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A Moment in RVA History
Editors Note: This is an anonymous submission which was sent to Quail Bell's editors with the message, "I apologize for the anonymity. Lots of pressure going around. Sending this to all Council members. Thank you for your consideration." This letter has been lightly edited for grammar but has remained otherwise untouched from the original submission.
Dear Honorable Members of Richmond City Council,
I am writing you this afternoon because we are at a major crossroads in the great city of Richmond. In the next couple of weeks you will be asked to vote on a variety of issues that will weigh very heavily on the future of this city and the people within it for many decades to come. While there are a variety of different development projects including the Revitalize RVA proposal, the Brown’s Island Amphitheater plan, and the ongoing management of Monroe Park on the table for you to soon vote on, there is a much more serious civic situation that you have the heavy burden of addressing. The yay or nay ballot that each of you will cast in regards to Mayor Jones’s Shockoe stadium proposal will be a vote on much more than whether or not to build on a historic site in Shockoe Bottom: It has now become a yay or nay vote to validate a model of how business is to be conducted by both non-profit organizations and well-funded commercial enterprises in the City of Richmond.
Over the past 4 months since Mayor Jones’s initial announcement of the RevitalizeRVA plan, his conduct, as well as that of Venture Richmond and LovingRVA, have been questionable at best (and spinelessly manipulative at worst) to both the democratic process and the non-profit model that has been at the heart of much of RVA’s lifestyle and cultural expansion over the past 3-5 years. On the surface it may appear that there is a large amount of support in the form of Facebook “likes” and signatures from both the commercial and non-profit sectors of the city for this plan. The reality is that many of RVA’s small businesses are being kept in a silent, financial stranglehold around raising any questions or concerns around the RevitalizeRVA plan. Because many of our city’s non-profit organizations receive funding from major corporations such as Capital One, Bon Secours, and Altria there has been a passive aggressive mandate issued that if you want to keep receiving funds for your organization that you most “go along” with the stadium plan or risk losing some level of funding for your organization. This has been echoed by a number of different employees across many sectors under the cover of anonymity for fear of fiscal retribution.
Many of these organizations know that building another recreational facility is not in the best interest of the city. Regardless of the mayor’s blind eye to the educational issues in RVA’s currently rock-bottom education system, most RVA taxpayers overwhelmingly agree that our schools and infrastructure across the entire city are the immediate priority, not recreational sports and an illogical design that puts a hotel (typically consider a place for rest and relaxation, no?) right next to 7,000 screaming fans and fireworks going off at 9:00 at night. It doesn’t take a civil engineer to understand the problems around that and the many other shoddy details around financial liability and infrastructure assessments for this project. But alas, nothing can be said by many local organizations about that for fear of losing much needed funding dollars and threats of being “white-listed” from certain opportunities regardless of if this deal is successfully railroaded through or not. That is a detrimental and n unfavorable situation for businesses, their employees, the city, our culture, and the democratic process as a whole.
So, this is where you, our elected city officials come into play. You have the authority and power to end this. You and only you have the ability to let these people and organizations within our city know that this is not the model that is appropriate for how business is to be conducted in RVA now or in the future. Because if you validate their actions, empower these cultural bullys holding many of our most beloved organizations hostage, and allow the RevitalizeRVA plan to proceed, you will undoubtedly and irreversibly de-base the culture of the business of politics in this city forever. We are teetering on the brink of an unprecedented land and resources grab by Venture Richmond and a small group of people who wish to cash in on a tax-payer funded structure that will undoubtedly damage the beautifully emerging, independent culture by continuing to shut out local businesses and vendors the same way the Skins training camp has. It is well known and echoed in many halls that in 2014 and beyond the future of economic development is in small business, NOT real estate. Good, fair wage jobs (not minor league sports or part-time jobs with rotating, unpredictable schedules like at most grocery stores) and spending at homegrown establishments are the foundation to growing an effective, long-term tax base that will allow RVA to continue to grow and improve the city-wide services everyone agrees are in dire need of attention.
It is very obvious that the Richmond Public School system is moving backwards under Mayor Jones’s watch. To say his priorities are misplaced is a graphic understatement, and you have the opportunity to make a statement that your priorities are in the right place. It is extremely necessary to let your constituents know that you support increased immediate and responsible funding to fix some of our school’s problems, not dumping dollars into a hole in Shockoe Bottom and hoping a money tree sprouts up in five years.
After Mayor Jones’s recent unsuccessful attempt to get one of his church cronies elected to RPS Superintendent, the School Board made an excellent decision in hiring a complete RVA outsider to come in and take some bold steps to get our struggling schools (middle and high in particular) back on track. Superintendent Bedden’s talk of raising teacher and employee wages to a more respectable level, diversifying and specializing educational tracts for our students, and changing the culture around our school system from the top down are just a few of the bold initiatives he has brought forth as a starting point to help resolve some of the issues within our school system.
In our city, poverty is rampant and is really at the heart of many of the municipal issues that we face. With that in mind, Mayor Jones’s “race-baiting” white council members with his RevitalizeRVA proposal as a magic pill to “answer” the city’s poverty rate is shoddy and desperate, but something that resonates within many, primarily brown communities on a variety of different levels. However, while Mayor Jones assumes the support of the African-American members of council, I would challenge those ladies to demand more for their communities from the mayor’s office and not be satisfied with the same old Richmond bone being thrown to the brown folks hungry for opportunity in the corner communities of the city.
I would also tell Councilpersons Newbille, Mosby, and Robertson that while political opponents may try and use that against you in the future as you “voting against jobs," using your authority to demand a more substantive and benefit inclusive proposal for job training and opportunities for the former students and youth that have been left behind during Mayor Jones’s watch is a much more respectable position with more long-term benefits for the most effected neighborhoods. Those children are still owed an education, not just a menial dead-end job with no realistic future of advancement or self-fulfillment. That is their role in the mayor’s long-term plans. You can change that and demand he and his team go back to the drawing board to develop a real plan that benefits all the city’s neighborhoods not just his friends that stand with mouths open, hungry for a municipal welfare handout.
As a last note, I would ask all of Richmond’s City Council members to think very hard about what they want their legacy on the City of Richmond to be. With Councilperson Graziano making it known that she will not seek re-election, her legacy will be the most effected. It will be up to her to decide if she wants her legacy to be as a small business advocate that votes for the people (we’re giving her a one-time pass for that Skins training camp vote) or as the councilperson who cashed in and sold out the city in one fell swoop. A fiscal coup de grace to the Richmond Public School System if you will, because that is what it will be. We should all make sure that she is held accountable and/or praised now and well into the future for how she responds to this crisis matter.
Any council member voting in favor of this proposal will also inevitably be a part of any pending audits or investigations into the potential abuses of Venture Richmond’s non-profit status. As that and similar items are currently being looked into by various independent entities, it may be a good idea for any and everyone to step away from this deal as it has undeniably violated the spirit of non-profit governance and community cohesion in RVA. If those investigations yield more substantive violations then that investigation will inevitably spill over into the life and activities of any City Council member aligned with them. Everyone knows much money has changed hands in many back rooms to garner support for the RevitalizeRVA project and I think we should all be wary of proceeding forward with this project for this and all the other reasons listed above. Much in that regard can be avoided by voting against the RevitalizeRVA plan and demanding that Mayor Jones and Venture Richmond be held accountable for their arrogant and flagrant disregard for sound and good faith business practices in RVA. From there we can move onto developing a real plan that benefits every corner of the city and uplifts RVA into the beacon of innovative, educational, and professional excellence that we can be.
A Concerned Citizen
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