On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
The public health crisis has spurred an economic freefall— right in the middle of budget season for local governments. Howard County Executive Calvin Ball (D) joined The Politics Hour to talk about the economics of the pandemic, plus the latest in Howard County news.
Hogan Reopens Maryland Parks, Beaches And More
- Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) announced this week that the state will allow certain outdoor activities as of 7 a.m. on Thursday morning. State park recreational facilities, golf courses and beaches can reopen, but gatherings of more than 10 people are still banned.
- Many elective surgeries can also resume, including dental work.
- Howard County has reopened some of its facilities, but others — like playgrounds — will remain closed. See what’s open — and what’s still closed.
Financial Impact Of Coronavirus In Howard County
- Howard County has spent $6 million in relief efforts so far. Ball expects a revenue loss of between $30 to $40 million during the pandemic. “Frankly, just the last couple years, we’ve only seen revenue growth of about $25 million,” Ball said on The Politics Hour.
- Ball and other Maryland leaders are hoping the next round of CARES Act funding will offset revenue losses.
- Last month, Ball introduced a $1.78 billion budget for fiscal year 2021. Highlights include $620.3 million for the public school system and $4.9 million for road resurfacing projects. Ball also supports proposed legislation from the county board that would increase the recordation tax. (That’s the one-time fee paid when real estate is sold.)
- The council will vote on Ball’s proposed budget on May 27.
Howard County’s Response To Coronavirus
- As of May 7, 2020, Howard County has 1,085 confirmed cases of coronavirus, including 30 total deaths. The county is breaking down the cases by zip code, age, race and sex.
- “Right now, we do not have adequate testing,” said Ball on The Politics Hour. He said that the county has tested about 2% of the population. The county is working to secure more testing from the state and federal governments.
- A drive-thru coronavirus testing site in Columbia, Maryland recently increased from two to four lanes. The site can test 200 people per week, although the center hopes to accommodate 1,000 per week soon.
- The Howard County Council is considering an emergency bill that would provide rental protection for residents and businesses. It would prevent landlords from increasing rent during the state of emergency, plus the following three months. The council will vote on the bill on June 1.
Northern Virginia has the largest number of coronavirus cases in the commonwealth. What would it look like to reopen these jurisdictions when the numbers are still going up? Arlington County Board Member Katie Cristol (D) joined the show.
Plans To Reopen Virginia
- This week, Governor Ralph Northam (D) said that Virginia could start to ease restrictions on some businesses — like hair salons, gyms and restaurants — in less than two weeks.
- Northern Virginia has the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases in the commonwealth. Northam said that he would consider giving counties in the capital region flexibility in easing its restrictions. (Unlike her counterparts in Maryland and Virginia, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has not released a plan for reopening D.C.’s economy.)
- “I think the really important thing, of course, will be for us to stay in coordination with our other Northern Virginia neighbors,” said Cristol on The Politics Hour.
- Latino and African American advocates say it’s “way too early” to reopen Virginia.
How Arlington Can Encourage Social Distancing
- Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, which means that local governments only have powers expressly granted them by the state. This has made it complicated for some Northern Virginia counties, like Arlington, to enforce social distancing. For example, the Arlington County Board couldn’t compel restaurants to close before an order came down from the governor.
- Another issue is face masks and coverings. Virginia is not mandating the use of face coverings, and Arlington County has not required residents to do so. “Everything is a bit of a legal question for us,” Cristol explained on The Politics Hour. “It makes more sense to make masks available and to distribute those to whomever needs them rather than trying to, for example, give tickets to those who aren’t wearing them.”
- One area that Arlington County could control: Closing down streets to car traffic for use by pedestrians and cyclists. Cristol has concerns about this: “If we are going to tell our residents that it’s safe to go walk or bike or be out with your small children [on these roads] … we need to be pretty damn sure that there aren’t going to be any cars barrelling down that street.”
Upcoming Elections In Arlington
- Erik Gutshall, former Arlington County Board Member, passed away last month after a battle with brain cancer.
- The special election to fill his seat is July 7. The Arlington County Democratic Committee chose its candidate by a virtual caucus using ranked choice voting. The result: Takis Karantonis, the former director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, will be the Democratic candidate.
- Arlington canceled the Democratic Primary for the county board, which was scheduled for June 23. Arlington County Board Member Libby Garvey, who currently chairs the board, is up for re-election. Her opponent, Chanda Choun, withdrew his candidacy to pursue the seat left open by the passing of Gutshall. Garvey is the Democratic nominee for the general election on November 3.
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood, he's broadcasting from home. I'm Kojo Nnamdi, also broadcasting from home. Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst and Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon, everyone.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll talk with Katie Cristol. She's a Member of the Arlington County Board. But joining us now is Calvin Ball, the County Executive for Howard County. Calvin Ball, thank you for joining.
CALVIN BALL IIIWell, thank you for having me.
NNAMDIBefore we get to Howard County, Tom Sherwood, let's talk a little bit about what's happening in D.C. politics. The Washington Post has come out with its endorsement in the ward races and the D.C. Council. Any surprises there?
SHERWOODI don't think so. The Post has a big foot in the city, but it's not effective in some races. And there are many community groups doing endorsement. I'll through them. In Ward 2 where Jack Evans is trying to revive his career, they have endorsed Brooke Pinto, who's an unknown in the ward. She's never voted in the city, but she's gotten a lot of good remarks about her work with the Attorney General here in the city. So they endorsed her.
SHERWOODThey said nice things about two other candidates, John Fanning and Patrick Kennedy, both ANC members. In Ward 4 they endorsed Brandon Todd, the incumbent. That's not a surprise. They have liked his work on the Council. They say he's not a headline hunter. But does his work diligently and is a good constituent service person. And that's a setback for Janeese George, who's a very progressive candidate trying to unseat him.
SHERWOODIn Ward 7, they endorsed Vincent Gray, the incumbent. You know, they haven't endorsed Vince Gray since he ran for Council Chairman in 2006. But they say his experience with the city's budget issues is perfect for this time when they're going to be--starting next week when Mayor Bowser presents her budget a lot of tough, serious questions about what to cut in the city budget. And they think Gray will be good for that.
SHERWOODIn Ward 8, they endorsed a challenger to Trayon White, Attorney Mike Austin. They say Trayon White has really stepped up during the virus and has helped out a lot in his poor ward. But they say the ward needs an all-around council member not just someone who can react to a crisis. And they have not yet endorsed in the At-Large races. I think you'll see that come later this year.
NNAMDIBut experience with the budget as a qualification for Vincent Gray in Ward 7, a few weeks ago Colbert King of the Washington Post did a column in which he quoted Jack Evans as an expert on understanding budget issues. Is that likely what Evans will be pushing in his campaign?
SHERWOODIf Evans has not put Coby King's strong remarks about his budget numbers in an ad, I think he already has and I think he will between now and Election Day, primary day June 2. But, you know, that's one of the unknowns. The biggest unknown is given that people are mostly going to vote by absentee, which they have to call and request for is who's going to vote. Jack Evans has been on the Council for nearly 30 years. He's had a horrific time this past year up to the last months when all 12 other councilmembers wanted to remove him, but even his critics say he understands the budget.
SHERWOODSome would say he understands it too well. But he understands the budget and that could get some people to vote for him, because he knows what can be cut, how it can be cut and what things can be done. So it's an uncertain thing. A lot of people think Jack Evans is toast. That he could come in last, but others think he could squeeze in in this field of eight candidates.
NNAMDIAnd President Trump has said that Republicans would never allow Washington D.C. to become a state, because it is too Democratic, as I said in the billboard, that's been said a gazillion times on this broadcast before. What's the significance of him a Republican now saying it openly?
SHERWOODWell, his critics say that President Trump lies all the time, but in this case he didn't. It's quite clear the Republicans do not want two more U.S. senators who would 99.9 percent be Democratic in the District of Columbia. Republicans, whatever they think about the absence of voting rights for 705,000 citizens here, they do not want to add two more Democratic senators. This came up in a back and forth with the president. The president has never shown one ounce of interest in the District of Columbia. So I wouldn't be surprised that he would take such a hard stand.
NNAMDICalvin Ball, yesterday Governor Hogan vetoed the statewide education plan that would have put more money into public schools both the state and counties. What do you think about that decision? How will it affect you?
IIIWell, you know, I definitely understand that during this global pandemic things are evolving quickly especially as it relates to education and how we teach our kids. And so while I do understand the governor's veto and he frankly hasn't been supportive of the legislation through the entire process. I think that we do need to have a broader community conversation with our state legislators and the governor and our educators about how we ensure that there is sufficient funding to create the best teaching and learning environment for today and then tomorrow. And we just aren't there.
SHERWOODWell, I don't know how many broader conversations you can have. There's been some for several years. And even the legislation itself through insistence of Republicans in the Senate, I believe, said that some of the reforms could not go into effect if state revenues fell, I think, 7.5 percent. And they look like they're falling that much because of the virus. But it seems to me a Democratic governor would not have vetoed this bill. If you were the Democratic governor some people have suggested you might even want to run, would you have vetoed this bill?
IIIWell, I think broader conversations are about what is the future of education? I think right now we're even talking about whether or not some schools will go to A and B days to have fewer kids in the classrooms. How will we make sure that our kids have the devices that they need? What about kids who don't necessarily learn virtually? Those are the broader conversations that I think we need to have.
SHERWOODBut those are all part of the reform efforts for prekindergarten and better teacher pay and all of those things wrapped up in the legislation. I'll ask you again, if you were sitting in the governor's office in Annapolis, would you have vetoed this bill?
IIIWell, honestly, I think that we can all second guess any decisions, but right now I'm focused on Howard County and the decisions that I need to make.
SHERWOODWell, you testified in February. And, you know, county and state leaders are confronted all the time with tough choices. You can say this is a tough choice for the governor to have made. He made it. I just think it's important if you had been in the governor's office would you have vetoed the bill as you understand it to be now.
IIIWell, I think, Tom, any reasonable person can agree that a lot has changed since February. And, you know, I think that a lot is different. And frankly I think that it's reasonable to have vetoed it. But it also is reasonable to have a serious conversation about how to move forward with his fish and funding.
SHERWOODThat's a Solomon answer. So let me ask you another question. Maryland Matters, Bruce DePuyt, reported I think this morning that business interests the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and others are asking Governor Hogan to delay for one year increases in the minimum wage. There has been a bill passed that can make the minimum wage go up from $11 to $15 by 2025. With the first year, the governor has the power to delay the first year of an increase. If you were the governor and as the County Executive, would you delay the minimum wage increase for one year?
IIIWell, as you indicated as County Executive I have absolutely no power or authority over that. But I think that, you know, what I'd like to see is bringing the businesses together, bringing the people who actually work so hard to ensure that legislation was passed. And I think that frankly it's not a yes or no question. It's about how and when. And having that conversation as we're trying to get people back to work is I think a much more productive conversation.
NNAMDIOur guest is Calvin Ball.
SHERWOODExcuse me, Kojo. This is not a debating society in that sense. There have been zillions of conversations about the minimum wage, which is on $7.25 on the federal level. There's been extensive discussion about something passed and now the governor has a chance to delay the minimum wage increase. You have one of the wealthiest counties in the nation let alone in the state with Howard County. Would you be approve a delay and an increase in the minimum wage? I think it's 75 cents an hour.
IIIWell, as you talk about Howard County just since March 7 we've had nearly 23,000 people file for unemployment, just 6,000 last week. More than 12,000 of our families have had to access our food and during this COVID-19 pandemic we've had to spend about $6 million and see a potential revenue loss of about $30 to $40 million. And frankly just the last couple of years we'll only seen revenue growth of about $25 million. So I think that things are rapidly changing and here on the local level these are conversations that we need to have with our businesses and with our workers.
NNAMDIThis week, Calvin Ball, Governor Hogan lifted some restrictions on outdoor activities. He reopened state parks, golf course, beaches, activities like golf, tennis, fishing are now allowed. What do you think about that decision? Do you think it's appropriate?
IIIWell, I definitely understand the importance of wanting people to get out and to be active and healthy. And I think that we need to still maintain the physical distancing. I think that we are still in the midst of a global pandemic. And frankly here in Howard County we decided to keep facilities like our playgrounds closed, because we didn't think that that would be able to have the physical distancing.
NNAMDIAs of last night, Howard County has 1,134 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and that includes 31 deaths. Where do you think Howard County now is on the curve and what should we know about the demographic or location breakdown of cases?
IIIWell, you know, as you indicated we're at 1134 cases, and unfortunately as of this morning 33 deaths. And these are only confirmed cases. I think we are learning each and every day that there are so many asymptomatic people. People who may not have even recognized that they had cases and without sufficient testing, without sufficient contact tracing we're not going to really be able to understand the magnitude of this pandemic. In Howard County we've had about 930 tests to date and we have ramped up significantly. In fact, just this week we tested about 350 individuals. But that is still insufficient to understand the impact and where we are.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come we'll continue this conversation with Calvin Ball, Howard County Executive. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to The Politics Hour. Our guest is Calvin Ball, the Howard County Executive. Calvin Ball, we got an email from Jose, "I was in Howard County detention for eight months. Since I won my immigration case a few months ago, I have continued to hear about poor conditions in the Howard County Detention Center. I was a witness to many people, who were sick with fever for a week or more and were never granted the ability to see a doctor. I heard the ACLU sued the detention center and forced them to release medically vulnerable detainees. How come you, as the County Executive, did not take action take action before the ACLU sued the county?"
NNAMDIAnd before you respond to that Calvin Ball, I'll go to Ray in Howard County, Maryland who has I think a question along similar lines. Ray, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RAYThank you very much, Kojo. My name is Ray Donaldson. I am a member of the Columbia United Christian Church in Howard County for the last 50 years. I want to know why Calvin is not canceling the county's contract with ICE.
IIISo great questions. And as I think we all know a lot of times the things that we hear are not necessarily the case. In Howard County we have probably one of the best run detention centers in the nation. And we make sure that we audit our records frequently. I have actually taken time to look at each and every case of those who were in the detention center based upon the various criteria, which include actually having to commit a crime and these are people who are actually helping as we keep them in there. The detention center is helping people stay safe. And so while I know that there are a lot of rumors many of those rumors are just not true at all.
NNAMDIWhat are the testing options for Howard County residents? Does Howard County have adequate testing to keep up with the cases?
IIIRight now we do not have adequate testing. We are continuing to work with the state and federal government to try to get access to more testing. But we need to do a lot more. Right now just being able -- we've tested about almost two percent of our population, which is good. But I'd like us to get up much more so we can have better access to data.
SHERWOODMr. County Executive, Ray, the caller, also asked you why don't you cancel the contract that you have with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. I don't know anything about that contract, but is there a short answer to that before I ask you about Howard County schools.
IIISure. Just in short we have no control over federal immigration laws. And oftentimes what we've heard is that people who want to have access to their loved ones, who are detained want to have local access and if we were to cancel that contract, ICE would still operate. However, they would be housed in what I would often think are less well-run detention centers that are farther away where people might not even be able to see their loved ones.
SHERWOODLet me as you about the schools. I think the latest report I saw, 56 cents of every dollar raised for Howard County goes to the public school system. You have one of the best school systems in the state and again, in the nation. But this week the governor closed schools for the rest of this academic year. What is the county doing to adjust to that? Parents can't go back to work if their kids are at home. There are some students, who need subsidized lunches. What does it mean that the schools are closed for the rest of this school year?
IIISo great question. Many of our children unfortunately the one healthy meal they get a day is at school. So our school system has ramped up their efforts to ensure that there is access to healthy food. Many non-profits including Columbia Community Cares has been helping to give access to our young people. And then our food bank has been working hard to ensure that they have touched base with many of our families.
IIIOur schools have been going virtual. And so in a place as you indicated when you kicked off the show, many of us are working from home. If my wife and I and both our daughters are working there might be four places where we're each on devices. They trying to learn and us trying to conduct business. So it is difficult, but I think many are trying to get through this in a way that's still continues some semblance of learning.
NNAMDIHere is Julie in Columbia, Maryland. Julie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JULIEHi. I was calling and I just wanted to know I have three children enrolled in Howard County Public Schools, one in middle and two in elementary. I was curious to know why -- maybe I'm wrong. I don't know the exact dates. But I feel like Howard County started social distance learning later than other counties. Were we behind or what happened? I know talking to other friends in Montgomery County they started earlier and even Anne Arundel. So what was the hold up in Howard County?
IIIYeah, great question. So I think as many of us were figuring out that virtual learning, the various platforms. There were some jurisdictions that began before us, many jurisdictions that began after. Some of the jurisdictions that began before us actually had to stop, because they started so early and things weren't as well prepared. Some that began afterward they still didn't necessarily ensure that the children had the various devices, the different platforms. And this is a significant shift in pedagogy for many of our teachers, who were teaching one kind of way, were trained to teach that kind of way and now have to learn something entirely different while they're also teaching.
SHERWOODMr. Ball, you were among eight leaders of the biggest counties and cities in the state, Montgomery County, Prince George's, Baltimore County, Baltimore Mayor, who wrote a letter to Governor Hogan saying that you needed more cooperation and communication with the governor. That was in late April. Have things gotten better? The governor's office said, well, he talks to you guys pretty regularly. But the decision to reopen recreational facilities came as a surprise to county leaders. Are you getting enough information from Governor Hogan?
IIIWell, as I indicated in this global pandemic things are evolving very quickly and I'm appreciative of the governor, my fellow county executives, the Mayor of Baltimore, because I know we're working all extremely hard day in and day out as well as our teams. And so the governor and his team since the start of this global pandemic have actually ramped up communications and sometimes things happen very quickly. We had a conversation with the governor just a couple days ago and we continue to talk about how we can improve communication and collaboration and I'm very appreciative of how everyone seems to remain dedicated about us all working together.
SHERWOODSo is it better now than it was or is it you're talking about making it better? Is it better? That would be a yes or a no.
IIII think things are better.
IIII think things are better and we can continue to make improvements.
SHERWOODIf I can get a quick question in here about Merriweather Post Pavilion. A lot of people don't even know where Howard County is in this region. But they know where Merriweather Post Pavilion is. That's a big moneymaker and it's a big event space for Howard County. It's been closed and it's going to be closed for some time. What is the impact on county both for revenue and just for the good feeling of people, who would like to go back to Merriweather?
IIIWell, you're right. Merriweather Post Pavilion is a global draw. And they've postponed their shows through June. And frankly a lot of tours have postponed to later this year. There are about 1,000 employees.
SHERWOODWhat about the economic hit?
IIIYep. There are about 1,000 employees and we see that as far as the tourism and hotel industry we're looking at a potential loss of about $3.1 million for each of the next two fiscal years, which will be quite difficult.
NNAMDIEllicott City will be the focus of a two hour TV special with Gordon Ramsay next week. It will refocus on building the city's businesses since the city experienced two major floods since 2016. What do you think the pandemic means for those businesses in Ellicott City that are already struggling?
IIIWell, I'll tell you what? Those businesses went through two recent floods and at the end of February having Chef Gordon Ramsay come in brought so much excitement with hundreds of volunteers and a crew. And it was an incredible week and we are looking forward to May 12 when that episode airs. And we think that frankly many of our businesses in Ellicott City because they have shown a level of perseverance.
NNAMDIJust about out of time. I was looking forward to the Women's National Cricket Championship taking place in Howard County as well. I believe that has now been canceled. That's a significant tragedy in my life. Calvin Ball, however, thank you very much for joining us.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, Katie Cristol of the Arlington County Board joins us. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Joining us shortly will be Katie Cristol, a Member of the Arlington County Board. If you have questions or comments for Katie Cristol, you should start calling now. Katie Cristol, thank you for joining us.
KATIE CRISTOLWell, thank you, so much for having me. How are you two doing?
NNAMDIWe are at home and staying safe. But before we go to Arlington County, Tom Sherwood, talk a little bit about what the D.C. Council did this week in terms of landlords and tenants.
SHERWOODWell, you know, people are having trouble paying their rents. That's not so much a mortgage issue. But the Council wanted to make sure that the people understood that they had to -- that they could not be evicted during this pandemic. And the law is that they won't be able to be evicted for 60 days after the Mayor declares the epidemic over. So, that was one of the principle things that they passed.
SHERWOODAnd one thing they didn't do it, if I may say, is they wanted insurance companies -- Charles Allen of Ward 6 wanted -- had a bill to make the insurance companies pay millions of dollars in business interruption fees, like a natural disaster of a hurricane, or something like that. But there was so much pushback from the insurance industry, that Chairman Phil Mendelson withdrew that bill.
NNAMDIKatie Cristol, what have you been doing on the board for tenants in Arlington County who are having trouble meeting their rent payments?
CRISTOLGreat question. I think this, along with other just basic needs, like food assistance, have been really top of mind for us throughout the shutdown. From the legal perspective, we're following the State Supreme Court stay on eviction, of course, and the attorney general recently has gotten even more involved. And we talked to landlords, to ask them to cease sending those pay or quit notices. So, we've been seeking to really get a lot of information out about tenants' rights, including, but not limited to sending a message in English and Spanish to every household in the county. So, that's on the rights side, the tenant's rights side.
CRISTOLAnd then I think one of our biggest areas of work has been emergency financial assistance. We've grown the funding pretty dramatically for emergency financial assistance, which often goes to housing and emergency assistance for rent payments, utility bills and issues like that. And it is definitely one of the things we most have our eye on, in terms of residents' needs.
NNAMDIWell, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said that he could begin reopening the state's economy by May 15th. What do you think about that timeline?
CRISTOLSo, I think that is going to be a timeline that works for some part of Virginia. And we are grateful that, in recent days, it is recognized that that is not a timeline that is likely going to make sense here in Northern Virginia.
NNAMDIAnd if it doesn't make sense in Northern Virginia, the governor said that he would consider giving counties flexibility in how they reopen. Has that conversation progressed?
CRISTOLIt has, and I think it's happening largely through the Northern Virginia regional council, in particular, which is a compliment to the work that we and others like Fairfax, Alexandria, and so on, do with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments to stay synced up with D.C. Maryland. We are heartened. I think he's used language like that things that he's proposing are a floor. So, some localities will have the ability to (unintelligible) necessary.
CRISTOLAnd I think the really important thing, of course, will be for us to stay in coordination with our other Northern Virginia neighbors. You know, obviously, we're -- Arlington especially is small enough, but even as a region, you know, if Fairfax has a different set of restrictions than Alexandria, than does Arlington, that's not an effective way forward. So, we're really working on that regional coordination.
SHERWOODMs. Cristol, you can understand where the governor is. Fairfax County has had nearly 230 deaths. I think Arlington County's close to 60. But across the state, there are 25 counties that have had only one death. There are another 10 counties that's only had two deaths. Charlottesville and Albemarle County, very big spaces, only had six. So, you understand what the governor's trying to do to do regional cooperation. But how much cooperation is there between Arlington and Northern Virginia and the District of Columbia when people start going back to work and heading home again?
CRISTOLAbsolutely, because we know people work across lines, shop across state lines, and so forth. So, that coordination, actually, has been present, I'd say, for a few weeks. We really heartened the board of directors and Council of Governments, which is the elected level. And then this work has been mirrored by the public health directors and the county manager professional staff have committed -- signaled a strong commitment to working together as a region.
CRISTOLI know they've discussed some of the criteria for reopening. I think, generally, we are coalescing around more or less the same criteria. I mean, those are the things you've seen in the governor's announcements and elsewhere, downward trend in positive tests, downward trend in hospitalizations, testing, tracing PPE, and so forth. So, there's been a real commitment to trying to do this together.
CRISTOLYou know, obviously, things vary a little bit, jurisdiction by jurisdiction, in terms of when the governor or mayor have released plans for reopening, and so forth. But, behind the scenes, we're really working at the elected level, and then the staff and subject matter expert level to stay coordinated.
SHERWOODAnd the Office of Personnel Management for the federal government has encouraged agencies to work with local governments. But I wanted to ask you, before we started this conversation, to say something for a moment about Erik Gutshall, the board member who died of brain cancer, well-liked, very effective in the County of Arlington. Just say something briefly about Erik Gutshall.
CRISTOLYeah, I'm so glad you asked. We just miss Erik tremendously. I think, on a personal note, you know, in this elected official job, you have a lot of people who are formal co-workers, but -- our colleagues, rather. But to find somebody who's really a co-worker, you know, who put his head down with you and worked on hard problems together, shoulder-to-shoulder, that's much rarer. And Erik was a co-worker, for me, in every sense of the word.
CRISTOLAnd I miss his advice and his knowledge on things like land use. And I know that I and many of us across Arlington have been shaped for the better by his passionate belief that small groups of neighbors really could make a difference in shaping the future of the county. And he left an extraordinary legacy, but it is undoubtedly the fact that he was taken from us and from his family far, far, far too soon.
NNAMDIWe have a Tweet from Jillian, who says: can you please ask Katie Cristol why the county is not utilizing street space to enable social distancing? Civic leaders, neighborhoods, businesses have all asked the county to use the space. Katie Cristol, the county has received pushback from some Arlington residents that it's not doing enough to regulate daily life to prevent the spread of COVID-19 the way Maryland and D.C. are. But does this come down to jurisdiction that you have, versus the jurisdiction that the governor has?
CRISTOLOh, in terms of those things, for example, like a masks ordinance?
CRISTOLOh, sure. We've been working on this one. I think everything is a little bit of a legal question for us. You all are no strangers to the fact that we operate in a different context, those localities in Virginia, than those might do in a home rule state like Maryland. When things are under an emergency, you know, our legal authorities may be a little different. We've really been making our county attorney's office earn their keep during this pandemic by constantly returning to the statute and figuring out what we might have authority to do and what we might not.
CRISTOLI think, in general, you know, when we've made decisions, we've tried to do so on the basis of what seems to be the right thing to do from a public health and enforcement perspective. And so I think with things like masks, for example, we've weighed this one quite a bit. It's a really live question, and we generally landed on the approach that it makes more sense to make masks available and distribute those to whomever needs them, rather than trying to, for example, give tickets to those who aren't wearing them.
CRISTOLSo, we recently put in a pretty significant order for cloth face coverings that were intended to be distributed around the county. And we'll have more details on that, we hope, in the next week or so. So, I suppose a carrot, not a stick approach on that one.
NNAMDIHow about this issue of utilizing street space to enable social distancing? There's been some talk about that in the District, which I don 't think is doing it, at this point.
CRISTOLI think it's right. It's been such a hot topic during this, I definitely don't blame any of the advocates reaching out for that desire to see our streets used more creatively for pedestrians or cyclists during this time by closing them to two-car traffic.
CRISTOLI think what it comes down to, and we've shared this before, I don't know if this is similar to the District's calculation, is that if we are going to tell our residents that it's safe to go walk or bike or be out with your small children, or if you, you know, have a visual impairment that it's safe to be out in an area that is generally used by cars, we can be pretty damn sure that there's aren't going to be any cars barreling down that street. And so that creates an enforcement challenge.
CRISTOLYou know, it's not enough to simply put up a sign that could be washed away or a couple of cones that could be knocked over. It really requires a pretty significant and ongoing commitment to communicating and enforcing that restriction. Akin to what you might see, for example, when we do close our streets down, something like (unintelligible) there's a big police presence. There's a lot of notification in advance. And if that works, extended over multiple days, there would just be a lot of ongoing maintenance needed.
CRISTOLSo, I think our police chief has spoken most compellingly to this. We've been doing weekly Facebook town halls, and he talked about it last Friday, about what that would mean in terms of really enforcing public safety with a major traffic pattern reconfiguration like that. So, again, definitely don't blame anybody for seeing this as an opportunity, at this point, given the resources involved to really communicate and believe that we're keeping people safe with those changes in traffic patterns, we're not likely to pursue it.
SHERWOODWell, in the District, the mayor has opened -- closed off street spaces around grocery stores, but there is a strong demand for more streets to open. Let me ask you about the parks. As I understand it, the Arlington park system is closed, and that is a place in your park where people can go and get out and enjoy the warming fresh air without tight quarters and maintain social distancing.
SHERWOODSome cell phone tracking companies are saying that Maryland and Virginia and D.C. are -- just the tracking of those cell phones shows that people are getting out more and more. And they've got to have places to go, where they don't crowd and bunch up. What about the parks?
CRISTOLQuarantine fatigue, right? (laugh) We're starting to see data indicating people are (unintelligible) . So, I think the most important thing to emphasize here is that our trails remain open and so areas where people can go and practice their social distancing. (unintelligible) definitely been big users of those with our masks and allowing plenty of distance between ourselves and others.
CRISTOLWe ultimately did close the park system because it became too difficult to enforce. I think we had (laugh) a lot of people who were interested in kind of pushing the boundaries, you know, hopping fences to get onto sport courts, for example, and otherwise engaging in activities where there's just too high of a risk for transmission because of person-to-person contact.
CRISTOLSo, the decision to close the parks was a result from that. But, again, the trails are open, you know, (unintelligible) open spaces, of course, to remain open for people. It is just sort of that activity that often involves human-to-human interaction that's still restricted at this point. We absolutely are committed to continuing to evaluate that. You know, I think in context of those reopening decisions that we were talking about at the top of the time.
SHERWOODThere are people cooped up. You are an advocate on many women's issues, including issues around domestic violence. What are you seeing in Arlington County in terms of people being cooped up? Is there any indication that there's more domestic violence or concerns within the police department about it?
CRISTOLThe concern is very high. So, we have our interagency response to domestic violence and sexual assault. We've met probably half a dozen times over the last month or so on exactly this issue. And we have a lot of indications from research and data from prior emergencies that things like economic pressures and certainly things like emergencies (unintelligible) real breeding grounds not only for domestic violence, but also child abuse.
CRISTOLSo, we are not seeing an uptick in calls for service, and actually, that concerns us, because we think that knowing that there's likely an increase, if not in the instances of domestic violence, then likely in the severity. We should be seeing more calls than we are. And so we've been trying to do a lot of outreach. That mailer that I mentioned with regard to tenants' rights also included information for a hotline.
CRISTOLThis is a great opportunity for me to share that that hotline is 703-237-0881, which remains 24 hours accessible. There are also ways that we've been trying to reach out virtually to people who don't feel like they're in a safe place to make a phone call. We are continuing to emphasize that we absolutely have shelter for anybody who needs it as they're trying to seek refuge from domestic violence or intimate partner violence. If necessary, because somebody is symptomatic, we will put them at a hotel, rather than our group homes or safe houses. That service really has not stopped. And again, we're concerned that we're not seeing an uptick in reporting, because we suspect there is an uptick in incidents.
NNAMDIWe only have about ten minutes left in this conversation, so I'll ask you to try to keep your responses as brief as possible. It's been well documented that African Americans have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. According to InsideNoVa, Hispanic residents in Northern Virginia also make up a disproportionate amount of COVID-19 cases. Katie Cristol, what is the county doing in order to try to provide assistance and support for those populations?
CRISTOLGreat question. One of the chief things we've been doing is trying to increase access to testing for those who don't have vehicles. Because most of the testing or the sample collection sites in the county have been drive-up. Our open one, I believe, we're trying to have it operational by May 11th at the Arlington Mill Community Center, which is one of the areas that has the heaviest concentration of lower-income residents or Latino, primarily Spanish-speaking residents. So, we've increased that.
CRISTOLWe've also been working with the Arlington Free Clinic to provide a hotline for those who are uninsured to call and get medical advice, as well as tele-health screenings in partnership with our anchor Health Institution Virginia Hospital Center.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones, here is Wayne Bishop. Wayne Bishop, you're on the air. You are the mayor of Harpers Ferry?
WAYNE BISHOPYes. Hi, Kojo. Thanks for having me on. I just wanted to add to your conversation today. Yes, I'm the mayor of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. And, also, we have the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park right here that is the gateway to the west, to West Virginia. And we attract a lot of people from Maryland, D.C., Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and beyond.
WAYNE BISHOPSo, I just wanted to report to you that our National Historical Park here, all of their facilities and resources and transportation remain closed. Their trails for walking are open, but there are no facilities here, no restroom facilities, no trash facilities. And the town of Harpers Ferry and its small businesses, its lower town businesses have been granted permission to open up on a limited basis with outdoor dining and restrictions on how many people can be...
NNAMDI(overlapping) On what date do you intend to open?
BISHOPWell, we -- the town itself, the corporation of Harpers Ferry has not opened its public parking. We have limited public parking in our town...
NNAMDINo. But I'm saying, you've been allowed to reopen. Do you plan on reopening and can you give us a date? We're short of time, which is why I interrupted you.
BISHOPOkay. Well, our small businesses are open on a limited basis right now, but we're operating on a no-trace-left-behind. We have no trash receptacles, public facilities or public restrooms at this time.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. Tom Sherwood, your turn.
SHERWOODOkay. Well, back to Arlington, although Harpers Ferry is a great place to go, if it's open. Ms. Cristol, I was reading in Arlington Now about the upcoming budget. There's lots of problems with budgets these days, because of the virus, but there's a modest -- though some might not call it modest -- 3.5 percent pay raise for board members. Some people have said, oh, you shouldn't be raising the pay of the board members during this virus. Others have said, you're not paid enough for what effectively is a fulltime job. Are you supporting the 3.5 percent pay raise, and do I have it right? Is that what it is?
CRISTOLI'm so glad for this opportunity to correct that misperception. There is no pay increase for board members or any other kind of employees in this budget that we've just adopted. It was one of the steps that the manager at that time...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) What's the confusion about it?
CRISTOLThat is a great question. I have been trying to ascertain this from the columnist who wrote this, it was a gentleman named Mark Kelly. And he found a document in a board report that I have not been able to put my finger on that I suspect is an error. The original manager's proposal that he released back in February did contain pay increases. Everything was superseded by sort of a mid-process correction memo that he put out. That's what we distributed widely to the community and followers of our budget process. And that was very clear, that there were no salary increases.
CRISTOLI suspect there may have been something in a board report that Mr. Kelly found that was an artifact of the old budget process. So, he was absolutely right to make the important note that there should be no typos or errors in official documents. But I can tell you that pay raises were not intended to be adopted, and there is no money for them. So, consistent with that amended budget, there aren't any.
SHERWOODYour colleague Libby Garvey has said on The Kojo Show that she would like to see a pay raise. Would you have supported one if you were not in this virus epidemic, pandemic?
CRISTOL(laugh) Yeah, so we've had a lot of conversation about slowly increasing our pay so that it looks more akin to those in other Northern Virginia jurisdictions, certainly not to the level that you see for D.C. city counselors, for example. And, generally speaking, I am supportive of that. What's that?
SHERWOOD(overlapping) This -- you're roughly $55,000 a year for, effectively, a fulltime job. And I think the mediate income in Arlington is something like $150,000 for fulltime jobs.
NNAMDIHere's Felicity in Arlington. Felicity, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
FELICITYHi. Yes. I had a question, before spring break -- it's regarding schools -- before spring break it seemed like our teachers were doing a fantastic job teaching and improving education and doing their best for the K through second graders. After spring break, the teachers and the packets that we were given really is such a bunch of information that the kids have already learned, and it's revisiting those topics. Why did the county pull back and have the children stop learning during these two-and-a-half, three months of school, when we've got two months left?
CRISTOLFelicity, thank you so much for asking. I know that this has been a real stressor for parents. I cannot answer very authoritatively. I'm certainly going to share this piece of feedback or concern with my colleagues on the schoolboard. And I'm sure one of them could speak more comprehensively to it.
CRISTOLI have seen some of their communication go by, and yet I'm a little hesitant to try to represent the rationale here, because I'm afraid I would not do it justice or get it correct. Perhaps I'll have a way through The Kojo Show to follow up with you, and I can connect you with some of my school board colleagues and the superintendent, as well, the director of teaching and learning and see if we can get you a better answer on that one.
NNAMDIWe have a question from an editor in WAMU's newsroom, Ingalisa. Regarding Arlington's finances, does the county wish it had driven a tougher deal with Amazon? Much was based on assumptions about Amazon bringing business to the county that might not materialize now.
CRISTOLIngalisa, what an excellent question. So, the good news is that the incentive deal, which I suspect is what the question is about, as folks will remember, was $23 million. But that money would still come from an increment of growth in the hotel tax in Arlington. So, as that tax grew, Amazon would get an increment of it, of that growth, totaling up to $23 million over 15 years.
CRISTOLAs you all could imagine, our hotel tax, our transit occupancy tax has cratered in recent months. And if that continues to be the case, there will be no funds available to pay that incentive. So, that deal, and we talked a lot about it at the time, was really structured so that Amazon got a share of any growth that the county saw based on their presence. But they would not get that incentive if that revenue source was not growing. Unfortunately, the latter's come to pass, although we certainly hope that won't be the permanent scenario.
NNAMDIKatie Cristol, what resources are available for undocumented immigrants living in Arlington County who might not qualify for unemployment or other assistance?
CRISTOLMm-hmm. Yeah, that's a really important one. So, the most important thing to note is that all of our local programs, that emergency financial assistance that I described, food assistance and others, do not require proof of residence -- or proof of citizenship, rather, or any kind of documentation. So we do ask if you're going to use, for example, our Arlington Food Assistance Center, that you have some proof that you are an Arlingtonian. But that can be, for example, a bill in your name.
CRISTOLIt does not need to be any kind of proof of citizenship, and similarly for our economic assistance program. We know that some of our hardest-hit communities are the ones who aren't eligible for federal relief. And so we're really trying to fill the gaps.
CRISTOLOne of the other resources that I think is probably an important one to highlight is our work with Legal Services of Northern Virginia to provide legal counseling on immigration status. And they have also increased their efforts to do more legal counseling on housing rights for individuals who may be undocumented or mixed status. I think people are potentially at highest risk for predatory behaviors, especially in housing, if they aren't documented or otherwise concerned about their status. And so we really want to make sure that people have access to the legal advice that can help them feel like they're on firmer footing to push back, for example, against an illegal eviction.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Katie Cristol is a member of the Arlington County Board. She is a Democrat. Katie Cristol, thank you so much for joining us.
CRISTOLSuch a pleasure. I hope you both take good care.
NNAMDIYep, we're taking good care. We're staying safe, and because we're staying safe, Tom Sherwood, your plans this weekend are probably a little restricted, aren't they?
SHERWOODWell, everything is restricted, but I would remind people that it is Mother's Day weekend, Mother's Day on Sunday. And, as Mayor Bowser was saying today, find a safe way to honor your mother and do not just necessarily get in a room with her.
NNAMDIAnd what are you planning to do this weekend?
SHERWOODWell, I'm going to honor my son's mother. We're going to get together, but we'll be 10 feet apart, not six.
NNAMDISocially distanced. Today's show was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up on Monday, how does life under a pandemic parallel life in a conflict zone? We'll hear from a war refugee and a local veteran. Plus, celebrated children's book writer Kate DiCamillo is our next guest on Kojo for Kids. What questions do you have for the author of "Because of Winn-Dixie" and "The Tale of Despereaux"? That all starts at noon, on Monday. Until then, you have a wonderful weekend and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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