Arlington leaders continue to push back against accusations they could be doing more to address the COVID-19 crisis within the county’s 26 square miles.
A number of civic-activists used the public-comment period of the County Board’s April 25 meeting (held “virtually” after the government received state authority to do so) to rap officials for not imposing more aggressive regulation of daily life, similar to restrictions in place in the District of Columbia and Maryland.
Bernard Berne said the county should serve as a Northern Virginia leader in using regulatory powers to be more aggressive.
“If Arlington does it first, Fairfax and others will probably go along,” he said.
It’s not as simple as that, County Board member Christian Dorsey retorted.
“This is a lot more complicated and difficult than it appears at first blush,” Dorsey said.
Government critics have pointed to wording in the county code that appears to give Arlington leaders wide regulatory powers in a crisis. But that wording does not always align with the actual powers a local government has at its disposal, said County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac.
It is an “overstatement” to say that Arlington has powers to supersede directives from the governor once a statewide state of emergency is proclaimed, MacIsaac says. State law requires localities to operate “under supervision of the governor” in such cases, he said.
The law states “very clearly” that once the governor issues an emergency proclamation – as Gov. Northam did in mid-March – that localities are no longer free agents, Dorsey added.
A number of activists, including perennial County Board candidate Audrey Clement, were critical that the county government on March 13 asked, but did not require, restaurants to close in-person service as the crisis began to ramp up. Four days later, Northam effectively closed restaurants (except for take-out and delivery) for the duration of the crisis.
Despite rules being different in all three jurisdictions that make up the Washington metropolitan area – Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia – regional leaders are working together, County Board Chairman Libby Garvey said.
“We are trying to coordinate,” she said. “We’re really trying to work this through.”
But governments are only one part of the equation, board member Katie Cristol said.
“We are relying on every member of this community, and those who visit it, to make good decisions,” she said.