Monday’s Washington Post story by Tom Jackman entitled, “Fairfax City Land Deal Under Scrutiny,” with the subhead, “More Public Discussion About $30 Million Sale Was Needed, Critics Say,” portrayed a situation apparently in stark contrast to the way things work in the City of Falls Church.
It’s a lengthy article about problems with government disclosure and public awareness of a major land sale by the City of Fairfax that followed the sell off of its water system to Fairfax County last year. While attendance at hearings on the sale of the water system were well attended, citizens in Fairfax City were, according to the report, almost completely in the dark about the sale for $30 million last January of one of the city’s most valuable assets.
A new City of Fairfax city council member and members of the public, according to the report, “are upset that officials didn’t put the land on the open market, didn’t have it independently appraised, and didn’t allow more public discussion before the city made such a large deal.”
City of Fairfax officials met all the legal requirements for disclosure of their plans, as they argued in the article. But, according to the report, “The notice of a public hearing on the land sale was vaguely worded, buried in a long paragraph of hearings in the city’s newsletter and in an advertisement in the Washington Times, and not one city resident attended the hearing to discuss the deal. And the city did not announce the deal once it was signed.”
Wow. Technically legal, but so what? The lack of public awareness of this important issue falls to the lack of a willful public outreach by the city government. But moreover, it reflects the absence of a viable community newspaper serving the city, which with a population of 22,000 is larger, but not by that much, than the City of Falls Church (current population 13,300).
In short, who could imagine such a behind-the-backs-of-citizens deal going on without considerable public attention in the City of Falls Church, as all the City’s dealings with Fairfax County on water-related issues has had in the past half dozen years?
And yes, Falls Church citizens, you can thank the Falls Church News-Press for the difference. Since its founding in 1991, and its authorization by the state to publish official legal notices in 1992, the News-Press has been carrier delivered to every household in the Little City without fail for more than 23 years and counting, reporting in depth on local news and issues.
We don’t say this to brag, since our role is typical of what any good local newspaper would provide. But it’s a sad commentary when Fairfax City officials decide to use the obscure and marginal, for its area at least, Washington Times to place its official notices, for one thing, and for there to be no media scrutiny of their actions, on the other.