|Left to right: Clerk of the Court candidate Bettina Lawton, Board of Supervisors chair Sharon Bulova, and Sheriff Stacey Kincaid.|
The county budget, Interstate 66 tolls, and police reforms are among the top issues in the election for chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
The Democratic incumbent, Sharon Bulova, told the Annandale blogger it’s important to “make sure taxes are affordable while continuing to provide services.”
Bulova, who’s served as board chair since 2009, has minimal opposition. Running against her are a Republican candidate, Arthur Purves, president of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance, and Gail Parker of the Independent Green Party.
The Board of Supervisors is facing increased pressure to raise revenue or cut spending. The county’s economy has yet to fully recover from the recession. Office vacancy rates remain high, while there is growing pressure to increase the county’s share of the budget that goes to public schools.
Regarding a state proposal to reduce congestion on I-66 by imposing tolls, Bulova said, “we need some improvements on I-66, but not $17 tolls.” Widening the highway inside the beltway isn’t feasible, she said.
The Republicans have mounted a last-ditch effort to discredit Democrats by claiming they support tolls for all I-66 drivers that would amount to $17 a day.
In fact, the only ones who would pay a toll would be solo rush-hour drivers inside the beltway during peak times. Drivers with multiple passengers would be exempt. The toll prices would depend on traffic volume, as they are now for the express lanes on the beltway.
Solo drivers have never been permitted on I-66 inside the beltway during rush hour. Those who violate that ban face fines starting at $25 and rising to $1,000 for the fourth fine in five years.
Bulova lauded the final report of the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission released last month, which proposes dozens of recommendations to improve accountability and transparency and temper the use of force within the Fairfax County Police Department. Bulova had formed the commission last March.
The BoS had been criticized for waiting over a year before addressing fatal shooting of an armed citizen, John Geer by police officer Adam Torres in 2013 – and refusing to require the FCPD to publicly identify the officer.
That incident showed “the board’s policies and practices no longer serve us well,” Bulova said.
The police chief’s policy called for the names of officers involved in shooting incidents to be withheld until the commonwealth attorney decides to indict the officer, she said. “That’s old fashioned in this day and age when people expect to have information immediately.” Then when federal investigators stepped in, the board was concerned that releasing information would interfere with that investigation.
Bulova said she supports the concept of body cameras, another recommendation in the report, but said a number of complex issues need to be worked out, including protecting the privacy of those not charged. People who call 911, for example, might not want to be recorded.
She supports a more compassionate approach to dealing with the mentally ill, as epitomized by the county’s new Diversion First program, which directs people who break the law when mentally ill to treatment programs rather than tossing them into the criminal justice system.
Mental health reform is the top issue for Kincaid, who was elected sheriff in a special election two years ago. Her Republican opponent then, Bryan Wolfe, is running now, as well.
Kincaid said the Diversion First initiative, which takes effect Jan. 1, would prevent tragedies like what happened with Natasha McKenna, an inmate who died in the Adult Detention Center while being repeatedly subjected to tasers during a psychotic episode.
“She should not have been in jail,” Kincaid said. “It’s unacceptable to bring people with mental breakdowns to the jail for treatment,” when they should instead be directed to programs provided by the Community Services Board. More than 40 percent of the 1,130 inmates in the jail are mentally ill or have substance abuse issues.
The sheriff’s office “has to become more transparent to earn back the trust we have lost,” Kincaid said.
Some changes have already been made, she said. In the past, inmates who completed their time in jail were released at midnight, when there is no transportation, no services available, and for many, nowhere to go. Now, they’re released in the morning.
In other improvements, women with mental illness have been moved to an area in the jail with larger rooms closer to therapeutic services, inmates now have 24/7 access to tele-psychiatric services, and staff is receiving training in effective crisis intervention.
Bettina Lawton, who is running for clerk of the court against the Republican incumbent John Frey, wants to make court services more accessible to the public.
Currently, the court is only open on weekdays, 8 a.m.-4 p.m., for marriage licenses, name changes, land records, and other services. Lawton would expand the hours to evenings and Saturdays. She would also improve online services and suggests bringing court services to remote locations periodically, such as DMVs.