Katie Cristol

Katie Cristol

County Board Member, Arlington County, VA

Katie Cristol has served as a member of the Arlington County Board since 2015 and served as Chair in 2018. Regionally, Ms. Cristol represents Arlington as the Chair of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, and as Immediate Past Chair of the Operations Board of The Virginia Railway Express. Ms. Cristol also represents Arlington on the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and serves on the Human Services Policy Committee of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Ms. Cristol has been an advocate for women’s issues for over a decade and was appointed to the Arlington Commission on the Status of Women by the County Board in 2012, where she supported the Commission’s efforts to garner attention for women’s professional advancement, childcare affordability, and to recognize the achievements of women in the community. Ms. Cristol holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia and an MPP from Princeton University.

“Flipping the Script” On Funding in Arlington, Virginia

Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol wants those receiving human services to guide funding

Katie Cristol is chair of the county board in Arlington, Virginia. When she became an E Pluribus Unum Fellow, her county government was already pursuing racial equity. They’d passed an “equity resolution” committing to end local disparities, and set a framework for moving forward. Their county vision statement called forth a “diverse and inclusive world-class urban community.”

At the same time, Cristol was hearing from local leaders of color about inequities within the system of county government itself. If Arlington’s government wanted to address racial equity, then they needed to take a close look at their own work.  

“We needed to start making some systemic changes—not just tinkering around the margins or introducing new programs or initiatives, but rethinking how we’ve always done things,” Cristol explained.

Cristol became an E Pluribus Unum Fellow to ensure that she had the expertise and support to move her county forward. She wanted to learn from the Fellowship’s racial equity curriculum, act on what she learned, and be held accountable for seeing them through. As part of her Fellowship, Cristol decided to take a closer look at funding for human and community services. While most recipients of human services were people of color, most service providers had white leaders. These groups had the trust of the local government, but not always of the people they served. Cristol set out to change that—to, in her own words, “really flip the script and understand better what the community needs.” 

She wanted Arlington residents receiving human services to have the biggest say in which organizations served them. Cristol wanted residents of historically Black and Latino neighborhoods to “set the agenda.” Ideally, the city could provide grants to existing neighborhood-based organizations, or new projects run by nonprofit entrepreneurs of color. But as she and her team began outreach, they found that some residents of color were skeptical; they had experienced racism from Arlington’s government and “engagement” that didn’t lead to any change. 

With Cristol’s leadership, the county switched gears. They convened a small group of leaders who were Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and ran community organizations in Arlington. These leaders recommended how the county could fund human services in a way that better reflected the community itself. Now, Cristol and her team are implementing those community-led recommendations to improve the system and services, while building trust and credibility with neighbors. 

“When I came into the office, I really believed that it was about changing the face of who was ‘at the table.’ But as we’ve had these conversations about race in the community, it’s clear that the table is the problem,” Cristol explains. “You can’t just ask people to participate in a system that is set up to privilege somebody else’s voice, and expect them to change it. We’re learning along the way about how to bring voices to the table. But we’re still learning how to dismantle the table.”