continues to march up rather than down in northern Virginia.

If I am elected before the COVID-19 crisis abates, I will:

  • insist that Arlington County exercise its duly legislated authority to contain the spread of the pandemic;
  • engage in mutual aid efforts with neighboring jurisdictions; and
  • demand that the Governor provide enhanced support to the Northern Virginia region.

I will also:

  • Seek more tax relief for County residents.
  • Preserve green space and emphasize basic services like: streets, schools, libraries and public safety.
  • Promote transparency by requiring publication of official documents at least 72 hours before board and commission meetings.
  • Provide a voice on County Board for all taxpayers.

As a 16-year Westover resident, long-time civic activist and current member of the Transportation Commission, I have both the experience and independence to promote these reforms.

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