If you weren’t at City Council tonight, here is my recap.
Before the meeting I spoke again with Michelle Mosby (9th district), who informed me that per our agreement after the last meeting, she had gotten the Public Comment period moved to earlier in the meeting’s agenda. I had made the request because I feel that Charles Samuels intentionally pushes that comment period later in the meetings to avoid having more attendees hearing what the public has to say. Typically by the end of the meetings many people have filtered out. It also seems that the public should have their say before votes happen, in case their information might be influential to a council person in some way. In exchange for the moved public comment period, I agreed to yell less and be more ‘respectful’. This all came about as I tried to explain to Michelle that when Charles Samuels refused to allow public comment on agenda items, the public was going to have their say one way or another, which was what we saw at the earlier April meeting. I hope that public comment stays early on the meeting agendas. Although the new 6 month trial of 1 meeting a month seems likely to cut into the ability of the public to speak.
About 16 RPS students came to express dismay at the refusal by the administration to fully fund schools. Their presence was a follow up to this morning’s walkout protest where around 200 students from 5 different Richmond Public Schools left school and marched to City Hall to protest the lack of full funding for schools, and the poor condition of many of the schools. #rvawalkout was the tag used for this campaign.
Isabella Arias, a student at Open High, spoke in the public comment period, but essentially had their concerns dismissed by Charles Samuels. Isabella made several salient points, including that to be a first tier City Richmond needs first tier schools before stadiums.
The other major issue I picked up on tonight was item 10 on the consent agenda. The way the agenda was written was very deceptive, and the ordinance sounded vague. Charles Pool tipped me off that in fact the ordinance had to do with giving Venture Richmond money.
“Ordinance Number 2014-80 (Patron: President Charles Samuels – To approve the Work Plan and Budget for the fiscal year ending Jun. 30, 2015, for the provision of services in the Downtown Richmond Special Service and Assessment Districts. “:
That ordinance is about, well, it is hard to tell by the little bit of information put on the agenda.
However, a closer read of the full text of the ordinance revealed that it would give $700,000 to Venture Richmond for their programming, including Canal Cruises, Friday Night cheers, Tredegar Green, their ‘ambassadors’, and more. The full text of the ordinance was not in the agenda, and was not among the papers placed on the ledge to be distributed. I found it only with the help of Silver Persinger, in the giant binder of ordinances down in front.
I asked City Council members to vote no on this item. The sneakily worded ordinance was very misleading to residents. An additional problem at this meeting was that, as usual, there were not nearly enough agenda’s printed to go around. Many people in the audience wanted agendas, and could not get copies, and therefore had a very difficult time following along.
One reason to vote no on giving Venture Richmond money or tax breaks is their Tredegar Green amphitheater plan. Residents of Oregon Hill, neighboring Tredegar Green, overwhelmingly object to the project, and Council should not support this funding.
The ‘Ambassador’ program which is also funded through this grant, says that Venture Richmond’s ambassadors “discourage behavior that threatens the future prosperity of downtown”. To my ears, this sounds like a gentrification patrol, using their authority to promote a set of standards which residents have not had a say in. I question who’s standards and who’s prosperity are being kept in mind and promoted by these ambassadors, and seriously question why tax payer money should be supporting their agenda.
The $700,000 also funds events like Friday Cheers and Canal Cruises. Friday Cheers is the Venture version on an event which used to be free on Brown’s Island, but now costs $5-10 depending on the show. Somehow getting public money for the event has resulted in them charging attendees. The Canal Cruises are another money making enterprise for Venture Richmond, but subsidized by the taxpayers. The tickets for the cruises cost $5-6 depending on your age.
Additionally, Venture Richmond has used their money to fund the sorts of political lobbying campaigns that non-profits are not actually supposed to engage in. As of February 5, Venture Richmond had stated they spent $32,500 on the Loving RVA campaign, a transparent support campaign for Mayor Dwight Jones’ Revitalize RVA baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom plan. Dwight Jones is also the President of the Venture Richmond Board of Directors. City Council President Charles Samuels (2nd district) and Vice President Ellen Robertson (6th district) are also on the Board.
The bottomline here, again, is that City Council is spending tens of thousands of dollars on plans that are not fairly bid, not wanted by residents, and not beneficial to residents. Parker Agelasto (5th district) and Reva Trammell (8th District) have both supported the idea of getting the $40,000-50,000 necessary to open one library location on Sundays for a year. Currently no City libraries are open on Sundays. Well, shoot, with $700,000 we could keep 14 libraries open on Sundays for the year, more than 1 per district.
$700,000 could also go a long way towards fixing the roof of school, and other urgently needed facility repairs on school buildings. In fact, $700,000 is exactly how much money the School Board is looking for in order to repair the roof of one elementary school and one middle school. While City Council and the School Board play pass the blame, but not the buck, students pay the price.
Firefighters have also recently come to council to ask for more financial support, specifically for their career development. These folks help our communities to stay safe, and deserve support.
The 3 million needed to be raised by the Monroe Park Conservancy, who recently landed a 30 years for $30 lease on Monroe Park, is basically just over 4 times that $700,000. Maybe if we kept that money for our park system Council would not feel the urgent need to privatize our public spaces.
The leasing of Monroe park and this grant to Venture Richmond are both examples of essentially no bid auctions of public resources. These are plans designed for 1 specific group. In the case of Monroe Park, the call for public bids was a technicality followed only when Caroline Cox pointed out their illegal no bid process. My bid was the only competing bid, and it was a protest bid. While the Monroe Park Conservancy had over 3 years to develop a plan and then a bid for the plan tailored for them, I had 30 days. For Venture Richmond’s 700,000 grant, which they receive year after year, the issue isn’t even up for a bid at all.
We have the money for our parks. We have the money for our schools. We have the money for our libraries. We have the money for our firefighters. We have the money, City Council just consistently chooses to spend it on corporate welfare and the rich instead of the things the rest of us want and need. Vote them out in 2016.