Patch Profile: Arlington Board Candidate Libby Garvey
Democratic school board member wants county to be clear in intentions, priorities, engagement.
Libby Garvey knows what’s important to her.
The 60-year-old Arlington School Board member will gladly pull out her iPhone and talk about an app one of her daughters designed, or share pictures of her four grandchildren.
Garvey is in her fourth four-year term on the school board and feels she accomplished all she set out to do there. Now, she’s seeking a spot on the Arlington County Board against Republican Mark Kelly and Green Party candidate Audrey Clement.
The election is Tuesday.
Knowing what’s important is a theme when Garvey talks about her 15 years of public service.
She talks about working for more equitable distribution of resources among the county’s schools, working on the school system’s budget (the current spending plan is $475 million), starting open office hours to better engage the community, participating in the hiring of two chief executives, helping close the achievement gap by 50 percent by some measures and how the system has built school after school “on-time and on-budget.”
She also talks about the differences in how the school board and the county board operate. On the county board, each year a new chair announces his or her priorities for the year. The school board, on the other hand, operates under a six-year strategic plan developed over 18 months with significant community involvement; the chair’s job is to make sure the board stays in line with that plan.
“It’s a way of getting the whole organization moving in the direction we need to go in,” Garvey said. “And what I see on the county side is a lack of that intentional work. They do a lot different things, but there’s no sense of what’s most important, and what really are our goals to some extent.
"I think we need to be doing a better job in that – including people in transparent processes – and being clear about what our priorities are. And I think our No. 1 priority needs to be preserving what we love best about this county as we grow and change.”
That’s casting a wide net: Garvey includes affordable housing, maintaining core services like police protection and infrastructure maintenance and keeping up with the county’s growth so the reasons people love Arlington aren’t lost.
“I’m not planning on spending two hours talking about where we put the tables on our sidewalk cafes,” Garvey said. “Sometimes they get caught up talking about issues that really shouldn’t take that much time. What we need to be talking about are our priorities at the county, maintaining what we value most and making sure we stick to that.”
Accordingly, she lists her top three priorities as managing growth and change, establishing transparent processes for the community and making sure the community understands what the local government is doing and why, and setting clear goals and priorities.
From Garvey’s perspective, the school system has put standards in place so that when new facilities are needed, certain questions are already answered – like how many class rooms there should be, for instance. She thinks the county could benefit from taking a similar approach.
“Right now, I don’t think the county has standards for what should be in a community center,” Garvey said. “Is there a basic standard or is the sky the limit? I don’t think that’s very clear to folks.
"So, you don’t use people’s time really well. And you can end up with a lot of frustration. They come up with a great plan, and then it bumps up against a budget reality and you can’t do it. And they get frustrated.”
She also thinks civic associations need to be updated as developers move through the various approval processes the county has, so that amenities neighborhoods think are in place stay there – that is, to keep developers from reneging on any promises made early on.
Last year, Garvey attempted to run for the state Senate. In that respect, she sees herself as entering the county board race late.
Still, she won primary endorsements from Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, and retired Sens. Mary Margaret Whipple and Patsy Ticer. It's Favola's seat that Garvey is now seeking.
“Libby Garvey is a proven leader and has served the community for 15 years on the School Board,” Favola said in a statement earlier this year. “Libby's skills and experience will enable her to be an effective County Board member and advocate for the progressive values we all care about. Libby will work to protect our core services including human services, affordable housing, and public schools as we continue to grow and change as a community."
Garvey won a five-way Democratic caucus for her party's nomination on Jan. 21.
Garvey met her first boyfriend – and future husband – at age 18. The two married after college and spent time in Africa with the Peace Corps. They returned to the United States in 1976 and bought a house in Fairlington in 1977.
The two were married for nearly 35 years before he passed away. Garvey now draws a widow’s pension and manages a few rental properties. She believes if she can accomplish in 12 to 16 years on the Arlington County Board what she did with the school system, she'll have had a good public service career.
Garvey enjoys biking and making music – she sings and plays the harpsichord. She has two daughters and two granddaughters.
Editor's note: This article originally ran in January. It has been updated for Tuesday's general election.