The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) was established in 1957 to provide a forum for cooperation and collaboration between and among jurisdictions in the National Capital Region. Fairfax County was one of the original founders, and currently is the largest member jurisdiction in COG, holding three seats on the Board of Directors. In the intervening years, COG members have addressed many significant issues, including transportation, jobs, homeland security, and restoration of local streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay.
A hallmark of COG is regional cooperation and advancement of mutual interests in our very diverse region. While many issues are addressed by consensus, it is not unusual for the COG Board of Directors to take a voice vote on a pending subject. Not all COG votes are unanimous, but few votes have generated the emotion that was evident during, and after, the COG Board’s March 13 vote to adopt a resolution addressing gun violence. An initial vote on Fairfax County Board Chairman Sharon Bulova’s motion to send the issue to COG’s Human Services and Public Safety Policy Committee (HSPSPC) for further study and recommendations failed on a roll call vote, 10 to 10. A second resolution, to endorse the International Association of Police Chiefs (IAPC) Position Paper on Firearm Violence, passed by a roll call vote of 11 to 5. The meeting was running late, and a few members had left the room by then. Subsequently, at least two Virginia jurisdictions took formal positions to withhold membership dues, and others threatened to pull out of COG, citing that the policy resolution was “inappropriate and disrespectful…” and intimated that gun control is a national and state issue, not unique to the metropolitan area.
As a member of the COG Board of Directors, and its chairman in 2009, I am strongly supportive of COG and Fairfax County’s participation in it. I was disappointed when Chairman Bulova’s motion was rejected, because I, too, believed that the issue needed to be vetted by HSPSPC, on which I happen to serve. So I voted against the second resolution, but for very different reasons than some of my colleagues. Gun violence has affected all of COG’s jurisdictions, but those same jurisdictions have very different approaches to the issue. A thorough vetting of the IAPC position was needed to help inform board members’ decisions; not a knee-jerk reaction about Second Amendment rights, but a serious study of the implications that can inform future policy decisions at the local level. The COG process is well-served by its committee structure, which should have been utilized in this case. As a result of the dust-up following the March 13 vote, I anticipate that a motion for reconsideration will be made at next week’s COG Board meeting. Should that motion pass, a second motion could be made to send the issue, including mental health, school safety, and gun safety aspects, to HSPSPC, with a report due to the COG Board within six months. Those are actions I can support, and maintain the respectful and informed dialogue that COG has done so well for more than 50 years.