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Members of the Alexandria City Council celebrating centenarians at City Hall, Sept. 12, 2023 (staff photo by James Cullum)

At a town hall meeting last Sunday, most City Council members said — in no uncertain terms — that they are opposed to a ward system in Alexandra.

Currently, all City Council leaders are elected in an at-large system. Each Council member represents the city as a whole. D.C., on the other hand, had a City Council that’s a mix of at-large members and ward members — representatives of specific areas of the city.

City Council members said switching to a ward system would give leaders less appreciation for city-wide issues, would make it harder to address neighborhood-specific issues like flooding, and would make it harder for Council members from less affluent areas to fundraise.

“I, for one, am not a fan of the ward system,” Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said. “I like to know all the puzzle pieces in the puzzle and I would be concerned to have different people trying to vie for funding on the Council in a really big area like Del Ray vs a small area in the West End.”

The driving criticism of a ward system from city leaders was that it would create sharper divisions between neighborhoods, which would make it more difficult to secure funding for certain programs.

“I would not be supportive of returning to wards,” said City Council member Kirk McPike. “Wards tend to foster competition and division between parts of our city. A lot of challenges we face need to be a whole city effort to address them, not one part or another bearing more of the weight. Under the current system, we can take a broad view on issues such as some of the flooding issues that affect a small geographic area but are incredibly expensive to address.”

McPike also noted that the current at-large system already represents a broad swath of the city, with four Council members living west of Quaker Lane. City Council members Sarah Bagley and Canek Aguirre both said they supported the current at-large system over a ward system.

While City Council member John Chapman said he opposed switching to a ward system, citing competition between neighborhoods over transportation and infrastructure issues, he did say more could be done to represent specific neighborhoods.

“I’ve been very interested in D.C.’s Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners [ANCs],” Chapman said, “so that every neighborhood has someone who can talk about hyperlocalized issues. That might solve some of the issues I hear folks talking about with wards.”

West End voting precincts potentially affected by proposed changes (via the City of Alexandria)

In a bid to make voting in the West End faster, the Office of Voter Registration and Elections is planning to add two new precincts to the neighborhood.

Ahead of the planned increase to six precincts, aimed at decreasing the number of voters per precinct in the presidential election in the fall of 2024, the city is asking for public feedback.

“This preemptive measure is being undertaken in anticipation of a likely increase in voter turnout during the upcoming presidential elections that could push existing precincts past the 4,000-voter threshold, triggering a legal requirement to redraw boundaries,” the city said in a press release sent out today (Monday). “By doing so now, the elections office can gather more public input and prepare better.”

There are four precincts west of I-395 serving the West End neighborhood, shown below.

The current West End precinct boundaries (via City of Alexandria)

Three of the four existing precincts currently handle about 5,000 registered voters each, the city says.

Polling placing can service more than 5,000 people, General Registrar Angie Maniglia Turner tells ALXnow. During a presidential election, however, if more than 4,000 people come to vote, then the legal requirement to change the boundaries kicks in.

The two proposed precincts would be located at the newly renamed Redella S. “Del” Pepper Community Resource Center at 4850 Mark Center Drive and at The View Alexandria at 5000 Fairbanks Avenue, according to a map included in an online survey.

The proposed West End precinct boundaries (via City of Alexandria)

The city emphasized that the planned changes will only alter where voters go to vote on election day — not the candidates that appear on the ballot.

“The changes would take effect beginning with the March 2024 Presidential Primary,” the survey says. “These changes would NOT impact the November 2023 General Election.”

The proposed map was selected by the Electoral Board for public feedback this June, according to a timeline in the survey.

“Voter accessibility, future population growth, and voter convenience were prioritized,” the survey said.

The Electoral Board will review feedback in September and submit its plan either in September or October.

A City Council vote on the changes is set for November. If approved, the new map would be submitted to the Office of the Attorney General for approval.

Affected voters would be notified of the changes in February, if the office approves the new map.

Community members can provide their feedback in-person at the  Del Pepper Community Resource Center from 6-8 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 8.

The online survey is open until Aug. 21. It asks respondents to share where they live, how they vote and how the changes would affect their ability to vote. There is also space for open-ended comments.

Those interested can also request a physical copy of the survey by reaching out to the Office of Voter Registration and Elections at 703-746-4050.

Hallie LeTendre contributed to this report

School Board Chair Meagan Alderton (Via ACPS)

(Updated 7/18) School Board Chair Meagan Alderton was reelected back on Jan. 5, but seven months into a one-year term, the Chair and Vice-Chair positions are up for election again.

Earlier this year, the School Board voted to change the timetable for Board elections to July rather than at the first meeting of the year in January. The new election is scheduled for Thursday, July 20, at 6:30 p.m. at the Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) central office (1340 Braddock Place).

“At this meeting, the Board amended Board Policy BCA to establish a new timetable for Board leadership elections, making this the first order of business at the annual School Board organizational meeting, beginning in July 2023,” ACPS said in a release. “The term of leadership positions run for one year and take effect immediately upon the Board’s decision, with the new chair presiding over the remainder of the July 20 meeting.”

The School Board was scheduled to have another work session to discuss staggered term elections, but the work session has been postponed until the start of the school year. The proposal would have School Board members elected on a rotating basis rather than having all of the School Board up for election in the same year. There are pros and cons to staggered terms, but at a recent meeting with Arlington and Falls Church officials, neighboring leaders said they fully recommend Alexandria move to staggered terms — and to reduce the size of the School Board.

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Arlington School Board chair Goldstein (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Alexandria School Board members spoke with leaders from nearby school districts on staggered terms and board sizes and the takeaway was: Alexandria’s School Board is too bloated and too prone to rapid turnover.

Last night, Alexandria’s School Board hosted a panel to discuss potentially staggering Alexandria’s election cycle and adjusting the size of the board. On the panel:

  • Peter Noonan — Superintendent of Falls Church City Public Schools
  • Reid Goldstein — Arlington School Board Member
  • Libby Garvey — Vice-Chair of the Arlington County Board

All of the panelists agreed that staggered terms are better for maintaining stability and that Alexandria’s nine-member board was too large to be effective.

Goldstein said five board members are ideal. While a larger Board can have more subcommittees, it also makes coordinating decisions exponentially more difficult.

“The downside of more board members to me is the amount of time and work you have to do calling each one saying ‘where are you on this? Did you talk to them about this idea?” Goldstein said. “That back and forth is extremely time-consuming with five of us, I can’t imagine how you do it with nine. I’d be worried about that with a larger board, even going from five to seven.”

Noonan agreed, having worked with sizes from five-person boards to twelve.

“A five-member board is really great,” Noonan said. “Part of the reason it’s great is, from an operational perspective, much of the work we do is relational… I think five to seven feels really right.”

The trio of panelists was also universally in agreement that staggered terms were better for preserving institutional knowledge and making governance overall more effective.

“I don’t really see any downsides to not staggering,” Garvey said.  “If you want to make a quick change it’s a disadvantage, but these are organizations where you don’t really want to make quick changes because the whole thing can crash and burn. Continuity is so important.”

Garvey said that she considered herself a candidate who came to office pushing for a change in the status quo, the type of candidate that typically would benefit from not having staggered terms, but serving in that elected role changed her thought on that.

“If you turn the boat too quickly, the whole thing might capsize,” Garvey said. “Having the whole crew change is overwhelming. Some change is good. We have a lot of change coming up with two new board members after eight years of being pretty steady.”

Goldstein said with the level of turnover Alexandria has seen in its School Board, members are leaving the board just as they are getting used to their roles.

“I do see a difference, there is more continuity,” Goldstein said. “Board members are learning the job, they’re digging in. That’s particularly noticeable when you’re turning over board members and you have a newbie who takes six months to a year to find their sea legs. When you’re not turning over board members, bringing a new one on every year, there’s a noticeable difference in the maturity level and the continuity.”

Noonan said that, from a staff perspective, it can be a challenging year and a half as new School Board members get settled into their roles and go through a learning curve.

“Everybody comes to it with a good idea of what they think the school system should look like, but once you pull back the curtain, it’s different than what you might think,” Noonan said. “Bringing new board members right away on the budget cycle has been good but challenging. From an operational perspective, it takes a lot of time and energy to do onboarding.”

There were a few other parts of Alexandria’s School Board election cycle that struck the panelists as being inefficient. Noonan said four-year terms rather than the current three-year terms, for instance, would line up with most superintendent contracts.

Garvey also took aim at Alexandria’s district system for its School Board.

“Alexandria is so small,” Garvey said. “I live in South Arlington and I had to get up to North Arlington and I had to listen to people, to what they wanted, and I had to think about it. Sometimes it was a bother and it pulled me out of my comfort zone, but it made me a better School Board member and County Board member. I don’t think it’s all that helpful… to be balkanized [into three districts].”

The panelists also agreed on one other topic, Alexandria’s School Board needs to play nice with City Council, especially if the School Board wants to move forward on changes that will not only require city approval, but state approval. Alexandria’s School Board has an, at times, notably fraught relationship with city leadership.

“You need to have the City Council on board with you,” Garvey said. “Maybe take them out to dinner and break bread. You’re not going to be able to do this [without them] and hopefully, you get them to come along.”

“A good relationship with your City Council is paramount,” Goldstein agreed.

For what it’s worth, 65.7% of ALXnow readers said in a poll yesterday they believe Alexandria’s School Board should have staggered terms.

ACPS Headquarters in Alexandria (Staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Some big changes are coming to the Alexandria School Board.

Tonight, the Board will conduct a work session on whether to stagger the election cycle for its members, as well as reducing the number of members. There are currently nine Board members serving three-year terms in Districts A, B and C, and their elections run concurrently with City Council.

The Board has talked about staggering terms since 2016, but conversations were halted during the pandemic. Discussions resumed late last year and the Board now plans to present a resolution to City Council by the end of this year, according to information discussed in a joint work session with the Board and City Council on Monday.

“All nine members of the School Board would still be up for office and election in November 2024,” Board Member Kelly Carmichael Booz said. “And then whatever model would start from there, would happen in the subsequent years, whether it’s a model where in 2025 someone gets the short straw and they only have a one year term.”

City Council Member Canek Aguirre thinks that the nine-member School Board has too many members.

“Frankly, I’m not really willing to entertain this unless there’s a conversation around reduction in the size (of the Board),” Aguirre said at the work session. “I don’t see the need for it, honestly… Because Falls Church with seven people is a smaller district, Arlington is larger district. They’ve got five (members), we’ve got nine. Loudoun’s got nine — much bigger than us.”

At issue is the high level of turnover that occurs when every Board member is up for reelection at the same time. There were six new members elected in November 2021,  five new members elected in 2018, five new members in 2015 election and seven new members in 2012 election.

Changing the election cycle and/or reducing the size of the Board would take a Board resolution, approval by City Council and then a charter change with the Virginia General Assembly.

“I think the way this is probably going to go down, someone will present that action before the Council,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “At that point hopefully, a majority of the Board is speaking with one voice, and then you guys (the Board/Alexandria City Public Schools) can come in and we can have some dialogue about it and then we’ll take an action. It rolls in with our normal legislative package process, and that’s something that we do in the fall. Then we sit down and have a dialogue with the General Assembly delegation about what we’re requesting.”

A recent ACPS survey with 450 respondents found that 43% strongly agree and 31% “agree” staggered terms would improve the continuity of operations for the school division, versus 13% who strongly disagreed and 4% agreed, while 7% had no opinion and 2% didn’t know. The survey also showed that 31% of respondents strongly agree that a seven-member Board could sufficiently represent Alexandria residents, 14% agreed, 18% strongly disagreed, 16% disagreed, 16% didn’t care, and 5% didn’t know.

Some of the proposed alternatives are below:

  • Three-year Board Member term options — The two members of one district would be up for election every year, starting in 2025, followed by the second district in 2026 and the third district in 2027
  • Four-year Board Member term options — One district would be up for election every year, starting in 2025, followed by the second district in 2026, the third district in 2027 and the fourth in 2028. There would be no election in 2029, and the rotation would begin in 2030
  • Four-year and only at-large positions — There would be five members up for election (selected randomly by the registrar) in 2026, no election in 2027, and the remaining four members up for election in 2028

The Board will discuss the matter in a work session starting at 7 p.m. tonight at ACPS Central Office (1340 Braddock Place).

ACPS headquarters and clock (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Alexandria could be making significant changes to the way the School Board is elected, from staggered terms to breaking alignment with the standard election cycles.

A new survey suggests that School Board elections could be changed to staggered terms, meaning school board members are elected across different years rather than all at once.

Other proposals in the survey include increasing the length of terms from three years to four years to reduce the percentage of the Board that turns over every election cycle.

“This increases continuity of operations and consistency of direction to the superintendent and the school division,” the survey said. “It also reduces the frequency at which residents can elect new School Board members.”

The School Board is currently a nine-member board elected in three districts, but another change being considered would drop that to seven members with two representing each district and one at-large member. According to the survey:

The Board currently consists of nine members elected by three districts. Reducing the size of the board to seven members would result in two representatives from each district and one at-large member. For comparison, the Alexandria City Council has six members and a Mayor all of which are at-large representatives.

Finally, another consideration would be shifting School Board elections away from the federal and state-level election cycles — almost certainly decreasing the total number of votes in School Board elections. According to the survey:

Federal- and state-level elections typically have larger voter turnout and longer ballots. However, voters may not be informed on lower-ticket races due to the number of candidates on the ballot. Transitioning the School Board elections to match larger voter turnout elections could require increasing the terms to four years.

Staff noted in a presentation to the School Board that the change does not require approval through the General Assembly, only a change in the City Charter.

If approved, the first election under the new system would be in November 2024.

The full release from Alexandria City Public Schools is below:

The Alexandria City School Board is asking all stakeholders to participate in a survey about key issues affecting the structure of the School Board serving our community. This survey, available online in multiple languages, is open through 11:59 p.m. on April 26, 2023.

In recent months, the Board has embarked on a journey to reshape the School Board structure to better serve the needs of the school community. It has considered changes to Board member elections, including staggered terms, the length of terms and the number of Board members.

One major component that is under consideration, that will be different from what the community is accustomed to, is “staggered terms.” This is defined as an arrangement in which School Board members are elected in different years, starting and ending their terms of School Board service at different times, rather than all at the same time. Currently, all nine School Board members are elected during the same election in the same year, with their terms ending at the same time. Staggered terms would allow for members to be elected in different years, ensuring that the Board retains some of its members who have already been serving; this supports continuity and institutional knowledge. Additionally, it is easier to keep the division’s work intact while orienting new Board members to the division’s work.

The survey is available in five languages (English, Spanish, Amharic, Arabic and Dari.)

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U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine visited Alexandria for a reelection campaign happy hour on Monday, and said he’s partly running to keep Virginia out of Republican crosshairs in 2024.

Kaine says that he’s concerned about former President Donald Trump’s calls to protest if he is indicted today.

“Obviously I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow (today),” Kaine said at Pork Barrel BBQ in Del Ray. “I’m worried about it. You learn not to dismiss it.”

Kaine continued, “It’s just not a good time for our country. It’s not a good time for people that have energy and passion for doing good to kind of move aside, because there’s real issues at stake about the future of our democracy. What we’ve seen in the last few years, particularly on January 6, but there was a long run up to it, a long set of consequences to it.”

Kaine announced in January that he was running for a third term in 2024, and said that there would be “some chaos” in the national democratic party if he chose not to run. The former 2016 democratic vice presidential candidate is a former Governor of Virginia and Mayor of Richmond. Virginia’s other U.S. Senate seat is filled by Democrat Mark Warner, also a former governor.

“It’s probably a little more likely that at the national level, the Republican Party would said, ‘Oh, great. Virginia has an open seat, we’re all in in Virginia,'” Kaine said. “Right now, they’re probably looking more at Ohio, West Virginia or Montana. If I can keep their attention off us (in Virginia), then that’s valuable.”

The audience was full of local elected officials, including Mayor Justin Wilson, who recalled being in Richmond when Kaine announced his intention to run for reelection.

“I believe about eight different people called me and told me they would run if you (Kaine) were not running that day,” Wilson said. “The biggest relief in the world was when I heard that Sen. Tim Kaine is going to run for reelection to be our senator for another six years.”

Kaine said that the decision to run again wasn’t easy.

“It was a hard decision, because it’s an eight year decision,” he said. “Two years of campaigning, six years of service. And an eight-year decision when you’re 65 is different than when you’re 55 or 45… But the ability to do good every day, still energizes and excites me.”

ACPS headquarters and clock (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated 4:15 p.m.) Are there too many Alexandria School Board Members? Should their terms be staggered and should districts be eliminated? The Board wants these questions answered by the time voters cast their ballots in November 2024.

Yesterday (Tuesday), the nine-person Board unanimously agreed to establish a process for asking the public these questions. The answers will inform a Board resolution that is expected to go before the Alexandria City Council next year and the Virginia General Assembly in 2024.

For years, the Board has weighed whether to restructure its composition and change the frequency of elections to try and reduce turnover. Last night, members tied Board turnover to a pattern of superintendent resignations and heightened anxiety among school staff.

“The impact that the Board turnover has on staff is extremely significant,” said Board Member Tammy Ignacio, who was an Alexandria City Public Schools administrator before retiring and running for office last year. “When you have a turnover of the board, you have a turnover of some staff and a turnover of leadership. It causes a lot of stress and anxiety on staff, and when that happens it impacts kids.”

For instance, six new members joined just three incumbents on the School Board after the November 2021 election. Board Members said school leadership suffers when more than half the Board is learning the ropes of the school system at one time.

“I can attest to the to the challenges that happen with with the high level of a learning curve that Board Members have to go through, the impact it has on staff, and in both of those cases we also had superintendents resign,” said Board Member Kelly Carmichael Booz, who has served two non-concurrent terms.

There were also five new Board Members elected in the 2018 election, five new Members in the 2015 election and seven new Members in the 2012 election.

School Board terms, and their respective City Council/Boards of Supervisor terms, across the region. (via ACPS)

There have also been three ACPS superintendents in the last decade, with a fourth set to be hired this spring.

“On average in ACPS, Superintendents resign nine months after a new School Board takes office,” notes an ACPS staff report. “Since 1994, four of the five superintendents left when the School Board turnover was five or more members.”

Since their first election in 1994, the city’s nine School Board members have served three-year terms for (three apiece in Districts A, B and C) with their elections and City Council’s held on the same day.

Last night, the Board reviewed some preliminary alternatives to the current election cycle, suggested by ACPS staff. They include:

  • Three-year Board Member term options — The two members of one district would be up for election every year, starting in 2025, followed by the second district in 2026 and the third district in 2027
  • Four-year Board Member term options — One district would be up for election every year, starting in 2025, followed by the second district in 2026, the third district in 2027 and the fourth in 2028. There would be no election in 2029, and the rotation would begin in 2030
  • Four-year and only at-large positions — There would be five members up for election (selected randomly by the registrar) in 2026, no election in 2027, and the remaining four members up for election in 2028

Del. Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D-45) says that the concept of staggered terms makes sense, but said the option of having more elections for individual districts could confuse voters.

“If a single district was up for election every year as opposed to one seat, that could potentially lead to voter and candidate confusion, as many individuals don’t necessarily know what districts they reside in,” Bennett-Parker advised the Board.

Bennett-Parker serves in the legislature’s County, Cities and Towns Committee, which would would send forward the amendment to the Virginia Charter for the General Assembly for approval.

Elizabeth Bennett-Parker casts her vote on primary day, June 8, 2021, at Matthew Maury Elementary School (staff photo by James Cullum)

Alexandria Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker is running for reelection for Virginia’s 45th District, she announced on Wednesday.

Bennett-Parker will kick off her campaign formally on Jan. 7.

“It’s been an honor to serve the people of Alexandria and I’m going to work hard for them this session and in the future,” Bennett-Parker told ALXnow. “Among other items, I’m working on bills to increase access to mental health services, enhance gun safety, improve voting access for individuals with disabilities, prevent evictions, protect consumers from deceptive practices, address inland flooding, and support working families.”

Bennett-Parker won her seat in November 2021 by defeating Republican Justin “J.D.” Maddox in the general election and incumbent Democrat Mark Levine in the June primary. She began her political career four years ago when she was elected Alexandria’s vice mayorship in her first-ever campaign for office.

Bennett-Parker is now a substitute teacher for Alexandria City Public Schools and is a former co-leader of Together We Bake, a non-profit job training and personal development program for underserved women.

In her announcement, Bennett-Parker listed a number of endorsements, which are listed below.

  • Congressman Don Beyer
  • State Senator Adam Ebbin
  • Delegate Charniele Herring
  • Mayor Justin Wilson
  • Vice Mayor Amy Jackson
  • Councilman Canek Aguirre
  • Councilmember Sarah Bagley
  • Councilman John Taylor Chapman
  • Councilwoman Alyia Gaskins
  • Councilman Kirk McPike
  • Sheriff Sean Casey
  • Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter
  • Clerk of Court Greg Parks
  • School Board Chair Meagan Alderton
  • School Board Vice Chair Jacinta Greene
  • School Board Member Ashley Simpson Baird
  • School Board Member Kelly Carmichael Booz
  • School Board Member Abdel-Rahman Elnoubi
  • School Board Member Christopher Harris
  • School Board Member Michelle Rief
Sean Hannity with Alexandria “I Voted” sticker (image via Fox News/YouTube)

Conservative talking head Sean Hannity used Alexandria’s “I Voted” sticker in a segment attacking national elections, though why the city’s logo was used is never addressed in the ten-minute segment.

Hannity expressed frustration that some elections were still too close to call, which makes the use of Alexandria’s sticker all the more puzzling.

In Alexandria, it was an off-year election with only the 8th Congressional District on the ballot. Congressman Don Beyer (D) won reelection with 73% of the vote.

The election was called in Beyer’s favor within a few hours of polls closing. Republican candidate Karina Lipsman conceded and thanked Beyer for his public service before 10 p.m.

Control of the House of Representatives is still undetermined and some Republican leaders have called the election results underwhelming.

“Despite the lies from the media mob, we never predicted this red wave, in fact we warned all year long this election would be incredibly close,” said Hannity, who had previously suggested a “red tsumani” during the midterms. “I’m getting a little sick and tired of being lied about in the news media, so we will refresh their memory.”


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