[Updated to include Arlington government plan to remove provision on oversight of development from emergency-powers resolution.]
It ain’t over until it’s over, the late, great Yogi Berra was quoted as saying.
But when it comes to the COVID-19 crisis and the Arlington County government, it won’t be over even when it’s over.
County Board members this week are expected to adopt an updated proclamation of a community emergency, which will extend expanded government powers not just until the current pandemic situation is declared under control by Gov. Northam, but for up to six months thereafter.
That’s the maximum amount of time granted to Virginia localities, under a 1950 state law, to enact special measures and suspend certain otherwise obligatory requirements during a public emergency.
Gov. Northam declared a state of emergency across the commonwealth on March 23. Arlington officials followed with their own a day later.
The six-page declaration largely pertains to public meetings and some administrative practices of the local government. The measure also authorizes County Manager Mark Schwartz to seek “any federal or state funding, reimbursement or aid related to the attack, crisis, disaster or emergency and its impacts on the county and its businesses and residents.”
The measure had been slated for adoption May 16 under the County Board’s “consent agenda,” presumably because county officials were under the impression no one in the public would raise concerns.
But concerns indeed were raised, largely over a provision that potentially would have shunted aside the county government’s Long Range Planning Committee and various review committees that consider the implications of new development.
“Proposing such overreach, especially opportunistically so during a deep public-health and economic crisis, favors those who most profit from land development above the public’s interest and fairness and transparency in government operations,” local resident Rod Simmons said in an e-mail to County Board Chairman Libby Garvey. “It would effectively disenfranchise meaningful and required public participation in guiding land-use decisions.”
Simmons – who called the proposal “shamelessly exploitative” – wasn’t alone in attacking it. County officials got the message, removing that proposal from the emergency-powers declaration as it moved toward a final vote on May 19.