In valedictory, Bulova praises progress in Fairfax

Sharon Bulova delivers her “State of the County” address on Sept. 26, 2019. It will be the last time Bulova delivers such remarks, as she is retiring at the end of the year. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)

Sharon Bulova is on her way out as Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman, but she took time Sept. 26 to trumpet the county’s virtues and predict a bright future.

During a media preview of her final “State of the County” address at the county’s government center in Fairfax, Bulova seemed relaxed and upbeat when discussing  her 31-year career on the board.

“It really is kind of bittersweet,” said the chairman, who will step down in late December. “I have loved serving on the Board of Supervisors. I’ve seen changes over the years. We’ve had our ups and had our downs. But I’m really, really proud with how Fairfax County has evolved . . . It’ll be hard to leave, but I know the timing is right.”

Bulova touted achievements that occurred during her tenure as board chairman, including the opening of the first phase of Metrorail’s Silver Line; approval of a new Tysons comprehensive plan; revamped county-police policies, which provide more transparency with the public and stress de-escalation tactics; and implementation of Diversion First, which offers people with mental illnesses or developmental disabilities the option of treatment instead of incarceration.

Affordable housing will continue to be a major issue in Fairfax County and the country overall, Bulova said.

“I think we all started to understand the importance affordable housing when Amazon sort of started its flyover around the country, looking for a second headquarters,” she said.

Factors the online mega-retailer considered were region’s quality of life, educational offerings, workforce capabilities and housing affordability. Northern Virginia leaders knew affordable housing was not just about human services, but also economic development, she said.

Bulova touted One Fairfax, a social- and racial-equity policy adopted by the Board of Supervisors and School Board to commits county officials to examining equity issues when formulating policies or providing services and programs.

But some county residents, including some in Great Falls, have objected to the policy, saying among other things that it would lead to school-boundary and -attendance changes predicated on race.

Like the rest of the United States, Fairfax County has institutional iniquities that most people don’t realize, Bulova said. Discussing those iniquities is hard, but it has to happen, she said.

“A relatively small group of people have latched onto One Fairfax, assuming it’s something different than it actually is,” Bulova said.

County and school officials have been working together to ensure all county residents have the same opportunities to succeed, she said.

“You can’t guarantee success, but you can guarantee that everyone in Fairfax County has access to the same opportunities,” Bulova said. “It doesn’t just have to do with education. It has to do with housing, it has to do with economic development . . . Some people have called that ‘social engineering,’ but it’s far from social engineering. It’s just making sure that we’re being fair and providing access to opportunity.”

Multi-Modal Transportation Is the County’s Goal: Bulova, who helped found Virginia Railway Express in 1992, marveled that Fairfax County now is home to 11 Metrorail stations and is slated to see three more open next year with completion of the Silver Line’s second phase.

The Fairfax Connector bus system recently began, in partnership with county schools, a student-bus-pass pilot program that allows students in the county’s middle and high schools to ride the buses to and from school and evening activities. County supervisors also are providing funding for a pilot program that would allow pupils at Justice High School in the Falls Church area to use their student bus passes on Metrobuses.

Among other transportation improvements highlighted by Bulova were the partial opening to traffic of the Jones Branch Connector in Tysons, which is slated to be finished later this year; new sidewalks along Leesburg Pike under the Route 123 bridge in Tysons; completion of the Vesper Trail between Tysons and Vienna; and the installation of 29 Capital Bikeshare facilities around the county since 2016, with 36 more slated to be installed next year.

Bulova also touted preparation efforts for the future construction of Express Lanes along Interstate 66 between I-495 and Gainesville.

Police Reforms Implemented: Fairfax County police, after the fatal shooting of Kingstowne resident John Geer by officers in August 2013, have been under pressure to improve departmental transparency and accountability.

The county has implemented more than 90 percent of the 202 recommendations issued by the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission. The latest action, taken by the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 24, was approval of a three-year implementation plan for police body-worn cameras.

County police also created a Media Relations Bureau led by civilians, updated policies requiring clear and timely release of information, and have been under additional civilian oversight via an independent police auditor and Civilian Review Panel.

Bulova said she is “leaving the county in good hands” and would not have stepped down unless there were strong slates of candidates ready to serve.

Bulova first joined the board as supervisor of what then was Annandale District in 1988. That area subsequently became Braddock District and Bulova continued in that office until February 2009, when she won a special election to fill the remaining term of former Chairman Gerald Connolly (D), who had been elected to Congress the previous November.

“Clearly, I don’t believe in term limits,” Bulova joked.

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