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GOLDMAN: First District boys learn; Mayor refuses

Paul Goldman is a local lawyer who helped run Doug Wilder's historic campaign for governor of Virginia.

Paul Goldman is a local lawyer who helped run Doug Wilder's historic campaign for governor of Virginia.

RICHMOND, Va. – Jon Baliles and Glen Sturtevant are serving in their first year of elected office, city council and school board respectively. So it defied logic when it came to my attention these rookies were picking up faster on the political game than the Mayor, who started serving on the School Board back in the early 1980′s.

But what is….well….is. I can only report the evidence and let you, the jury, decide.

Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones, despite what the people want, indeed deserve, refuses… on purpose… to seek the advice of the public in any formal way as regards his plans to build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom.

It is the worst kept secret in Richmond, regarding his going around seeking out a selected few, indeed it is rumored some who have hired people close to him to “advise” the matter.

All this has to come out eventually, even in Richmond.

Why not just be upfront, make your case for the stadium and whatever?

There are lot of good people for it. They don’t much like all this working in the shadows either.

The Mayor though is out cutting deals to “get his ducks in a row” as he recently agreed when asked a pointed question by CBS 6 reporter Tracy Sears.

Yes, a Mayor normally does try to get his ducks in a row: but usually, the public is one of those ducks! But alas, we’re not ducks to be asked, but rather chickens to be plucked.

The public has a right to be part of the discussion PRIOR to the Mayor making a proposal which, by then, has been cleared with all the “right” people. Nothing wrong with being a big shot, but the people are the real shots. They should be bigger than anyone else, than any special interest.

Jon and Glen get that the people need to be consulted prior to their government, their representatives making a recommendation. They genuinely want the public’s input.

Ironically, the issue in the First District involves another sports facility in a way, getting a gym at Mary Munford Elementary School. My son went to Mumford, so I am familiar with the lack of a gym facility. Most elementary schools in the city have gyms.

As those who read my last column – and hopefully voted in the WTVR poll which is getting an amazing number of votes – I have laid out a plan that Richmond can afford WITHOUT RAISING ANY NEW TAXES OR CUTTING ANY SERVICE, to modernize all the city’s elementary schools [Middle schools too.]

Thus not just Mumford, but all the schools can be modernized for a 21st century education, which requires a lot more physical activity than we have now, not merely more class time. Sound mind/sound body, they go together and the studies show Richmond’s kids were possibly in the worst shape/health of any comparable city last year. Why would this year be any much better?

If the Mayor, City Council and the School Board would simply – forget me – join Senator Kaine, our former Mayor in an effort to fix an anti-Richmond glitch in federal law [we got Virginia's Republicans on board!] then we could planning a lot more than a new gym for Mumford. Tim is ready to lead in the Senate. Congressman Cantor representing part of Richmond is likewise ready.

But in the climate in DC, they need to hear from localities. That’s reality too.

Until then, former first district council guy Bruce Tyler got some money put in to the budget to do what is being billed as a “feasibility” study for adding a gym to Mumford’s facility.

I never have much liked the term “feasibility study” since it implies that the decision to construct a gym has already been made and the issue then is only how best to proceed, what is the most feasible way to do it.

That’s not the case at all as I understand it. The same for the talk in the community that the “feasibility study” is really about how to go about building a Community Center with a gym as the core.

There has not been any decision by Jon or Glen to propose plan A or plan B regarding this or that. Far from it. Rather, it is best to see what former Councilman Tyler got started as simply how best to approach a gym facility assuming there were monies available to do it, assuming this is what the public actually wanted in the end.

It would not be cheap.

Moreover, it is not clear whether there would ever be the money to do it or whether the money could only be made available with some “strings” attached, such as needing to get the funds from a non-school government funding source like the Department of Parks and Recreation. They got access to money but it probably can’t be used for a stand-alone gym for Mumford students only.

So there are various options to talk though, pros and cons on each.

THUS, UNLIKE THE MAYOR, the first district boys aren’t going to do the “my way or the highway” approach, or “here is the deal I cut, now tell me what you think but if I really cared, then of course I would have asked you before cutting it!”

Jon and Glen are going to make sure the people particularly in the affected community have a chance to have input BEFORE they ever make a formal proposal on behalf of the community.

That’s representative democracy with a capital D: not the Mayor’s with an asterisk.

Jon and Glen learned from the Westhampton/Redskins/Bon Secours deal cut by the Mayor last year. Despite promises from the parties that no deal would be announced prior to their having input, that turned out not to be true at all. Many feel they were purposely lied too.

Whatever the truth, this is much is true –it must not happen again.

Jon and Glen can be counted upon to understand this basic rule of fairness. As they say in business, they are “on it.”

Bottom line

With all due respect, the Mayor’s team should learn from the rookies.

They are going to make an effort to make sure folks in the Mumford area get to be a meaningful part of the discussion prior to any decision being formally presented.

Admittedly, it can be time-consuming and these are not high paying positions for Jon and Glen! But the Mayor’s people get paid a lot of money for doing…well, that’s another column.

In my humble opinion, the first district doesn’t need a new Community Center at Mary Munford, there is already one not that far away. Moreover, my hope is that fighting to fix-up all the schools will be the top priority for all concerned since this is possible and moreover, the money for the gym is not readily apparent at this moment.

That’s my view, others may have a different one. The point is that all of us get a chance to be heard in a timely and useful fashion.

I don’t know why it takes rookies to teach the veterans this basic lesson. The Mayor knows better, he is a savvy guy. But, to use a phrase, he seems to have a Jones for a Shockoe Bottom stadium.

Paul Goldman is in no way affiliated with WTVR. His comments are his own, and do not reflect the views of WTVR or any related entity. Neither WTVR nor any of its employees or agents participated in any way with the preparation of Mr. Goldman’s comments.