The National Association of Counties (NACo) annual conference was held last week at the Reno/Sparks Convention Center, a high desert area that rivaled Virginia in the summer’s heat, albeit with minimal humidity that made it more bearable. Fairfax County is a voting member of NACo. Mount Vernon Supervisor Gerry Hyland serves on NACo’s Board of Directors, and I am a vice-chairman of the NACo Environment Energy, and Land Use Committee (EELU).
The EELU Committee has more than 50 members from across the country, large and small counties alike. Among the resolutions debated during a two-day period were whether federal agencies should pay local stormwater fees (they should, although they protest on the basis that they are tax-exempt); support for clean coal technologies; carbon cap and trade and carbon tax legislation; and allowing smaller counties to compete for renewable energy project grants for less than the existing 20 megawatt criteria.
The Louisiana and Mississippi delegations pressed for help in dealing with the effects of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Several speakers advocated for more local control, and expressed frustration that federal laws often conflict with one other, causing local “common sense” approaches to fail. One example identified was the sand berm that a Mississippi county was ready to build, but could not get federal authorities to allow them to save their beaches from oil damage, even temporarily. A hotly debated resolution urging President Obama to reduce to no more than 30 days his six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling in the Gulf eventually passed; I voted against it because of my concern that not enough safety measures are in place to inspect deep-water drilling rigs, and protect the environment.
Fairfax County received two prestigious awards at the NACo Conference. The Ossian Hall International Concert series, sponsored by the Fairfax County Park Authority, was the award-winner selected by the NACo Arts and Culture Commission. Only one program was selected for a national award, and I was very pleased to accept the plaque at the Arts Award dinner, held in a whimsically renovated warehouse not far from the Truckee River. The old warehouse now houses an architecture firm and several non-profit organizations, and is an excellent re-use of space. Fairfax County also received a 2010 Achievement Award in Personnel Management, for its Administrative Resource Team and the Professional Development Day program that was created by support staff for support staff. Virginia counties did very well in the achievement awards: two other Virginia counties (Hanover and Isle of Wight) also took home the coveted awards.
During my trip to the NACo conference, I visited the old mining town of Virginia City, Nevada, about 23 miles via switchback roads. The town has been preserved; only the smelter operations are gone, but it is a real town, not a Disney-fied version. A popular site is the office of the Territorial Enterprise, where Mark Twain began his career. The Enterprise was one of the most influential papers of its time on the frontier, and often is credited with aiding Nevada in becoming a state in 1864. Just as the Territorial Enterprise was important to Virginia City, so, too, is the Falls Church News Press important for the greater Falls Church community. While comparing reporter Mark Twain to publisher Nick Benton may be a stretch, the importance of a vigorous local press is not. Congratulations, Nick, on your 1,000th edition and for your commitment to spirited dialogue!
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org