No Perfect Decision When it Comes to Winter Closings

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(County Executive Ed Long wrote this message to staff in the employee newsletter. To find the latest government status, visit our emergency blog or view these other ways to stay informed.)

Throughout my career, I’ve made many decisions. My approach to decision-making has always been:

  • Review all the available information.
  • Weigh all options.
  • Choose the one that best serves the greater good.

I follow these same steps when deciding the county’s operating status on inclement weather days when snow and ice impact our roads and sidewalks.

Do we open, delay or close?

Your safety and the safety of our community are always my primary concerns, so I pay particular attention to actual weather conditions and forecasts.

But our community is best served when our facilities are open, our programs are held and our services are provided.

I always try to make the best possible choice, knowing that no perfect decision can ever be made and there will always be some who will disagree.

The challenges are many:

  • Weather changes; the conditions that I base my 4 a.m. decision on could be drastically different six hours later. And although I try to make my decision the night before so you know what will happen the following day and have extra time to make arrangements, that often isn’t possible.
  • Our county’s transportation infrastructure is varied, including both high-speed roadways and narrow, winding lanes.
  • Conditions throughout the county can vastly differ from one geographic area to another; streets can be dry in one area while icy snow covers roads in other areas.
  • We have 12,000+ county employees with 12,000+ different family situations, needs and circumstances.

My opening/closing decision cannot possibly address everything. We have a very large workforce located in work sites across 400 square miles.

The local, state and federal governments make individual decisions on operating status. The federal government has a much larger workforce than we do, and a sizeable number are dependent on public transportation to get to work. So while federal government decisions are impacted by the status of the Metro system (trains cannot travel on above-ground rails when it snows heavily), that is less of a factor for us. We also should acknowledge that no matter what the status of the federal government, plenty of businesses, doctor's offices, stores and others remain open as usual. Like their customers, the people we serve expect and depend on us to go to work.

I’m also aware that many private companies and nonprofits located within Fairfax County base their own closing decisions on the county’s operating status. I’m making decisions that impact not only the county workforce, but others who live and work in the county, each of whom have their own personal concerns, worries and situations.

So I often give you, our employees, the ultimate choice, knowing that only you can make the best decision for yourself and your family. By granting unscheduled leave, you can use your own compensatory or annual leave or leave without pay. Prior approval from supervisors isn’t required (although you must contact your supervisors to let them know), giving you the flexibility to base your decision to go to work or to stay home on your own unique circumstances.

You should be prepared to make the best decision for yourself and your family. If the county government is open, and you don’t believe it is safe to go to work, use your own leave and stay home. That’s why we have this employee benefit; leave is designed to cover both expected and unexpected absences from work.

Good luck to us all as we do our best to make the right decisions when the weather impacts the county’s operating status. We have a shared responsibility to stay safe and warm and also to provide needed services to our community.


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