Referendum Delayed

Arlington Connection
Referendum Delayed

The local Green Party’s referendum won’t be on the ballot until 2008 because of a missed deadline.

By By David Schultz
Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A proposal that could increase the Arlington County’s ability to create affordable housing has been put on the back burner for a year due to a barely-missed deadline.

The county’s local Green Party was proposing a referendum that, if approved by Arlington voters, would establish a local housing authority.

According to the referendum’s proponents, the creation of a housing authority would give the county the power to purchase, own and operate residential properties, something that, under current statutes, it cannot legally do. This would allow the county to maintain its own stock of affordable housing rather than try to assist various non-profit organizations in acquiring affordable housing, which is what it currently does.

The Green Party collected the required 100 signatures to get the item on the ballot earlier this summer. But Virginia state law requires any local referendums to be approved by the County Board 60 days before they are voted on.

Arlington County Registrar Linda Lindberg said that the Board’s approval is mostly just a formality but that it has to be done by the deadline, which for the 2007 election is Sept. 6.

Unfortunately for the referendum’s supporters, the County Board is not scheduled to meet again until Sept. 8.
“There will be no special meeting for this issue,” said County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac in a statement. “The issue will be brought up at the Sept. 8 meeting. It will be [County Board Chairman Paul Ferguson’s] decision as to when he will hear the item at the meeting.”

“We just received this in the middle of August,” Ferguson said, “So we referred it to [county] staff like we would anything else. No board member has taken a position on it yet.”

Ferguson said that the Board calling a special meeting for any reason is very rare and that there is no precedent for calling a meeting to approve a referendum.

This means that the referendum will not appear on the ballot until November of 2008. Lindberg said that, according to Virginia state election code, “[I]t has to be on the ballot at the next regularly scheduled election. It can’t be held at a primary” or in a special election.

THE REACTION FROM the local Green Party to the news that their referendum will languish until the fall of next year was decidedly mixed.

John Reeder, a Green Party activist who spearheaded the effort to craft the referendum, was frustrated that his and his party’s efforts are being delayed.

“I personally would like to see it on this election,” he said. “We think it’s an important issue that should be debated. They shouldn’t be waiting until the next election to do it.”

Reeder noted that his party submitted their referendum with all the required signatures in early August and blamed the County Board for blocking the referendum.

“To me it’s just a routine exercise in their power,” he said. “They want to delay it.”

However, Josh Ruebner, the Green Party’s candidate for County Board and one of the leaders of the nascent political party, struck a different note.

“I’m not upset,” Ruebner said. “I understand that it takes time for the county staff to study these issues and make sure that it’s done in appropriate fashion.”

Ruebner said that he ran into Ferguson last week and that Ferguson let him know that it would not be possible for the Board to approve the referendum before the deadline.

“Originally, we would have liked to have gotten it on the ballot this year,” Ruebner said. “[But] the whole process took us longer than we initially expected. We understand that these things take time. We don’t think that the County Board is purposefully delaying it.”

Ruebner went on to say that the referendum’s delay may actually be a blessing in disguise for the proponents of a housing authority.

“Having it on the ballot next year actually gives us the opportunity to initiate community dialogue about it,” he said. “I think, honestly, if the referendum were on ballot this November, not a lot of people [would] have heard about it.”

Ruebner said that the Green Party will use the next 15 months until the 2008 election to educate Arlingtonians about the need for affordable housing in the county and how the creation of a housing authority will solve the housing problem.

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