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Al Alborn

Alborn: Fly Fishing Group Meets at Quantico, Gives Vets a Chance to Heal

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I am a fly fisherman.

I have been wandering around the Appalachian backcountry for years in search of native Brook Trout in the crystal clear headwaters of mountain streams. It’s a solitary journey that I take to recover from 22 years as a career soldier and another 15 in technology business.

I find that nature and solitude heal the scars that have accumulated on my soul.

That’s why I was intrigued when I started hearing about a project set up by fly fisherman to help fellow Veterans with a few scars on their bodies and minds heal. It’s called Project Healing Waters.

Given the name of the project, I intuitively understood.

There are several programs in the Washington, D.C. area; however, Duber Winters, the Manager of “my” Orvis Store, and Beau Beasley, a fellow outdoor writer, kept point me to the Quantico Program.

I grabbed my camera and headed out on a snowy winter Tuesday night to see what was going on. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I understood that the program was designed to help injured military service personnel and disabled veterans.

Was this going to be “touchy feely” stuff or a bunch of guys telling “war stories?” Maybe it would feel like hanging out at the VFW?

It was none of those things.What I found was a bunch of fly fisherman… doing what fly fisherman do when they aren’t. fishing… talking about fly fishing… and tying flies.

Tonight, they were here to learn how to tie the Original Clouser Deep Minnow.

A few were in uniform, most not. Uniform Blouses were stacked on the sidelines. Rank didn’t matter in this room.

There were a few young active-duty Marines, a few retired service members, some middle age guys, and some fellow “more experienced” (a polite way to say senior citizens) fly fisherman (like me). All were sitting around a table littered with feathers, hooks, thread, and fly tying vices. It was a mixed group of men and women who had all come together for one reason.

I slowly began to understand. These folks. all of them, active duty — veterans — civilian volunteers: all came together for the same reason I head into the woods with my fly rod for a chance to concentrate on something other than the scars on their bodies and souls – for a chance to learn to tie one more fly that they can use on some river or stream, or to seek the therapeutic benefits of being one with nature.

This program wasn’t just about the young Marines — this was about Veterans of all ages, and perhaps those who served in other ways — to forget for a while, and just think about fishing.

Many of us who fly fish long ago came to the realization that our venture into new waters with a rod and a few flies often has little to do with actually catching fish.

These guys have a lot of sponsors big and small. Some folks provide money, others materials, others sweat equity.

Folks like Jim Bensinger, owner of Fiber Flies, was there as a volunteer and materials donor. His son, James (an active duty Marine) was at the table working on a fly.

There will always be a shortage of the money and resources to grow this program to the size necessary to support the veterans returning from today’s wars, and those long forgotten wars from the past. You read the same news I do. Government money just won’t be enough in the future.

There are many good programs out there, but one size doesn’t fit all. Some are better than others. This is one of the good ones. I checked them out (as in “pulled their IRS 990), and noted that they are a well managed, volunteer organization that puts of its money into programs to support veterans.

I write my checks to not-for-profit groups in December. I plan to add Project Healing Waters to my list. You may find many ways to donate here. If you have a special program in your State or community you would like to support, just add its name to the donation.

My donation will go to Project Healing Waters – Quantico. The journey is the reward.

Al Alborn is a Prince William County resident and author of The Virginia Trout Bum.

Alborn: Taking a Break and Going fishing!

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OPINION

I’m taking a break from this column to catch up on other projects.  Anyone who wishes to talk about…  well…  just about anything…  knows where to find me:  My “office” (which is either he Starbucks at the corner of Hoadly Road and the Prince William Parkway or at Potomac Town Center) or my front porch.

Go to troutbumva.com to keep track of my fishing and other projects.

Posted “office hours” or by appointment.

I’m going fishing!

Al

Alborn: ‘Warfront to Storefront’ Initiative Could Fill Empty Retail Space with Able Vets

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Opinion 

Today, service in the Military requires sacrifice beyond what many Americans may imagine.  The price the young men and women pay for the privilege of protecting the rest of us includes unimaginable sacrifices, significant hardships, extended absences from families and friends, and often dismemberment and the constant risk of death.

Veterans are coming back to a depressed economy, a shrinking government, high unemployment (particularly high for veterans), and competition with those who did not serve for jobs.

The Federal Government is in no position to help.

I suggest that it is time for a little out of the box thinking to make accommodations for these young men and women returning home. 

Small businesses are the engine of our economy.  According to the U.S. Department of Commerce/Small Business Administration, small businesses employee about half of all private sector employees and pay nearly 45 percent of total US private payrolls.

Changes in American shopping habits and retail investments have created a plethora of empty storefronts across America.  All one has to do to confirm this is wander around any of those strip malls created in the last Century and then go to one of the new Town Centers that have pretty much destroyed traditional down towns and strip mall retail.  These empty storefronts are a problem for local communities, property owners, and Government. 

Perhaps we may turn this “problem” into an “opportunity”.

Warfronts to Storefronts suggests that we “break a few rules” to help returning veterans with an entrepreneurial spirit to get beyond finding a job and start creating them. 

It focuses on helping them start businesses that will create jobs for others.  It suggests that we develop a strategy for moving troops returning from the battlefield into those Empty storefronts.

Let’s “connect the dots” on how we might accomplish moving Veterans from warfronts to storefronts.

Problem:  Regulation continues to make opening a new business difficult.  Government continues to add new hurdles at all levels to “protect the American public”, enforce zoning rules, and nickel and dime businesses to generate revenue. 

These regulations add months, sometimes years, to the process of actually starting a small business and sometimes actually preclude business opportunities.  Regulations regarding home based offices and businesses often stop entrepreneurial initiatives “in their tracks”.

Strategy:  Evaluate all regulations in the value chain for all aspects of opening and operating a small business and make explicit exceptions for returning Veterans. Particularly examine regulations that make opening a home-based business difficult.  It should be easy for someone who has returned from a combat zone to open a business in America.  “Breaking a few rules” is a small sacrifice to help them get started.

Problem:  Rents may be unrealistically high as property owners “do the math” regarding reducing rents and tax breaks.

Strategy:  Involve property owners in the warfront to storefront project.  Work with them to reduce rents in vacant storefronts for returning Veterans to make opening a business easier.  Increasing traffic to a strip mall increases the value of that property, and increases rent potential for other vacant storefronts.

Problem:  Taxes, particularly business taxes on gross receipts regardless of profit or loss, make that critical first five years of any small business particularly challenging.

Strategy:  Create tax based business incentives for veteran owned new businesses. Offer local business and real estate tax relief for the first three years.   Implement State and Federal tax credits for the first five years.  These are not “tax breaks”.  They are an investment in veterans, jobs, and America’s economy. 

Problem:  Veterans first instinct is not necessarily to start a business.  Many don’t recognize the applicability of the skills they developed to survive in the battlefield equip them to survive in the business field.  Vets often don’t “connect the dots” between their military training and the need for those skills in the private sector.

Strategy:  Create and publicize a Warfronts to Storefronts program to introduce the vision of entrepreneurship to returning Veterans.  “Connecting the dots” between military skills and civilian business opportunities would reframe how vets view their prospects in the private sector.  Partnerships with local Veterans Groups and the Chamber of Commerce might provide a vehicle for delivery of this program.

Establish a mentorship program, perhaps principally staffed by successful veteran entrepreneurs, to work with returning Veterans. 

Vets have what it takes to start a business.  Actually, they have more than it takes.  They may not recognize that the skills that kept a platoon fed, supplied, and alive translate into the skills needed to start a business.  They took risks every day that makes new business risk pale by comparison.

Veterans are used to leading.  This leadership will result in jobs, increase tax revenue, create wealth, protect property values, and contribute to restructuring our economy to perhaps not be quite so dependent on the Federal Government. 

This is just an idea.  I suggest that perhaps local Governments consider a tightly scoped Warfront to Storefront pilot project be created to evaluate the viability of implementing some of these suggestions to see how they work out. 

Our legislatures in Richmond could lend a hand by looking for Commonwealth incentives for such a program.

Every idea is incomplete and fraught with unintended consequences.  A pilot project would allow Warfront to Storefront to be evaluated, refined, expanded, and perhaps scale to a National Program.

A community focused on Economic Development that includes a Community Development component would be an ideal place for such a pilot.  Prince William County, Virginia would be an ideal location.  It certainly has plenty of empty storefronts, and more than its share of veterans.

Every big business started out as a small business and an idea.  Let’s plant the seeds for the next generation of big businesses.  Let’s leverage the talent and confidence of returning Veterans by helping those with the entrepreneurial spirit create their own future.

It’s all in how you approach a problem.  This is a (to borrow from the military mindset) “can do” idea.

Alborn: Conservatives Love the Environment

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Opinion 

Last week, I attended the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) Annual Conference. at Lake Placid, N.Y.   I’m a member. 

I spent three plus days hanging out with a diverse group of outdoor communicators.  There were a lot of published authors in every medium, photographers, videographers, and advocates of the outdoors.  I came home with a number of interesting ideas to advance my personal worldview as a conservationist.

On the last day of the conference, I listened to the president of a respected conservation advocacy group bemoan the loss of federal funding for parks and recreation.

The speaker waxed eloquently about the Federal Government’s reductions in spending on outdoor recreation.  He came from the position that it was the government’s responsibility to provide for every form of hunting, fishing, camping, and other outdoor related activities.

I sat there wondering why this gentleman, or anyone else, expected the Federal Government to be in the business of entertaining us? 

While many of my friends walk around expecting the Government to do all kinds of things for the American public, Conservatives always ask the following question regarding public policy and the Federal Government:

Where in the Constitution does it say we should do this?

In all fairness, people of good will disagree on how to interpret the Constitution.

Many people view it as something of a guide or perhaps an irrelevant historical artifact to be ignored.  Most conservatives view it as a strict rule set designed to constrain government’s growth and intrusion into our lives.

Back to the speaker at the conference. Realizing that I was in a room perhaps full of folks sympathetic to the speaker, I crafted my question carefully.  I simply asked if his organization had considered going to the states, businesses, and private groups to fund the recreational projects that the Federal Government is cutting back on.

The frame of reference to understand my question, or why I asked it, was definitely lacking.  The conversation about those obstructing Federal funding for outdoor recreation continued.

When Conservatives are approached by folks who want to fund something, or question why funding to some program they favor is being cut they always silently ask the same question of themselves:

Where in the Constitution does it say we should do that?

Their context is simple.  The 10th Amendment is rather clear.

AMENDMENT X – The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

I use the presentation at the OWAA Conference as an analog for many discussions going on in and about our Congress these days.   My friends used to a Federal Government that funds all kinds of things are bemoaning the defunding of long established programs and causes.  They are lamenting visions of a smaller government, and lobbying for continued support of things about conservatives question the very existence.

That’s the disconnect.

Conservatives love the environment, like to fish, hunt, bird watch, take pictures, and do all sorts of things outdoors.  They also want to feed the hungry, see people in comfortable homes, help out those folks who are unemployed, etc., etc., etc.

Conservatives just don’t understand, from a constitutional perspective, why the Federal Government should be involved in any of these things.  If it’s not enumerated in the Constitution as a power  or responsibility of the Federal Government, these folks should be talking to their state government, businesses that profit from outdoor recreation, or private groups.

The point of this column.   Things will never be the same.

The Federal Government is shrinking not necessarily because of any particular philosophical considerations, but simply because it no longer afford to support all of the things it signed up to.  Conservatives in Congress are taking advantage of this to reduce the size of Government wherever they can.  

Medicare or outdoor recreation?  Social Security or funding for places to hunt and fish? 

Medicare and Social Security are not going away.  The Federal Government has made promises, and these promises must now be fulfilled.  That being said, the future of these programs may change over time for future generations.  

These are but two examples.  

When faced with these “tough choices”, there will be winners and losers.  When you start listing government programs on a whiteboard, and then prioritizing them, the losers become rather obvious. 

Those folks should change their focus to look for new revenue streams outside of the Federal Government now.

Conservatives see this as an opportunity for state governments to assume their rightful 10th Amendment role in deciding how they want to address anything not covered in the United States Constitution.

Lobbyist and special interest groups are perhaps wasting their time lobbying conservatives in government facing the current fiscal environment and future financial challenges for new or continued funding for things that have no constitutional foundation. 

When some in the audience protested, I pointed out that the Commonwealth of Virginia’s states that “it shall be the Commonwealth’s policy to protect its atmosphere, lands and waters from pollution, impairment, or destruction…” and that ““The people have a right to hunt, fish, and harvest game, subject to such regulations and restrictions as the General Assembly may prescribe by general law.”

My point was simple.  If it’s not in the Constitution, and you believe that the majority of Americans believe that the Federal Government should be involved in some endeavor not enumerated therein, the correct way to add it to the Federal Government’s plate is through the Amendment process.

Then, “It’s in there”!

I view the Constitution as a rule set to be strictly enforced to manage the size and growth of fovernment and its intrusion into our lives.   I also believe that if enough people don’t agree with “what’s in there”, it’s ok to add Amendments as long as you can get 35 states to agree.

If it’s “not in there”, we shouldn’t take it on as a new mission, and we should be cautious in supporting those existing Government programs that lack any Constitutional mandate.

If you are lobbying for any group, the first question to ask yourself before opening a conversation with a Conservative lawmaker is, “Where in the Constitution does it say we should be doing whatever it is that I am about to ask for?”  If you don’t have a good answer, perhaps you should reconsider which level of Government you are talking to, and start visiting State capitals.   

I find folks on both sides of the aisle that I like.  I wouldn’t want to live under a Government dominated by either party for long. 

I purposely mix up my voting habits to prevent any one party or philosophy from dominating public policy at all levels for too long.  That natural, cyclic change from liberal to conservative will, IMHO, eventually level out into a steady state with which we all may live.

I don’t expect to see that “steady state” in my lifetime; however, I will continue to weigh in to try and make Government a little smaller every chance I get.

You will see a lot more of a Conservationist flavor in future columns.  Among other things, I am an outdoor communicator interested in Conservation issues.  I may not be here every week as I am working on a book and several other projects.  If you are interested in what I’m up to, you may keep up at my new website,  Virginia Trout Bum, and my outdoor sports blog.

Alborn: ‘Hope And Hardship: Pioneer Voices from Kansas Territory’ Worth the Read

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Opinion

I’ve known Linda Johnston for a few years.  She is a local naturalist, hiker, kayaker, and occasional environmental activist.  I only recently found out that she is also a researcher and author. 

Linda is the author of Hope And Hardship:  Pioneer Voices from Kansas Territory.

I was intrigued, so I bought the book.  I also was a bit intimidated, because I’m not really a fan of history books.  Linda shared that, “I wanted to make history attractive ordinary people who wouldn’t read a history book”.  That would include me.  To my surprise, I discovered Johnston writes history that I actually enjoyed reading.

I don’t do “book reviews.” That being said, Johnston’s book tells a compelling story with lessons in history that are really applicable to today. Sometimes, it is worth browsing how we got here to understand where we are, and recognizing how little things have changed. 

This is no trivial work.  Johnston spent 25 years researching the pioneers who settled in Kansas Territory almost 160 years ago.  Her source material was, diaries, letters, newspaper articles, and other artifacts of the times.   I can only imagine what it must have been like sitting amongst years of index cards, notes, musings, and clippings trying to “connect the dots” into a cohesive document of the times. 

Johnston pulled that off. 

The backdrop for the stories Johnston shares is the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.  This allowed the residents of Kansas to vote upon admission to the union as to whether it would be a free or slave state.  Immigrants poured in to Kansas from the North and South attempting to create the numbers to decide the outcome.  These were passionate, and occasionally violent times.

Yet, life goes on.

I browsed the Wikipedia to see what it had to say about Kansas, and got a superficial discussion of this issue.  Hope And Hardship:  Pioneer Voices from Kansas Territory gets past the historical Cliff notes, and actually focuses on the daily lives, trials, and challenges that settlers faced moving away from family, friends and perhaps a more secure community to a Territory that is the focus of a national conversation over the future of slavery.

A bit about the book.  Its organized around the four seasons.  Each season provides a “snapshot” of activity such as immigration (a special issue thanks to the Kansas-Nebraska Act). the natural world (I particularly enjoyed the wild flowers), Entertainment, the Sabbath, and personal pursuits.  Each season closes with a letter or article that shares some particular thoughts on Kansas.

Folks in Kansas focused on the same issues that we all focus on today:  Religion and Education.  They enjoyed the same things we enjoy today:  an occasional party, nature, food, politics, and life.

Something unique about this book is that it contains the writings of both men and women, given two perspectives of the times.  Letters were particularly important.  Linda documents that a trip to the post office to mail a letter or see of one is waiting for you could take a day.  Communication between friends and family left behind was obviously important to these early Kansas pioneers. 

These letters put a heart and soul into the History of Kansas in a way that engages those who would otherwise pass on tales from the past.  There are weddings, funerals, parties, fights, and the triviality of daily life documented by hand by pioneers who thought that perhaps some day others might be interested.  Thanks to Johnston, her research, and her book, those words have come to life fulfilling the hopes of those who wrote them.

Johnston’s book has been well received by the public.  In our interview, it became obvious that she recognized the last 25 years provided a roadmap and perhaps a template for future projects. 

Johnston is contemplating another book following the same structure.  She shared, “I recognize this is a repeatable process.”  Johnston is considering Virginia as her next project.

Johnston also recognized the value of journaling, and its historical importance to really understand the lives and times of our ancestors.  She also understands that our ancestors might be interested in our lives. 

Johnston is actively engaged developing Journaling Workshops for Young People, and investigating other ways to document our lives and culture.

As I sit here on my front porch writing this book review on my MacBook Pro, I realize that perhaps those of us who write columns, blog, have websites, or post on social media are perhaps the modern version of those early pioneers.  I just hope there is a Linda Johnston out there in 150 years or so to prevent our musings from becoming only the temporary ramblings of otherwise anonymous authors of our era.

Alborn: Recovery a Family Affair at Rainbow Riding Center

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Opinion

A couple of weeks ago, Katherine Gotthardt, the Outreach Manager for the Rainbow Center 4-H Therapeutic Riding Program, Inc., invited me to their facility for an update on what they are doing for Veterans. 

I had last visited the program a couple of years ago.  I documented my visit in a blog post, The Rainbow Riding Center During that earlier visit, Ms. Debi Alexander, The Executive Director of the Program, gave me an impressive overview.  Rainbow Riding serves those with physical, intellectual/cognitive, and emotional and behavioral challenges.  

Its principle tool is horses.  I’m not a horse person, I’m a dog person, and I get it.  I have seen the difference therapy dogs make in the lives of injured service members and veterans at Walter Reed Army Hospital and with senior citizens.

Alexander hit home when she discussed their plans to serve disabled veterans.  These current wars are different.  Thanks to advances in medical treatment, our veterans injured in combat are surviving (thank God) in much greater numbers.  

Every war has a “signature wound” and IED’s  (Improvised Explosive Devices) are particularly ugly in that regard.  Today’s warriors are surviving with much greater challenges.  They need all the help they can get to overcome those challenges.  Rainbow is building a program that provides therapy to help Veterans and their families get their lives back.

From the center’s brochure, “Wounded Warriors at Rainbow Center is a program supporting the physical and emotional healing of men and women in the armed forces who have been injured in the line of duty. A treatment team of instructors, an Equine Specialist, and mental health professional personalize and implement each session. Current programs focus on recovery and exercise after brain injury, amputation or PTSD. Active Duty Personnel and their families receive the benefits of care outside the hospital setting, in a private and dignified manner.”

The Center works with the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Wounded Warrior Care Center to identify and accept referrals from all of the Military Services.  Its program addresses both mental and physical challenges that Veterans face.  Ms. Gotthardt pointed out that the Center takes a holistic approach to treatment. 

Recovery is a family affair, and family members actively participate in the program.

Money is an issue for the program. 

Sequestration, threats to DoD and VA funding, and the fluid state of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (to name a few) all add uncertainty to the level of service the center provides to the community.  This is ironic (not in a good way) as wars wind down, and greater numbers of Veterans return to Prince William County in need of a little help.

I was accompanied on my visit by Angela McConnell, the Co-Chair of the Prince William Veterans Council (PWVC).  The PWVC acts as a “connector” between Veterans and resources. McConnell was interested in this program to see how the PWVC might be one more dot to connect in the puzzle of helping our Veterans.

I thank Katherine Gotthardt, the Outreach Manager for the Center, for taking the time to introduce me to the Rainbow Riding Center’s Wounded Warriors Program.  I appreciate the hard work that all of the volunteers and staff do to help our community. 

Veterans deserve a rainbow now and then.  While the Center does have some generous benefactors, they always need volunteers and money.  This is where you might check into donating either or both.

If you would like to learn more, my good friends Bill Golden and Connie Moser created an excellent video, Debi Alexander and Katherine Gotthardt interviewed for PWC Round Table

Alborn: Anderson Keen on Veterans Issues, Enjoys Front Porch Conversations

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Opinion 

A Couple of weeks ago, I noticed this headline in potomaclocal.com, Anderson Tops Military Officer’s Legislators ListDelegate Rich Anderson (R-Prince William), happens to be my Commonwealth of Virginia Delegate.  He is also a fellow Veteran.

I dug a little deeper, and discovered that for the last two years, Anderson has chaired the General Assembly Military and Veteran Caucus, which is the legislative clearinghouse for bills that are introduced on behalf of veterans and military missions based in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Anderson also serves on the Virginia Commission on Military Installations and Defense Activities, which is working on a mitigation plan to ease the impact of Sequestration and possible base closures in 2015 and 2017. 

I also noticed that Delegate Anderson co-sponsored legislation with Senator Toddy Puller (D-36th) to make the Virginia Values Veterans (V3) program a formal part of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services.

I’m working on another column about Veterans issues, and thought I ought “check him out”.   Rich (nobody in the 51st District actually calls Delegate Anderson “Delegate Anderson”, he’s Rich to us) is an important part of any story about helping Veterans in the Commonwealth, and invited him to stop by my front porch to chat over a beer.

A beer on my front porch was just too good of an offer to refuse.

Rich opened by sharing Virginia is home to 830,000 veterans.   He shared that, “Nearly one in 10 Virginians has worn the cloth of the country at one time or another.  Prince William County has over 50,000 Veterans.” 

Rich spends quite a bit of his time working on Veterans legislation, and providing hands on advice to men and women in and out of uniform who need a little help.

 The V3 program got on his radar thanks to Virginia’s Joint Leadership Council of Veterans Service Organizations (JLC).  Rich replied, “The JLC brought it to my attention and asked me to Patron a bill that makes the Virginia Values Veterans (V3) program a formal part of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services.”

He went on to say, “The V3 program is focused on reducing veteran unemployment in Virginia by increasing job opportunities for a skilled group that has served our country in uniform. Because of this legislation, more than 4,000 jobs have been committed to Virginia veterans by more than 100 employers across the state.”

Rich gave a “shout out” to the Prince William Chamber of Commerce’s Veterans Council (PW CC VC) for their role in helping local Veterans.  “I often send resumes to the PW CC VC for help.  They are a ‘connector’ for Veterans in our community, and often help vets find jobs.” 

I asked Rich how we are doing compared to other states.  He replied,  “In my capacity as a member of the Executive Committee (national governing body) of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and membership in its Task Force on Military & Veterans Affairs,  I spend a lot of time talking about veterans.” 

Rich went on to say, “I spend less time asking questions about other states are doing, and more time explaining what Virginia is doing.  We are a recognized national leader because of an Administration and a Legislature working together in Veterans issues.”

Rich went on to explain how the Commonwealth’s concern for Veterans is a bi-partisan effort, and that non-veteran members of both parties have been faithful in their support.  He gave a particular shout out to Senator Toddy Puller (D-36th) for her bi-partisan collaboration and support on anything to do to help or active duty, retired, or discharged vets.  Puller and Anderson are going to patron a bill together to try to provide more funding to the V3 program for the 2015 & 2016 budget.

There are possible DoD reductions of as much as 29 percent of soldiers, 18 percent of Marines and three Navy carriers through 2019.  We may also expect a $52 billion cut in fiscal year 2014 that trims 10 percent of the Defense Department’s budget.  Rich Anderson is very aware of the potential impact on Virginia’s Veterans, and wants to minimize (in his words), “Vets returning from the front lines to stand in the unemployment line.” 

V3 is an important part of his strategy.

Rich then gave me a scoop.

“This morning (22 August 2013) I went to a meeting near Dulles at the HQ of Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC) for a briefing about a new program that they are fielding as a private sector companion program to V3,” Rich said.  “There is plenty of room for growth in multiple areas.  NVTC is stepping into that.  They are calling it the NVTC Veterans Employment Initiative.  They briefed the governor this past Tuesday.  Today (22 August 2013), they briefed a small contingent of Northern Virginia Delegates in both Parties.  I pledged to them my wholehearted support and that of the General Assembly Military and Veteran Caucus.

I asked Rich where Northern Virginia Veterans go to ask for help?  He replied, “Check the Virginia Department of Veterans Affairs website, the V3 website, or call me at home, 703-730-1380, and I’ll find you the help you need.  If I’m not there, Ruth (Rich’s wife) will find me.”  You will find other ways to contact Delegate Anderson on his website.

Actually, this advice applies to all of the folks lucky enough to be in the 51st District, or anyone in Northern Virginia for that matter.  He is the most approachable and accessible politician I have ever had the good luck to encounter.  If you don’t believe me, call him the next time you have an issue.

Just don’t be surprised if he drives over to discuss your issue over a beer on your front porch.  I discovered he really likes Shock Top Raspberry Wheat!

Alborn: The Planning Office Got it Right

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OPINION

You know, there aren’t any blogs devoted to what Prince William County Government does right. 

We have one of the finest Police Departments in the Country (and that’s an informed opinion).  My drive from Woodbridge to Manassas was transformed from an adventure through Davis Ford and Henderson Road to a straight shot on the Prince William Parkway or Route 234 thanks to our outstanding transportation planning.  The roadsides are clean, the parks are plentiful, Prince William County employees always respond with courtesy and efficiency when I need something, I could go on.

But it’s not perfect.  Like everyone else, I complain about the stuff that could be better.

My column, What Do We Want From Government? Ask Us, was a tirade accusing our Board of County Supervisors, our School Board, and the employees who serve them about making decisions in a vacuum.  There is no reason for those who make decisions regarding the future of Prince William County to guess what we want.  The referendum process and modern survey tools make it much too easy simply to ask us.

Then those crafty folks in the Planning Office proved me wrong.  I’m sure it’s a conspiracy.  I am told there are a few folks in the McCoart Administration Building who don’t like my column or me. 

Or, they could just be doing a good job coordinating with the public. 

I kind of like the latter assumption.

Those of you who read my earlier column are aware of how much I admired the process used to execute the 2006 Referendums.   The Prince William County Planning Office is taking a similar approach in informing the public about what is going on regarding the Rural Preservation Study.  They are sharing information, meeting with stakeholders,  sharing information and…  wait for it…  ASKING US WHAT WE THINK!

That’s right, they created a survey to find out how the public feels about the future of the rural crescent! 

If you haven’t taken it, I strongly suggest you do so now.  You’ll find it here.  It will remain on-line until 27 September, 2013.  The Planning Office is going to publish the results on their website.

My complements to the Planning Office for doing a good job of informing the public, and asking us what we think.  I am sure there are those who will quibble over the details; however, they are in the position of having detailed information over which to “quibble”.

All we need now are more surveys to ask us what we want. 

I’m waiting for a similar survey on the Bi-County Parkway and the other options available.  This would give commuters, folks who live in or care about the Rural Crescent, businesses, and property owners a chance to weigh in.

The swimming pool issue is crying for a survey.  Should we build pools in schools, expand the Chinn Center, partner with NOVA, or let the Parks Department sort it out?

Ask us!  This isn’t the twentieth century.  We have the Prince William County website, email, Facebook, twitter, and lots of other tools to engage the public and let them know you are asking for our opinion.

The most important response to a referendum or survey is no response.  That’s the “”I don’t care” vote.  It counts. 

If most people in Prince William County simply don’t care about any particular issue and ignore this or any other survey, then it becomes a math problem.  You may not like the math, but those who don’t care…  well…  don’t care.  We pay people to sort these things out.

A biased low response also is useful.  If only a handful of committed activists respond with a consistent point of view, we learn that perhaps an issue isn’t as important to the community as those who would like us to think otherwise would like to characterize it. 

It sorts out the small groups of  “hair on fire” folks who claim to represent the community at large and try and influence the BOCS and the School Board with Facebook pages, web sites, and orchestrated theatrics at public meetings from “the rest of us”.  Since these “hair on fire” folks generally like us to pick up the tab for whatever they are advocating, this is useful information.

For the record, asking us doesn’t create any obligation for Government to act upon our wishes.  It simply provides more data for the decision making process.  Our elected officials may consider the survey results, the number of respondents, the suggestions or they may ignore the whole thing.  That’s their job.

If we don’t like it, we can get new elected officials in 2015.  Thanks to all those social media tools I mentioned earlier, the public is much more informed than it was in 2011.

How Prince William County Government and the School Board make decisions that impact our lives, our pocketbooks, our property, and the future of our children will never be the same.  We need people running our County who “get” this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alborn: Governor Candidates Talk, But Where’s the Debate?

OPINION

I watched the first 2013 Virginia Gubernatorial Candidate Debate live-stream, and attended the second one in person.  Both were well-orchestrated events with questions tailored to the hosts. 

So, where the hell is “our” debate?  

Where are those questions about gifts, ethics, SEC investigations, auto plants, gay rights, sodomy laws, education policy, Star Scientific, etc. going to be asked?  When do we get past the technical questions about tax policy, business issues, and the bar and get to the stuff that lets us measure the integrity of the candidates?

I’ve been looking around for answers.  I haven’t found much.

 The first debate was held by the Virginia Bar Association at the Homestead in Hot Springs.  If you watch the video, you will find that it focuses on those things of interest to…  well… lawyers.  After all, it was sponsored by the Virginia Bar Association.

While it only bothered to invite two of the three candidates on the ballot, at least it was a real debate format.  This allowed each candidate to probe the others “weak spots” a bit.  It was a nasty bit of theater.

The second event, really more of a panel discussion, was hosted by the Prince William Chamber of Commerce and the chambers from Fredericksburg, Loudoun County, and Reston.  Those of you wishing to catch up may watch the video

As we would expect from a chamber sponsored event, the focus was jobs, the economy, transportation, health care, and areas of importance to the business community.  Again, we only saw two of the three candidates — the third on the ballot is Libertarian Robert Sarvis.  The format precluded any candidate direct exchanges, so there was no opportunity to for either to really flush out the issues. 

Both of these debates were just opportunities to hear the same old talking points you may find on the candidate’s websites.  For extra credit, watch the opening remarks of each candidate.  They used the same script both times. 

It’s sort of like that old Wendy’s Commercial.  Both events were well executed, polished, and impressive but where’s the beef?

Independent voters were perhaps a bit disappointed with both of these events because none of the  questions I mentioned earlier were directly addressed.  Many voters are looking beyond the policy issues trying to determine who will most spare the Commonwealth embarrassment during the next four years.  

Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s desire for fifteen debates was negotiated down to five by Democrat Terry McAuliffe.   Sarvis wasn’t even invited to the table (I did mention there are only three candidates, didn’t I?) 

Cuccinelli and McAuliffe have agreed on only two more debates.  The Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce will host on September 25,  and Virginia Tech will host an event in September or October.

Perhaps there’s room for a fifth debate in Northern Virginia? Perhaps we should get the debate we deserve?  Perhaps there is an opportunity for a non-partisan group with a history of success in staging these events to step up and “fill in the banks” for those of us?

I’ll be blunt. 

Most independent voters in Virginia just aren’t that thrilled with either of two candidates we have been exposed to so far.  Media and the public are grumbling that while there are three candidates on the ballot, the only alternative is being ignored.

It’s not like we are talking about a lot of people on the stage.  We are talking about a couple of folks who have a lot of baggage, and the only available alternative who might actually get independents otherwise disgusted with the process to show up at the polls.

And then, there are the questions. 

The first two debates (such that they were) were focused vents tailored to the interests of the hosts.  They were both held in the daytime, thus disenfranchising folks who work for a living.  We may probably expect the same from Virginia Tech, and can count on it from the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.  I am sure that the sponsors were thrilled; however, the larger voter community was not well served.

So, where is the debate for the rest of us?

Perhaps it’s not to late for the public to demand one.

It turns out that the Prince William Committee of 100 had originally planned to host the Gubernatorial Debate at the Hylton Center.  The logistics were in place, and invitations were sent to the candidates.  The local chambers just won the “brass ring” in what turned out to be a competition.

The local chambers did an excellent job representing Northern Virginia businesses and their interests.  In such an important election with so few debates, its a shame they didn’t represent the interests of the entire community.  That’s why we need groups like the Prince William Committee of 100 involved.

The Committee hows how to host a debate for the entire community.  If you have any doubt, I invite your attention to the April 25, 2013 Program – Bi-County Prince William – Loudoun County Parkway – Love It or Hate It.

To paraphrase Crocodile Dundee said in the movie of the same name, “That’s not a debate, THIS is a debate!”

Northern Virginia voters would be better served if the Prince William Committee of 100 would try to salvage the plans they already had in place to host a Gubernatorial candidate debate, and get the answers to the many questions that are still left unanswered about the candidates.  They hold these events in the evening to maximize attendance, and they are free to the public.

I’m using this Sunday’s column to ask the Prince William Committee of 100 to reconsider and serve the public’s interest as it always does by challenging all three candidates, Republican AG Ken Cuccinelli, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, and Libertarian Robert Sarvis to show up one more time, answer questions that “the rest of us” care about, take questions from the audience, and allow Northern Virginia to make a fully informed choice.

We deserve no less.

Alborn: Missing at Forum, Sarvis Seeks Governorship

Opinion

I attended the Virginia Gubernatorial Candidate debate at the Hylton Center .  Questions were presented to two of the three Gubernatorial Candidates who will be on the ballot in November, Republican  Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe.  

The third Gubernatorial Candidate on the ballot this November, Robert Sarvis, attended the event, but was not invited to participate.  For those interested, Sarvis tweeted his answers to the questions real time.  You will find Sarvis’ answers to the questions here on his twitter account.  

The Prince William Chamber of Commerce and the Chambers from Fredericksburg, Loudoun County and Reston hosted this event.  The Chambers who sponsored this event did an outstanding job putting it together. 

It was a full house.  This event was well attended by the press, and live streamed on  WUSA9, and is available for those who missed it.  

As expected, the candidates apparently hate each other.  Each opened with withering partisan attacks on the other’s apparent misdeeds, failings, or unacceptable social policies.

While these attacks played well with the base, independent voters such as myself would have preferred to hear about issues and policy.  I kind of wanted to take a shower after each was finished with his opening. 

As one would expect from an event sponsored by Chambers of Commerce, the focus was jobs, the economy, transportation, health care, and areas of importance to the business community.  You’ll find plenty of opinions and analysis of their answers all over the media, each reflecting the bias of the commentator. 

I walked away thinking that both candidates were soft on specifics on most issues.  Each deflected the moderator when pressed for more specific answers. The format really wasn’t a “debate”.  It was more of a panel discussion.  There was no opportunity for the fiery exchanges, second level drill down, or surprises that really give us some measure of a candidate.  

Anyone suspecting surprises or new information at this event probably wandered into the wrong room.  All questions were pretty much answered with the same set of talking points they have been using throughout their campaigns.

The question everyone was waiting for was where these candidates stand on the Bi-County Parkway.  Each gave an answer that will provide Northern Virginia voters something to ponder as they decide who to vote for.

As reported earlier, Virginia Attorney General and Virginia Republican Gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli supports the Bi-County Parkway between Interstate 95 in Dumfries and Dulles Airport while his Democratic opponent, Terry McAullife,  avoided a direct position on the proposed highway.  

“With the tremendous growth in Loudoun, and Prince William County, and the region, we need new transportation options, but the current proposal on the table is unacceptable,” said Cuccinelli. “We cannot be closing roads down just so we can build a new road…we need all the transportation options we can get.”

“… I do not make [transportation] decisions [as governor], nor will I make decisions until I have all the facts in front of me,” said McAuliffe. “I want to get all of the stakeholders in the room…I love a win-win situation…to have economic development… and local say in how things are done.”

I was struck by one common theme.   When it comes to the Bi-County Parkway, both candidates recognized the importance of local buy-in. 

Independent voters were perhaps a bit disappointed because none of the “soft” issues on social policy, alleged judgment lapses, or other issues dogging these candidates were directly addressed.  Many voters are looking beyond the policy issues trying to determine who will most spare the Commonwealth embarrassment during the next four years.   

Many voters are weary of living in  a State that is often the subject of late night Comedy monologs.  The public’s perception of integrity of the candidate for whom they vote will perhaps be a consideration in who moves into the Governor’s mansion next year.

Hard Core Democrats and Republicans, those folks who knock on doors, put up signs, attend the meetings, and make the phone calls didn’t need to attend this debate.   These candidates represent whom the Party faithful of either party want to see in office.  Neither is the product of a primary, where folks like myself may weigh in. 

These candidates were selected “behind closed doors” (metaphorically speaking) by those party faithful of which I speak with no particular interest in what left or right leaning citizens or independent voters might be looking for.  While the Party faithful on both sides of the aisle may have got the candidate they wanted, “we” (that would be the rest of us) get to decide who  will  actually be our next Governor.

Right now, many of us are conflicted.

The issues independent voters have with Cuccinelli and McAuliffe are well documented in the press, the blogs and social media.  Those of us who look to elections as a challenge to identify the least offensive candidate are stymied.  To many of us, both of these guys (Cuccinelli and McAuliffe) are pretty offensive, albeit in different ways.

But wait…  there’s another choice!

Only the Democratic and Republican candidates participated in this particular debate.  There is a third candidate on the ballot; Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis.

Sarvis is polling at 7% in results released on 16 July 2013  by Public Policy Polling (PPP).   This beats the margin of difference between the other two candidates, Terry McAuliffe at 41% and Ken Cuccinelli  at 37%. 

Sarvis may not win this election; however, he will decide who is the next Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

There will be only three candidates for Governor on the ballot in November.  For whatever reason,  Sarvis was not invited to participate in this debate.  I would think that the traditional candidates would want Sarvis on the stage if for no other reason to attempt to discredit him as a viable alternative and knock him out of the contest.

If you check Sarvis  out, you will be surprised to find out that he is the youngest,  brightest, most educated candidate in the bunch.

Sarvis graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology. He has earned degrees in mathematics from Harvard University and the University of Cambridge, a J.D. from N.Y.U. School of Law, and a Master’s in economics from George Mason University. He has a diverse professional background, with experience as an entrepreneur and small-business owner, a software engineer and mobile-app developer, a math teacher, and a lawyer. 

He also comes without “baggage” such as obligations to big money donors, SEC investigations, and questionable gifts from individuals seeking favors, etc. 

While the left and the right want to argue about exactly what Government is going to do for you, or to you, or decide what you can’t do, or how you should do it, Sarvis  just wants to leave you alone.  As a Libertarian, he has this crazy idea that we are smart enough to make our own decisions.

For full disclosure, I am also a Libertarian.   I am fond of the idea of a Governor who spends his free time thinking up ways to get government out of our lives, our personal decisions, and our individual choices.

There is a lot of left center, right center, and independent voters who just aren’t comfortable with either Cuccinelli or McAuliffe.   I suspect a lot of folks who walk into the voting both undecided who never even heard of Sarvis will see his name on the ballot and vote for him thinking, “compared to the other two, how bad could he be?”

“Vote for Sarvis!  Compared to the other two, How bad could he be?”  That would make a great campaign theme.  

That would look great on a bumper sticker.

What Do We Want From Government? Ask Us

Opinion

The year 2006 was a good one for Prince William County.  That’s the year county government worked with its citizens through focus groups and planning teams, and put a lot of thought into what out Community should look like in the future.  They actually asked us what we wanted in a referendum conducted during the special election for the Chairman and Occoquan Supervisor’s seat.

A lot of work went into forming the questions.

You may read the details in an excellent Prince William County Newsletter Special Edition: Information on the 2006 Bond Referendum Questions.

If you dig a bit deeper, you will find the excellent staff presentation given on June 20, 2006 at the meeting of the Board of County Supervisors where the proposed bonds were discussed. I invite your attention to Item 6-W – Work session for the Library, Park, and Road Bond Referendum

The public responded.  All three bond referendums overwhelmingly passed.

This is an example of good governance, and a government that seeks community engagement.

I wonder exactly when Prince William County Government, whether it is the Board of County Supervisors or the School Board, stopped caring what the public wanted?

Battles for our tax dollars are now waged between small, well organized special interest groups and perhaps forces and business interests we will never see.  Regardless of who wins, Prince William County Government will never really know which choice the residents of Prince William County would prefer because they never asked us.

I propose that its time to bring back the referendum process, and start asking the public exactly what we want. 

Because of Prince William County’s off-year election cycle, and recurring requirements for special elections, there are plenty of opportunities to put issues, particularly controversial issues being driven by special interests, to the public for a vote.

I find the swimming pool issue an interesting example.  Special interest groups on both sides are making credible cases for putting a pool in a school, or not.  Politicians on our Board of County Supervisors and School Board, driven perhaps by forces and influence we will never see or understand, are taking sides. 

To the casual observer, this is a contest of wills being waged on social media, blogs, and citizens time.

Perhaps Prince William County, in this case, the Prince William County Board of County Supervisors and the School Board in collaboration, should simply ask the public at large what we want in another well crafted referendum.

I’m not a lawyer.  As of writing this column, I havez not received a response from the Prince William County Attorney’s office regarding information regarding its policy on referendums, or information about how the 2006 referendum came about.  I did go to the Code of Virginia, and offer my understanding of what it says.  Any lawyer reading this is welcome (and encouraged) to correct errors. 

According to the Code of Virginia, it appears either county Government may initiate a Referendum or that “we,” the residents of a locality, may petition to call for a referendum election.  It would appear, from my reading of the Code of Virginia, that county government has broad latitude in the questions it might ask.  The process is spelled out quite nicely in the Code of Virginia for those interested in asking the rest of us a question.

The wildly successful referendum of 2006 demonstrates that when asked, we will respond.

Some “fun questions” might include:

1.  Do you favor Prince William County Parks Department expanding the Chinn Center Swimming Pool?

2.  Do you favor Board of County Supervisors support for the Bi-County Parkway?

3.  Do you support updating or replacing the Prince William County official seal?

I could go on.

I stipulate that these questions may or may not be in the proper form.  They are merely examples.  There are many other ways to gauge the public’s will.  The occasional citizen survey, or online survey comes to mind. 

The Republican Form of Government reflects a time when communication was difficult, we elected folks we trusted knowing we might never actually meet them, and empowered those elected officials to make decisions for us.

In the age of the internet, high-speed communication, social media, blogs, websites, how we communicate with our Government and our community has changed.  Small groups of people operating in their own business, social or personal interests, have outsize influence over our government.  I suggest that perhaps it’s time to put a bit of Democracy back in the system by using the Referendum process and/or modern survey tools to find out exactly what the public at large wants.  

Ask us, and we will tell you.

Alborn: Connaughton Should Resign

Opinion

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton is going to the August 6 Prince William County Board of County Supervisors meeting.   I’ll give the man credit for guts.  (For full disclosure, I would have chosen another word, a part of the male anatomy that comes in pairs.  I suspect my Editor would have changed it to “guts.”)

I’ve been watching the local blogs and citizens groups prepare for his visit.  I still have my “No Bushwhacking” button from the Bi-County Parkway Public Hearing.  I remember capturing Delegate Bob Marshall on video when he stated that The Bi-County Parkway ‘Cannot Stand on its Own’.  I’m watching Northern Virginia elected officials line up with the folks who elected them against this project. 

What most of the citizen groups are asking for is reconsideration of the Bi-County Parkway.  They want the project stopped.  They plan to give Connaughton an earful.  It appears they are making headway as more politicians, local governing bodies, and decisions are breaking in their favor.  I think they are planning to ask for the wrong thing.

I suggest they should demand Secretary Connaughton to resign.  

Should he elect to pass on this suggestion, perhaps petitioning the governor to replace him would be an acceptable alternative.

The meeting on August 6 would be an appropriate venue for the announcement.  An apology for the “No Bushwhacking” remark and the egregious way the residents of Prince William County have been treated would be a nice touch.

That would really take a pair of…  well…  “guts.”

We were, to quote the Transportation Secretary, “bushwhacked.”  Such disrespect for residents of the Commonwealth is reason enough, in my opinion, for the Secretary to perhaps seek other career options.  

Any examination of the timeline surrounding the Bi-county Parkway, the misinformation, the shifting justifications, and the really bad attempts at public relations demonstrates , in my opinion, how perhaps one of the most important land use and transportation decisions in the history of Prince William County failed to consider the folks who will be most impacted by it:  the residents of Prince William County.

Let me be clear:  I am not necessarily against the idea of a Bi-County or Tri-County Parkway.  I was on the 2013-2017 Prince William Strategic Planning Team that included it in the Transportation Strategy.  As someone who spent years commuting to Tysons Corner, Reston, and other points north, I like roads.  What I object to is transportation planning conducted behind closed doors, apparently favoring business interests over local residents. 

I am one of the many Prince William County residents who are uncomfortable with the way execution is being handled.   I am now not as convinced it’s such a good idea.  Like many people, I need to be convinced. 

I suggest that the Commonwealth of Virginia needs a “reset” regarding plans for the Bi-County Parkway specifically, and perhaps Northern Virginia Transportation Planning in general.  The best way to do that is to simply replace the Transportation Secretary, and put a stop to the priority being given to something this important.  A few months won’t matter.  The Commonwealth can afford  to wait a few months for the next Administration to revisit the issue. 

This entire episode has significantly eroded the public trust in Transportation Planning.  To “fix” that, I suggest the Commonwealth take a look at the many fingers in this pie, and perhaps restructure the Commonwealth Transportation Board and the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to eliminate any and all conflicts of interest. 

I’m not really fond of feeling like a pig at a County Fair, wondering which butcher is mentally “chopping me up” into tasty bits and pieces.  The idea of my County being similarly “butchered” doesn’t appeal to me.  I would suggest the Commonwealth look at the influence of the many business interests, and the groups they have formed, to advance the Bi-County Parkway to mitigate their influence on transportation planning.

It’s simple, really.  If you’re in it for the money, we simply don’t trust your influence.  We would rather hear from folks who are in it for their community.

Prince William County should not be looked upon as “pork” to be carved up for the favored few.  It is our home.

Business interests have put land use attorneys, public relations firms, campaign contributions, etc. behind their efforts to influence public policy decisions. The folks who represent them at various Boards, committees, or whatever are paid to be there.  It’s their job. 

The 700 or so folks who showed up at the Bi-County Parkway Public Hearing have jobs, families, school functions, and lives.  These folks are working on their own time to protect their community.  It’s their passion. 

 The only thing we have between business interests who wish to profit from public policy decisions and the folks who are affected by them are our elected officials.  The Bi-County parkway is perhaps the biggest test we’ve seen in a while to determine just who exactly those we elect to protect us really are protecting.  

I shall be paying very close attention to exactly who represents whom.

Alborn: Bloggers Need a Wider Audience

Opinion 

“If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it does it make a sound?”   – Zen Koan.

I’ll admit it. I start my day by reading the Washington Post online edition, and a few other news outlets I have bookmarked, and the local blogs. 

I have observed that our local bloggers have matured over time.  They touch on difficult issues that the traditional press often ignores.  Bloggers respond in real time, often while Board Meetings are in session, or issues have barely been uncovered, and often provide good analysis and opinion on their topics.

I actually gave up on my blog because so many others do a better job of covering local issues than I ever did.  Now, I focus on my weekly column, and attempt to cover issues that perhaps others missed.

Blogs often get very personal, include a bit of vitriol that really adds nothing to the conversation, and occasionally a jab or two at the personalities involved.

I enjoy every bit of it. 

Anonymous bloggers can do that.  I take everything I read with a grain of salt, fact check the issues, and often draw my own opinion based upon breadcrumbs left behind.  In my interview with the Sheriff of Nottingham of Prince William County (and I still don’t know who he really is), he freely admits a desire to be outrageous to get the public’s attention.

It works.

I’ve also noticed that bloggers bring facts, research, opinion, documents, emails, and analysis to the table.

I like that.

But, I wonder how many people actually hear the sounds the Sheriff and other local bloggers make?  While all of our local blogs have a loyal core constituency and regular critics, I suspect they may not actually reach enough Prince William County to influence public policy, local decision-making, transportation planning, budget issues, or the 2015 elections?

If few people actually read a blog, does it make an impact on our lives?

I’d like to fix that.

Potomaclocal.com would like to offer space once a week in its Letters section to any of the local bloggers who are willing to write an Editorial about topics of public interest. Editorials should be submitted via this link

Facts presented must be supported by specific artifacts (links, documents, attributable quotes).

Bloggers may draw conclusions based upon the facts and their particular bias, political persuasion, personal circumstances or whatever as long as they are arrived at logically.

The vitriol that makes blogs so interesting must be left behind on the blogs.  I roughly follow the Associated Press Stylebook; however, I have come to understand that if I write reasonably polite, footnoted and properly references, columns I comply. 

The Editor of Potomaclocal.com reserves the right to reject anything submitted if, in his opinion, it isn’t up to editorial standards (that “reasonably polite” thing).

As anyone knows who reads my column, I respect our local bloggers and believe that they bring a valuable perspective to the public conversation.  I also believe that only a small percentage of Prince William County residents actually know that they exist, let alone benefit from the perspectives and opinions presented.

The goal of my modest offer is to expose the public to what I consider to be worthwhile perspectives on issues facing Prince William County.

I suspect 1-2K hits is a “Good day” for a local blog.  Potomaclocal.com has 40,000 readers.  If you really want to share your perspective, influence public policy, and actually influence the 2015 election cycle, take me up on this offer.

Bloggers may continue to be a tree falling in the forest that very few actually hear, or a tree crashing down on public policy and the 2015 elections that perhaps helps determine the future of Prince William County.

I kind of like the latter.

Alborn: Occoquan as a ‘Trail Town’ will Benefit County

OPINION

I had lunch with Occoquan Town Mayor Earnie Porta a couple of weeks ago.  We talked about Trails.  Earnie is also the Treasurer of Prince William Trails and Streams Coalition and an advocate of improving trail connectivity in Prince William County. 

We broke bread at Occoquan’s Secret Garden Café.   Some of you may remember it as the Garden Kitchen.  Earnie (nobody calls Mayor Porta “Mayor Porta,” he’s “Earnie”) explained that the previous owners retired, and the restaurant is now under new management.  (Two thumbs up on the Cream of Broccoli Soup, by the way!  I plan to go back.)

Those of you who know Earnie and perhaps follow him on Facebook are aware of his appreciation for outdoor sports.  Whether he’s leading a kayak tour on the Occoquan, rock climbing, scuba diving in some far away place, or participating in a bike marathon somewhere, Earnie is about the outdoors and outdoor sports.

For full disclosure, his 2nd degree black belt in the Korean martial art of Hapkido didn’t cause me to shy away from the tough questions!

For those of you not familiar with  Prince William Trails and Streams Coalition, these are the volunteers who spend their free time maintaining the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, Broad Run Linear Trail, Silver Lake Park, and many other spots you might have enjoyed over the years.  You probably have benefitted from their efforts more than once without knowing it.  They accept donations, by the way.

Earnie is interested in using trails to connect the geographic dots within Prince William County to give its residents and visitors one more easily accessible, family friendly, free way to get outside, play and enjoy our lovely community.  He sees a future where folks may hike or bike from one end of Prince William to the other stopping at many points in between, and intersects with other regional and national trails along the way.

Earnie also connected the economic dots, or the value that supporting trails brings to our community. He would like to add “Trail Town” to the Town of Occoquan’s many list of attractions.  That would benefit both the Occoquan and Prince William County.

Trail towns become destinations for those seeking trail heads, places to start a hike; trail stops, or places to stay overnight, re-provision, refuel and take a break; and tourist destinations, or places with attractions worth hanging around for a while.  Many folks just like the ambiance.  Occoquan is a natural trail town as it is a trail junction for the U.S.1 bike route, the East Coast Greenway, the Occoquan Water Trail, and the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail.

Porta’s Trail Town vision scales

Discover Prince William & Manassas Convention and Visitors Bureau could easily add trails and Occoquan as a trail town to its already diverse portfolio of attractions.  Prince William County’s rich Civil War heritage and military museums have already made it an international tourist attraction.  Leveraging the work of the Prince William Trails and Streams Coalition, and Occoquan’s proximity to the intersection or access to a number of trails certainly increases the value of our many tourist attractions.  

One might surmise that adding trails would connect some of those attractions and make them accessible to a new market:  hikers and bikers!

Restaurants, hotels, gas stations, tourist attractions, and businesses of all flavors would benefit.  I’m guessing REI, Orvis, Dicks’ Sporting Goods, or the many other outdoor oriented businesses would be delighted to see Prince William County become a recognized stop on the many trails that intersect its domain.  There us also potential for new businesses to be created to replace those hiking boots and socks, repair those bicycles, or perhaps offer a replacement pack or water bottle.

There’s gold in those trails! 

This idea of focusing on trails and turning the Town of Occoquan into a trail town is Strategic to Prince William County.  It fully supports Prince William County’s 2013-2016 Strategic Plan Strategic Vision, Prince William County is a community of choice with a strong, diverse economic base, where individuals and families choose to live and work and businesses choose to locate.  I can imagine businesses looking for a place to locate would favorably consider any Community that supports trails, and families would certainly consider them a desirable feature when house shopping.

It contributes to Prince William County’s Economic Development Goal, The County will provide a robust, diverse economy with more quality jobs and an expanded commercial tax base.  We’re talking increasing tourist revenue and the jobs that revenue creates, and opportunities for businesses small and large to be created and/or attracted to our Community.

For the purists looking for a specific link to the Strategic Plan, it contributes to Prince William County’s Transportation Goal, The County will provide a multi-modal transportation network that supports County and regional connectivity, specifically Transportation Outcome 4, By 2016, 15 cumulative miles of pedestrian trails and sidewalks will be constructed and added to the County’s Comprehensive Plan roads.

Prince William County Government is supportive of the trails vision.  The Parks Department hosts the Trails and Blueways Council.  Its mission is to further Prince William County’s vision of a network of trails and blueways connecting communities, providing recreational, non?motorized transportation, and cultural opportunities.   One of their guiding documents is the 2008 Comprehensive Plan Parks, Open Space and Trails Section, trails Plan.  Of course, trails cost money.   You will find funding for trails in the FY2014 Prince William County budget  Parks and Recreation Section and the Capital Improvement Program.  Prince William County is investing in its trails.

I believe Porta’s vision for a Trail Town is a sound one 

He does understand that lots of folks think trails are great until one is proposed in their neighborhood.  Fully respectful of residents concerns and property rights, Earnie plans to share information with the public, particularly with communities that have concerns, about the economic, environmental, and health and safety benefits of trails.

If you want to sample what he is talking about, you might want to sign up for the Prince William Trails and Streams Coalition’s inaugural Tour of the Towns — Tour of Prince William Century Ride!  You’ll get a chance to chat with Earnie and other trail enthusiasts while enjoying the trails that are the subject of this column

You will find Occoquan Regional Park right across from the Town of Occoquan.  It intersects with the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail and the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.

The East Coast Greenway is (IMHO) an urban version of the Appalachian Trail.  It will be built entirely on public right-of-way, incorporating waterfront esplanades, park paths, abandoned railroad corridors, canal towpaths, and pathways along highway corridors.

The National Park Service’s Potomac Heritage Trail is an excellent hike.  It spans Washington, D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.  

IF you are looking for more trails in Prince William County, start with the Prince William County Trails and Streams Coalition Trails and Blueways Directory

As we sat there over iced tea, I realized Earnie understood the magic of trails, and the economic benefit to communities that support them.   If the idea of reducing your property taxes by improving our tax base and looking for new ways to draw revenue to Prince William County that don’t involve the Federal Government, you might think about supporting trails and Earnie Porta’s trail town idea.  

I think I’ll go take a hike!

For full disclosure, I am a member of Prince William Trails and Streams, and an advocate of trails both within Prince William County, and across the nation.  I am also a member of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and a frequent hiker on Shenandoah Mountain trails.  I was also a member of the 2012 Prince William County Strategic Planning Team, and helped created the current Strategic Plan, which fully supports trails in Prince William County

Alborn: Wittman ‘Plugged Into’ Constituents

OPINION

I like 11st Congressional District Congressman Gerry Connolly, I really do.  I don’t always agree with his politics; however, he has supported a few initiatives I am really fond of, like Telework, and his constituent services are first class.  While I lean right, I voted for Connolly in the past, and had planned to for the indefinite future.

Then, redistricting happened.  I was not pleased.  I found myself in the 1st Congressional District that stretches from Prince William all the way to Willamsburg, and wondered out loud, “who is this guy, Congressman Rob Wittman?

I finally got to meet Wittman at a veterans information event held at the Dale City Volunteer Fire Department this spring (courtesy of the Prince William Veterans Council). While his knowledge of veterans affairs and issues, particularly jobs, impressed me, I was still a bit disconcerted about his lack of visibility in Prince William County.

Not being the shy type, I told Wittman we just don’t see enough of him. 

His Chief of Staff called to arrange for a meeting at “my office” (the Starbucks on the corner of Hoadly Road and the Prince William Parkway), and I had a chance to chat with the Congressman about support for Prince William County, and a range of issues facing the Federal Government.

I left the meeting impressed, and a bit humbled.  Those of you who follow this column know that I am a big fan of telework, social media, and the use of technology to take people off the road.  Wittman is clearly “wired” and “plugged in” to all of the tools available to keep in touch with his constituents.

Wittman is eating the dog food I’ve been pushing for years using technology to be accessible to the public.

If you want to get to know Wittman or have an issue you would like to discuss, you might just want to participate in one of his on-line venues.  He personally hosts Twitter Tuesdays, Facebook Fridays,  and tele-town halls.  If technology isn’t your thing, he has a number of satellite offices around the 1st Congressional District, including one in Dumfries.  His staff also answers the phone (as I found out when I needed a little help with one of those large Government Agencies.)

I will point out that Wittman spends a lot of time traveling around his District meeting with constituents one-on-one to address their concerns and perhaps help with issues.  He sandwiched me in for an hour on a Sunday afternoon for such a conversation with me. 

Wittman sits on the House Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Natural Resources.  I had a chance to hear him talk about Veterans issues at his visit to the Dale City firehouse, and discussed a number of national Defense issues with him during his visit to my “office”.  As a Naturalist, I was pleasantly surprised by his grasp of environmental issues.  Wittman sponsored the Chesapeake Bay Accountability and Recovery Act of 2013.

While I don’t agree with all of the Congressman’s public policy positions, I found myself agreeing with most of them.  He’s a small Government fiscal conservative who believes in accountability, metrics, and sound fiscal management. 

The Congressman does have one “soft spot”, an abiding respect for federal employees. Wittman fully supports constraining the size and growth of the Federal Government; however, he recognizes its employees shouldn’t be “collateral damage” in the process.  The Congressman recognizes the hard work performed by feds keeps the machinery of government running, and has little tolerance for those who criticize them. 

The Federal Government is going through some tough times, and its employees are taking a lot of heat.  Wittman recognizes this, and (IMHO) holds today’s Federal Employees in the same high regard he holds Veterans.

I still like my old representative Gerry Connolly, and miss him.  That being said, Wittman won me over.  He is very accessible to anyone with a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, and doesn’t mind driving to Prince William County to meet with constituents in person (even on a beautiful Sunday afternoon).  

Alborn: Swimming Pool Missing from School’s Strategic Plan

Opinion 

I don’t mind paying taxes, I don’t like to pay too much in taxes, and I don’t like to see them wasted. When I see my money being spent to full the broader community’s will, I don’t object. I also like to see my tax dollars spent strategically.

That’s why I was happy to serve on the last two Strategic Planning Teams in Prince William County. Strategic Plans are created to reflect community goals, objectives, and measures of performance. Prince William’s Chairman and Board of County Supervisors use the Strategic Plan, which they approved, to inform the budget process. I am comfortable that Prince William County’s 2013-2016 Strategic Plan was used as the framework for the FY2014 budget.

I’m not sure I can say the same for the proposed School Budget, or plans for putting Swimming Pools in schools. I reviewed the Prince William County Public Schools Strategic Plan FY 2011-15, and didn’t find a single mention of Swimming Pools in schools as a goal or objective.

Goal number one is student achievement. I think that is a worthy goal. I suspect the community agrees.

When I looked up our performance relative to other School Systems in the FY 2013 Washington Area Boards of Education Guide (WABE), I notice we could use some improvement in that area.

We have children going to school in trailers, our schools are bumping up against the state limit on classroom size, we need to take better care of our teachers, and we need to work on Student Achievement.

So, why the hell are we talking about putting Swimming Pools in Prince William County schools?

It is nowhere in the Prince William County Public Schools Strategic Plan, and does nothing to address the many problems and challenges that our Teachers and students face every day.

We should be talking about Goal Number One in the Prince William County Public Schools Strategic Plan FY 2011-15: Student Achievement.

I don’t have any children in school; however, I don’t mind paying more in taxes to improve education, to take care of teachers, and get our children out of trailer classrooms.

I understand that some of our local politicians are on a campaign to drum up support for pools in schools. In my opinion, this is a misguided adventure that wastes valuable public dialog on how to actually focus on the goals contained in the Prince William County Public Schools Strategic Plan FY 2011-15. In an earlier article I criticized the School Board for not presenting a budget that aligned with its Strategic Plan.

I stand by that criticism. The pools in schools issue is an example of that which I wrote.

I really have nothing against pools. If there is really a community need for places to swim, I would prefer that the private sector step up and build them. The free market is usually the best judge of what people are really willing to pay for. If the community wants pools in schools, the Strategic Planning process will reflect the requirement creating a justification to add them to the budget process.

When it comes to watching how the School Board spends my tax dollars, I do object to bypassing the Prince William County Public Schools Strategic Plan FY 2011-15 There’s not a word about pools in there. There are many other worthy goals that reflect the community’s will. That’s where we should be focusing our attention.

Let’s get the conversation back where it belongs. A look at the Prince William County Public Schools Strategic Plan tells us that pools in schools simply don’t qualify.

Alborn: Option to Expand Chinn Center Remains, Why the Discussion about a Swimming Pool in a High School?

Explain this to me. As a Prince William County taxpayer, I just don’t get it.

In 2006, Prince William County Government requested that its residents support a significant bond issue to fund road improvements, park improvements, and new libraries. A well executed public relations program was conducted by the county to educate the public, and ask for their support on a referendum.

You may read the details in an excellent Prince William County Newsletter Special Edition: Information on the 2006 Bond Referendum Questions.

I’m interested in the Parks Bond Referendum at the moment (although I have asked Prince William County for information on the status on all three Bond Referendums that were approved in 2006: road improvements, park improvements, and new libraries.)

If you dig a bit deeper, you will find the excellent staff presentation given on June 20, 2006 at the meeting of the Board of County Supervisors where the proposed bonds were discussed. I invite your attention to the 2006 Bond Referendum for Parks, Item 6-W – Work session for the Library, Park, and Road Bond Referendum.

To summarize the presentation given to the Board, work begun on the Bond Referendum for Parks in 2002 when the then Prince William County Park Authority Board commissioned a Citizen Recreational Demand Survey. In 2003, the Board of County Supervisors adopted a Comprehensive Plan which set goals on how parks and open space would be used in Prince William.

2004 – 2006 Studies: We need more swim facilities 

In 2004, citizen focus groups were convened to identify recreation issues and concerns, resulting in a Strategic Issue Analysis. Also that year, the County Capital Improvement Plan was updated to include projected future park bonds in six year intervals. In 2005-2006, the Park Authority convened meetings with user groups to refine and update the recreational needs analysis.

MORE to the STORY: See seven-year-old documents detailing a planned expansion of the Chinn Park Aquatics and Fitness Center

The end result was “Prince William County needs to expand indoor Recreation Facilities.” It proposed to do this by adding on or renovating existing facilities where possible, and elected leaders were briefed with a design concept and plans to expand the Chinn Center Aquatics and Fitness Center in Lake Ridge.

The processes in developing the 2006 Bond Referendum was incredibly well done. It stands as an example of transparent budget.

The $27 million park improvement package was approved with nearly 76 percent of the vote. So, why do I suddenly care about the 2006 Bond Referendum for Parks?

Chinn Center Expansion Forgotten? 

I would like to know what happened to the proposed expansion of the Chinn Center? Why exactly are we talking about floating a new bond, or adding value to a proposed bond, to build a pool in the county’s 12th high school when we have authority to take on debt and expand an existing facility?

Why exactly are we ignoring the will of the public, and perhaps using this as a path to put the entire pool in a school conversation to rest?

The bond has been approved, and according to Prince William County spokesman Jason Grant, “A voter bond referenda allows the Board to elect to issue debt for up to 10 years from the time it is approved by the voters. So, all three of the 2006 bond referenda will expire in 2016.”

I’m sorry; however, the rhetoric I read regarding funding pools in schools from some of our elected officials and Prince William County employees reminds me of the “gang that couldn’t shoot straight.” People are lobbying for a new pool in a school when Prince William County already has the authority and the support of the community to raise money through a bond to expand an existing pool.

Why exactly does the Prince William County School Board want to get into the pool business when Prince William County Parks Department has the experience, the facilities, and the authority to raise money to expand?

2006 Bond an example of good public relations 

The 2006 public relations campaign to educate the public on Prince William County’s desire to raise money through bonds is a textbook example of good governance and citizen involvement. The 2013 discussion to build a pool in a school is perhaps, well, not so much.

As a taxpayer, I strongly suggest Prince William County Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart and Prince William County School Board Chairman Milt Johns to take a breath, take a look at not only the authority they already have to finance additional swimming facilities,but also the process used to gain that authority. The public voted (literally), and they want the Chinn Center Aquatics and Fitness Center swimming facility expanded.

Perhaps its time to give the public what it wants, and what it voted for in 2006. Stewart and Johns should also perhaps examine the process used to educate the public, gain its support for the 2006 Bond referendums, and eventually gain voter approval.

If the School Board plans to press on with plans for a pool in a school, perhaps there’s some lessons to be learned. Should the School Board decide to press on with plans for putting a pool in a school, I suggest that the public debate over the issue strongly suggests that the public should weigh in using the referendum process.

Explain this to me. Please.

Alborn: Residents Losing Faith in VDOT over Bi-County Parkway

Opinion

When I heard about Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton’s uttering those words, I couldn’t believe it. When I heard it from multiple sources, I was shocked. I lost faith in Transportation Planning in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

“You guys would never make it on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors; we live for bushwhacking people,” Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton said, as quoted in GreaterGreater Washington.

Frankly, if the allegation that Connaughton actually made this statement in a public forum “for the record” (so to speak) is correct, I am surprised Governor Robert F. McDonnell didn’t fire Connaughton for making such a statement. It undermines residents’ trust in those appointed to be stewards of our lives and money, and discredits McDonnell’s entire administration.

Transportation planning is a math problem, and the math is complicated. The public must have full trust and confidence in the Virginia Department of Transportation before willingly giving up their lifestyle, their environment, and in some cases their homes, before signing up letting the bulldozers run a strip of asphalt through what used to be their home.

Right now, Prince William County residents don’t trust the math behind the proposed outer beltway project. That’s a problem.

For full disclosure, I was on the Prince William County 2013-2016 Strategic Planning Team. In the Strategic Plan we delivered, Transportation Strategy Number 5 was, “Take the leadership role to build the Va. 234 North Bypass (the “Road to Dulles”), a key connector road for the region, linking major economic development centers in Prince William County to Dulles International Airport.”

It was neither presented or discussed as a “cargo route to Dulles”. I believe that like the rest of the Planning Team (although I may only speak for myself), we considered the idea of a road that would help alleviate Northern Virginia’s traffic problem by giving commuters a new north-south route.

The assumption when agreeing to something like this is that the math will be honest, public input will be seriously considered, and community buy-in would be fundamental to moving forward to such a dramatic change to Prince William County, Virginia.

As a member of the Strategic Planning Team, I also stressed taking a systems view of Northern Virginia’s Transportation Problems. With today’s technology, Transportation Planning should include strategies to take people off the roads as part of the solution set.

Congressman Gerry Connolly, D-Fairfax, Prince William, and Frank Wolf, R-Loudoun, Prince William, led the successful passage of the President’s Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, which mandates that Government Agencies extend telework to all qualifying employees.

Connolly, a leader in telework thought and legislation, is contemplating how to expand telework to the Government Contracting community. Connolly gets this “taking people off the roads” thing.

Back in the Strategic Plan, you will find telework in Transportation Strategies 7, which states we should “coordinate the county’s organizational initiatives on teleworking, flexible schedules, and other means of reducing commuter trips with the state legislative agenda.” Number eight states “support and endorse federal, state, regional and local telecommuting efforts.”

Our transportation planners continue to build roads because that’s what they do. They collaborate with the people who build those roads because those are the folks who are organized and equipped to lay the asphalt, and profit from it.

Perhaps its time to add some technology planners to the transportation planning mix, and redefine the problem we are trying to solve.

I would suggest that its time to stop thinking solely about moving people to the information that they need to do their job by laying more asphalt, and start incorporating strategies to move information to the people who need it wherever they may be.

This would mean bring a new set of technology players to the market. It would also mean new, high technology jobs, increased technology sales and services opportunity, and perhaps retrofitting Northern Virginia for the 21st Century instead of always defaulting to the way we use to do things.

Under the McDonnell Administration, trust and confidence in Northern Virginia transportation planning is gone. There have been too many mis-communications, mis-representations, questions, and confusing facts to allow this project to proceed in the current political and public climate. It’s locked into the “build more roads” mindset while dismissing technology opportunities to take people off the roads.

We need a reset. I strongly suggest McDonnell intercede quickly put a stop to any planning for the outer beltway under his administration. Anything that impacts Prince William County this much, literally changes its character and the lives of its residents forever, should seriously consider those in its path. By the way, everyone who ever uses or lives anywhere near Va. 234 between U.S. 1 and Dulles lives in its path.

We need a “different kind of” Secretary of Transportation, and a new way of defining just what problem we are trying to solve. It’s not about moving lots of folks around twice a day. It’s about connecting people with the information they need to do their job.

That doesn’t necessarily require a road, or a car, or the expenses associated with either. It does require a systems view of the problem, and a break from the “roads are always the answer” mindset.

Perhaps transportation Planning for major initiatives in Northern Virginia should simply be suspended until the next Governor is sworn in, and a new Virginia Secretary of Transportation is selected. Something that changes the lives of Prince William County residents so profoundly can wait a few months for a new set of eyes.

Alborn: Unlikely Duo Takes On County Executive over Logo

If you aren’t familiar with Prince William County Government’s logo selection issue, you might as well move on. The details have been well covered on this website.

I’m not going to rehash the details of “logo gate” other than to summarize that, in many people’s opinion, there were problems with the process from sole source selection of an out of state vendor that created the logo, the lack of citizen or elected officials involvement, disinformation about its intended use, money perhaps 051513-signs-01spent and wasted, and actual costs. I could go on.

Neabsco District Supervisor John Jenkins, the old dog, and Gainesville District Supervisor Peter Candland, the young pup, came well armed to Tuesday’s Prince William County Board of County Supervisor’s Meeting when the logo was discussed. They came prepared to deconstruct what many in Prince William County considered to be an egregious overreach of power by County Executive Melissa Peacor and her staff, and problems with the process used to create the proposed logo.

Jenkins took a page from General Colin Powell’s Overwhelming Force Doctrine. He came well armed.

Jenkins took staff down one notch at a time for a poor logo, poor vendor selection process, quibbling over the actual costs, and overstepping its authority, He went on to remind staff and the public just how hard the Board had worked on the last budget, bringing up its efforts to find $30,000 to pay for Bluebird bus tours.

After much discussion this spring during the annual county budget process, Jenkins pointed out that money for this logo project was nowhere to be found in that same budget.

You might think this battle would be over, but then Candland started laying down suppressive fire to make sure there were no survivors. He quite deliberately helped county staff build the rather sharp petard upon which he deftly hoisted them with facts to discredit the story he was told.

You may watch the show here. The silence among the rest of the board was deafening during this dialog. I believe the winner in this battle was never in question.

In case there were any survivors, Jenkins presented the results of a Washington Post on-line poll indicating 70% of the poll participants think Prince William County should start over.

Jenkins delivered the Coup de grâce when he changed the proposed motion to a directive for county staff to discontinue further expenditures on this logo, and requested that a work session be established to resolve the issue. I give Chairman Corey Stewart credit for quickly picking up on Jenkins’ theme, recognizing the need for a public process, and community input. The work session is scheduled for July 16.

Local small businesses should take Candland to lunch for exploring the issue of giving Prince William County businesses every opportunity to compete for government work.

I suspect Prince William County staff perhaps learned from this experience. There are only two counties in the Commonwealth with the County Executive form of Government. Exactly what that means, and just how powerful the County Executive and his or her staff is fuzzy line.

I think perhaps the most important outcome of this Board Meeting was to help define that line a bit more sharply. I suspect County Staff will endeavor to make sure there are no more “surprises” like this in the future.

The outcome was sheer poetry. Jenkins and Candland, unlikely allies poles apart on the political continuum, teamed up to bring accountability to Prince William County Government. The idea of the Senior, most liberal member of the Board teaming with the junior, most conservative member “shakes up” the status quo.

This kind of inquiry and questioning is what I expect of those who we elect to act as stewards of our tax dollars.

I hope this is the start of a beautiful friendship.

Alborn: Prince William Should’ve Tapped Local Talent for Logo

OPINION 

I’m assuming anyone who reads Potomac Local News has seen something about the ongoing story involving Prince William County’s new logo.

I don’t particularly like the proposed design; however, I also don’t expect staff to react to what a few people don’t like. There are, perhaps, a couple of larger issues in play.

There were a lot of reasonable questions surrounding the selection and implementation of the logo. A few simple and fast answers would have put the 051513-signs-01whole thing to rest.

Instead, it was left to local reporters bloggers to dig for the details. Drip… drip… drip.

Thanks to a story published on this website on Friday, now we know it was an outgoing staffer at the Prince William Office of Economic Development who tapped their former employer, Michigan-based David Castlegrant & Associates, to create a new logo for Prince William County that will be used to better brand the jurisdiction with businesses, residents, and visitors.

I’m sure that David Castlegrant & Associates is a fine company; however, they have no presence in Prince William County, or Virginia, or the East Coast for that matter.

Prince William County has rules in their purchasing and procurement guidelines that prevent the local government from only doing business with locally-based firms, county spokesman Jason Grant told Potomac Local News.

But clearly, they could’ve asked.

Creating the logo for Prince William County should be a point of pride for any local business. Losing the opportunity to help a local business by giving them the recognition for producing something this fundamental to our identity just doesn’t make sense.

Perhaps Prince William County needs to review its purchasing policies and develop its own economic development slogan – “Consider Prince William County businesses first!”

I certainly hope the Prince William Chamber of Commerce, which is made up mostly of small, local businesses, perhaps decides to weigh in on this issue.

How can we market ourselves to companies as a good place to do business when our local Government doesn’t even do business here for something this important… this symbolic… this fundamental to Prince William County’s brand and identity?

This isn’t about the logo. It’s about public trust in our local government. The handling of creating and rolling out this new logo raises a number of disturbing questions discussed at great length in the local blogs.

The nature of government is changing because of these local blogs. Love them or hate them, they often ask a lot of very good questions, and keep issues that deserve scrutiny by the public alive past the twenty-four hour news cycle that politicians and bureaucrats depend on.

They also are beholding to no one for access, advertising, or editorial oversight.

I cringe when they insult people I’m rather fond of, and do my own fact checking. That being said, I recognize the value of fully independent news sources that keep digging on issues that would have simply went unnoticed ten or twenty years ago.

This whole logo thing was handled “off the books” (not in the budget, approved by the Board, or subjected to public input, comment, or a hearing). It would appear to a reasonable person that the decision to ship the work out of state, ignoring local businesses, was based on a personal relationship.

If you are a Prince William County business that designs logos, you might object to that.

When I look at just how badly, in my opinion, Prince William County handled the logo issue, I can only wonder just how much of its business is conducted in a similar manner.

The logo issue is a symptom. The decisions made, the processes used, and its ability to respond to public inquiry and input is the problem for this local government. Our Chairman and Board of County Supervisors need to fix this problem. They need to address the logo issue if, for no other reason, to demonstrate that they actually do run Prince William County.

Supervisor John Jenkins has taken the lead on this issue from the beginning. I don’t always agree with Jenkins on public policy, however, I always admire that he comes from an honorable place. I also respect that he has muster when it comes to facing down his fellow Supervisors and Prince William County staff regarding issues in which he has a strong opinion.

Jenkins said the roll-out of this proposed logo by county staff deserves closer inspection and that staff needs to discontinue action and expenditure of funds spent on the logo. Many of these issues will be talked about at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. I agree with Jenkins.

I like our county staff. They work hard to do the right thing for residents. I know their behavior reflects a culture of county management. But, I didn’t vote for any of them.

A Reorganized Government Should Mirror Nature

OPINION 

By AL ALBORN
Contributing Editor

Sometimes I just have to disconnect — even if for just a few hours — and reconnect with nature. One of my favorite spots is the headwaters of the Piney River in the Shenandoah Mountains.

I’ve fly fished in its pools often although sometimes I just take a camera and my journal. A ham sandwich just tastes better by a babbling brook.

Nature, left to its own devices, knows what to do. It isn’t cruel, its pragmatic. Natural selection requires that the strongest, most adapted survive while the weaker fall to the side — usually as something else’s lunch.

Nature self organizes. It unfolds to adapt to its environment and circumstances. All living things in nature fit within the food chain somewhere. No matter how high they are on the food chain, they will end up as lunch to the modest organisms within the food chain and will return to the soil from whence they came.

I’m a Libertarian. I chose that path because it recognizes the rights of individuals and questions the right of others to tell us what to think, do, or say. You will find that I rise quickly to protect the rights of others to live as they please whether I agree with them or not.

We must protect everyone’s rights to protect our own personal freedom. We must protect the rights of others to live as they please whether I agree with them or not. We must protect everyone’s rights to protect our own personal freedom.

We are pack animals who, by nature, prefer to self organize according to some tribal connection. As our numbers grow, self-organization becomes more complicated and the tribal connections become more complicated and blurred.

For the record, I am a fan of seeing those tribal connections becoming more blurred through assimilation, intermarriage, etc. Genetically, we are one tribe indistinguishable from each other at the genetic level. The things that make us physically different are mere static in our DNA.

Some among us think they know how to organize the rest of us. They claim the right to finance that organization by taking the stuff of those they perceive as having more than they need and giving it to those they wish. It is the decision of men who by force, charisma, luck, or birth hold domain over other men.

Regardless of the rhetoric, this is seldom a fair process. It isn’t driven by nature or any natural law. The history of this model isn’t really filled with success. It’s characterized by wars, catastrophic failures, genocide, and the failure of the institutions established to organize the rest of us.

Perhaps its time to scale down the efforts of some to organize the rest of us. Perhaps Government should reconsider its predisposition to take from its people to finance, grand schemes, boondoggles, bloated government agencies and departments choking on their own incompetence, and wars. Perhaps the days of grand, complicated, expensive government are crumbling under their own weight. Perhaps its time to try something different.

It will be difficult to  the be first to change, and our government won’t change quickly. I am happy to look to the simplicity of nature and its predisposition to self-organize and apply this pattern to how we self-organize. We need to plan for a common defense (Department of Defense), a way to manage relationships with other groups and nations (State Department), a way to manage disputes (Department of Justice), and a way to collect the revenue necessary to finance these things (Department of Revenue). Everything else should go.

On my way out of the woods, I saw the cutest baby bear in a tree, though I thought it was a squirrel. When I took a closer look, its little head popped out. I may be the first human it ever saw. I heard brush crashing in the distance and realized mama was coming to check things out, so I “doubled timed” out of the woods.

In retrospect, I realized that mama bear was simply fulfilling her genetic predisposition to protect her young – just like any mother had done — and I made the rational decision not to be that mama bear’s “lunch” today.

We have evolved from worrying about looking for our own “lunch” everyday while avoiding being something else’s “lunch” to the complex social and economic structures that exist today. We don’t understand these structures, we don’t control these structures, we don’t know “what’s next”. I would suggest that perhaps now is the time to simplify these structures to reduce the variables that will decide the fate of the human race.

 

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