Soundtrack to the article…
The hope for every New Year is for a year that is better than the last. For Richmond, that hope is against all odds as our local government sets us up again and again for epic failures. It is up to you, the people of Richmond, to take a stand against the corruption, the incompetence, the utter lack of transparency, and the bad priorities pushed fervently by the local politicians and businessmen.
I present to Richmond, a slightly seasonally late Christmas Carol, with the hopes that being visited by the ghosts of Richmond’s past, present, and future will be a cautionary vision, leading the city to better decision making down the line.
I would compare Mayor Jones to Scrooge, and direct this message at him, but I’ve never been one to count on people in power or want to reinforce hierarchy, and frankly the man never has seemed to give a damn. Instead, this goes to the people of Richmond, the ones capable of rising up to change Richmond for the better and take it out of the hands of greedy developers and their ilk.
*chains rattling, fog rolls in*
While there are many Ghosts of Richmond Past I could choose from, I’ll focus on a recent one – the Redskins Training Camp. The problems with the public spending on the Redskins Training Camp start with the bad investment, go to the bad decisions for the school system, the disproportionate spending of money in a patriarchical way, and end with the indisputable racism of the team’s name (ah but that doesn’t stop the white people). But the financial side of the Redskins Training Camp is what is relevant here, so let me run the numbers by you.
The City of Richmond paid about 10 million dollars for the original construction of the Redskins Training Camp. This of course happens at the same general time period where the City repeatedly refuses to put money towards public schools that are falling apart on students’ heads and relinquishes a public park to control by a private organization with gentrification plans over a measely 3 million dollars.
The contract with the football team also requires that the City of Richmond pay 500,000 a year to the team to cover their moving expenses. After the first year of the camp, the City was short- the sponsorships meant to cover that half a mil never really panned out. So for the remainder of the 8 year contract the EDA, (Economic Development Authority, Eagerly Distributing Assets, Earnest Debt Accruers or whatever you want to call them really),and the City are on the hook for $547,685 a year. Welp, they didn’t come up with the money in 2014 either. It’s overdue, and no one seems to have answers.
In the Training Camp’s case, pressure was put on citizens and politicians to hurry, hurry, hurry or miss the opportunity. All of this rushing does not allow for adequate analysis of these projects. We must be responsible, and if that means occasionally missing an opportunity because we have to take time to look at it, well, that just happens sometimes. Better than making a habit of losing our asses while subsidizing private businesses.
Where is the accountability here? Where is the respect of public money? Where is using public money for the greater good?
What we can see from this Ghost of Richmond Past is that jumping into economic development plans, where the people taking the money swear it is a great idea, is actually a pretty bad idea. They of course, present us with the most optimistic of numbers. But construction costs more than predicted, no one wants to rent a building they have to vacate for weeks each summer, tourist numbers aren’t as high as once predicted, local vendors are excluded from the site itself, and the financial boon to the City’s economy is pretty hard to pin down. Gambling with public money on these types of development plans, while ignoring vital public amenities like schools and parks, is a foolish, greedy way to run a City.
Now we come to the ghost of Richmond’s Present, the Stone Brewery Development Deal.
Ok, so I don’t know if you remember or not, but during the Shockoe Bottom Baseball Stadium controversy of 2013/2014, it was proposed that instead of a baseball stadium, a museum honoring the folks sold into slavery in Richmond be built. The estimated cost of such a project was 30 million dollars. But Mayor Scrooge-Jones couldn’t come up with that money in his budget. It was just too much money. Anyone have a guess as to how much money the City is spending on building a brewery and restaurant for the Stone Brewing company? Yes, yes, I know, it’s like a bad Hollywood script, and yet, it is true- Richmond’s neoliberal race to the bottom with Stone Brewery is costing about 30 million dollars. It’s funny how that money doesn’t exist to create a museum and historical site that would honor people of color, sacred ground, and critique a historical atrocity committed by whites, but it suddenly appears when the Governor can hang out and drink some beers as part of the deal.
Not only does this deal reveal the priority of Richmond’s politicians in terms of spending – beer over slavery museum, it mirrors the Redskins deal in the speed in which the City plans to complete the project. They plan to spend 23 million on the brewery building and 8 million on a restaurant, and gave the whole dang thing finished by 2016. If only our schools, sidewalks, bus system, or sewers could get repaired with such expediency!
Richmond’s business owners, including restaurants and some breweries are outraged that the City would subsidize Stone Brewing Co. while continually haranguing local businesses with red tape, the world’s highest water minimum rates, meal taxes, and more. What we will get from Stone Brewery is yet to be seen, there are a lot of vague promises and feel good PR statements, but the details of the deal are being kept secret from citizens and to some extent City Council members as well. Without concrete requirements written in legally binding documents about what contributions Stone Brewing Co. will make, or who they will hire, etc. we are relying on capitalists not lying, and on the trickle down effect to benefit the City of Richmond. I, for one, have never been a fan of getting pissed on.
Richmond’s future, well the ghost of Richmond Yet To Come doesn’t present a very pretty image. Yup, we might run into Baseball in Shockoe Bottom again in 2015.
The special meeting of City Council on Monday January 5th is where the outcome is most likely that Michelle Mosby will be named City Council President and Chris Hilbert Vice President. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of Charles Samuels. But he has more backbone and more intelligence and experience than Mosby. Where she tends to follow the Mayor’s lead, Charles has on occasion been willing to stand up against Mayor Jones.
Mosby is also not well cut out for the position of member of City Council, let alone President. She is inexperienced, takes things personally, gives rambling speeches of dubious meaning, tweets about her hair business during meetings, and has yet to explain away the potentially corrupt choice of her roommate as her paid liason.
This is particularly troubling since word on the street has it that Mayor Jones still refuses to listen to the will of the people, and fully intends to bring the baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom idea back again (and again). I mean, you won’t hear that directly from the Mayor. He doesn’t even bother to show up to City Council meetings unless a famous person is in attendance. And his press secretary, Tammy D. Hawley, well, as far as I can tell she gets paid to say, “No comment.”. But the Shockoe Bottom idea was never fully killed, the Mayor pulled back his proposal when he realized he wouldn’t get the votes. Since then he has refused to publicly discuss what the status of the plan is. While the incredible organizing against the Shockoe Bottom Baseball Plan was successful in creating a political atmosphere where City Council wouldn’t vote for it, the job is sadly not complete.
It is time to stake this public money sucking scheme in the heart!
We must remember the importance of respecting Sacred Ground in Shockoe Bottom, not making deals with corrupt developers like Salomonsky, pay attention to who works for what companies and sits on what boards, be vigilant in noting local corruption and nepotism, and demand that tax money be spent on things the people in Richmond actually want and need.
But Yall, we can change our ways. Scrooge did it in A Christmas Carol, and we can do it here.
My friend Silver is an invaluable resource to all of #rva, as he films many public meetings. He has put together two videos with footage of Michelle Mosby during City Council meetings, meant to shoe folks who might be in charge come Monday: