Post Content

The Alexandria City Council unanimously approved a collective bargaining agreement with the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, ushering in a new era of collaboration with city employees.

If likely approved in the fiscal year 2024 budget this May, the agreement means substantial pay increases for new officers, sergeants and lieutenants. The current base salary of $54,698 for an officer would be increased by 11% to $61,503 at the beginning of the next fiscal year, July 1, 2023. After next year, salaries for officers would increase 2% annually.

Mayor Justin Wilson said that the collective bargaining agreement is historic, since it’s the first of its kind to be approved in Virginia.

“This is a really important step.,” Wilson said. “We came to a place that that was mutually agreeable one that I think moves the needle forward and recognizes our hard working police officers for the work that they do every day for our residents at work that is greatly valued by the community, but does so in a constructive way in partnership with the city, recognizing that we’re all in this together.”

Damon Minnix, president of Alexandria chapter of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, said that the agreement creates a new pay scale based on years of service.

“We’ve spent countless hours working towards this agreement,” Minnix said. “Most importantly, this process and agreement opens the lines of communication between the interests of our officers and city management.”

Compensation issues has plagued the Alexandria Police Department for years.

The collective bargaining agreement includes:

  • A one-time payment to employees who will not get at least a 10% pay increase in the agreement
  • A $1,000 longevity bonus for well-seasoned officers in July 2024 and July 2025
  • A 5% pay boost for officers in specialized units, including academy instructors, motorcycle officers, field training officers and K9 handlers
  • Formation of union committee

The agreement also asks the city to conduct a “cost-neutral, 20-year retirement option with an immediate payout and no minimum age requirement” for officers.

City Manager Jim Parajon said that coming to an agreement was an exhausting process.

“This agreement is not without disagreements, and is a I think an excellent start,” he said. “It really does value our police officers at a very significant level.”

2 Comments

Facing inflation, a $17 million budget shortfall and fewer federal economic recovery funds, the Alexandria City Council will consider a tax increase in its upcoming fiscal year 2024 budget.

City Manager Jim Parajon has been tasked with presenting Council with two budget alternatives — one with a tax increase and another without.

“This year’s budget is going to be tight,” Parajon said at a recent Del Ray Business Association meeting. “We’re also predicting a much slower growth rate than we’ve done in the past. As you can imagine, property tax and the growth in our real estate is what drives a lot of our revenue. And we projected that’s going to be a little slower this year.”

Parajon said that city staff is expecting a shallow recession to impact the city this spring, and is eyeing expenditure reductions. So far, the $17 million shortfall is mostly attributed to an increase in city operations, the annual transfer to Alexandria City Public Schools and city debt service.

Mayor Justin Wilson hopes to not increase taxes, and said that inflation pressures impact city government, just like everyone else.

“We have not increased the tax rate in six years and I am hopeful we can avoid any increase this year,” Wilson told ALXnow.

The city is also contending with collective bargaining agreements with the police and fire department unions. Additionally, ACPS faces a $12 million budget shortfall, and wants to give employees raises.

The current FY 2023 budget saw a $445 (6.5%) increase to residential real estate taxes, although the tax rate of $1.11 per $100 of assessed value did not change.

City staff are also working on re-timing projects in the city’s 10-year $2.7 billion Capital Improvement Program to “better align with ability of operating budget to absorb costs increases and City’s ability to execute projects,” according to a presentation to Council on Tuesday night (Nov. 22).

Parajon will present his proposed budget on Tuesday, Feb. 28 — a week-and-a-half after the School Board approves its budget request. The budget will be approved in May and go into effect on July 1.

17 Comments

The most contentious part of last Monday’s Agenda Alexandria discussion on building heights was when City Manager Jim Parajon told the audience that the City Council’s priorities on affordable housing have the best interests of residents in mind.

Many members of the audience voiced disapproval by groaning, “No,” that they don’t.

Parajon, who started work in January, said that the city needs a multi-faceted approach to go through the Planning Commission and be approved by City Council by the end of this year.

“I don’t believe we can build enough supply of affordable housing to meet the needs,” Parajon said. “That means that a comprehensive approach to how to deal with affordable housing is critical. It’s everything from building supply, to addressing things such as stable funding source to wealth creation, and how do we do that and making it more affordable to live in our city, not just have a home or housing in our city?”

The conversation on the City’s proposed bonus density and height program was packed at The Lyceum, where Parajon said that the city would employ a cautious approach in regard to the program, which would allow developers to increase heights of buildings to 70 feet in areas of the city that are capped at 45 feet in height — in exchange for an agreement to build affordable housing within the development.

The Planning Commission deferred the proposal in June after outcry from Del Ray residents, including Nate Hurto, who spoke as a panelist with Parajon.

“The historic nature of our city is being undermined,” Hurto said.

Areas of the city that would be impacted by the proposed change to height restrictions. (Via City of Alexandria)

Parajon said that the proposal would not likely impact historic districts in the city.

“I can’t envision a situation where that would be something that would be supported by the community or the council, or the staff,” he said. “The historic districts are embedded as part of what Alexandria is about. Does it mean that in theory you could potentially do something like this? Yes. But through the public process, and you’ve seen it, a lot of projects are not going to make it.”

In Alexandria, developers of new apartment complexes must either contribute to the City’s Housing Trust Fund or include dedicated affordable housing within their plans to help meet the city’s affordable housing crisis. Alexandria lost 14,300 (or 78%) affordable housing units between 2000 and 2022. Consequently, the city has pledged to produce or develop thousands of units to meet 2030 regional housing goal set by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

38 Comments

Alexandria needs to solve its affordable housing crisis, but should building up be the solution?

The City’s bonus density and height program would allow developers to increase heights of buildings to 70 feet in areas of the city that are capped at 45 feet in height, like in Del Ray.

City Manager Jim Parajon will discuss the Alexandria’s bonus density and height program at Agenda Alexandria’s upcoming discussion on Monday night, October 24. The event will begin at the Lyceum (201 S. Washington Street) with a reception at 6:30 p.m., followed by the panel discussion with Save Del Ray founder Nate Hurto and Kamilah McAfee, the senior vice president of real estate development for Wesley Housing.

In June, the Planning Commission deferred the proposal from city staff after a wave of Del Ray residents protested that the program will eliminate the neighborhood’s small town feel.

Alexandria is currently experiencing an affordable housing crisis, and lost 14,300 (or 78%) affordable housing units between 2000 and 2022. Consequently, the city has pledged to produce or develop thousands of units to meet 2030 regional housing goal set by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Agenda Alexandria will be hosted this month by its Board Chair Rod Kuckro. In last month’s panel, Alexandria Police Chief Don Hayes said that the city’s public school system needs school resource officers to curb violence.

6 Comments

Alexandria leaders agree that the city either needs to expand its aging middle schools or completely build a new one.

There are now 15,700 students within Alexandria City Public Schools, and roughy 2,000 more students are expected by 2024. That puts the city in a tricky position, as 10 ACPS schools are more than 70 years old and need continual maintenance, and a surge in elementary school kids means that Alexandria needs more middle school space.

The need for a new school was outlined in a joint facilities update between City Council and the School Board on Wednesday, October 12.

“We’ve got to be creative here with how we do things,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “We can meet the needs of enrollment in our schools with properties we own today.”

A new middle school isn’t budgeted in the city’s 10-year fiscal year 2023-2032 Capital Improvement Program Budget. Three school replacements are currently funded: the Alexandria City High School (ACHS) Minnie Howard campus, George Mason Elementary School and Cora Kelly School.

The CIP also includes more than $12 million for the renovation of an office building at 1703 N. Beauregard Street for development by 2030. The space could be used as swing space for another school under construction or as a new 600-student-capacity school.

Vice Mayor Amy Jackson is in favor of converting the Nannie J. Lee Memorial Recreation Center (1108 Jefferson Street) into a new middle school. Other options include looking into the availability of land on Eisenhower East or at Simpson Field near Potomac Yard.

The discussion was prompted by a new Joint Facilities Master Plan Roadmap, presented by City Manager Jim Parajon. The roadmap prioritizes city renovation projects based on the condition of public buildings. City Hall, for instance, got an F rating for being “functionally obsolete.”

The roadmap is intended to be a guidance document for Council and the Board, filling in the blanks on potential developments.

A potential new use for the land at George Washington Middle School. (Via City of Alexandria)

The room of local lawmakers erupted in relief and laughter when City Manager Jim Parajon reiterated that the roadmap document is merely a guide.

“Just to be really clear, those illustrations that you saw, they are illustrations,” Parajon said. “It gives us some understanding of how a development or redevelopment could occur, or a renovation could occur.”

28 Comments

City Manager Jim Parajon has announced that a former Norfolk reporter and fellow transplant from Texas will be coming to Alexandria to serve as the city’s director of communications and public information.

In a release, Parajon said Ebony Fleming will serve in the role effective today (Tuesday).

While Fleming is relocating from Texas, as Parajon did when he was hired in December 2021, Fleming’s career started in Virginia.

“Fleming’s early career started in broadcast news at WTKR NewsChannel 3 in Norfolk, VA while earning her bachelor’s of journalism from Norfolk State University,” the city release said. “She held several positions during her tenure, including producing the #1 midday newscast reaching approximately 1.7 million viewers.”

Fleming earned a master’s of public policy from the University of Houston and served as the public information officer with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.

“Prior to joining the City, Fleming served as the Director of Communications for BakerRipley, the Houston region’s largest social services nonprofit which serves more than half a million residents annually,” the release said. “During her tenure, she led strategic communications for the nationally recognized organization, including its launch of the COVID-19 rental assistance program.”

The release said that Fleming will oversee the city’s strategic communications plan and the expansion of Alexandria’s Language Access Program.

0 Comments

With fireworks, cupcakes and music, Alexandria celebrated its 273rd birthday on Sunday, July 10.

Thousands were in attendance for the free party, which also celebrates America’s birthday and was supposed to be held on Saturday (July 9), but was held off due to rain. What resulted was a less crowded event than years past — with performances by Town Crier Ben Fiore-Walker, Poet Laureate Zeina Azzam, and the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra (ASO).

During the fireworks show over the Potomac River, the symphony played the “Superman theme” by John Williams instead of the traditional “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky. ASO Conductor Jim Ross said that it would not be fitting to play music by a Russian composer commemorating Alexandria’s and the country’s birthdays.

5 Comments

The Alexandria Community Policing Review Board should be up and running by September — just in time to turn in a written report to City Council on its activities, according to Board members.

The seven-person Board was created by City Council last year to independently review allegations of police misconduct, and its effectiveness is based on Members receiving extensive training, as well as the hiring of an independent auditor/investigator to hire staff, conduct investigations and coordinate the Board’s administrative functions.

Board Member Rob Krupicka, a former City Councilman and Delegate, said that the training is taking longer than anticipated.

“There’s a lot of reasons why we’re not going to be able to fully function as a board yet, because of all the moving parts to get up and running,” Krupicka said at the most recent Board meeting at City Hall on July 6 (Wednesday). “I had a conversation and with the mayor and explained to him that the training requirements, due to a number of things, weren’t going to happen exactly on the six month timeline, but that we could get them done a few months after that. Essentially, we were compressing a year’s worth of training into six months and it was just too much to do that.”

Krupicka said that the Board will have also drafted its official bylaws by September.

The Board must do the following every six months:

  • At least eight hours of training, presented by the National Association for Criminal Oversight of Law Enforcement or a comparable professional organization
  • Training by the applicable city staff addressing legal and ethical obligations of members of a public board, and APD policies and training, including but not limited to defensive tactical training,
  • Crisis Intervention Training, and de-escalation training
  • Training on privacy rules and City policies and procedures involving liability and employee discipline
  • At least three ride-along sessions with APD patrol operations per calendar year

The Board interviewed one candidate for the auditor position on Wednesday night in a closed session.

Board Chair Todd Pilot said that the City is now looking at six auditor/investigator candidates.

“I also know that they’re (the City Manager’s office) still looking at other resumes,” Pilot said.

The City is using recruitment firm POLIHIRE to find auditor candidates. The job pays between $106,845 and $193,631.

The City and the auditor/investigator will also provide Board members with additional training on “mental health, trauma-informed policing, civil rights and constitutional law, race and systemic racism, community organizing and outreach, mediation, investigation, and policing practices, policies and administration,” according to the ordinance establishing the Board.

The date of next month’s meeting is not yet posted on the city’s website.

5 Comments

Mayor Justin Wilson says its time to take a step back and reassess Alexandria’s approach to student safety.

In a joint City Council meeting with the School Board on Monday night (June 13), Wilson said that the community needs to be educated on how the city and school system plan to make schools safer.

“I do think part of this conversation is to step back, because I don’t think there’s many communities around the country that invest the amount that we do in the very ways that we do in our kids, and clearly we still have kids slipping through the cracks in this institution. That’s sobering for us all.”

Wilson and Gaskins presented the Board with a draft memo that will start a “rigorous engagement” program to talk with youth and parents to “learn what is at the root of youth trauma and violence, and act.”

Wilson said that it’s been an interesting last several weeks since the fatal stabbing of Alexandria City High School Senior Luis Mejia Hernandez on May 24. He also said that there is no one single solution, but that a coordinated approach on improving students safety is about creating a public process and approach to solving the issue.

“I don’t mean to be negative on this, but I’m doubtful that in this effort we will determine some kind of magic thing that we have never thought of,” Wilson said. “I don’t think we’ll have anything like that. But I think it’ll be a conversation around how we provide services, scale, scope, how we target things, and where the need is, and I hope that as we have that conversation, we’ll learn more about the effectiveness of what we do today, rather than unnecessarily (try) dramatically new things.”

Council will discuss the memo at its meeting tonight (June 14).

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., who announced his resignation last Friday, did not attend the meeting, and is out of the office until June 21.

Board Chair Meagan Alderton said that the Board needs to improve its efforts to inform to community on ACPS activities.

“I agree,” Alderton said. “I do think we need to do a better job as a Board of educating the community about what actually happens in our schools, because I think that could also shift the conversation. People are making guesses all the time. It becomes counterproductive to what we’re actually trying to do. I second that 100%. I think that there’s an educational component to all of this, so that people just know what’s happening.”

Gaskins said that the memo does not specifically outline City departments for certain projects, since it is the duty of the city and its multiple departments to work collaboratively. She also wants there to be a student summit at some point in the near future to discuss coping with the pandemic and violence-related traumas.

“I think it really is a starting point and call to action to give space for us to listen to our young people, hear what they have to say, be able to evaluate what we’re doing, identify the things that we’re not doing and then put in place a plan that we are holding ourselves accountable to,” Gaskins said at the meeting. “I think this is really an opportunity to think about: How do we activate multiple departments? How do we activate and normalize every resource we have available to ensure the health and safety of our young people?”

School Board Member Abdel Elnoubi said he would do everything to help Council in the effort.

“Politicians and and leaders are looked at as good ones when they can articulate and speak, but we really need some time for people how much we should be listening as well,” Elnoubi said. “Thank you so much for doing this. I’m looking forward to seeing how this turns out.”

Former Sheriff Dana Lawhorne watched the meeting from home.

“I’m glad that our City Council and School Board had a robust discussion tonight about the safety and wellbeing of our youth,” Lawhorne said. “I’m encouraged by the plan put forward by Councilwoman Gaskins and Mayor Wilson. We all need to do our part to support it.”

According to a school safety report released in March, 18 ACPS students were arrested in the first two quarters of this school year, in addition to 41 reported fights/assaults and 13 seized weapons. The weapons seized include a gun, five knives, a stun gun, two fake weapons, and pepper spray. Students also filmed dozens of fights and posted them on social media.

At tonight’s meeting, Council will also consider designating former School Board Member Chris Lewis as its designee to the proposed 16-person School Law Enforcement Partnership (SLEP) Advisory Group. That group will make a recommendation this fall to the interim-Superintendent (or new Superintendent) on the future role of school resource officers at Alexandria City High School and Francis C. Hammond and George Washington Middle Schools.

Separately, Council will also consider passing a gun violence prevention resolution, which encourages the school system to “review school curriculum, safety protocols, and professional development” related to gun safety and suicide prevention, as well as the scheduling of School Board work sessions before the start of the 2022-2023 school year to review those measures.

According to the memo:

In the short-term the Alexandria Police Department will continue its work to investigate recent acts of violence and provide appropriate security interventions to make future acts of violence less likely. To sustainably support the resiliency of our youth and prevent violence, we need to listen as much as we talk. We must engage a diverse range of stakeholders to listen to the experiences of our young people and center their voices, learn what is at the root of youth trauma and violence, and act. With this rigorous engagement, we can design and refine the systems and reforms required to:

  • Address youth trauma and mental health
  • Coordinate across sectors to identify challenges, needs, and opportunities
  • Develop sustainable strategies to align services and existing initiatives
  • Identify metrics and transparent processes to hold ourselves accountable
  • Target investments at identified gaps
  • Prioritize equity
21 Comments

Updated at 7:45 p.m. — A short-staffed Alexandria Police Department is reducing its services to the community, the department announced on Wednesday (June 2).

Police will no longer respond to calls for service that fall under another agency’s responsibility or respond to old crime scenes that show no danger to the public.

“The Alexandria Police Department like most law enforcement agencies across the nation has experienced a significant reduction in their workforce due to resignations and retirements,” APD said in a release. “While APD remains dedicated to providing excellent public safety services, this reduction in officers has affected the way APD will deliver services to the community.”

Police said that the changes will “prioritize the workload to better serve the Alexandria Community.”

The department is budgeted for 311 sworn officer positions, but currently has 291 sworn officers on payroll, which includes 13 that are still in the academy that have yet to fully graduate their police training, according to APD.

Police Chief Don Hayes said that officers will continue to actively police neighborhoods.

“Just like everybody else, the pool is smaller, and everybody’s in the same pool,” Hayes told ALXnow in a recent interview. “When you have Arlington County whose down 60 (officers), Fairfax is down 100, Prince William is down 40, and we’re down about 23 and you’re looking for qualified candidates, but everybody is not qualified to do this job. They just don’t meet the qualifications. And you can’t lower your standards because you’ll have more problems bringing them in than you will without them.”

Mayor Justin Wilson says that he prefers to have APD officers working at the highest level of service, and that the City is working to increase staffing.

“My preference is always going to be that we provide the highest level of service to our residents, all of the time,” Wilson said. “As we work to return to our authorized staffing levels in the Police Department, I understand the Chief’s decision to prioritize response to calls where the physical presence of our officers is most critical. The dedicated men and women of APD have done excellent work, with lower staffing levels, in recent years to keep our community safe. These changes will focus their efforts on the incidents where they can make a real difference in the safety of our City.”

Vice Mayor Amy Jackson says that the move is unfortunate, and that the answer is about budgeting and collective bargaining. She also said she was not surprised by the announcement.

We as a community need to lift up our police department,” Jackson told ALXnow.And I think when our city does that, the region will also do that and we will be able to attract and retain talent with the skill set needed to work here in Alexandria. And right now, we aren’t attracting or retaining the talent that we want here for our department. It’s a sad state of affairs. I believe we have the leadership that will get us to that expectation.”

Police officers got a 6% raise in City Manager Jim Parajon’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget, which goes into effect next month.

The Department will also providing more support for online and phone reporting, and is working on an outreach campaign on the changes.

33 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list