Q&A with Mount Vernon District Supervisor Candidate Christopher Morgan
Christopher Morgan is an Army veteran, technology professional at Amazon, former small business owner, environmental advocate and community leader who has lived with his family in Stratford Landing for four years since moving back from the West Coast. He’s presently serving his second term as president of the Stratford Landing Citizens’ Association and is active on the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Associations’ Environment and Recreation Committee, which he chaired for over two years. He recently answered some questions about his campaign for On the MoVe.
Q. What prompted you to enter the race for Mount Vernon District Supervisor?
A. For the past four years, I've been very focused on the hyperlocal issues facing our community as a volunteer and community leader. I'm proud of many of the accomplishments I was a part of, such as the preservation of River Farm, helping to organize invasive vine removal programs, fighting to preserve old-growth trees, developing strategy around public-private park partnerships, and corrective actions from county diesel spills.
Yet many of our initiatives got no further than the current Supervisor’s desk.
Our incumbent Supervisor, Dan Storck, is a really nice guy, and I’m sure he cares. But he's probably too nice to drive meaningful, tough change and is letting county staff and the other Supervisors push the agenda. This isn’t getting us the best deal for Mount Vernon, and we're seeing services reduced and little economic investment, all while taxes are increasing. The Route 1 corridor is treated as a dumping ground for issues the rest of Fairfax County has been unwilling to deal with for decades.
Mount Vernon is where George Washington chose to live and should be the jewel of Fairfax County. However, with rising crime, crumbling roads and infrastructure, and trouble in our schools, it's not trending in the right direction. I'd like to be able to leverage my experience and energy to make it better. This is where I chose to live and raise my family, and while I've always been an active participant, I believe I can serve the community well in this capacity.
Q. What will be some of your priorities, if elected?
A. Crime and Safety. I've participated in a Fairfax County Police Department ride-along and have seen and heard the issues facing our neighbors first-hand. Unfortunately, our district has the highest number of police call requests in the county, and crime is at higher levels than it was pre-COVID. We're seeing an uptick in shootings, in smash-and-grabs and in larcenies. This also includes the fentanyl crisis that is in our streets and in our own schools. We must end this immediately. People must feel safe when they're going shopping, traveling at night, dining out and sending their children to school.
Smart Growth. In-fill development, where a home is demolished and multiples are put in its place, is a growing trend in our district. It does increase the housing supply, but it also increases the strain on our suburban infrastructure. There are hundreds of examples in the district of stormwater runoff and flooding due to the clear-cutting of trees from lots, and our county leaders are doing nothing about it.
I've been advocating for the preservation of our old-growth heritage hardwood trees for years. The loss of canopy, water absorption and carbon sequestering from roots, and the natural habits the trees provide for native birds and insects, are critical to preserve our environmental resources and are part of the character of this area. We need to act now before it's too late.
3-1-1 System. I plan to use my experience in technology to implement a county-wide constituent service management system. These are often called "3-1-1 systems" and serve as a 9-1-1 equivalent for non-emergency requests such as reporting potholes, downed tree branches and stop sign requests. People can use their smartphones and snap a photo of the issue, and it will be routed to the appropriate municipal office for service. With over 1.2 million residents and growing, we need a digital, scalable solution, so that citizens may interact with the county in a fast, modern and cost-efficient manner.
Q. What aspects of residential life in Mount Vernon District need improvement?
A. I love this area, and we have so much going for us, but I am so concerned that we're both falling behind and having certain initiatives pushed upon us that will degrade our quality of life. Mount Vernon is a unique place with a rich historical heritage and unmatched natural beauty. It should be a landmark for Fairfax County. But a trip down our major thoroughfares exposes the dangerous cracks under the surface.
While controlled by the National Park Service (NPS), the George Washington Memorial Parkway is used by residents daily and is in poor condition. The $30 million project to reduce travel lanes has not improved safety and has made several intersections more dangerous and frankly, terrifying to use. Invasive vines are choking the old growth trees, dangerous depressions and bumps derail traffic, and both dead animals and branches lay on the road for weeks at a time. The reality is that the parkway is used daily by our residents to commute to work, get to the airport and make appointments. As a critical part of our infrastructure, the road has a completely different use and needs than when originally designed over 100 years ago, and we need our government to adjust for the times. As Supervisor, I would use my influence to push the NPS for real improvements.
I don't agree with the county's plan to put a new homeless shelter next to West Potomac High School, especially if it will house sex offenders. The proposed facility on Beacon Hill Road would, in fact, be closer to six schools than any job center, transportation hub or police station. According to their plan, this facility won't do anything to reduce homelessness or its underlying causes, only spend money on the symptom and thus perpetuate chronic vagrancy. I'd also like to emphasize that when you visit similar facilities in the area, you learn that they are not used by folks down on their luck or trying to escape a bad domestic situation, but by those with acute anti-social conditions. We need to consider the longer-term effects of our efforts and focus on fixing the root causes of our problems, not simply providing an expensive band-aid solution that will have reverberating negative impacts.
Overall, we're seeing a reduction in municipal services and witnessing our infrastructure age while our taxes are constantly rising, and we need to hold our municipal government accountable. It seems every service people actually care about — police, libraries, parks and schools — is being neglected, yet money is being spent on political pet projects and superfluous programs which do nothing for the average citizens. Our incumbent Supervisors are asleep at the wheel in letting that happen, and as your Supervisor, I won't stand for it.
Q. What aspects of business/economic development in Mount Vernon District need to be improved?
A. We live in a diverse district with multiple economic centers, such as Fort Hunt, Historic Gum Springs, Fort Belvoir (our largest employer), the Lorton communities, and the Route 1 corridor. What will work in one area may not work in another.
What does connect much of our district is Richmond Highway. We need a clear path to improve the area, rid it of crime and improve traffic. It's a car-centric avenue, but our focus should be extending the Metro and connecting it to the Virginia Railway Express (VRE). I support adding travel lanes, installing dark fiber for future digital investment and having dedicated lanes for self-driving cars. Along the corridor, I would like to see vertical mixed-use development where new buildings have restaurants and retail on the ground level, office space and higher residential units sized at least 3-bedrooms to support families with children or extended families.
We need to preserve the history that is so prevalent in this area and build upon the lessons our nation has learned. Our history-based tourism is vibrant, and we should leverage that, not attempt to re-name the past. Visitors come to Mount Vernon, not "Potomac Banks" as Mr. Storck would prefer we be called. Our natural preserves and parks, such as those throughout Mason Neck and the Occoquan Region, are world-class and a draw for locals and visitors alike. With attractions ranging from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pope-Leighey House to Arcadia Farms to the National Museum of the U.S. Army, there is something in Mount Vernon for everyone, which we should champion.
Q. How did you feel about the recent decision to raise the salaries of BOS members?
A. I’d like to see every family in the district get the equivalent of a 30% raise, and I'm going to work towards that by reducing their tax burden.
Public servants should be putting those they serve ahead of their own interests, and it's certainly poor optics to give yourself a larger raise than county employees, all while not being able to deliver on the promises you've made to provide jobs paying strong wages.
To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure what our Supervisors are worth because their compensation isn’t tied to any performance metrics. But I do know that our families could use more discretionary income, and that's something I can personally affect by working to reduce the amount of money they are made to send to Fairfax County.
In 2019, I testified against the grocery bag tax because I understood that it would disproportionately affect working families while producing no real net environmental gains. That's come true — plastic bags are among the most re-used (as in Reduce, Re-Use, and Recycle — most effective in that order), slow compostable items.
Today, I've been very clear that I do not support a new county tax on eating at restaurants, or the "Meals Tax," whereas the others in this race have so far been silent on the issue. Such a tax will only hurt the already struggling businesses that are only now recovering from the COVID closures, and make it less affordable for families who are already financially burdened. We first need to focus on controlling our spending before adding any more types of taxation in this economy.
Q. You’ve written about the need to remedy county overspending by forcing the Supervisors to focus on providing early budget guidance. How would you effect that change?
A. When many of my neighbors received their increased tax assessments, they were shocked and upset. I decided to deep dive into the county budget process to understand the root causes. I attended all the public meetings in person and even testified in front of the Board of Supervisors (BOS). I wrote about my experience and shared thoughts on how to improve it online, and my post went viral. I guess the need for change resonated with many folks.
What I learned is that Fairfax County absolutely has a spending problem, and while we are the 41st largest county by population, we're the sixth in spending. When you spend big, you end up with big tax bills. While many people in the area are fortunate with high-paying jobs, pensions and benefits, many of our neighbors are struggling.
My recommendations include ideas like that the Board of Supervisors needs to offer proactive fiscal policy and not get mired down in the politics of various departments fighting over tax dollars, as well as work backwards from a reasonable max spend, and set departmental guidelines on how much money and what percentage of department budget may be spent on key functional areas such as HR and IT. We need our BOS to act more like a corporate board of directors, not politicians when it comes to fiscal policy.
The entire process taught me how investing my time in fully understanding the details and process can help point the way to identifying solutions for these complex issues. It takes effort to understand the issues, and both shouting, "Taxes are too high!" and from the other side, throwing money at problems, are not productive.
How would I affect such changes and more importantly scale the solutions? I would start by increasing transparency and making our fiscal data available to the public. Fairfax County is full of intelligent people who are quite capable of reading a general ledger. Let's put that online so everyone can review.
Q. Anything else you’d like to share?
A. I'm running as an Independent without political party affiliation because I want my focus to be on solving problems, not playing politics. Just like both George Washington and George Mason, upon whose families’ land many of us now raise our own families, I believe that party should not come before country. I feel that we've become too divided over concepts over which we have no control, and that is taking the focus away from the quality-of-life issues we have the ability to influence.
I am not the candidate for voters who insist on voting for a particular political party; I am the candidate who picks the best ideas and comes up with common sense solutions for the families of the Mount Vernon District.
I believe my very unique perspective as a veteran, as someone involved in both very small and very large companies, having had a formal education in business and economics, and who knows the challenges and joys of raising a family here, enable me to both understand the challenges we're facing and have the real-world experience to form a consensus, identify a creative solution and get the solve done. I welcome your thoughts and views and welcome you to join me in this push for improving our district. It would be my honor to serve as your representative on the Board of Supervisors.