The Town of Vienna is leading the way in Virginia with a newly conceived celebration of four amendments to the U.S. Constitution that enshrined the rights of people of color and women.

The town announced on Friday (March 12) that planning for the inaugural Liberty Amendments Month celebration is officially underway, and community organizations, businesses and individuals are encouraged to help shape the four weeks of festivities.

Liberty Amendments Month is the brainchild of Vienna Town Manager Mercury Payton, and the Vienna Town Council adopted a resolution on Dec. 7 to officially recognize the occasion. It has since been ratified by the Virginia General Assembly as well.

“We all can celebrate these amendments that ensure rights and liberties for each of us,” Payton said.

Patrons of the now-passed bill included Del. Mark Keam (D-Vienna) and state Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), who was one of Payton’s professors at Hampton University, Inside NOVA reports.

“I’m so proud that the Town of Vienna is leading the way in initiating this holiday and month-long commemoration of these fundamental rights that we all cherish,” Mayor Linda Colbert said. “I’m especially proud that Town Manager Mercury Payton came up with the idea and has worked hard to see it become a reality.”

In the wake of last summer’s racial justice protests, Payton conceived of Liberty Amendments Month as a celebration of the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th Constitutional amendments, which abolished slavery, granted citizenship to anyone born or naturalized in the U.S., and extended voting rights to all citizens regardless of race and gender.

Liberty Amendments Month will begin on June 19 — also known as Juneteenth — with an educational event that will “offer a thoughtful reflection on the liberties assured by these four amendments to the U.S. Constitution,” according to the town.

Each of the next four weeks will be dedicated to one of the four liberty amendments with contests, lectures, classes, themed restaurant specials, walks, art exhibits, films, and performances.

The celebration will culminate on July 19 with a multicultural festival featuring food, drinks, crafts, and entertainment from around the world. The Vienna Town Council has designated that day as Liberty Amendments Day, replacing Columbus Day on its list of official holidays.

“There’s lots to celebrate here,” Councilmember Chuck Anderson said. “This is going to be a people’s event just as the Constitution is the people’s document.”

Groups interested in sponsoring, participating in, or hosting events can apply online by April 1.

The town is advising planners to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions and social-distancing guidelines, which could still be in place this summer.

Planning meetings will be held at 5 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month. Interested organizations can contact [email protected] for a Zoom link to the meetings or more details.

Photo via Town of Vienna

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Since he was first elected to represent Virginia’s 35th District in the House of Delegates, Del. Mark Keam (D-Vienna) has emerged as a steadfast advocate for environmental justice and reform.

That dedication to environmental policy was rewarded on Thursday (Feb. 4) when Keam’s House Bill 2118 passed the House and has now advanced to the State Senate for consideration. The bill seeks to create a grant program to fund electric vehicles.

The Virginia Electric Vehicle Grant Fund would allow schools and other qualified entities in Virginia to get state support for projects to replace vehicles that utilize fossil fuels with electric vehicles. A portion of the bill is aimed specifically at increasing the number and use of electric school buses in the state.

Keam said that his bill was inspired by his work with Mothers Out Front, a grassroots organization in Fairfax that focuses on renewable and clean energy. That work led Keam to review and focus on the toxins and greenhouse gas emissions that children are exposed to by school buses.

He brought a similar bill to the 2020 General Assembly, but it ultimately failed to pass the House, which Keam attributes to questions about Virginia’s ability to acquire funding for the project. Those questions, however, are seemingly being addressed at the federal level.

Keam credits the increase in support for his bill this year to President Joe Biden’s prioritization of efforts to address climate change and reduce carbon emissions in the transportation sector. The bill is designed to partner with the Biden administration’s plans, and it would be set up to solicit federal funding and the private sector.

“My goal is, we set up this fund, we set up some criteria around that — who should apply for what — and as soon as some funding comes in, then we’ll set up this whole program that hadn’t existed before,” Keam said. “I was very proud to get this bill passed.”

Keam’s environmental work and support extends beyond that one bill, though.

He is also the chief co-patron for HB 2074, which would establish an Interagency Environmental Justice Working Group and require state agencies to adopt environmental policies. The bill’s chief patron is Del. Shelly Simonds (D-Newport News).

Keam touts HB 2074 and HB 2221, a bill proposed by Del. Hayes, Jr. (D-Chesapeake), as significant legislation to promote environmental justice in Virginia going forward. HB 2221 requires applicants seeking environmental permits to conduct community outreach.

“With these bills passing this year, Virginia is now going to have not only a very robust environmental justice law and an advisory council, a working group, policy, statements and definitions, but now we’re also going to be requiring license holders and permit holders to come in to do reviews ahead of time,” Keam said. “And we’re also going to require local governments to start adopting some of this as well.”

Keam is also a chief co-patron for HB 1965 and HB 2042, which have passed the House and are being discussed in the Senate.

HB 1965 would direct the state Air Pollution Control Board to institute a program for low-emissions and zero-emissions motor vehicles with a model year of 2025 and later. HB 2042 would allow localities to exceed general requirements for tree replacement and other conservation ordinances. Read More

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At a digital town hall yesterday, Del. Mark Keam (D-35th) discussed potential issues for delaying the fast-approaching Town of Vienna election.

Gov. Ralph Northam issued a statement several days ago asking the General Assembly to postpone the upcoming May 5 election to November so people can avoid all non-essential outings to ease the COVID-19 pandemic.

Northam suggested that local elections be moved to Nov. 3, but Vienna Mayor Laurie DiRocco issued a letter in response saying she would prefer June 23.

“The ability for local elections to get attention during the presidential-election cycle will be extremely challenging and expensive for candidates who usually have limited resources and budgets,” she wrote.

While Keam said he agrees the election should get pushed — and encourages all of his delegates to follow CDC guidelines and social distancing order — he also said that there are reasons elections usually occur during a certain time of year.

Given the uncertainty and confusion about the coronavirus pandemic, Keam said there is currently “absolutely no consensus” on when the elections should be held. 

The issue with holding the election on June 23, according to Keam, is that the federal elections are set to be held around that time as well — which is out of the control of smaller districts.

“You can’t have two different ballots being issued on the same day,” he said.  

If the election were to even be held a few days after June 23, like the 25 or 26 for example, this wouldn’t work either, Keam said, because the polling machines need to be locked up for 30 days in accordance with state law. This gives election staffers time to recount votes if necessary, clear the machines and inspect the machines to ensure “integrity in the voting process.”

Keam also brought up the recent Wisconsin elections, which were held earlier this month. Despite expert suggestions to stay home, many voters chose not to fill out absentee ballots and instead headed to the polls in person.

“We’ll know in about two weeks how many of those people went out to vote last Tuesday ended up with COVID. We hope very few, but there is a chance the epidemic might spike in Wisconson because the election was held against the wishes of some government officials,” Keam said. “We don’t want that happening in Virginia.”

Next Wednesday (April 22), the General Assembly will consider Northam’s request to move the local elections across Virginia to Nov. 3.

Image via Facebook Live

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Del. Mark Keam (D-35hth) and several other Virginia lawmakers are looking to honor the late Clarene Vickery, who founded the Parkwood School in Vienna.

After founding the school in 1956, Vickery served as its director and owner for more than 60 years. Vickery also helped create the Virginia Association of Early Childhood Education and the Providence Baptist Church in Tysons.

For her 100th birthday, several public officials recognized her achievements with a formal resolution during the 2018 session of the Virginia General Assembly.

Vickery died last year at the age of 101.

Now Keam, along with Del. Ken Plum (D-36th), State Sen. J. Chapman Petersen (D-34th), Del. Vivian Watts (D-39th), have a formal resolution for the 2020 General Assembly session to celebrate her life.

“Clarene Vickery impacted her community in meaningful ways outside of education,” the resolutions says, noting she was the president of the Ayr Hill Garden Club in Vienna, grand marshall of the 2006 Vienna Halloween Parade and an active member of the Vienna Baptist Church for 65 years.

Both houses of the Virginia General Assembly have agreed to the resolution, which is expected to be presented to Vickery’s family.

Photo via Mark Keam/Facebook

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Del. Mark Keam (D-35th) has introduced a House bill that would let the Town of Vienna require developers to meet tree requirements 10 years sooner than other jurisdictions.

His proposal, which was filed last Monday (Jan. 6), comes months after Wawa received backlash from residents for chopping down trees it wasn’t supposed to in the Town of Vienna.

Vienna officials are currently working on a plan to prevent anything similar from happening again.

The bill would allow:

the Town of Vienna, by ordinance, to require that a subdivision or development provide for the preservation or replacement of trees on the development site such that the minimum tree canopy 10 years after development is projected to meet specified coverage criteria.”

Currently, the criteria apply to coverage 20 years after development.

The measure has been referred to the Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns.

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Locals will have a chance to learn about Virginia policy at an upcoming town hall with politicians next weekend.

State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34th) and Del. Mark Keam (D-35th) are hosting the event to talk about the upcoming 2020 General Assembly session.

The General Assembly convenes next Wednesday (Jan. 8).

The town hall is set to take place at Vienna Town Hall (127 Center Street S.) next Saturday (Jan. 11) from 9:30-11:30 a.m.

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Mothers Out Front Fairfax, the local climate change branch of a national movement, is advocating for electric school buses in Fairfax County.

More than 40 people gathered at a room in the Patrick Henry Library (101 E. Maple Avenue) in the Town of Vienna for the “Clean Buses for Kids” campaign launch last evening (Tuesday).

Bobby Monacella, the co-leader of Mothers Out Front Fairfax and the mother of two kids attending the county’s public schools, told the attendees that electric buses seem like a “no brainer.”

“They are safer. They’re healthier. They are less expensive to expensive to operate. The maintenance is much less. The cost of electricity versus diesel is much less,” Monacella said.

She added that the push for electric school buses needs to start now because of the life cycle of diesel school buses.

“It made us realize we simply can’t buy one more diesel school bus because it lasts us 15 years and with the cost of fuel emissions, our kids’ future can’t wait for that,” she said.

Since electric school buses don’t have an engine, muffler or alternator that requires tune-ups, the lifetime fuel and maintenance savings over diesel buses total $170,000, according to a Mothers Out Front Fairfax press release.

Some places around the country have already made the switch from diesel to electric school fleets, including schools in California and New York.

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) runs one of the largest school bus fleets in the U.S. with more than 1,600 buses.

Karl Frisch, the Democratic candidate for the Providence District seat on the FCPS School Board, said that a switch to electric buses would attract companies, further diversifying businesses in the county.

Pat Hynes, who represents the Hunter Mill District on the school board, told Tysons Reporter that the cost of switching to electric buses is the main challenge facing the school board.

“I think it really comes down to the upfront cost not only for the buses, which are three times more expensive than the diesel buses, there’s also an investment that has to made in the infrastructure,” Hynes said, adding that the buses would need chargers.

Hynes said that “it’s a win, win, win” if the local government partners with the state government and also the local utility company to help defray the upfront costs.

Overall, Hynes said she thinks the school board will support the campaign as long as the electric buses aren’t more expensive than diesel-fueled ones in the long term.

“Every statement that the board has made in the last couple years in favor of taking some leadership on climate change has been supported almost unanimously,” Hynes said.

The school board and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors also jointly formed the Joint Environmental Task Force to lead on climate action, Hynes said, adding that the task force will hold its inaugural meeting on Sept. 3 at the Mason District Government Center (6507 Columbia Pike).

“That is where policy will begin for both boards — the school board and the county board,” she said.

Del. Mark Keam (D-35th District) said that the conversation about electric buses should be broadened beyond talking about the environment.

“This isn’t about Julie taking care of her daughter or me taking care of my kids… It’s about Mother Earth suffering,” Keam said. “That’s why I think this conversation should start and end with the bigger picture of climate change and where we are with this crisis.”

At the end of the campaign launch, the group urged attendees to sign a petition urging the school board to buy a test bus in 2020 and request a small number of electric buses by 2021.

The group aims to replace FCPS buses with electric ones by 2024.

“When moms get involved, things happen,” Keam said to cheers.

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Years ago, there was a stinkbug invasion at a farm in Vienna. They were a source of concern for everyone on the farm except Clarene Vickery, who turned catching and collecting the bugs into a game for her children.

Ray Vickery Jr. remembered his mother, who died last Wednesday (June 26) at the age of 101, as a woman who could turn challenges into fun opportunities.

“She was a real life force,” Ray said. “She was able to meet and overcome problems.”

Clarene founded the Parkwood School in Vienna in 1956 and — over her 64 years as director and owner — helped teach more than 10,000 students. Ray said his mother founded the school at a time when there was no public kindergarten in Virginia and education for young children wasn’t seen as a priority.

“She started Parkwood in our living room,” he said. “She was still running the school months before her passing.”

Ray said his mother loved working with children and was able to communicate with them on a personal level.

In addition to her time running Parkwood School, Clarene was a founder of the Virginia Association of Early Childhood Education and a founding member of Providence Baptist Church in Tysons. In recent years, Clarene received recognition from a variety of public officials and a formal resolution commending her life work from the Virginia General Assembly, where her son Ray was once a member.

“She taught us it’s really important to value people for themselves, not for status or money,” said Ray.

When she wasn’t teaching, Ray said his mother liked to drive. She would take long solo trips back to Mississippi, where she was born. When she was too old to drive safely, Ray said she would take the car to the church parking lot and drive around “just to keep her hand on the wheel.”

A service will be held at Vienna Baptist Church (541 Marshall Road SW) at noon today (Tuesday). Clarene will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery with her husband.

“She appreciated that there was still a small town atmosphere [in Vienna],” Ray said. “She wanted to maintain that person to person connection.”

Photo via Mark Keam/Facebook

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Morning Notes

Valentine’s Day Options in McLean and Tysons — “With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, you don’t want to be stuck trying to find a last-minute dinner reservation… We’ve got a few suggestions for restaurants around McLean and Tysons, including those offering special dining options on OpenTable.” [Patch]

Inca Social Officially Open in Merrifield — “Inca Social just brought Merrifield a colorful new getaway for Peruvian comfort foods that are designed to be paired with a long lineup of Virginia craft beers.” [Eater]

A Local Teardown Story — A local man who grew tired of his five-level townhouse in McLean decided to pursue a new home but, unsatisfied by the options, decided instead to buy and tear down a “distressed” house in Pimmit Hills and build his dream home in its place. [Washington Post]

Keam in the Times — “Asked about the state of the government, Delegate Mark L. Keam, a Democrat from Fairfax County, replied with one word: ‘Uncertain.'” [New York Times]

McLean Mansion Offered for Sale — “Buyers will be able to bid in person and online when the mansion in McLean, Va., known as Whispering Woods goes on the auction block on Feb. 27. The 15,000-square-foot mansion at 8305 Alford St. rests on three acres behind fences and gates.” [Washington Post]

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By all accounts, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) was speaking to a friendly crowd in Tysons at the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce last Thursday.

But within 24 hours, Northam would find himself at the center of national headlines in a scandal involving a racist photograph  on his medical school yearbook page, prompting calls to resign from many politicians, including Tysons-area representatives.

State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) described herself as a personal friend of Northam’s, but expressed support for the Virginia Black Legislative Caucus’ statement that Northam should step down.

Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th) shared the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus statement on Twitter and said he stood with the Virginia House Democrat’s call for Northam to resign.

Delegates Mark Keam (D-35th) and Marcus Simon (D-53rd) expressed similar condemnation for Northam.

State Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd District) said on her Facebook page that she does not believe Northam is racist, but that if he is one of the people in the now-infamous photograph he would need to resign. Northam himself has wavered back and forth over whether he does or doesn’t appear in the photograph.

Congressional Reps. Don Beyer (D-8th District) and Gerry Connolly (D-11th District) shared a joint statement calling on Northam to resign, while Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-10th District) said she’s personally spoken with Northam and asked him to step down.

One of the few silent voices on the issue has been State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34th District).

Petersen has not shared any statements on Northam, though many on his Facebook page speculated his quoting of the Bible verse about those without sin casting the first stone was a thinly veiled reference. In an interview with WDVM, Petersen said he was baffled by the situation.

Photo via Facebook

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