To the Editor,
Having attended the first meeting for Alexandria's new attempt at citizen engagement and dialogue on Nov. 15, my major comment and suggestion is that if Mayor Euille, City Manager Young, our current elected officials and city staff are really serious about this "engagement campaign," then vote to stop this plan ASAP, hopefully before the last council meeting in December.
Then we can really move forward with some real discussions between city staff, mayor/council members and developers if appropriate regarding any major issues of concerns whether they relate to development, transportation issues, etc.
Eliminate the middle guy, i.e., advisory groups, a majority of boards and commissions except those mandated by the Commonwealth of Virginia so that we can negotiate and hopefully reach reasonable and fair solutions. Not everyone will agree nor be happy with the outcomes, but at least citizens who live in various neighborhoods in Alexandria will have direct interaction with city staff and our elected officials. Or, just be honest and transparent and put your "agenda" on the table now.
This first meeting, which cost Alexandria taxpayers $3,000, was to hear Carolyn Lukesmeyer, founder of America Speaks, talk for 40 minutes without presenting new information or insights as it relates to community organization, which is her area of expertise. Her discussion focused on the results of the "poll" and some of her involvement in previous community organizational meetings.
The agenda stated there would be time for Q&A, but this didn't happen. Why not? Only one citizen was involved with this process - Alan Lomax, who has some background in community organization. Why weren't more citizens involved with this process?
The majority of residents in attendance were us regular citizen activists with some new people as well. The so-called "process poll" raised many red flags for me and others as well as it clearly was slanted toward what city staff and our elected officials already know - many Alexandria residents are not happy with our elected leaders and city staff who have not been listening to citizens as we have attempted to verbalize our concerns at city council meetings and at many advisory groups, such as the waterfront redevelopment plan, BRAC-133, Beauregard Small Area Plan and traffic and transportation issues.
We can hear the talking points from Mayor Euille and others that Alexandria residents are happy with the way city government is run as a result of our recent election, which was part of the election for president. However, Alexandria is a Democratic town with a strong Democratic machine and when the election for mayor/council was voted on three years ago by two members who were not re-elected three years ago - Justin Wilson and Tim Lovain - this election became the first time in the history of Alexandria where the election for mayor/council would be on the November ballot for U.S. president.
Who wrote the specific questions for this "political poll"? This should have been a survey wherein the questions and comments sent back to city staff by 1,500-plus citizens and business owners would be more objective. It was a waste of time.
So did this "What's Next Alexandria" discussion succeed? NO.
What is important is not the continued process which Alexandria elected officials and senior staff seem to think they need to do, but a change in attitude and behavior from city staff and our elected officials as it relates to "listening and engaging" citizens with reasonable outcomes and solutions early in the game. Citizens have been listening and attempting to engage. Our elected officials and senior city staff including City Manager Young and his staff have not. This is where the change needs to begin.