Ken Elston
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New Manassas Tax Rate

When I decided to run for Council, Jackson Miller told me that I was making a mistake, because I was, he said at the time, liked by my neighbors. I announce the Christmas parade, was a lay leader in the church, volunteer in the community, and, sure enough, as soon as I announced my willingness to join the Council, a part of the population was immediately “against” me. Serving in the city is a balancing act of time and energy management. With a demanding job and a family I enjoy spending time with, sacrifices have to be made to attend the meetings and the readings and the hours of committee work. What makes these kinds of sacrifices worth it? The answer: doing good for the community. I ran because I saw that our City Council was pushing major projects down the road consistently. I was concerned that major costs [like $2.5M in shared services with the jail], were common knowledge but not sufficiently addressed at budget time. Did anyone think that important projects were going to get any cheaper, or were they going to get any less necessary for the community?
With the FY18 budget, we have an opportunity to fully fund the city manager’s proposed operating budget, and allow our staff to get on with the good work. And, we have an opportunity to make a very important investment in our community. It’s easy to bang the drum to raise the battle cry of no more taxes. Let’s face it, who like to pay taxes? But, as is the case with so much of governing, the issue at hand is complex and nuanced. Budgets shouldn’t really be a partisan issue, this is something that is in everyone’s interest to get right.
It may be a little harder to tell the story of saving money in the long run and committing to a strategic plan, but that is just what we are doing with this budget. I want to end a cycle of putting things off, costing the city more, and I want to protect our credit rating, as well as protect our citizens from spikes in taxes. Those projected tax spikes are in potential budget projections, and available in the budget documents.
Trying to put the city on a sustainable and secure financial footing is my goal. I will not play political football with the tax rate. Citizens should know that there are many positives represented in this budget for our city, and I will try and clarify a few thoughts here.

The tax rate always receives loads of attention and investigation.
The tax rate in the city, between 1993 and 2017, when one removes the dedicated Fire and Rescue Levy, declined 1%- from a 1993 rate of $1.24 to a 2017 rate (minus the levy) of $1.22. Tax revenue has not kept up with inflation…by a long shot. Inflation since 1993 has been over 50%. Long-term citizens can look at that rate history in this Northern Virginia community as one heck of a cumulative savings over many years, and it is fair to recognize that such financial decisions have played a significant role in the look, growth and changes in the City of Manassas. What also should be recognized is that those many years of stagnant rates have left an important need to address the question of sufficiency within the budget. Does the tax rate support the strategic plans of the city?
Some citizens have made it very clear that they feel the pain of taxation. My family does, too. I teach at a state school. We have two kids in school, one of them in college. While many of us feel the burden of paying our taxes, Manassas City has one of the lowest tax burdens in Northern Virginia. There is a difference between the tax rate and the tax burden.
Even though the tax RATE is relatively high in the region, the ACTUAL BILLS are relatively low for the region, mainly due to low assessments compared with the rest of Northern Virginia. It may be important to clarify that I have supported tax relief for the hardest hit and least able to pay, and Manassas has one of the most generous tax relief programs in the region. Veterans, the elderly, and the working poor do have access to relief, as well as important services.
In hearing from citizens about this issue, some have brought varying tax inflations to us; however, upon investigation, these variances from the city’s actual percentages have been because the home values have risen. Many citizens were able to take advantage of the financial crisis in the housing market. Houses were purchased through foreclosure and short sale, at deep discounts. For most of us who own homes, our residence is our major investment. An increase in that value, after a shrewd investment, is a major net positive for the owner, and the increase in assessment validates that. Others have improved their homes, and the City is working to encourage reinvestment and make that easier and more attractive to homeowners to do so.
I have worked to support economic development and encourage business growth in the City. I do that because it helps to shift and share the tax burden. Investment pays dividends to our citizens. Quality of life goes up. We attract businesses and professionals to the city. Is that important? Well, the analysis I saw from what just one business, Micron, adds to the city economy showed that every dollar of city investment in that business brought seven to the city. Investment is a powerful tool leaders have to build a brighter civic future.

Citizens and leaders have validated city needs that require attention.
Most citizens do not mind committing to a share of services, improvements, and a better future for our city. This assessment is based in personal experience and scientific research. Citizen willingness to share the load is based in the excellent return they get for that investment, in terms of services and quality of life, as well as a feeling of contributing to the enterprise of community. Again, citizen surveys drove final staff recommendations represented in the CIP. We pay for those surveys. We pay for analysis and staff. We also pay for financial advice.
Financial advisors, Davenport and Co., have said that the City must demonstrate a commitment to investment. They also recommended that the tax adjustment, setting aside money to fully fund the CIP, should happen sooner, rather than later. That same analysis shows that tax rates would have to jump steeply- over 5 cents- in near future years, if we do not plan ahead. Doing a smaller raise in taxes now minimizes rate shock and benefits family budgets in the long run. It saves taxpayer money.
Last year, based on Council discussions and citizen surveys, the Council voted- unanimously- to support the CIP. There have been some changes made to that plan; however, there has been no new debt added to that five-year CIP in this new budget. Some of the support from Council seems to have evaporated in the face of actual funding requirements. Citizens might question their representatives’ intentions. Are leaders committed to maintaining infrastructure? Modernizing? Catching up in areas that have been neglected? Are they committed to keeping the city competitive in Northern Virginia? To the strategy they offered staff to guide budget development?

I am not alone in pushing for transparency in communication with citizens and for easier, faster communication. While not every wish can be attained and not every idea can be pursued, there can and should be greater communication. Too often, comments in social media are too simplistic, misleading or intended to cause emotional impact. Neighbors reached out to me to add to the public discourse on social media, however, I prefer to be careful, thoughtful and accurate, and I have no wish to be at odds with any of my neighbors even when we have honest disagreements. That said, investment in the community [be that land acquisition, park and trails development, public safety facilities, ball fields, road improvements, incentives for economic development] requires planning for financial capacity. It may not be a wise practice to advertise a willingness to sacrifice public assets (like land) to any plan that allows us to save short-term dollars. The city is in a stronger position when we have reserves intended to address needs.
Past Councils have kicked the can down the road time and time again, rather than provide consistent and predictable support for the City’s needs. No one really believes that costs for major projects will go down in future. Costs generally go up. It is the value of the dollar that tends to go down. How much of taxpayer money has been wasted through penny-wise/pound-foolish planning? We have moved to change that wasteful and damaging process.

The AAA Bond Rating is something to be celebrated and protected.
The better the bond rating, the cheaper the city’s cost to borrow for major projects. It is also a boon to attracting businesses, because the bond predicts a city’s probability of default. Triple A means that probability is pretty much at 0%, so bring your business to our stable community.
The bond rating is a snap shot of financial health. Part of that health is based on the reserves that some of us fought hard to get into the budget over just the past few years. Committing to reserves protects and strengthens the rating. Far more importantly, it creates sufficient capacity for the city to accomplish goals.
There are things that a bond rating review does not supply. For instance, it does not look at the state of the infrastructure. As an analogy, an individual might have a great credit score, but the home they live in might have a roof that is caving in. The roof has to be fixed, right? That great credit score will help that individual do that, but the individual has to act and manage the costs in such a way that the great credit score isn’t damaged by that new debt.
Past Councils changed city policy to lower the percentage of budget that MUST BE kept in reserve. Those Council decisions allowed the city to spend large portions of what should have been reserves. This practice has a negative effect on capacity, and it had to be addressed before the bond rating could improve. Financial advisors have also counseled the city to address the level of outstanding bonds per capita. Between 2006 and 2013, total outstanding bonds dropped 32% (from around 76.3M to about 49.3M]. Outstanding bonds per capita dropped more steeply (45%- from $2,150 to $1,183). The City has allowed its debt service to fall off, without building significant reserves. This does not indicate a commitment to invest in the city. Simply, we have to remain competitive with our neighboring jurisdictions, and, with this budget, we are just getting back to normalized civic investment.
On page 307 of the FY18 budget, titled Debt Management, take a look at the Ending Fund Balance line to the right of the page. It zeroes in 2027, but the proposed pre-CIP funding funds projects to 2022. So what happens if we don’t look further down the road? 2023-2027 would require additional funding. That’s higher taxation. Strategic planning now puts us in a much better financial situation to manage things financially and smooth the impact to our families over the years. In other words, some Council Members are working to avoid tax spikes to families in the future.


After last night’s City Council work session, the Council has determined the Advertised Tax Rate, which is the limit for the tax rate that can be set at the end of this budget process. The rate that was agreed upon is three cents higher than last year’s rate and meets the City Manager’s request. What does a three-cent hike mean to most families? It means a ninety-eight dollar tax increase for the average family for the entire year, or basically the cost of one dinner out for the same family. That being done, your council now has some big decisions to make for the 2016 budget.

Dominating the budget discussions thus far have been two related issues: meeting the City’s annual charges from the County for shared correctional services (our jail costs) and the revenue sharing agreement with the schools. Judging from the emails I have received, many citizens are well aware of these issues, so I will outline them quickly.

Until just last year, the costs of the jail had always been met by using the end-of-year discretionary funds. That is to say, there was no budget line for the jail costs. Last year, the former Council found that this end-of-year surplus was not enough to cover the costs, and therefore agreed to a two and a half cent increase to the 2015 budget, which almost covered the difference. Continuing to separate this cost from the General Revenue Fund or to include it, is something with which the Council must grapple.

NOW: The Revenue Sharing Agreement with the schools is defined as fifty-eight and a half percent of the General Revenue from the City. This allows the schools to plan their budget based on Projected Revenue. The City’s General Revenue excludes some revenue, specifically levies for targeted purposes; for example, sewer, fire and rescue, and in 2015 as discussed, the cost of the jail. Why is this important? If the jails were considered part of the General Revenue, 58.5% of the two and a half cents raised for the jail, would go to the schools as per the Revenue Sharing Agreement; thus leaving the jail, once again, underfunded. In order to cover the jail costs while including them in the General Revenue, there would have been a necessary tax increase of six and a half cents, to cover both the jail and the Revenue Sharing Agreement to the Schools.

Moving forward, the Council has agreed to discuss a three-cent increase to the overall budget in order to have some room to grow new and better initiatives to improve our city. I suggested an Advertised Tax Rate of six and a half cents so that we might have room to discuss whether or not to include the jail as part of the General Revenue while also honoring our agreement with the schools, or to keep them as a separate levy.

With only a three-cent increase, we are left painted into a corner; however the corner is a little brighter than it might have been. We may have improved capacity to build amenities and drive economic development. We would be able to address transportation, build a public safety building, and address the aspiration for a long-sought library in our community. Of course, we may also be growing the budget for the schools. This is never a detriment to the city. The schools are an important part of the city. Strong schools help assure a strong city.


Being elected to City Council is being elected to a position of service. My commitment will be to work on behalf of and in representation of all our citizens, and, in making hard choices and important decisions, weigh the greater good more heavily than any ideology. I will value diversity and bipartisanism and work to build productive dialog regarding issues in the community. I will focus my attention and energy while on City Council on the work of good government and on local priorities. I will work towards a government agenda that improves our city services and burnishes our community’s reputation.

Among government’s highest obligations are public safety and fiscal responsibility. All city services hinge on getting these two things right, and the character of the community is defined by attention to them. I am committed to supporting our schools and supporting economic development. Great schools and successful economic development depend on community security and amenities.

To enhance public safety, I support retention programs to stem the loss of experienced police officers. I support investment in fire and emergency medical services to right-size staffing, ensure quick response times, and improve our city’s rating- the rating that is a national standard that determines all our insurance rates (better ratings result in savings for individuals and businesses)- a fantastic argument for living in and doing business in Manassas. My priorities will always be based in community need, as expressed by the experts our city employs to make those judgments.

While on City Council, I will be an advocate for fiscal responsibility and good management. As the new City Council works to support the necessary services for our citizens- whether that refers to local services or seeking the best terms for our citizens in partnership agreements- I will always promote the lowest necessary investment by the individual taxpayer that still supports the needs and the goals of our city. Long-term strategic planning demands differentiating investment and expense. Taking advantage of favorable rates, fees and other costs of enduring achievement will require prioritization, and there will be great value in a new dedication to avoiding emergency-based shocks to the economic system. We must attend to the undesignated fund and reserves for the city to assure a strong credit rating. In the past, Manassas has had success using rate stabilization funds, insulating our residents from sudden rate increases, and we should think ahead and be proactive on behalf of our citizens in just that way again.

You can depend upon me to advocate for filling in missing pieces in the mosaic of our city profile. I advocate returning parks and recreation to Manassas as a priority in providing the kinds of amenities all great communities have. I believe in returning and right-sizing city staff positions to pre-recession levels to provide sufficient support to a city of our size. And, I will always work to ensure that all of our fiscal choices are grounded in the shared values and mandates of our community. Every dollar the city spends is from Manassas families and Manassas businesses. I will honor the trust given the City Council by being a good steward of those resources.

Manassas, you have a choice regarding the kind of representation you receive on City Council. It is a big part of what makes this country great.


Transportation issues represent a huge challenge for us here in Northern Virginia, and, in many ways, Manassas City’s needs represent pieces of a very large puzzle. It means that we must work collaboratively with our partners and neighbors in the public sector (Manassas Park, Prince William County, VRE, and the Commonwealth) and private sector to develop a comprehensive plan that must, inevitably, include road improvements, road development, and real transportation alternatives, including mass transit, and, I would suggest, some Twenty-First Century thinking regarding technology and infrastructure to benefit telecommuters.

The reason citizens need to vote for change on City Council is that this requires strategic planning, forward thinking and a common sense commitment to the future. There are examples of the ways in which our city leaders should be addressing transportation more seriously. Let us consider the need to support City businesses by providing customer and employee access, promote commuting with mass transit, and manage traffic patterns and flow on behalf of our residents.

Developing a comprehensive plan to handle parking in our city is in the Council’s purview. City Council has already skirted dealing with parking with regard to population density issues, neither have they addressed transportation requirements. Undoubtedly, we need more parking alternatives that support city residents first. Perhaps you are aware that the city could have made relatively small investments in the city’s future with preparation for a parking deck next to city hall. They passed on the expense. Just recently the city passed on purchasing a parking lot on Church Street, though we may be footing the bill to rent that same parking space back and, so, engage in periodic renegotiations on that contract. Such choices are perhaps penny-wise, but they are certainly pound-foolish. The need to manage parking will not go away, the costs for action will increase, and a continued lack of planning will put the burden on the next generation of leaders, if the City is interested in solutions. I am interested in solutions.

Similarly, any increase in high-density housing must require considerations of road use and commuter impact. The bottom line is that government’s commitment should be to increasing the time our residents spend with their families by doing what can be done to lessen time behind the wheel. Particularly if a City resident commutes north or south, the car is still the only real way to do that. New road development is complex, but plans exist, as does the formula for funding change. As part of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, Manassas City has already voted to support new roads. That’s good, because we need our boundaries to be less limiting.

In addition, our whole region is dealing with the economic burden of unused business space. A model for public-private partnership might allow some of that space to be civically supported with communication technologies, and other incentives might attract businesses and government to fill them as flexible workspaces. Knowing that such space management is already successfully underway and revitalizing small towns in Europe might help us be confident in such an approach. Innovation at Mason was an experiment in shared space for non-profits, so this is not a new idea even to our community, but it didn’t leverage the major industries and employers of the region, nor take advantage of the potential for secure locations in the city. There are other best practices being modeled across the globe and across our nation, and Manassas should seize opportunities to lead in innovation for resolving difficult questions. With an imbedded university and with our major industry in innovative technologies, creative solutions to our major challenges shouldn’t be out of reach and would brand our community as forward-looking and supportive of economic growth.


There are multiple and equally valid answers to the question of what economic issues are most importance to the future of the City of Manassas. With your indulgence, I will go down two paths of thought in short order.

Path one: SCHOOLS! Excellent schools are the catalyst for a strong economy nationally, regionally and locally. Great schools attract businesses, as well as homeowners. Property values are tied directly to the success of the schools. Great schools mean higher property values. First and foremost, our children are most important to us. In terms of assets, for most of us, our homes top the list of most important. City leaders have a responsibility to protect and support our kids and our home values. Supporting great schools achieves both goals. My wife and I are products of great public schools. Our two kids attend Manassas City Public Schools. Our public schools should be a point of great national pride. Our city schools: a point of civic pride. As a member of City Council, I will work collaboratively with our elected School Board and support the goals of our district’s administration.

Path two: The need for long-term strategic planning is the single most important economic issue facing our city. Our City’s ability to offer a high level of services and meet economic challenges demands a serious commitment to economic growth and diversifying our economic base. Voting for change on City Council on November 4, 2014 would be a vote to build a stable and sustainable tax base. As costs go up, population grows, and infrastructure ages there are essentially two tools available to city government to meet the needs of serving the population effectively and keeping Manassas a great place to live: taxation and economic development (which, in turn increases the tax base with less impact on families and the individual tax payer). As a citizen and father expecting college tuition bills soon, I am not particularly interested in raising the individual tax rate, and it is clear that the existing Council Members agree with me on that. So one wonders what these councilmen have been waiting for with regard to funding a comprehensive economic development plan. We have invested in sector plans for our city and we employ a talented City Manager and staff to develop a Capital Improvement Program (CIP). The sector plans go largely ignored and the CIP largely unfunded. In point of fact, only 20% of the CIP (those investments which our leaders deem most important to keep Manassas on track) are represented in a near-term, multi-year budget strategy. In other words, 80% is left unfunded, or, to put it more bluntly, there is no actual plan for capital improvements. Let’s fix that. Let’s return to the visionary leadership our city once enjoyed and prospered under.

For more information, please look at the issues page at


A week ago I was in a car accident. A person turning left from the opposite direction failed to yield the right of way at an intersection. So, my car was totaled, I knocked on fewer doors last week than I intended, and I went to work less than I intended, too.

A colleague suggested that maybe the universe was suggesting I slow down. Perhaps, but I would have preferred a note or a dove.

In any case, I find myself counting my blessings in all this, and they are many:
• I saw the other car coming and hit my brakes. If I hadn’t, that Expedition may well have centered its impact in the middle of my driver-side door.
• Insurance is taking care of the messy business that inevitably follows an accident.
• Though we may have to make some hard choices, we will be able to secure a replacement vehicle soon.
• My colleagues at George Mason have been nothing but supportive in allowing me time to heal.
More so:
• Family and friends warm my heart with expressions of sympathy and support.
• Everyone was able to walk away from this event.
• Witnesses slowed their own busy lives, stayed at the scene, and shared what they saw happen with the police.
• Trustworthy professionals are doing their best to sort out all the complexities involved.

Because this campaign for City Council is so often at the forefront of my mind, I cannot help but find the lessons in all this reflected in the needs of that job:
• Look down the road.
• Plan for emergencies and insure the system to ensure the future.
• Remember that hard choices are necessary.
• Be grateful there are options.
• Know we are in this together.
• Appreciate the professionals who are trained to manage complex issues.

There is always a silver lining. It did take slowing down to really see it, though.


Laughter really is the best medicine. I have been getting a few chuckles reminding people that there are a few of us who would do just about anything for Manassas and the neighbors we love. Some of us would even run for City Council.

As we make that run, it is important that we do not lose a sense of fun and adventure in meeting challenges along the way. We have to keep a sense of humor. Others have kept their humor, and we do well to remember.

“Sometimes I wonder whether the world is run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it.” -Mark Twain

We use the word “politics” to describe the process so well.
”Poli” in Latin meaning “many” and “tics” meaning “bloodsucking creatures”.

“Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘We should never judge a [politician] by his age, only by his works. And, ever since he told me that, I stopped worrying.” –Ronald Reagan

Statesmen tell you what is true even though it may be unpopular. Politicians will tell you what is popular, even though it may not be true.

“My esteem… has gone up substantially. It is so nice now when people wave at me, they use all their fingers.” –Jimmy Carter

A political pollster knocked on the door and a sour-faced lady answered. ‘What party does your husband belong to?’ he asked.

The lady responded curtly, “I, sir, am the party he belongs to.”

“Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.” –John Kennedy

And a quote I hold dear because it is a good rule of thumb in all circumstances:

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by ignorance.” – I first heard this attributed to Thomas Jefferson (probably not in a conversation with Ronald Reagan). Since then, I have heard this attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte, Robert Heinlein, and Robert Hanlon. In any case, never assuming bad intent is a good practice. Let’s try and be clear, truthful, patient, and, for goodness sake, keep a sense of humor.

Double-checked my memory for the quotes at and found some of the jokes there, too.


“You gotta get out there!”

I hear this admonishment all the time from supporters- and how great is it to be able to use that term for friends who want to see you succeed- who know how important it is to meet voters and let them get to know me before Election Day. There is no question that I have been trying to do just that. “Wing Kids” at my side and helping to share the load.

These kids are tireless and positive, and they provide me with the energy to knock more doors and walk more streets and attend more events than I might have otherwise. And that support is so important, because this election is really going to be close, and, if we want change in the city, it is going to take getting people to the polls.

Now school starts. For those kids and for me, at George Mason University, school has resumed and demands attention and hours. Rehearsal starts, too. This may not be an issue faced by many out there, but anyone who understands the phrase, “I can’t. I have rehearsal!” knows what it is like when you are working to put on a show.

Directing The Mystery of Edwin Drood at Mason will be both a drain and a gas in equal measure. This audience interactive, fast-paced comedy will be the first of its kind. It will include motion capture animation, elements of film and projection, the use of technology and social media, and an improvisational show-within-a-show structure. The show may be the first in history to start with, “Ladies and Gentlemen, please turn on your cellphones.” While it is sure to please (October 24-November 1—- get those tickets for the Center for the Arts in Fairfax AND the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas)*, it is also sure to consume me in the coming weeks.

Yes, you read that right. The play production ends November 1 and the election is November 4.

And, I know you get it. We often feel drawn in a million and six directions on any given day. Especially when we have a family, and we want to support their hopes and dreams. We struggle to make it all work. So, that’s what I am going to be trying to do. Make it all work, and, if you feel so inclined, I would really love your help. So, if you are willing to put up signs in your yard or windows, knock on some doors, talk to your friends and neighbors, then let me know and thanks so much.

I am gonna keep getting out there. I am gonna direct one heck of a show (seriously, come see it). I am gonna be there for my family. And, I am gonna still be standing on November 5. That’s when I start studying like mad to be the best darn City Councilman I can be. It doesn’t stop. You just gotta get out there.

*This shameless plug for the show, students of Mason’s School of Theater, and our amazing arts venues is for your good as much as mine!


Thanks to the generosity of veteran, teacher and community leader, Atif Qarni, I attended a luncheon and dialogue with Senator Mark Warner this week. Our state’s senior senator is, of course, running for reelection this November. He won election to the US Senate the first time by an enormous margin, and I hope he will do that again. His broad bipartisan appeal is based upon his past service as Virginia’s Governor, his business experience, and his willingness to stand up for good ideas, regardless of either party’s political position of the moment. He calls that being “an equal opportunity offender.” I call it championing effective government.

Warner and Elston

There is much to be said for working toward effective choices over ideology. In my campaign for Manassas City Council, I call that “common sense for our community.” It is what our city needs.

Favoring or advocating change, improvement, or reform to make progress toward better conditions for a community.

I am always surprised when I hear the term progressive used as a slur or derogatory label. Truth is, though, I only hear the word used that way by partisan political types, and so I shouldn’t be surprised. When I knock on doors and meet the citizens of our city, there is nearly uniform desire for a progressive vision for the city. Too often our elected representatives provide us false choices, and demonizing the term progressive is probably one of those. Progress is inevitable. The real question is whether we move forward in a way that makes our community better, or do we progress fettered by the limiters of division, distrust, and fear.

Pursuing a course of action midway between extremes, especially following a course in politics that is neither liberal nor conservative.

Politics is not a dirty word, either, though we are rearing a generation that has every right to believe it is. Public service should be an honor bestowed on those who deserve and earn the trust of all those they represent. The lay of the current political landscape is pocked, because too many seek only to represent only a few or a narrow point of view. That way takes us to the dangerous edges. Navigating community is generally best accomplished down the middle of the road.

Effective government should be about problem solving and working across the board and across party lines to resolve issues (and, undoubtedly, differences). Approaching problem solving through balanced and fact-based dialogue, always with resolution as the goal, is what I intend to contribute as a public servant. I welcome partners in that intent. You can be an important partner by voting on November 4. Encourage your friends and neighbors to vote for new voices on Manassas City Council. Let’s be all for one great city and one city great for all.


There is a difference between the tools we use to accomplish the good we have to do and the values that inform what we do and define our priorities.

Tools like budgets, rules of order, and politics are often limiters. Budgets are finite. Rules necessarily define process and order, but they often defy common sense interpretation. And, in consideration of that which often defies common sense interpretation, politics can lead to team and consensus building, but, and sometimes more often, politics divide us. At worst, politics actually create an atmosphere of dislike and disrespect. History is full of this ugly use of politics, and we seem to be in an era that will be characterized by future generations as limited by divisive politics.

Defining shared values, on the other hand, brings us together. Defining shared values is harder than defining personal values, because shared values have to stand up to the test of actually being shared. It is well worth doing. Shared values are not limiters. Shared values represent guiding principles that help us define priorities. Values are the guide rails that allow us to assess our reasoning and decisions that help us reach our goals.

I had the honor of celebrating Eid, the end of Ramadan, with friends at the Manassas Muslim Association. It was a time of prayer and reflection centered on community and Selam, or Peace. In that time, I considered the Mosque’s motto: “Educate, Enlighten, and Empower Our Next Generation.” It seems one good way to order those values that underlie policy and decision-making.

Education is the most important investment we make. Enlightenment requires transparent and information-driven communication. Empowerment implies inclusive engagement and mutual trust. Our next generation is the future. If we aren’t doing all we can for the next generation, then why are we doing it?

Let’s make certain we are using the tools at our disposal to do good things for our next generation. Let’s define that good through shared values. Let’s set an example as we set the stage for our next generation.