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Uncovering the full story is proving as difficult as hitting a half-court three-pointer at the buzzer. But Arlington officials say they are moving toward resolving a dispute with basketball referees in county-government youth leagues who have been unpaid, in some cases, for close to a year.

County Board members on Jan. 25 met in closed session to discuss the matter with their staff. Did the effort move the ball forward toward a resolution? “Yes, I think it did,” County Board Chairman Libby Garvey said in response to a Sun Gazette inquiry.

Those who referee games in county-government leagues aren’t actually employees, or even contractors, of the county government. Instead, they are effectively subcontractors who have been paid by a county-government contractor called Mid-Atlantic Officials. But starting early last year there began to be problems with referees getting payments they were due, and some are still owed payments, ranging from the hundreds of dollars into the thousands.

The issue festered largely below the public radar for months during 2019. County officials, while saying they were working to resolve the matter, refused to step in, pay the referees directly and seek redress from the contractor.

(Among the lingering questions in referee-gate is why the county government did not require the contractor to be bonded, a common procedure designed specifically for situations such as these. County officials have not publicly addressed that.)

The County Board’s newest member, Matt de Ferranti, has taken on the cause of the referees as his own. But in so doing, he may have received a tutorial that government works at its own pace, and sometimes in ways mysterious even to elected officials.

Coming out of the Jan. 25 closed session, de Ferranti wouldn’t get into specifics, but said County Board members made themselves clear to staff.

“We now have given direction . . . on how we want to get this done,” he told the Sun Gazette.

Earlier, de Ferranti said he hoped the entire issue could be resolved by Feb. 1 “at the latest.” His updated desire is to resolve things before spring arrives.

“We’re talking about weeks,” not longer, he told the Sun Gazette.

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