Tysons, VA

The Postal Distribution Center in Merrifield has been drawn into a national debate over the future of the United States Postal Service.

In a letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, Congressman Gerald E. Connolly demanded access to mail facilities for himself and all Members of Congress to oversee operations. Connolly serves as the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations

“I write to reiterate my request for immediate access to the Postal Distribution Center in Merrifield, Virginia — as well as access for my Congressional colleagues to other postal facilities,” Connolly wrote. “Oversight of Postal Service operations is more important now than ever, particularly in light of the troubling findings of the Inspector General that actions taken by Postal Service officials slowed postal operations nationwide in the midst of a global pandemic and economic collapse.”

Connolly said in the letter that he requested access after the Inspector General reported slowed operations at the agency.

“This letter follows my October 2, 2020, request for a tour of the Merrifield Postal Distribution Center in my Congressional District, as well as my October 13 letter requesting your new legal analysis of the Hatch Act, which you baselessly claim prevents Members of Congress from visiting Postal Service facilities within 45 days of an election,” Connolly wrote.

The letter continues with a rebuttle to an argument fron DeJoy that the Hatch Act would prevent Connolly from inspecting the USPS facility. According to the letter:

The Committee on Oversight and Reform is the committee of jurisdiction for the Postal Service in the House of Representatives, and the Subcommittee on Government Operations has been charged with overseeing postal operations. As Chairman of the Subcommittee, I have a responsibility to oversee postal operations–which includes having access to postal facilities, managers, and employees–and this responsibility does not cease merely because an election is approaching. I did not seek access to the Merrifield facility in my capacity as a candidate for office, but rather to discharge my official duties as a Member of Congress and a Member of the Oversight Committee.

On October 20, 2020, you sent a letter citing new Postal Service guidance that you claim was approved by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). Yet OSC–the principal enforcement agency of the Hatch Act–has made it clear that the Hatch Act does not prohibit federal employees from allowing Members of Congress to tour federal facilities for an official purpose. According to your own letter, the portions of your Hatch Act policies that you claim OSC did not object to did not include your policy of prohibiting Members of Congress from postal facilities.

A spokesperson for the USPS said that they were aware of the pending request from Connolly and planned to respond directly, though what answer they were planning to give was not clarified.

“We are aware of the Congressman’s most recent request and plan to respond again directly,” said Martha Johnson, senior public relations representative for USPS.

In an email to Tysons Reporter, Connolly said inspecting the USPS facility in Merrifield was about restoring public trust.

“The Postmaster General’s partisan and political actions have eroded trust and caused nationwide concern about the USPS,” Connolly said. “Congress has a responsibility and constitutional duty to provide oversight, and that includes seeing on the ground how operations are being affected by Mr. DeJoy’s reckless changes”

Image via Google Maps

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The two candidates vying for the Providence District seat on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors faced off last night at the Providence District Community Center.

The League of Women Voters, who hosted the debate, encouraged attendees to submit questions for Democratic Dalia Palchik and Republican Eric Jones, and the candidates didn’t hesitate to disagree when it came to the hot-button issues of the evening.

They compared thoughts on the importance of census data, budgets, sanctuary counties, immigration, renewable energy, panhandling and firearm regulation throughout the evening. Here are some highlights from the debate:

Affordable Housing and a Rising Cost of Living 

When it comes to the panhandling in Fairfax County, Jones said people struggling financially in the area should move elsewhere in the country where the cost of living is lower, like Ohio.

“It’s very expensive to live here. there are other places where it’s not so expensive to live,” Jones said. “To some degree, it is simply a choice [on where to live.]”

Palchik took another approach. “I support that we took a step back and said, ‘No, we are not going to criminalize panhandling,'” she said, adding that the county should work to ensure there is enough affordable housing and job security.

On the topic of affordable housing, Palchik said she is looking into coordinating with faith-based organizations to expand affordable housing options, especially for seniors.

While Fairfax County has been highlighting its recent affordable housing efforts — especially in Tysons — the candidates stressed the importance of financial security.

Dalia said she wants to focus on fighting for fair wages for county employees, while Jones said he would rethinking policies for zoning and regulation to help small businesses.

Immigration and the Census 

Immigration and the U.S. Census were popular topics during the debate.

Palchik said she was pleased when the citizenship question was removed from the census, saying that it encourages more participation. Without responses accurately representing the population of the district, the county would lose out on tax revenue that benefits the community, she said.

“We still have families who fear coming to school to sending their kids to preschool or going to a food pantry, because they are afraid we are collaborating and sharing their information with police,” she said.

Meanwhile, Jones said he believes undocumented immigrants are a danger to the community. “I am especially against sanctuary countries,” he said. “These are especially harmful to our legal immigrants.”

During his time with the U.S. State Department, Jones said he conducted interviews for the immigration process and granted thousands of people citizenship or permanent resident status.

“I believe we should cooperate completely with federal authorities,” he said.

Renewable Energy

One of the largest issues the candidates clashed on was the implementation of renewable energy. Palchik seemed to be in full support while Jones said the cost would outweigh the benefits.

“I think the so-called New Green Deal is unrealistic,” Jones said, referring to the Green New Deal. “You cannot run the Metro system on wind power, solar power and batteries.”

Instead, he told the audience that he believes in natural gas and nuclear power.

Palchik shifted the conversation, noting her endorsement by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups around the area. Palchik pointed to her time on the Fairfax County School Board, where she launched a joint environmental taskforce with the school board, students and Board of Supervisors.

She said that, if elected, she will be spending time in Richmond working to eliminate solar energy roadblocks.

New Republican Candidate

Jones was a new face for voters. After candidate Paul Bolon’s death in August, Jones was chosen as the new conservative candidate to run against Palchik.

“I’m running to give voters a choice in Providence District,” Jones said during his opening statement. “I wish my friend Bolon was here today.”

Palchik gave her respects after the debate. “I want to thank Mr. Jones for stepping up, I know it was a tragedy.”

The election is on Nov. 5.

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The Weekly Planner is a roundup of interesting events coming up over the next week in the Tysons area.

We’ve scoured the web for events of note in Tysons, Vienna, Merrifield, McLean and Falls Church. Know of any we’ve missed? Tell us!

Monday (June 3)

  • Commonwealth’s Attorney Candidate Forum on Criminal Justice7-9 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Vienna (450 Orchard Street) — Four local justice-related organizations are hosting a debate incumbent Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond Morrough and challenger Steve Descano, who have clashed throughout the race over the reach of the office into political issues.

Wednesday (June 5)

  • Learning about the Opioid Crisis11 a.m.-12 p.m. at Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library (7584 Leesburg Pike) — A pharmacist will be on hand at the library to teach about opioid use, signs and symptoms of drug abuse, addiction, and drug overdose.
  • Nutley/I-66 Interchange Update6:30-8:30 p.m. at James Madison High School (2500 James Madison Drive) — The Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling is hosting a meeting with the Virginia Department of Transportation to discuss how work on the Transform 66 project will impact the cycling and pedestrian trail.
  • Jesse Ruben Album Release at Jammin Java7:30 p.m. at Jammin Java (227 Maple Ave E.) — Acoustic artist Jesse Ruben is planning an album release party at Jammin Java, performing a mix of songs from the new EP and older material.

Thursday (June 6)

Friday (June 7)

  • Vienna Idol 2019 Finale6:30 p.m. at the Vienna Town Green (144 Maple Ave) — Six finalists are competing in the Vienna Idol finale. The audience will vote with tickets on the winner. All proceeds from the event go to the Khristin Kyllo Memorial Fund.

Saturday (June 8)

  • All Star Comic Con 2019 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at the Sheraton Tysons Hotel (8661 Leesburg Pike) — Tysons’ one and only comic convention returns for two days of comics, vendors, artists, cosplay and more. Guests at the con include writers Gail Simone and Tom King.
  • “The Spies of Shilling Lane” Signing3-4 p.m. at Barnes & Noble (7851 Tysons Corner Center) — Author Jennifer Ryan is hosting a signing for her new novel about a mother trying to find a daughter who has gone missing in the espionage underworld of the London Blitz.
  • The World’s Most Alluring Cars4-9 p.m. at Tysons Biergarten (8346 Leesburg Pike) — A James Bond-themed event is planned with classic cars, from a 1911 Stanley Steam Car to a 2019 Lamborghini. Food, beer, martinis and cigars will all be available at the event.
  • Three Year Anniversary for Greenhouse Bistro5 p.m.-2 a.m. at Greenhouse Bistro (2070 Chain Bridge Road) — Greenhouse Bistro is celebrating three years in Tysons and is welcoming guests to an invitation-only party. An RSVP is available at the event page with guests asked to sign up no later than June 7. An “upscale attire” will be strictly enforced.

Photo via Vienna Idol/Facebook

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Different takes on the role of prosecutors in the justice system took center stage in a rare fight for the Democratic endorsement for the commonwealth’s attorney position in Fairfax last week.

While the candidates in the Board of Supervisors chair race that followed were in agreement on most issues, Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Katherine Stott — standing in for incumbent Raymond Morrogh who was out with bronchitis — and challenger Steve Descano sniped back and forth constantly last Friday (May 24) at Valo Park (7950 Jones Park Drive).

Descano’s campaign is part of a broader push across Virginia from left-leaning candidates arguing prosecutors should take an active role in things like functionally decriminalizing marijuana and eliminating cash bonds.

“That’s the main driver of this campaign,” Descano said. “Cash bonds turn this into a two-tier system of justice. Cash bail doesn’t do anything but punish people for being poor. What happens when we hold people in jail because they can’t pay means they could lose their jobs or lose their house. It drives up their recidivism rate. We’re paying $225 a day to build more crime down the road. I will instruct my prosecutors, if there’s no risk of safety or flight, get rid of cash bonds.”

But Stott said Descano’s ambitions are driven by naivety.

“[Descano] shows his inexperience with the Virginia state system,” Stott said. “There are legislative code systems that define how cash bail is used and a judicial element. In the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, we do not ask for a cash bond. Defendant appears before a magistrate, which sets bond. If they are held overnight, they see a judge the next day. We don’t ask for cash bail.”

The fight is similar to a race in neighboring Arlington and an ongoing battle between the Norfolk commonwealth’s attorney and local judges.

The two also clashed over capital punishment and marijuana enforcement — mainly over whether the commonwealth’s attorney’s office should decide an overarching policy or tackle the cases individually. Descano said he would never pursue the death penalty, while Stott said the cases have to be reviewed on an individual basis.

For small amounts of marijuana possession where there is no intention to distribute, Descano said he would move the court to dismiss the cases. Stott said Morrogh supports decriminalization of marijuana but argued it’s not up to the commonwealth’s attorney to decide that.

“Descano’s response is another example of how he crosses out of his lane,” Stott said. “[He says] that he’s a member of the executive branch and doesn’t want to enforce the law from the legislative branch. When you become a commonwealth’s attorney, you take an oath to uphold the laws of the Commonwealth, and that’s a serious oath.”

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Supervisor Jeff McKay and candidate Timothy Chapman doubled down on a bitter feud at a debate for the Democratic nomination for the Board of Supervisors Chair in Tysons this morning.

The debate at Valo Park (7950 Jones Park Drive) touched on a variety of countywide issues, with Chapman repeatedly slinging attacks at McKay over school spending and Metro expansion.

When the issue of a recent ethics complaint against McKay came up, sparks flew between the candidates, while the other two candidates, School Board member Ryan McElveen and Georgetown law professor Alicia Plerhoples, tried to stay above the fray.

The complaint alleges that McKay purchased a home at a discount from a developer who brought business before the Board of Supervisors — a violation of state ethics law. The question of the ethics violation was raised by moderator Julie Carey, who asked Chapman why his campaign didn’t come forward as the source of the allegation.

“We wanted to confirm allegations were accurate and correct,” Chapman said. “They are… Anybody who understands real estate knows these allegations here are very troubling.”

But McKay fired back that the allegations were false and started as a smear campaign.

“There is zero credibility. The allegations are completely false,” McKay said. “To try to smear me, because you’re not winning a campaign is a Trump maneuver.”

Plerhoples and McElveen centered most of their responses on affordable housing and school overcrowding issues but did reluctantly weigh into the debate when prompted by Carey.

“Whether the ethics complaint has merit or not, public officials have a duty to investigate for public trust,” Plerhoples said. “It doesn’t get suspended because it’s an election year.”

McElveen said the issue is emblematic of a larger problem.

“The supervisor districts have devolved into fiefdoms,” said McElveen. “I would address that at the county level.”

For most of the debate, the four candidates widely agreed that the lack of affordable housing and overcrowding of the schools were two of the biggest problems facing the county. McElveen specifically called out the Fairfax County School Board’s decision not to immediately tackle the McLean High School boundary question.

The proposal had been backed by School Board member Jane Strauss (Dranesville) but faced pushback from other members of the board, like School Board member Dalia Palchik (Providence), who said the change needed to wait for further planning.

“We have overcrowding at Marshall and McLean High School,” said McElveen. “Frankly, the School Board has been very political on not taking on that challenge. I say we need to act now.”

The primary will be held on June 11.

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Morning Notes

Kaine and Stewart Debate in Tysons — U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and GOP challenger Corey Stewart faced off in a televised debate from Capital One headquarters in Tysons last night. The candidates traded barbs as NBC’s Chuck Todd moderated. [Washington Post, NBC News]

No Unmarked Graves at Development Site — “Conducted because of concern from Vienna Town Council members and local residents about possible unmarked graves at a new subdivision near West End Cemetery, a ground-penetrating-radar search on Sept. 25 found no evidence of such burials.” [InsideNova]

Del. Keam Blasts Prison Tampon Ban — Del. Mark Keam (D), who represents part of Tysons, is incensed at a rule at Virginia state prisons that banned visitors from wearing tampons and menstrual cups. The rule was recently suspended amid a public uproar. Wrote Keam on Facebook: “This policy should be BANNED and never reconsidered. In fact, I will draft and introduce legislation in the next General Assembly session to do exactly that.” [Facebook]

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