Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey is working on two fronts to delay a vote on what's potentially a key funding mechanism for the Columbia Pike streetcar and other major projects.
Garvey on Thursday released a number of emails in which she expresses concern about the board's planned adoption of guidelines that would allow public-private partnerships for the development of transportation facilities.
Garvey wants fellow board member Chris Zimmerman — a leading proponent of the streetcar — to recuse himself from the matter to avoid a conflict of interest or, just as damning, the appearance of a conflict.
"This is NOT about the streetcar for me, but about transparency and ensuring competition on large capital projects," Garvey stated in one of her emails, all of which originated from her personal account.
Zimmerman, in late October, informed the board that he had taken a consulting job with AECOM's Canada East Region for work that would be limited to the province of Quebec. In that letter, which Garvey also released, Zimmerman stated decisions to remove himself from board matters to avoid any conflict or appearance of conflict would be made on a case-by-case basis.
AECOM, a global company, has worked with the county on a number of issues.
Zimmerman said he asked the county manager and county attorney early on to inform him if any situation arises where he should recuse himself.
"It is possible that there would be a conflict. And if so, I will act appropriately," Zimmerman told Patch. "But at the moment, nothing has arisen."
He added: "I take my responsibilities here and my commitment to open government very seriously. And I've always tried to be very fastidious in disclosing, even when it's not required."
Garvey did not immediately return messages seeking further comment Thursday evening. She won her first full four-year term in November on a platform that included opposing the Columbia Pike streetcar.
"I believe we all need to know the facts regarding the County's contractual and other business relationships with AECOM and all the pertinent details regarding Chris's consulting relationship with AECOM Canada East," Garvey stated in her email. "Without these kinds of disclosures, it is not possible to determine the degree to which a conflict of interest, or the appearance of conflict of interest, may exist. As we all know, in the public realm, the appearance of a conflict is as important as the facts. Perceptions are everything."
AECOM provides "technical and management support services to a broad range of markets, including transportation, facilities, environmental, energy, water and government," according to its website.
Locally, according to Garvey's emails, AECOM has worked with the county on transit, traffic, planning and housing studies, the review of streetcar cost estimates and the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Plan, which is closely tied to the streetcar proposal. The company also was among those to brief board members just last month on the use of public-private partnerships to finance major transportation projects, Garvey stated.
"I think anyone would assume that it is quite likely they will be doing additional work for the County and, should we adopt the (Public-Private Transportation Act), they will be submitting an unsolicited bid," Garvey stated.
Garvey also cited a late-November report by the Southern Environmental Law Center that concluded Virginia's Public-Private Transportation Act "lacks adequate safeguards to protect the public interest."
Since the act passed in 1995, only four projects under its auspices have been completed — including the new Interstate 495 Express Lanes, according to the center. Another 17 are in various stages of construction or consideration.
Garvey's interpretation of the report is that the Public-Private Transportation Act often enables "private firms to negotiate sweetheart deals that earn them high profits while placing most or all of the risk on the public."
A public hearing and action on adopting Virginia's Public-Private Transportation Act guidelines will be held at 5 p.m. Monday following a matter on taxi certificates. The guidelines hearing was originally slated for late November but was carried over due to a lack of time.