It seemed more like the days of old at the Arlington County Civic Federation, with escalating testiness, fast-flying procedural points of order, facts getting inadvertently jumbled and finishing with everybody feeling a tad wrung out.
But in the end, by a narrow 18-15 margin, federation delegates on Oct. 2 voted to support the $30.3 million county park bond on the Nov. 6 ballot, while taking no position on the other three bonds on the ballot.
“What a mess, what a mess,” muttered delegate Jay Wind, who had come to the meeting seeking support for the park bond.
Wind and other park advocates came away with that support – the first time since 2012 that the Civic Federation has weighed in on a bond referendum – but the final version was stripped of additional language that had been included in the recommendation sent out to federation delegates.
That additional language, which was removed on a 21-15 vote, would have called on the county government to take specific steps to acquire land for parks, and to avoid removing mature trees during park projects.
Retaining the recommendations to elected officials appealed to federation delegate Mark Antell, as it would have sent a message of support for parks but voiced concern about county-government actions.
“A lot of people are very disappointed in the way the county is using the parks,” Antell said in an unsuccessful bid to retain the extra verbiage.
Both before and after that particular wordsmithing battle, delegates wrangled over whether support for the three other bonds on the November ballot should have been considered along with the park bond. Transportation, education and community-infrastructure measures are on the ballot.
“It’s proper to vote on all four,” said delegate Takis Karantonis, who tried to amend the park-bond resolution to include the other bonds but was rebuffed on a vote that ended up 11 in favor, 23 opposed.
Civic Federation president Duke Banks, speaking individually, opposed adding support for the other bonds at the last minute, saying it would go against the organization’s timetable for consideration of resolutions. Only supporters of the park bond brought a resolution to the table in September, as normal procedures required.
“The bond calendar was known way in advance, and if anybody wanted to make a resolution about the other [referendums], they had the opportunity last month,” Banks said.
It was a view shared by delegate Juliet Hiznay. “We don’t want everything brought up as an emergency resolution,” she said.
An effort by Hiznay to insert language into the park-bond resolution that its passage should not be seen as a reflection on Civic Federation views on any other bonds went down to defeat on a vote of 17-11.
But wait, there’s more: Earlier in the evening, delegate Suzanne Sundburg, who has been critical of the county government’s handling of its tree canopy and opposes the park bond for that reason, unsuccessfully attempted to have the entire matter deferred until November, after the referendums had occurred.
The county government traditionally sends out bond referendums to the public in November of even-numbered years. Sundburg was among those (Banks was another) who said that, in recent memory, the Civic Federation had not taken positions on county referendums.
“We just don’t do that; we don’t tell people how to vote,” she said.
That’s not entirely correct, though. Civic Federation delegates in 2006, 2008 and 2012 approved resolutions in support of all county bonds on the ballot those years, although there were no resolutions of support (or opposition) in 2010, 2014 and 2016.
Despite all the give-and-take at the meeting, it’s unlikely the park bond (or any other) is in any danger at the polls. Arlington voters haven’t turned down a local bond referendum since Jimmy Carter was in the White House.
For Wind, a veteran park booster (and Sun Gazette running columnist), the final vote was imperfect, but better than nothing.
“Arlington’s parks are the lungs of Arlington,” he said. “The park bond protects that environment.”