By working to increase the input from voters into decision-making in city government, the Citizens Referendum Group has set about to improve its home town in a way that will last. The group’s goal is to allow two items to be included on Richmond’s election day ballot on November 4, 2014. Propositions “A” and “B” propose changes to the city charter that, if enacted, will give citizens more say-so over the fate of current and future development projects involving public funds.
How We Got Here
Last summer, when Charles Samuels, the Second District’s representative on City Council, proposed that a baseball stadium referendum be held, it created a new twist on the old discussion about moving professional baseball to Shockoe Bottom. Although Samuels’ proposal was shot down by a 6-3 vote, a Facebook page started to support his referendum concept lived on. Locals with opinions about where baseball ought to be played in town were drawn into the discussion.
Thus, the Referendum? Bring It On! group page became the online incubator for the CRG. The first meeting grew out of that process. It was held on December 17, 2013, at Gallery 5. The eight attendees took turns airing out their thoughts about whether and how to wage a campaign to get a referendum on the ballot. Subsequently, the discussion on Facebook steadily heated up over the next couple of particularly chilly months.
On February 24, 2014, during City Council’s well-attended meeting, the stadium issue was hashed out for hours. Near the end of the tedious back-and-forth an exasperated Reva Trammell, the Eighth District’s representative, said, “Let’s have a referendum.”
Trammell had uttered the magic word. Suddenly a bottled up genie seemed to have been released. Quoting Trammell became popular around town in the days that followed.
The momentum for a citizen-initiated solution to Richmond’s stadium problem accelerated considerably with a meeting at the City Library on March 8, 2014. About 20 people sat around a table to talk about that same magic word. Much of the talking was done by Richmond’s foremost legal expert on the subject — Paul Goldman. By the end of the meeting Goldman agreed to continue to work toward crafting the language to put the referendum strategy in motion.
The ad hoc group met again a week later. A consensus of how to proceed began to form. At the group’s next meeting on March 22, 2014, as the official referendum petition forms were handed out, those assembled settled on the group’s name. That Saturday the members of the group left the library focused on their purpose.
Like everyone else in Richmond we have watched the baseball stadium controversy ebb and flow for 10 years. During that decade of retooled plans and indecision 27 different people have served on City Council. Over that time Council has heard from an array of experts, activists and boosters. Isn’t it time for the taxpayers to be heard on the baseball stadium issue?
The reason the Citizens Referendum Group exists stems from what its members have in common. All of us want to fix a problem. However, our group isn’t affiliated with a political party or preexisting movement. Some of us want to properly investigate Shockoe Bottom’s history and protect that neighborhood from an outrageously inappropriate development. Some see another build-it-and-they-will-come boondoggle in the making. Others stand against an impractical plan that enriches developers, while turning a blind eye on new troubles it would likely spawn and what baseball fans seem to prefer.
Mission and Method
The CRG will stay on the high road. We’re not battling opponents who are bad. We’re against bad ideas. Moreover, we’re confident the majority of our fellow Richmonders have come to agree with us that now the best way to deal with this longstanding political brouhaha is to resolve it with democracy in action.
So the job for our volunteer petition circulators is to harvest already established sentiments in the form of signatures. We need about 9,800 by July 31, 2014. We know it won’t be easy to actually gather that number — in ink on paper — to get our two propositions (“A” and “B”) on the ballot, but the group has decided it needs doing.
We are willing to see this campaign through and will happily abide by the will of the people. Join the effort, if you like.