The referendum drive currently ongoing in the City of Richmond can have immediate and long term effects. One immediate effect is to put pressure on decision makers in the city that may influence their day-to-day policy making. Another way to have immediate impact is to contact city council members and other decision makers directly. Sometimes writing to city council, one wonders if anyone is paying attention. Sometimes we wonder if we are expressing ourselves well. More often, we wonder if the information we have is accurate. It can be daunting to write, speak and advocate for a cause, especially given the fact that it is sometimes difficult for the public to get complete information about what city government is up to. However, I encourage everyone who can to speak up and speak out as often as you can, even if you might feel a lack of confidence in your communication skills. Here is my latest attempt. I wonder if anyone on the other end is listening:
Dear Honorable Members of Richmond City Council:
I am writing to thank you for council’s majority decision last week to delete items from the mayor’s proposed budget related to development plans for a baseball stadium in historic Shockoe Bottom. I sincerely applaud any action by council to reject the baseball-in-the-bottom plan. Council’s action on this is an encouraging development that many Richmonders have waited a long time for.
Less encouraging is the secrecy and withholding of information from the public that seem to be standard procedure in Richmond government these days, and that have served to reinforce and amplify the unfavorable impression of local government that I’ve had most all of my adult life in this city. In this atmosphere of secret plans and non-disclosure of details, members of the public, like me, are left to speculate. For example, I hear that the alternate plan for privately funded development of a new baseball stadium on the Boulevard that came to public light last week has actually been on the table for several months. If this is true, it is discouraging that so many Richmonders, myself included, have sacrificed so many hours to work towards alternate plans without knowledge that an alternate plan (may have) already existed.
Though I must rely on hearsay in discussing the alternate baseball plans, a more concrete example of what I am talking about came to light as council approved consent agenda item 2014-80-56 at your public meeting on April 14th. The item provides $700,000 to fund Venture Richmond’s operations, however, the wording of the agenda summary does not mention Venture Richmond, and one has to dig into the details of the ordinance/resolution request to understand what you approved.
The public/private relationship between the city of Richmond and Venture Richmond should be scrutinized and modified (or discontinued) as needed to guarantee that Venture Richmond is adding value to the city and is doing so in effective ways if they are going to continue to receive taxpayer funding. I am not at all certain that this is the case, and I think many of the arguments by citizens that spoke against 2014-80-56 have merit. Hashing out the details of Venture Richmond’s operations is beyond the scope of this letter, and I mention 2014-80-56 because I believe that the wording of the item summary seems designed to obfuscate the purpose of the ordinance/resolution. If you want to have a vote to give Venture Richmond $700,000, why not just say so in the summary of the agenda item so people can easily know what you are up to? Had there not been diligent citizens checking the details of your actions, here, I would never have known what you were approving and the issues affecting the citizens of Richmond would never have been brought to light in a public forum.
Returning to more positive subjects, again, let me applaud your vote to strip funding related to baseball stadium construction in Shockoe from the mayor’s proposed budget. This is an important step in the right direction. Everyone expects the mayor to veto this action and so I implore you to stick to your decision and work together to achieve the super-majority necessary to over-ride the mayor’s veto. Forcing the people of Richmond to fund a development plan that does not have wide support and that is wrong for many reasons that I have discussed with you previously is bad. Doing so when the city needs that money for much more urgent problems – like repair of crumbling schools – is deplorable, and I seriously question the values of anyone who stands behind the mayor and Revitalize RVA.
I look forward to working with you towards alternate plans for development of Shockoe Bottom, the Boulevard and other sites in the city. We do not need a baseball stadium in order to honor the history of Shockoe nor do we need 100% retail development on every square foot at the Boulevard site to reap economic rewards from that site. What we need are good alternates, discussed openly in partnership with the people of this city so that we can develop a future here that works for the people. I thank you for you continued service to the city. Please make every effort you can to be open and inclusive in this process as we go forward.