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Letter to the Editor: Councilwoman Hughes on BFAAC

Alexandria City Councilwoman Alicia Hughes responds to a letter to the editor published last week concerning her representation on the city's budget advisory committee.

An opinion was written last week by Susan Kellom entitled "." The title is catchy, but the implications of the allegation are inaccurate. It is true that I have not made a formal appointment to the city’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee (BFAAC) in 16 months. So what? That’s my prerogative as a member of the Alexandria City Council.

According to Mrs. Kellom, “BFAAC’s budget analysis and yearly report are major vehicles for resident involvement in the budget process.” The sound bite implies that members of the public are lining up at BFAAC public hearings to opine on recommendations to give to the city council on the budget and budget guidance to the city manager. Untrue. While I appreciate BFAAC’s report, BFAAC’s work, and my BFAAC representative’s role as a personal advisor on the budget, BFAAC does not control or dictate our budget process and council hears directly from the public through written communications, in person and at our public hearings.  We do as members of the city council. And we each avail ourselves to meet with the city manager and CFO to discuss budget concerns… unfiltered.

Mrs. Kellom is entitled to her personal opinion, but she is no more poised to tell me how to run my office as a city councilwoman, including my appointments, than I was to advise her on how to run her affairs as the Chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee, a position that after my election found members of her organization calling publicly for her resignation. When Mrs. Kellom publicly insists that a fellow council colleague of mine, a Democrat mind you, who went without a paid council aide for 10 months or went for months without a BFAAC representative owes the public an explanation, or maybe insists that the tons of unfilled vacancies on other city boards and commissions and even vacancies of city staff that aren’t filled… and for years, once people resign, are filled, then maybe I can take her seriously as an objective concerned citizen.

The fallacy in Mrs. Kellom’s opinion is that my voice is missing in the budget process. While not always, agreeing, citizens of Alexandria have heard me loud and clear. My voice was loud enough on the first budget in May 2010 that the same resulted, in response to a memo that I crafted questioning a recurring $30 million-plus line item, in a council resolution passed concurrently with the budget that took a hard look on dollars spent on contractual services and consulting.  It took more than a year for staff, working with BFAAC, with my then-representative Matt Tallmer, a 15-year BFAAC veteran, leading the charge on the committee and working with staff, to sort out what was being spent. Unsurprisingly, given the media coverage and attention to the matter, everything budgeted in that line item was not spent and we even had a budget surplus. And that is but one example.

Alicia Hughes, Alexandria City Councilwoman

NoBS February 26, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Councilwoman Hughes wrote: "It is true that I have not made a formal appointment to the city’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee (BFAAC) in 16 months. So what? That’s my prerogative as a member of the Alexandria City Council." So what? The point of being an elected official is that one must answer to one's constituents. After all, we citizens and taxpayers of Alexandria pay Councilwoman Hughes' salary (whereas the chair of the ADC is an unpaid, volunteer position that does not cost the city any money.) So, yes, as a matter of fact, we most certainly do get to tell Hughes how to do her job, including fulifliing her obligations as a member of city council. After all, we're paying her. That Hughes cannot synthesize this fundamental fact shows why she is unfit to continue to hold public office.
Raine Koch February 26, 2012 at 08:39 PM
I for one am rather uncomfortable with an elected official telling constituents 'So what? That’s my prerogative as a member of the Alexandria City Council.' Why is it so difficult to correct a situation that people have questioned, and appoint someone to the BFAAC. The very nature of this letter is combative and defensive, and rather unsavory coming from an elected official. I don't know Ms. Kellom. I don't HAVE to know her.-- Nor do I have to be told what Ms. Hughes thinks is some sort of conspiratorial plot against her. I do feel, as a fellow citizen of Alexandria, Ms. Kellom is with her right to ask the questions she did. I also feel that this drama from MS. Hughes is interfering with her job as a council member. Ms. Hughes should, imo, be more concerned with the business of the City within her realm as a council member and stop acting like a martyr. They were not answered. If people want a representative on the BFAAC, should they not be allowed to have one? Isn't this expected from a city council member? So what? Ms. Hughes Voice may be loud and clear, but it is her message that seems unacceptable.
Karen Gautney February 27, 2012 at 01:45 AM
Ms. Hughes points to vacancies on other commissions as if they are analogous to her action, or lack thereof, as pointed out by Ms. Kellom. It is not! As folks who are involved in civic volunteerism in Alexandria are aware, there are various kinds of commissions, committees and task forces. Most have members appointed by the City Council as a whole, from applications submitted by citizens. Others, such as the BFAAC, have members appointed by individual council members; generally every council member has one seat to fill. Those seats are very important to ensure citizen involvement. For a council member to fail to appoint a citizen to his/her designated seat is to deny an opportunity for a citizen voice. The seat, and having it filled, isn't "for" Ms. Hughes. It's for citizens. "So what?," Ms. Hughes says? In my opinion, leaving the seat open trivializes both citizen involvement and suggests the work of the committee is not important. That may not be a big deal for Ms. Hughes, but she shouldn't be surprised that it's a big deal for most Alexandrians.
Dennis Auld February 28, 2012 at 08:54 PM
As a 6 year former member of that group, and one who served when Matt Tallmer was her representative, I have these comments: Members of the Committee, thru informal conversations, do develop names of interested citizens. However, it is the job of a Councilperson, to find and appoint their representative. Second, Ms Hughes said that" BFAAC does not control or dictate our budget process." This is true. But BFAAC exerts an incredible amount of work to process many points of view. Matt represented Ms. Hughes views. That is missing and her input is devoid of being discussed. BFAAC provides a forum for processing all the "unfiltered" input mentioned by Ms. Hughes. Third, Ms. Hughes takes credit for putting focus on a $30 million line item which was accomplished by "It took more than a year for staff, working with BFAAC, with my then-representative Matt Tallmer”. Sounds like it required having a rep to accomplish that. Last, Matt indicated that he resigned because he was he was "burned out", and that he informed Ms. Hughes he would only work for her that year. Ms. Hughes has had ample notice, and time, to find his replacement. BFAAC provides an essential piece to the City's budget process. Ms. Hughes’s unwillingness to designate a rep weakens that process. BFAAC needs each representative on board. I recommend that Ms. Hughes provide BFAAC a representative both for getting her viewpoints into the discussion, and to providing another body to help share the load.

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