Final Meeting of Current Crew Was Not a Boring One
The year’s final Falls Church City Council meeting this Monday saw the swearing in of the winners of last month’s Council election, kind words said for the three departing Council members, and yet one final theatrical clash of core values between the departing former banker Ira Kaylin and his more pro-democratic nemesis Phil Duncan.
Sworn in by City Clerk Kathleen Clarken Buschow at the opening of the meeting were Vice Mayor David Snyder, re-elected to a sixth consecutive term on the Council, Dan Sze, elected for a second time, and newcomers Karen Oliver and Marybeth Connelly.
It marked yet another departure from long-term tradition in Falls Church associated with the first-time move of the City’s elections from May to November. Always in the past, the swearing in took place on July 1, no matter what day of the week it happened to be, and was immediately followed by the new Council’s election of a mayor and vice mayor.
With the election moved to November for the first time last month, the interruptions of the holidays caused the swearing in to occur weeks before the new Council members will actually assume the powers of the office (January 1), and even longer before they get around to electing a major (January 6).
Among other things, it maintains the suspense for an extra month about who the mayor will be. Will current Mayor Nader Baroukh get elected to a third two-year term, or will the significantly new makeup of the Council result in a preference for someone else?
The odds are for a change, as two of Baroukh’s staunchest supporters in the last two elections – Johannah Barry and Kaylin – will have departed, and the word is that others are interested in the job. On the other hand, some on the Council will undoubtedly make their decision based on their assessment of Baroukh’s effectiveness over the last three and a half years.
(In Falls Church’s city manager form of government, the power of the mayor is limited compared to the set up in other systems. The power resides in the Council as a whole, with the mayor’s function theoretically, at least, limited to setting the agenda for meetings and ceremonial functions. The Council is paid little, and the day-to-day functions of government are in the hands of the city manager. However, the City Council is the city manager’s boss, providing guidance and passing ordinances and resolutions that it is the manager’s responsibility to implement.)
Current City Manager Wyatt Shields commented on the accomplishments of the soon-departing City Council members Monday, saying that in working in federal, state and local government the last 23 years, the last years “have been unique in my experience” for the Council’s “unrelenting focus on the long term.”
Also in hailing the efforts of the departing Council members Barry, Kaylin and Ron Peppe (not present Monday), Vice Mayor Snyder said they are leaving “on a high note,” with “the City in its strongest financial position since its creation.”
Mayor Baroukh concurred, saying the departing members “are leaving the City in a much better financial place,” such that, he said, in his annual “state of the city” interviews in the News-Press he went from being “cautiously optimistic” in 2012 to “optimistic” in this last August’s interview.
Councilman David Tarter cited the three new large grocery stores that are now coming into the City and the “huge accomplishment” of the sale of the water system as evidence of “a very productive last year to 18 months.”
Barry praised the “collective work” of the Council to put the City on firm financial footing, and Kaylin read a lengthy statement outlining “key issue challenges” for the new Council, noting that “a development paradigm needs to be revisited” to meet those challenges.
The Council will represent “a crucible of character development” for meeting these challenges, he said.
But while Kaylin thanked Duncan for kind remarks about his service, the night would not have been complete had not the two clashed yet one more time.
The issue was a resolution to provide guidance on how the next Council might best deploy the some $14 million in net cash proceeds from the sale of the City’s water system to Fairfax County.
Kaylin, in a heated discussion in a Council work session a week earlier, took the position that the current Council should decide, right then and there, how to deploy the money. He had to be reined in by the acting city attorney, who said the money could not be allocated until it has been officially received and that no Council can dictate to a future Council what it can or cannot do.
Reluctantly conceding to, but still not agreeing with, that opinion, Kaylin strongly argued Monday night for inclusion in a general guidance resolution of a preference for the use of the funds he recommended, which was to place them in the City’s pension reserve.
(The downside of that plan is that the City completely relinquishes control of the funds and cannot get them back. They can also vanish in a downturn, or “correction,” of the economy, which most experts think is inevitable.)
But by strengthening the pension fund, Kaylin argued, as much as three cents on the real estate tax rate could be saved every year.
Based on the work session discussion, however, Duncan objected to the guidance resolution offering deference to any one approach at this stage. There are other potential uses, such as to establish an endowment or land banking, which should remain on an equal footing with the pension option, and left to the new Council, with considerable public input next year, to decide.
Kaylin lamented the impact of opening the discussion to public input, saying “the risk of unstructured discussions over six to eight weeks of meetings will cause that genie to come apart.”
He intoned that as a career banker, “I did this (make investment decisions—ed.) for a living,” and “it is setting up the new Council for failure to publicly discuss how to divide the pie.”
But it became clear upon counsel from the acting city attorney that deploying the funds once the money is in the hands of the City could only be done by means of an ordinance that would require two votes of the Council – a first and a second reading – and that, by law, public hearings be provided prior to each of those votes.
In that context, Mayor Baroukh, Tarter and Snyder tended to agree with Duncan’s point of view, although the language citing the value of the pension fund investment approach was left in the resolution, since it was only advice.