What was an intense week in Alexandria. Here is the rundown.

History was made, as the new marquees at Alexandria City High School and Naomi L. Brooks Elementary Schools were unveiled this week, and the name changes to T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School will go into effect July 1. It’s a victory for civil rights, as the namesakes of both old schools had backgrounds steeped in racism. Maury was a Confederate leader and Williams was an ACPS superintendent who worked intently against racial integration.

City Manager Mark Jinks on Tuesday also announced his intention to retire at the end of the year. Jinks, who made the announcement to City Council, hinted to ALXnow last month that he was seeking retirement. Today (Friday, June 25) is also the last day for retiring Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown, who will be moving to the West Coast to deal with family matters. Assistant Chief Don Hayes is taking over as acting chief until a national search narrows down a preferred candidate for the job.

Law enforcement events also dominated this week’s coverage. On Tuesday, first responders saved a woman experiencing a mental health crisis who was dangling perilously off the Monroe Avenue Bridge, followed by news Wednesday that a suspect was arrested for a West End murder along with 16 others in a massive racketeering conspiracy. On Thursday, a barricade situation in the West End ended peacefully.

In this week’s poll, when asked whether transit improvements would make residents more likely to take the bus, 48% said they don’t take the bus often and won’t likely change their habits; 38% said they don’t often take the bus, although transit improvements might change that; and 14% said that they already frequent the Metro and DASH bus systems.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Alexandria woman dies after veering off road on Interstate 95
  2. Man suspected of raping 12-year-old stepdaughter in Landmark area flees to El Salvador
  3. JUST IN: Thieves break into more than 60 vehicles in West End
  4. JUST IN: Rarity as American Viper Rattlesnake found in Old Town
  5. Massive redevelopment of West End apartment building has neighbors worried about street parking impact
  6. UPDATE: Alexandria first responders save suicidal woman on Monroe Avenue Bridge
  7. City Council emphasizes marketing funding for Alexandria’s ‘Hot Girl Summer’
  8. Mother and boyfriend allegedly beaten by knife-wielding ex in Old Town North
  9. With eviction moratorium expiring, city pushes renters and landlords toward rental assistance
  10. Shortened Alexandria Birthday celebration is still on for July 10
  11. BREAKING: California man arrested for West End murder, indicted with 16 others in massive racketeering conspiracy

Have a safe weekend!

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Alexandria City Manager Mark Jinks officially announced his retirement to the City Council at Tuesday night’s meeting.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the Alexandria community in addressing its challenges and creating a better community for all Alexandria residents and businesses,” Jinks said. “A new City Council will be seated in January that will be developing a new long-range strategic plan in 2022, so this is a good time for a transition.”

Jinks said that he will continue until the end of the year, during which time the city will undergo a national search for his replacement.

“I intend to use what I have learned in my 45-year state and local government career to teach, write, consult and mentor the next generation of public administrators,” Jinks said. “In addition, I will now have time to address personal and travel interests that have been on the back burner for too long.”

Jinks also hinted to ALXnow last month that he was seeking retirement.

After six years as Alexandria’s City Manager and more than 20 years since he started work as the city’s budget director in 1999, Jinks and his wife are thinking about taking some time off in the near future to see their daughter who lives in Spain.

Mayor Justin Wilson has praised Jinks’ performance throughout the pandemic.

“[T]he Manager’s leadership has been absolutely critical over the past year as we have worked to address the human, financial and economic impacts of the pandemic,” Wilson previously told ALXnow. “Alexandrians are well-served by his leadership during this time.”

Jinks is the highest ranking employee in the city government, and his announcement is the second retirement to come from the top in recent weeks. Police Chief Michael Brown, who Jinks appointed, is retiring on June 25.

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Assistant Chief Don Hayes has been named the temporary successor to retiring Police Chief Michael Brown, the City announced after business hours Thursday night.

Hayes, a 40-year veteran of the department, will take over as Acting Chief on June 25, according to City Manager Mark Jinks.

“Chief Hayes’ 40 years of experience leading various aspects of the Alexandria Police Department and long-standing connection to the community make him the right choice for this Acting Police Chief role,” Jinks said in a statement.

Brown recently made the surprise announcement that he is retiring, and put in three weeks notice. The City will undergo a national search for his permanent replacement.

Hayes was promoted as Assistant Chief of Police for Operations in 2019. He was made sergeant in 1996, and after becoming a lieutenant in 2000 commanded the Special Operations Division, the Information Services Section and Public Services Section. He also served as assistant commander of the Patrol Operations Bureau. Hayes was promoted to Captain in 2013, and then took over the Traffic, Parking & Special Events Division and a portion of the Patrol Operations Bureau.

Hayes, who has lived in Alexandria for more than 25 years, has a Master’s degree in organizational leadership from Johns Hopkins University, a Master’s in divinity from Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Bachelor’s degree in business administration from Bowie State University.

Mayor Justin Wilson and City Councilwoman Amy Jackson congratulated Hayes on social media.

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Morning Notes

ACPS wants input on how to spend COVID relief funds — “Feedback on use of the American Rescue Plan Act’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief can be provided through June 18, while the Equity for All Climate Survey is open through June 20.” [Patch]

Memorial bike ride Sunday at for bicyclist killed — “Join FABB’s memorial ride in honor of Fatima Del Carmen Alvarez Romero this Sunday, June 13, at 10:00 am at Huntington Metro kiss and ride lot. Ride to crash site for a moment of remembrance and to call for much-needed safety measures. Please wear white and bring signs.” [Twitter]

Karma Modern Indian Eyes Expansion into Old Town — “Karma Modern Indian, a Michelin-recognized destination for fine Indian cuisine in downtown Washington, D.C., is opening a sister restaurant in Alexandria. Dubbed Kismet Modern Indian, the restaurant will be at 111 N. Pitt St. and is set for a fall opening. The location was formerly home, for a short time, to BurgerFi and before that, Ireland’s Own. The late Pat Troy presided over the legendary spot for more than three decades.” [Alexandria Living]

Mayor Wilson named president of Virginia Transit Association — “VTA is a nonprofit corporation of transit professionals from public and private organizations; it includes transit systems from across the state, businesses that serve transit systems and local government officials and organizations concerned about transportation, mobility, affordable access to employment and quality of life issues.” [Zebra]

Alexandria to start nominating committee for collective bargaining labor relations administrator — “The City has been notified that each of the following groups are interested in having a representative on the nominating committee: American Federation of State; County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF); International Union of Police Associations (IUPA); and the Southern States Police Benevolent Association (PBA). To participate on the nominating committee, any employee organization interested in representing a bargaining unit must notify the City Manager by email at [email protected] by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, June 16.” [City of Alexandria]

West End Business Association hosting COVID meeting for restaurants — The Alexandria Health Department will update restaurant owners on how to open post-COVID. Homegrown Restaurant Group’s “Mango” Mike Anderson will also speak at the event, which will be held from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 23, at Glory Days Grill. [Facebook]

Today’s weather — “Rain (during the day). High near 70F. Winds E at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 100%. Rainfall near a half an inch. Locally heavy rainfall possible… Rain early (in the evening)… then remaining cloudy with showers late. Low around 65F. Winds NE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 70%.” [Weather.com]

New job: Dog daycare playroom attendant — “If you are a hard and reliable worker looking for a fun and rewarding job, we encourage you to apply. We are also offering a limited-time signing bonus to those who can reliably commit to the job for at least 4 months.” [Indeed]

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With no more mayoral debates, now it all boils down to the Democratic primary on June 8.

Like the main event at a boxing match, Mayor Justin Wilson and former Mayor Allison Silberberg on Thursday night maneuvered through a series of questions in the final of four Seminary Ridge Civic Association candidate forums.

This is the final debate or forum for the two candidates until the June 8 Democratic primary.

Wilson is leading in fundraising and endorsements, while underdog Silberberg has gotten support from groups like the Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria Facebook page for agreeing on a number of its pet issues, including government transparency, reversing the Seminary Road Diet, and curbing developments.

Fifteen City Council candidates participated in the Seminary Ridge conversations, opining on density, affordable housing, government transparency, flooding, and, their opinions on making changes to the controversial Seminary Road Diet.

After a 4-3 Council vote in 2019, the road, which is next to Inova Alexandria Hospital, was reduced from four to two lanes in exchange for a center turn lane, bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides of the street, crosswalks and medians. A majority of Council candidates are now in favor of taking a look at bringing travel lanes back from two to four lanes on the 0.9 mile stretch of roadway between N. Quaker Lane and Howard Street.

Wilson said that he is in favor of tweaking the plan, although has been accused of ignoring the opposition of 13 civic associations.

“It’s unfortunately we couldn’t get everyone in the community on the same page on this issue,” Wilson said. “I believe the improvements that we made were good ones. I’m hopeful that in the future we can continue to tweak as necessary.”

Silberberg said she would restore the four lanes.

“This is a major arterial road that leads to our only hospital,” she said. “I’ve seen it and many residents have seen it and told me about it that they’ve seen ambulances stuck. I think we have a chance to right this wrong, and, of course, keep the pedestrian improvements, but I wouldn’t have voted for it and I will restore the travel lanes if I can get everyone together on that.”

Transparency

Silberberg said she’s been saddened to hear reports of residents not trusting their government, and defended recently pledging herself to an accountability pledge labeled the Alexandria Constituents’ Bill of Rights. Silberberg lost to Wilson in the Democratic primary in 2018, and says that she worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week during her single term.

“I think they [City staff] should sign the pledge as well,” she said.

Silberberg also criticized the performance and six-figure salary of City Manager Mark Jinks.

“It is a lot of money, frankly. I brought this up (when mayor) but nobody agreed with me, but for the City Manager to have a car allowance. It sounds minor, but I don’t think we should have that for him. I think we should revise that.”

Wilson said that Jinks’ salary was in the middle of the pack when compared to the salaries of neighboring jurisdictions, and that he is appropriately paid given the organization that he runs.

Colocation of affordable housing

Wilson said he does not want to colocate affordable housing on the grounds of Alexandria City Public Schools, a position echoed by Silberberg on another controversial issue.

I don’t support putting affordable housing on our existing school properties,” he said. “We need more instructional space.”

Silberberg said that the school system is bursting at the seams as it is.

“I would certainly support an ordinance to say no to putting housing on our limited school properties,” she said.

Stream restoration

Wilson said that the city’s Environmental Policy Commission is full of “good science minds” that can look into the city’s stream restoration projects, including at Taylor Run, Strawberry Run and Lucky Run. Last month, Council opted to send aspects of the projects back to the drawing board in light of widespread public criticism.

Silberberg says that Alexandria has few forests left, and that she has long been opposed to the plans, as well as Wilson’s “unending pursuit of overbuilding”.

Transit lanes on Duke Street

Speaking of road diets, Wilson and Silberberg agreed that the Duke Street Transitway project should not result in fewer traffic lanes between Landmark Mall and the King Street-Old Town Metro station.

I personally don’t think the volumes on Duke street would allow us to remove any traffic lanes on Duke Street,” Wilson said. “We’re gonna have a lot of community engagement to figure out the best alignment, as well as looking at the intersections to try to reduce some of the cut-through traffic that we see in a lot of our neighborhoods.”

The city is embarking on the public engagement part of the project next month.

On $60 million in federal COVID funding

Silberberg said that the nearly $60 million in COVID relief funds coming to the city should be handled carefully, and after all of last year’s flooding that the funds should be spent on stormwater infrastructure.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime investment from the federal government, and we need to be extremely careful and good stewards of this money,” she said. “Think about what is mission critical. First and foremost, I think we clearly have to focus like a laser beam on this flooding, the sewage and stormwater flooding that’s attacking, and stalking, really, our residents every time it rains.”

Wilson said he’s proud to have led the city through the most significant public health crisis in a century, and that the city needs to invest more in the social, emotional and academic losses experienced by Alexandria children.

“We have an opportunity to make generational investments in our community around our infrastructure, around our facilities, around some of the systems around workforce development and things that are going to ultimately benefit our community for generations,” he said. “We got 1,300 suggestions from the community, and we’re going to be working in June and July to apply those suggestions in figuring out how to use that first tranche of money.”

Image via Seminary Ridge Civic Association/Zoom

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Alexandria was approved for $59.6 million in American Rescue Plan funding, City Manager Mark Jinks announced to the City Council on Tuesday night.

Jinks said the city’s Congressional delegation was successful in convincing U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to include Alexandria as not only a city, but as a county as well, resulting in the City taking home double what it would have otherwise received.

“We made the argument and got a coalition of other city, elected officials and appointed officials in Virginia to basically put pressure on our Congressional delegation to tell the Treasury Secretary, who was writing the rules… that cities in Virginia perform county functions, as well as city functions, and it’s equitable,” Jinks said. “It’s not double dipping, it’s double duty. And so, we should be on both lists. The Treasury Secretary agreed, and the allocations came out yesterday. And so we have about $30 million from each of those lists.”

There are 37 independent cities in the U.S., and 34 of them are in Virginia. The extra designation for cities to receive dual funding resulted in $460 million additional funds distributed around the country.

Mayor Justin Wilson said that the city benefited from a unique situation.

“There is a significant opportunity now for the city to invest these funds in a way to get our community back on its feet,” he said. “It’s a very exciting opportunity for us.”

Residents have until May 13 to submit proposals on how the ARP funds should be spent. The city is limited in how it will spend the money to the following:

  • Responding to the public health emergency or its negative economic impacts to residents and businesses;
  • Compensating for revenue reductions due to COVID; or
  • Supporting infrastructure projects related to water, sewer, or broadband

“Because the Alexandria City Public Schools will receive a separate allocation of federal funding, school projects will not considered under this City process,” the City noted.

Jinks said that there are more than 900 submitted recommendations, and that staff will present Council with a boiled down list in June, followed by a finalized list of how the funds will be spent in July.

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Mark Jinks isn’t getting any younger, and the Alexandria city manager says he is closing in on the end of his career.

“I turn 70 in 2022,” Jinks told ALXnow. “I am closer to the end than the beginning, that’s for sure.”

Jinks said that things are slowly getting back to normal, as the city’s annual birthday celebration — held virtually last year — will be a limited attendance in-person event on the waterfront this time around. Additionally, starting Monday he said that City Hall’s treasury and tax collection windows will be open five days a week, and every office in the city will have at least two staffers working in person.

While Jinks has not made it official, rumors are swirling about his impending retirement. After six years as Alexandria’s City Manager and more than 20 years since he started work as the city’s budget director in 1999, Jinks and his wife are thinking about taking some time off in the near future to see their daughter who lives in Spain.

“Whenever I decide to make a decision and give Council notice, it would be with plenty of notice,” Jinks said. “Hiring a city manager is not putting an ad in the newspaper. The process can take six to nine months.”

Mayor Justin Wilson would not comment on personnel decisions or timing, but had kind words about Jinks’ performance throughout the pandemic.

“I don’t comment on personnel decisions and timing,” Wilson said. “That being said, the Manager’s leadership has been absolutely critical over the past year as we have worked to address the human, financial and economic impacts of the pandemic. Alexandrians are well-served by his leadership during this time.”

Jinks said it will take years for the city to get back to its pre-pandemic economy.

“I think tourism and business travel were the two pieces that got hit the most, as far as tax revenues are concerned,” he said. “International tourism is practically zero nowadays. Who knows when that will come back. I’d say it’ll be several years until we’re back to where we were.”

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The Alexandria City Council unanimously adopted its $770.7 million fiscal year 2022 budget on Wednesday night, and it includes the first tax real estate tax reduction in 15 years.

Retiring Councilwoman Del Pepper made the motion to pass the budget, her last after 35 years on Council.

“This budget is filled with some good things that will be helpful to our citizens, and for me that is what counts,” Pepper said. “It is an opportunity to really move the city forward, and that’s really what’s important. I’m very pleased with the things that are in this budget, and I know that the staff has worked very hard.”

The motion was seconded by Councilman John Taylor Chapman.

It has been a tough past fiscal year for all of us across the city and for businesses,” Chapman said. “I look forward to the future, to the growth that we can start to achieve.”

The upcoming fiscal year (an election year) will see real estate tax bills decrease from $1.13 to $1.11 per $100 of assessed value. At the same time, there is a $24.22 increase in the residential refuse collection fee, from $460 to $484.22.

All city and state employees will also get a 1% raise, and City Manager Mark Jinks said that $12 million, or a 2.3% reduction from last year’s budget, was made without impacting programs or services.

Mayor Justin Wilson said that city staff prepared a high quality budget during a period of incredible uncertainty. That uncertainty is eased, however, since the city will be getting approximately $59.4 million American Rescue Plan funds.

“We have only been successful this last year in getting through this moment because of our incredibly dedicated staff, in many cases doing jobs at physical risk to themselves and physical risk to their families,” Wilson said. “While we can never completely repay folks for that commitment and dedication, I think we were doing what we can in this in this environment.”

Councilwoman Amy Jackson thanked Jinks and staff for including the tax reduction into the budget.

“This is the year that is most needed,” Jackson said.When our residents are looking at other avenues of how they are going to save money, how they’re going to pay their bills, how they’re going to feed their families and continue their jobs.”

Council also unanimously approved the 10-year $2.7 billion Capital Improvement Program, which includes $293 million in investments for schools, transportation, sewers, stormwater management, public buildings and facilities, and information technology.

“We are making some very significant investments in our infrastructure,” Wilson said. “I’m pleased to see that in this in this budget.”

Additionally, nearly $800,000 in Alexandria Police Department funding for School Resource Officers at Alexandria City Public Schools was “temporarily reallocated” to contingent reserves until the school system presents a proposal this summer on using the funds to provide mental health resources for school-age children, the Teen Wellness Center, and the hiring of an additional Behavioral Health Specialist for the Alexandria Crisis Intervention and Co-responding Program (ACORP). The proposal will have to be presented to City Council before their summer recess.

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Alexandria is expanding its push into public-private partnerships with the appointment of a new Assistant City Manager to help manage and facilitate them.

The city has sought to implement public-private partnerships over the last few years to lower costs for projects and make better use of limited space in the city. One notable example has been a housing development and fire station in Potomac Yard.

Julian Gonsalves has been appointed by City Manager Mark Jinks to lead the city’s public private partnerships through project planning and financing.

According to a press release:

Julian Gonsalves will leverage City assets and resources to implement City infrastructure-, facility- and economic development-related public and private sector partnership projects, and facilitate development and implementation of alternative service delivery strategies to lessen reliance on City funding. He will manage and coordinate these initiatives across multiple City departments and community organizations.

Gonsalves comes to the city after eight years at WSP USA, an engineering and construction management firm, where he specialized in public-private partnerships in dealins with organizations like the Baltimore City Department of Transportation, the Maryland Department of Transportation, Amtrak and more.

“Alexandria is known for developing innovative solutions that unite the financial and knowledge-based strengths of the private sector with those of the public sector to undertake complex projects, such as affordable housing, cultural development, environmental management, transportation and more,” Jinks said in the press release. “Julian’s regional, national and international experience in P3 program design and implementation will help the City implement the goals of its $2.7 billion, 10-year Capital Improvement Program and expand its P3 efforts in a cost-effective, responsible manner.”

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City Manager Mark Jinks has proposed a budget this year that includes a real estate tax rate decrease of 2 cents.

The announcement came as welcome news to local property owners, from residents to business owners who faced a particularly difficult year as a result of COVID-19. The announcement was conjoined with a budget that belt tightening that trims down some of the city’s larger ambitions and won’t fill some currently vacant positions.

The budget also faced some detractors who argue that the city should take more steps to ease the burden on local residents and commercial property owners. In a recent Agenda Alexandria meeting, City Council candidate Bill Rossello said the narrative of a lightened burden on local residents doesn’t match the reality of an overall tax increase.

“I look at the budget the way it’s been presented and something that always seems to concern me is when we lead with a narrative around the tax rate,” Rossello said. “The tax rate is only one part of the equation for the actual taxes that people pay… While we’re looking at a proposed 2 cent tax rate decrease, when you do the math, for the average household it comes out to be almost a 6% tax increase in real dollars and that’s what really matters to residents: how much more or how much less am I going to pay?”

On the other side, some of the city’s transit and infrastructure ambitions are being scaled back as a result of the tax rate decrease. For instance, City Manager Mark Jinks said in the meeting that DASH will be forced to choose between density and coverage in a budget that will not allow it to keep all current lines operational and move forward with its planned higher-frequency service in areas of greater density.

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