The early years
In the early part of the 20th century it became increasingly clear that the form of government originally prescribed by the Virginia Constitution of 1902 was not meeting the needs of those counties which were gradually becoming more urbanized. In its original form, the 1902 Constitution set up a rigid system of county organization and government, and the General Assembly was powerless to comply with the demands of the leaders of Arlington for an improved system.
Consequently, in 1928, an amendment to Section 110 of Article VII of the Constitution was proposed which would empower the General Assembly to pass general laws authorizing other forms of county organization and government. The amendment passed and was subsequently ratified by the people of the state, opening the door for Arlington to adopt a new form of government.
1930: Arlington Chooses “County Manager Plan” Form of Government
The Arlington delegation wasted no time, and the 1930 session of the General Assembly passed an Act permitting counties with a population of more than 500 to the square mile (in effect only Arlington) to adopt a County Manager form of government, provided the electorate approved. On November 4, 1930, the electorate voted in the County Manager Plan and, at the same time, determined that it would elect the members of the new County Board, five in number, from the county at large rather from the then existing Magistrate Districts.
With this vote Arlington became a pioneer in the County Manager movement, as it is considered to be the first county in the United States to adopt by popular vote any kind of a County Manager system.
Over the years, as new demands were placed upon it, the county government structure was enlarged and became more complex. Even in the early thirties, however, concentration of responsibility in a single head resulted in more efficient government. In addition, the fact that the Magisterial Districts had been abolished and the County Board elected at large meant a governing body more responsive to the needs of the county as a whole. To quote C.B. Rose in Arlington County, Virginia: a History: the “continuous, contiguous, and homogeneous” nature of Arlington had now found expression in its form of government.
“Arlington will be a diverse and inclusive world-class urban community with secure, attractive residential and commercial neighborhoods where people unite to form a caring, learning, participating, sustainable community in which each person is important.”
— Arlington County Board
Arlington County, Virginia: a History by C.B. Rose, Jr., 1976
Fifteen Years of County Management Government in Virginia by George W. Spicer, 1951
“Arlington Adopts the County Manager Form of Government,” Arlington Historical Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 2, 1958