City of Richmond’s budget is an ongoing soap opera of whodunits and epic missteps. It would be hilarious if it was just a TV show with some crack pot protagonists. Unfortunately, the crack pots are the politicians and the results of budget failures are very real. It ends up being less than funny for frustrated tax payers.
The latest boondoggle for Richmond is the proposed Maggie Walker statue and plaza. Originally intended to be funded with private money, now the Planning Commission has overlooked that 2010 resolution and are estimating a combined cost of $900,000 for the statue and plaza. Some, including members of the Public Arts Commission ( http://rvamag.com/articles/full/26318/public-arts-commission-members-protest-approval-of-maggie-walker-statue ) see this as a last gasp from Mayor Jones to resurrect his reputation. Others just see this as a continuation of luxury spending while basic services try to go down the drain, but can’t because the sewer gutters are blocked and flooding the streets.
Maggie Walker deserves to be honored. This is not a point that needs arguing.
She was an amazing woman, especially for her time. She started the first bank to be owned by either an African American or a woman, and she was both. Her role in the Jackson Ward community was vital. It would be great for her legacy and for the inspiration of future Richmonders to honor her with a statue in a plaza.
The problems with this proposed plaza have NOTHING to do with Maggie Walker herself. If any one of us citizens owned a home, but failed to keep the lawn cared for, take out the trash on a regular basis, maintain good functioning plumbing, buy the supplies our children needed for school, buy clothes and food for our children, and make sure our pets got adequate medical care and then wanted to blow a big chunk of the money we had on a lawn ornament or fancy painting, society at large would easily be able to see this for the poor decision it would be. Even if the statue was meant to be an inspiration for generations to come, and to honor a very deserving person. In fact, not only would society condemn a citizen making such poor choices, but the City of Richmond would send Code Enforcement to cite and fine the person for multiple violations, potentially even condemning their home and taking away their children and pets. The financial reality for many citizens is that we have to pass over luxury items in order to finance our necessary bills. When we fail to do so, we face consequences.
The City government should ideally be a more fiscally responsible entity than any average citizen. The City definitely should not be making budget choices that are so irresponsible we would easily mock and condemn them if done by your average Joe. When the City of Richmond fails to finance its necessary bills, every citizen has to face those consequences.
The original plan was for private funding to be used to pay for the Maggie Walker statue and plaza. But now the local government is choosing to ignore this previous resolution, and instead expects private funds to pay for the budget deficits for Animal Control ( http://wtvr.com/2016/07/18/richmond-animal-care-and-control-seeking-donations-after-city-budget-cuts/ ) grass cutting. (.http://m.richmond.com/news/local/city-of-richmond/article_a26af651-9a1d-524c-a963-7ba8dacccb33.html?mode=jqm ), local parks and schools. This seems highly irregular, at least for other better run municipalities. Around $250,000 of the cost for the plaza is coming from work to be done by the Richmond Department of Public Utilities. The rest of the money comes from the Public Arts Commission budget, so not directly from other City departments. However, it seems irresponsible to maintain the 3.2 million dollar budget for the Arts commission when other City departments are having budget cuts which hinder their ability to perform necessary daily tasks. When you can not afford the basics, you have to tighten your belt regarding luxuries. Art is important, but not more important than trash pickups, water utilities, storm clean up, animal control, etc.
There are also some very park specific problems with Richmond. Kanawha Plaza ( http://wric.com/2016/01/14/kanawha-renovations-continue-despite-funding-concerns/ ) , Monroe Park, and Abner Clay Park are all slated for renovations and upkeep that seems to keep being put off, neglected, and pushed to a private sector which also fails to do what it promises. Adding another park when existing ones aren’t being maintained seems to be a questionable practice. Maggie Walker, one can speculate, as an activist, would rather see tangible positive things occur for the African American community than have those funds spent on a statue of herself.
Decisions should be made by the people who are affected by them. Or at least with those people in mind. And while Maggie Walker’s role historically was in the African American community, this proposed statue will affect everyone in Richmond regardless of race. This statue needs to go up, we need to honor Maggie Walker. It is unfortunate that this current attempt to honor Walker’s legacy is now entrenched in the trainwreck that is Mayor Jones’ time in office.
The way to move forward is to take a step back. Take a breather. Getting forced into fast decisions in order to meet deadlines set by politicians, or NFL teams, or breweries isn’t good practice. Maggie Walker should get a statue, a place of honor. This is a well intended attempt to give recognition to a significant historical figure that will add needed diversity to public art in Richmond.
Let’s go about the Maggie Walker statue in the right way, so we can all be proud of it, and not have it start out tarnished by poor budget choices, ignored protocols, and crack pot leaders.