I try to keep things light on my blog. Well, as light as being a parent in the 21st Century can be, these days. But on the whole, I focus on sharing what’s going on in Vienna, and some trials and achievements of parenthood.
For about six years I’ve lived in the actual Town of Vienna – not just in the zip codes that cover Vienna, but in the miles governed by the Township. It’s a one-of-a-kind situation in Fairfax County, and we have extra governance and services as a result.
Lately there have been some Town practices that I find troubling. In the spirit of encouraging conversation about issues in our community that can lead to learning, growing and possible change, I share them respectfully here for your consideration and comment.
The first is an issue that hit me square in the face when I attended a public Town Council meeting in February about then-pending noise ordinance changes. I went to the meeting planning to share my viewpoints – a democratic thing to do. When the meeting began, I was blindsided by a prayer led by a local pastor that was in no way ecumenical. I immediately felt out of place and defensive, as someone who doesn’t subscribe to the religious beliefs shared in that prayer and because I value separation of church and state in America. I spent the remainder of the meeting wondering what to do in response to this apparent infringement of my freedoms, rather than be an active citizen in the discussion about noise issues.
I contacted the Mayor and Town Council members to share my concern. Two responses were very technical, and unapologetic: the Town policy invites local clergy and faith leaders to follow Constitutional interpretations by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Fourth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, to provide a non-sectarian invocation that is not to be used to proselytize or advance any one faith or belief. It is a tradition of the Council to invite spiritual guidance before a meeting. Two Town Council members shared my discomfort at having the practice at all, let alone one that so clearly leaned toward one religion, as is often the case.
It seems the Town will continue this practice, although perhaps try harder to invite a true representation of religious faiths from around town. I suggested starting Council meetings with insightful and inspirational, non-religious words from citizens and leaders, but that doesn’t have traction. Getting back to those New Yorker roots of mine – I have never on Long Island seen any public government meeting started with a prayer referencing a particular religious belief. I think there would be uproar. This Council practice is something I’m not used to in Vienna.
The other item is about severance packages for Town employees. The issue arose when the Public Works Director Holly Chu left her position, rather suddenly and mysteriously. Her severance package was $50,000 for six months pay, after five years of service as the Director (though a Town employee for nine years). Comparatively, when I left the Federal government, my severance package was $0 after three years of service. Why does local Town government offer so much more? The Sun Gazette reported that, “The town does not have an official severance policy and the Town Council has directed town staff members to produce one.” It’s great that we have hard-working and experienced people working on Town issues. I’d like to see policies that make it fair for both workers and taxpayers for how workers are compensated when departing.
So, hope I didn’t turn anyone off from reading my blog. Just trying to push my own understanding of our community and have honest conversations about how to sustain a place where we are proud to raise our kids. Care to share your thoughts?