The Undemocratic Origins of One Fairfax

by Emilio Jaksetic

On July 12, 2016, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted a One Fairfax resolution to achieve “racial and social equity” and “direct the development of a racial and social equity policy for adoption.” The Board of Supervisor adopted the final One Fairfax Policy on November 20, 2017.

The Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) issued a history of the One Fairfax policy that is available on the Fairfax County government web site and the CSSP web site. A review of the CSSP document shows that One Fairfax was conceived, developed, and adopted without any meaningful effort at seeking the input or approval of the people of Fairfax County.

The chronology and quotes in this essay are from the CSSP document, “One Fairfax: A Brief History of a County-Wide Plan to Advance Equity and Opportunity,” December 2018.

In 2009, Fairfax County government commissioned CSSP to analyze the Fairfax County juvenile justice system. The CSSP analysis concluded that problems with the juvenile justice system were contributed to by “structural and institutional factors across County agencies and institutions.”

In 2010, the Disproportionality and Disparity Prevention and Elimination Team (DDPET) was founded to “educate representatives from various government agencies about institutional/structural racism, and then help them pass on their findings to their peers.” DDPET conducted monthly meetings, moderated by a CSSP representative, with “targeted leaders from the school system and county agencies.” The meetings aimed at “getting conceptual buy-in — and a collective commitment to better understand and address the institutional contributors to racial inequity.”

Members of Fairfax County government attended a 2014 “Governing for Racial Equity Conference” hosted by the Pacific Northwest Governing for Racial Equity Network. At that conference, the Government Alliance on Race Equity (GARE) gave the Fairfax County government “templates of what other municipalities had done” in “grappling with how to confront inequity.” The Fairfax County government attendees collaborated with GARE to “make the transition from focusing on ‘disproportionality,’ a concept and language that could be politically difficult, to a focus on equity and opportunity.” (Italics added.)

After the GARE Conference, the attending Fairfax County government members decided “the next step [was] to boldly reimagine equity and opportunity in the context of the local landscape,” and “the vision and power of becoming One Fairfax emerged.”

“In July 2016, following a series of committee meetings (joint, as well as among each respective board along with work behind the scenes) sparked by the building blocks paving the pathway forward, the One Fairfax Resolution passed.” In November 2017, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors passed the final One Fairfax policy.

It is amazing and disturbing: A group of people in Fairfax County government, working with individuals and groups outside Fairfax County conceived of, developed, coordinated, and worked toward the adoption of the One Fairfax policy over a period of several years without ever bothering to tell the people of Fairfax County what they were doing, and without bothering to ask the people of Fairfax County whether they thought it was a good idea or agreed with the effort.

Perhaps the people who brought us One Fairfax think the people of Fairfax County are too prejudiced, too stupid, and too unenlightened to be informed, consulted, and actively engaged. Perhaps they think the people of Fairfax County are not fit to participate in the formulation and making of decisions aimed at fundamentally transforming their community and their lives. Perhaps they think that they are entitled to contrive a sweeping far-reaching policy change without consulting with the people of Fairfax County — whom they are supposed to serve, not rule over as mere subjects. Perhaps they do not care enough to respect the Virginia Constitution, Article I, Section 2: “People the source of power. That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people, that magistrates are their trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them.”

One thing is clear: One Fairfax is not the product of representative democracy or the will of the people of Fairfax County. One Fairfax is the product of arrogant, elitist people who think they have the wisdom of philosopher kings and need not deign to consult with, or gain the consent of, the people whose communities and lives they seek to transform.

Emilio Jaksetic, a retired lawyer, is a Republican in Fairfax County.

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28 responses to “The Undemocratic Origins of One Fairfax

  1. The Disproportionality and Disparity Prevention and Elimination Team… wow, it would take an entire book to unpack all the ideological assumptions loaded into the name of that group.

    Talk about abstract universalism (a phrase I explore in the previous post)! All groups must have the same outcome. All disparities and disproportions between selected groups must be eliminated.

  2. Prior to the pandemic, Fairfax County proposed to adopt its new strategic plan, which incorporates One Fairfax, into the County budget for FY2021 before the plan was adopted. And there were no cost estimates in the plan. Moreover, the County had proposed but three public meetings on the new strategic plan. This is shit-quality government that only rent seekers and the editorial board of the Post could love.

    One of the very few benefits of the pandemic was the County had to retreat from both adoption of the strategic plan and its incorporation into the budget.

  3. Like all Banana Republics, Fairfax County in a decade has gone from one extreme to another: from the rule of crony capitalists who manipulated local politicians with money and favors to the rule of leftist demagogues who manipulate voters by phony claims of racism and phony promises of egalitarianism, in return for votes and personal power those bought votes bring.

    In short, Fairfax County over past two decades has been following the Venezuelan model of Hugo Chavez, trading in one rank system of corruption for another.

    Now, watch this trend grow around the state, following the lead of corrupt leaders in Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Charlottesville, Virginia.

  4. It is astonishing to hear that “One Fairfax is not the product of representative democracy or the will of the people of Fairfax County” and that it has adopted the Hugo Chavez model of government. The process culminating in the 2017 adoption of the One Fairfax policy started in 2010. The astonishing part is that the Board of Supervisors must have been able to somehow cancel two elections for the Board (2011 and 20115) in which the citizens of the county could have disposed of them if they disliked the direction in the Board was going. Not only that, the Board did all this work (task forces, attended conferences) in secret, probably in violation of some state laws. And, finally, it officially adopted the policy without a public vote and the citizens were not able to express their outrage in the 2019 election (maybe the Board canceled that one, too). Just astonishing that such undemocratic actions could take place in Fairfax County.

    • Yes, Dick, I would not have believed it in Fairfax County ten years ago either. Nor would I have believed it in Richmond or Charlottesville, either. It’s all quite remarkable. Or is it really? Fairfax really never had soul after 1940s, if it had one before in isolated times. After 194os, in a odd way, Fairfax was an artificial construct built way too fast on greed built on an earlier artificial construct, one built on class. It’s an odd duck. Or is it, in Virginia?

    • The problem is not that the County violated the law or procedures. Rather, it’s the fact that Fairfax County never engages with the public on important matters of policy. Mainly this comes from the staff, but supervisors are often complicit.

      I will be the first to admit that so many Fairfax County residents are so self-absorbed that they rarely pay attention to what county government proposes or does until the last minute.

      But staff regularly works with only the interest groups that favor a particular policy or proposal. The result is often something that, when the details are made known, the general public does not buy in.

      For a couple of years, the Tysons Corner Land Use Task Force did not let the public speak at meetings.

      The staff worked with affordable housing advocates to develop an SRO program that applied in almost every residential zone, including R-1 to R-3 and not in locations where other Virginia jurisdictions focused. Other plans put SROs in multifamily zones. The result was a plan that, once it got the public’s attention, there was strong opposition. Putting SROs in R-1 to R-3 lots doesn’t work. The plan was so outrageous that a Democratic supervisor asked me to get a community organization, with which I was affiliated, involved to check the staff.

      There is a citizen task force looking to revise the Comp Plan for downtown McLean. There have been several times that a position adopted by the task force does not appear in the next draft of a plan. Staff regularly inserts its preference, which was voted down by the task force, into the next draft of a the plan text.

      As I wrote above, without any cost estimates or a single public meeting, the County Executive put the non-adopted strategic plan, based on One Fairfax, in the FY 2021 budget. But for the pandemic, it may well have passed, legally but not ethically.

      This is not good government. Major policy changes need to be explained multiple times to the public. The county needs to make sure the public is engaged and understands proposals before they are adopted.

      • As Mr. Whitehead comments, Fairfax is big and complex. It is hard to get citizens involved and difficult for citizens to penetrate the bureaucracy.

        It is not unusual for staff to work with interest groups that favor a policy for the simple reason they, and not others, are the ones pushing it. However, as a former staffer to both legislative and administrative leaders, I can say that staff does its bosses a disservice if it does not identify opposition to policies being proposed and try to work out solutions or compromises before those policies are officially proposed. In the instance you cited, I hope the Democratic supervisor took the staff to task for putting him in an awkward position.

        Staff has no business substituting its positions for those previously adopted by the group for which it is providing staff support. In doing so, it has overstepped its role and should be reprimanded, at least, for its action.

        This may be splitting hairs, but there is no requirement to formally adopt a strategic plan. In a large sense, a budget is a strategic plan. It lays out what the county plans to do with its revenues over the next year. If the projected future revenues exceed the current revenues, whatever is proposed to be done with them is a policy decision, or part of the strategic plan. Most county boards have work sessions at which they consider the county manager’s (county executive for Fairfax) budget recommendations. By law, there has to be a public hearing before the budget is adopted. In your earlier comment, you said that the county executive proposed three public meetings on the strategic plan. I am surprised there were that many proposed. Those, plus the public hearing on the budget, would have provided the public an opportunity to raise objections to the One Fairfax plan. Whether or not that is sufficient opportunity is another question.

        • James Wyatt Whitehead V

          The real man behind the curtain in Fairfax is not the Board of Supervisors or the Wizard of Oz. It is County Executive Bryan Hill. He is the guy that makes the gears in the Fairfax Machine turn. Makes $268,000 a year. Probably should be paid more given what he is responsible for. 1st African American county executive for Fairfax.

        • Dick, I fully understand working with interest groups. It’s necessary. But good government and getting things done requires staff and elected officials to reach out to other groups and try to engage the general public as much as possible. Opposition needs to be visible and addressed way before public hearings are held. Otherwise and too often, when the public finds out and has some problems with the done deal, crap hits the fan. Supervisors would much prefer that proper vetting be done and any appropriate changes be made.

          It can be done. Former Planning Commissioner and current Supervisor Walter Alcorn did this type of outreach and negotiations with all active Tysons stakeholders in early 2010. Various compromises were made. At the June 22, 2020 public hearing on the revised Comp Plan for Tysons, while many parties had and noted some reservations, they all testified in favor of the Plan. And basically, it still has broad support despite a few warts.

          As far as the strategic plan, Supervisor Foust indicated that as many as two public meetings in each of the 10 magisterial districts would be a good idea. If new policy means bigger class sizes in some schools to shift more resources to “minority (but not Asians) schools,” the public better know about it well in advance. If real estate taxes are to increase by 25% to fund programs for minorities (but not Asians), the public better know about it way ahead of time.

          I predict crap will hit the fan when electric bills go up to save the planet and enrich rent seekers as well as redistribute income to selected “poor” people. It was not vetted publicly.

  5. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Fairfax has a vast and complex government bureaucracy along the lines of major city or state. It is doubtful that most residents are evenly remotely aware of this. Just a handful of elected officials pull levers to this machine.
    https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/sites/topics/files/assets/documents/pdf/county-org-chart.pdf

    • They aren’t called the stupid party and the evil party for nothing. Apparently the stupid party can’t win an election in that jurisdiction. Kinda with Dick on this — either the voters don’t mind or nobody has effectively made the case they should. Knowing the circular firing squad which is today’s Republican Party, they were probably fighting amongst themselves over who would be the second assistant chairman of the resolutions committee. Frankly, this is not an issue that will turn the electoral tide.

  6. In my six years with the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations, I learned that the County has its staff study ideas in considerable detail, before any hearings are held. At the hearings, citizens are ill equipped to counter the staff’s data. Citizens are given little time to develop any counter messages, have little data upon which to base a counter message, and are too busy earning a living to dig for the data and perform the necessary analyses. The county Board listens patiently at the hearings, then does what it intended to do before the hearing was held because the counter arguments are so weak. The hearing has little effect on the outcome. The County many times asks the Federation for its opinions, but the Federation invariably supports the County and its staff. It does not conduct an independent analysis. Based on the name of the Federation, which implies it represents all home-owner and civic associations, the County claims that the people agree with the plan. The citizens do indeed care but are powerless against this system.

    • As Martin Luther King once suggested, we are plagued not only by incompetent and/or evil leaders, but also by the systems those leaders build intentionally so as to get their own way, which quite often is not in the public’s interests, and is against the public interests, while promoting and protecting the private interests of the leaders and their allies.

      This has being going on in Fairfax for as long as I can remember and the results are plain to see. And it’s going to get worse as today’s progressive / leftist ideology increasing dominates Virginia, turning it rapidly now into a one party state that surely will take these problems to a far higher level. The pernicious results are already plain to see almost everywhere one looks in Virginia.

  7. Wow, a clear ton of acronyms…

    ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) is another one.

    “I learned that the County has its staff study ideas in considerable detail, before any hearings are held. ”

    And this is a bad thing?

  8. The winners tell jokes and the losers cry, “Just deal!”

  9. This has been going on since 2010 and two elections later the “evil” are still in office because Fairfax citizens are too absorbed in other things?

    But they did vote and that’s why the opponents had less votes and the incumbents did stay in office?

    For 10 years the opponents could not make their case nor marshal enough votes to throw out the cretins?

    lord.

  10. Was this reviewed and endorsed by the American Society of Societal Harm Appeasement Theorists?

    Because if A.S.S.H.A.T. hasn’t given their seal of approval, “One Fairfax” is not worth the paper it’s printed on.

  11. so this has been going on for 10 years and two elections and citizens were not paying attention ? Looks like they did vote though and they did not through the incumbents out or vote in folks who would oppose Fairfax One?

  12. At the moment Fairfax County is being quite open about taking citizen input on actions we should take for Climate Change…I can’t wait for the resultant virtue signaling and vilification activities.

    • I find it hard to believe that this started 10 years ago and no one knew about it or had time to gin up opposition to it – make it an election issue, etc.

      So this seems to be a fairly disengenuous argument given the actual facts.

  13. Getting the public involved in most issues is difficult. Mostly we hope that our government will not adopt harmful policies so we don’t have to sit through hours of meaningless presentations.

    Obviously, that hope does not always pan out.

    The truly sad aspect of this affair is the focus that the board of supervisors is placing on ‘racial and social equity’ rather than on actual, useful education. (I thought Jim’s column on high school principals presented a bigger challenge than ‘racial and social equity’ – the amount of time principals have to spend dealing with acts of disrespect for teachers and breaking up fights among students.)

    In any case, living between the conservatives who deny that race matters and the progressives who believe that only race matters, I’m not sure what else to expect.

  14. It’s not like elected don’t get thrown out of office, they do. We’ve had several voted out in the last few years.

    But it does take a majority of voters who do feel that they are not being represented and if you find yourself in the minority on issues – then don’t ignore that or make excuses for it.

    It looks like the “equity” thing was going on for years, two election cycles.

    And I’d agree that changes that voters actually see and feel can motivate them more than resolutions… which often are symbolic or just day-to-day pro forma – like approving bond sales for water/sewer, etc.

    Finally, based on polling I’ve seen, the equity thing has significant support in urbanized areas that are “blue”. I can see where non-blue folks are up in arms but the question is – are more voters than them also upset?

    And will blacks and hispanics produce more positive votes than upset asians on the TJ thing?

    I don’t take the “you’re in the minority” idea in a flip way – not sitting here watching the ACA (and the Mediaid expansion) possibly gettng nullified. As they say, elections do have consequences.

    But Fairfax is blue-blue-blue and the red folks just don’t have the votes until or unless the BOS screws up big time.

  15. In case LarryTheG was responding to my post: (1) In Fairfax County, we have, in effect, a one-party system. Voting people out of office can happen only if the incumbent has opposition. Nobody wants to waste their time running for office when the majority vote Democrat without regard to the issues. (2) The county staff should indeed investigate redevelopment ideas thoroughly. The problem is the results of their study are not made public in detail and early enough for alternatives to be developed. Those in office fulfill the requirement for having hearings, but there is no requirement (understandably so) for them to accept an alternative. (3) The county can spend full time (being paid by the taxpayers) to develop its argument. The taxpayers opposed to the county argument work part-time without pay and frequently without the necessary input data. One solution might be to have one or two volunteers sit in on the development of the county’s argument, perhaps every day, making the proceedings public.
    I was an (unpaid) member of the Task Force for the redevelopment of Reston along the Silver Line. We, citizens and county, met every other week for 2 or 3 hours. We had many meetings over about four years, with much input from citizens like me. In the end, the plan was hustled through as originally planned — against the vote of the two of us who had the skills needed to analyze the implications of the plan. The development program called Fairfax Forward was then introduced by the county to avoid a repeat of the drawn-out Reston process. A group of us objected to Fairfax Forward, the county listened, then proceeded with its original plan. The Party perennially in power moved “Forward”.
    Try it yourself. Get into a citizen group that opposes the government plan, then watch the process.

    • @FredC – never meant it as “flip” but rather pragmatic. Yes, have been involved in citizen groups and it all uphill but if you believe it and you believe others also – then that’s the gig and if you are right, you will eventually have some success.

      This works spectacularily in smaller rural jurisdictions. It’s dead easy for locals to mount an opposition campaign and have reasonable success.

      It’s much harder in an urbanized area but as said before – you need to recognize if you are a minority. If you are, then the reality is, you’re probably not going to prevail unless you want to target the most vulnerable seats and try to get your guy elected there.

      I just believe that if your cause is “right” – if a majority agree – ultimately change will come but OTOH, if you are not appealing to a majority, then your job is to educate – make your case and if you want success – aim for what people will support more than what you might.

      I’m living in a county that “flipped” to a fairly conservative board – been there done that…

  16. I suspect that anything that discriminates against Asians, such as TJ admissions, will wind up in federal court. And it’s one thing to signal virtue in a board of supervisors meeting or in an interview. But admitting Fairfax County is discriminating against blacks and Hispanics in a court filing is something else. Democrats have controlled the Fairfax BoS since the mid-1990s. Jeff McKay is a lot smarter than the dork who is president of Princeton. I don’t think he’s going to sign off on something that admits his party has been discriminating against blacks and Hispanics.

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