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People Call for City Government, Not Sports!
Attending City Council meetings can sometimes be a grueling, boring task. Similar to digging a hole in muddy ground. The suits, the droning voices, the routine content and the fluorescent lights all add up to a task it can be difficult to engage in.
You may not believe me, but in the end, it is all worth it. If you want to know the cutting edge of what is going on in town, attend the meetings. You get information on important issues, and you will get to hear from many involved citizens. And while laughing in session is probably frowned upon, I find myself doing it on a regular basis.
There is a drama to the interactions at Council meetings. Knowing the players and knowing the history can add up to both tense and humorous moments. I've seen City Council admonished, asked to resign, cursed as in with a spell, and treated with three minutes of silence to reflect on their actions. Folks have some really creative ways of getting City Council's attention and presenting their case.
The first meetings of 2014 started off with a relatively small turnout and a small agenda. There was, however, a great deal of drama and tension around certain issues. Community activist, documentarian, and City Council regular Silver Persinger spoke three different times to call out City Council for violating their own rules. At this meeting Council voted on an appointment without the individual being present. This violates their own rules, and there was no explanation forthcoming. Council next switched around the order of the meeting, voting on the consent agenda before the Citizen Comment Period, and then pushing the Citizen Comment Period until after the Regular Agenda. Persinger's frustration was palpable, and Council's response was silence.
The two items on the Regular Agenda for this meeting both pertained to the transfer of the baseball Diamond and property at 3003 North Boulevard from the Richmond Metropolitan Authority to the City of Richmond. Opponents of these two ordinances were critical of the Boulevard development plan that has been proposed, as well as the link between the plans for the Boulevard property and Mayor Jones' scheme to build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom.
James Miller, in opposition of these ordinances, spoke on the economics of the Boulevard plan, and seriously questioned the validity of the numbers presented. His main point being that projected figures for retail were based on a 15-mile radius from the property. Which includes areas like Short Pump and Mechanicsville, who's residence are not so likely to come to the Boulevard for their shopping since they have their own stores and malls. He also pointed out that without letters of intent from any businesses it is a real gamble to say that there will even be stores who want to set up shop in that location.
Some of the funnier moments in my mind, were when opponents to the proposed ordinances, linked them to the Shockoe Stadium plan, and suggested that since hardly anyone uses the stadium we do have it would be silly to build a new one. When asked if they attended baseball games, Council members remained silent, perhaps in shame. It was also mentioned that this was an awful lot of to do over a team called the Squirrels.
In the end, Council voted to pass the two ordinances. Transferring the ownership of those properties is not necessarily a bad thing, and does not mean a new baseball stadium has to be built in Shockoe Bottom. That topic is for the melee of the next Council meeting. The passing of these two ordinances was a disappointment to opponents, but does not mean that anything is a done deal. The ordinances were basically a vehicle for discussion of some larger issues affecting Richmonders.
One major theme presented by multiple speakers at this first meeting of the year was that City Council members ought to be spending less time on sports, and more time of the issues which affect Richmonders today. Chris Dorsey admonished Council members to feel shame for their focus on sports, to the detriment of all other aspects of governance.
Multiple speakers like Lisa Perilli brought up the decaying infrastructure in the City which needs attention, such as sidewalks and street lights, and proposed that Council ought to be more concerned with these and other safety issues instead of sports stadiums.
Ron Skinner brought up the 26 percent poverty rate in Richmond, and how these large scale development schemes have historically not done anything to change this rate. If you take a look at Richmond's big budget projects you can see a legacy that simply hasn't done much for the citizens. From the 6th Street Market Place to the Convention Center, there hasn't been an economic success for the poor.
I did a brief brainstorm on important issues in Richmond, and from my point of view, our lack of sports teams simply isn't one of them. Richmond has an incredibly valuable resource—our people. And unfortunately the elected representatives of the people seem to have a tendency to forget that. Instead focus goes to the big, flashy porjects being pushed by private interests. And the people of Richmond get left out once again.
For those unfamiliar, here are just some of the pressing issues that it would be fabulous to have worked on and fixed. We can start with our HIV rate—the 17th highest in a CDC study of over 2,300 localities. We can add the closing of the Conrad Center, which was pushed by years by Council and others to become the centralized location for all services for the houseless. We have the violence against Trans and LGBTQ people. The looming medicaid gap and cut to MCV's free healthcare program which is going to leave plenty of us Richmonder's without access to any medical insurance. Cutbacks in programs like SNAP (food stamps), meaning less access to food for the almost 50 percent of Richmond children living in poverty. The underwhelming GRTC bus system, with increasing fares, and which pretty much fails to provide transportation to places where there are jobs, leaving our low income citizens with long expensive bus trips, taxi rides, and grueling walks to low paying jobs. Don't forget that we have the highest recorded water utility minimum anywhere in the hold world, which places an extra burden on our elderly and low income citizens, as well as hurting the environment. And we have attempts to privatize Monroe Park to look forward to over the coming months.
But our Mayor and City Council sure do spend an awful lot of time on sports. They took resources from our public school system to make the deal with the Washington Football Team training camp, and have pledged a half million annually to the team, which is one of the wealthiest in the NFL.
The next Richmond City Council Meeting is on Monday Jan. 27 at 6 p.m. in City Hall. The major ordinances about the Shockoe Bottom Baseball Stadium are scheduled to be on the agenda. Come sit with me and laugh, because it is either that or cry.
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