Friday, March 9, 2012

Greater Raleigh Court Civic League Candidates' Forum

Last night was the Greater Raleigh Court Civic League Candidates' Forum, which is the unofficial beginning of the municipal elections held on May 1st. I had a great time discussing council accomplishments, my vision going forward and policies affecting taxpayers in Roanoke.

To view the Roanoke Times article on the forum, please visit http://www.roanoke.com/news/roanoke/wb/305994.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Vote Tomorrow

Please vote tomorrow at William Fleming High School anytime between the hours of 9am and 3pm. Support stability and continuity in Roanoke government.

Also, please encourage others to join you.

Monday, January 23, 2012

*** Please give 1 hour of your time Saturday, February 4th ***

On Saturday, February 4th from 9AM until 3PM, the primary election for Roanoke City Council will be held at the new William Fleming High School. Any registered voter in the city is able to participate. All you have to do is come vote, then leave.

We have been getting a lot of good things done in the city and with our regional partne...rs over the past several years. With gridlock at higher levels of government, stability and continuity is critical at the local level. We have a formula that is working and we should continue the momentum. Vote for me, Sherman Lea and Anita Price for Council and David Bowers for Mayor.

Please come vote Saturday, February 4th between 9AM and 3PM at William Fleming High School. It will take no more than an hour of your day.

Thank you.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Lost Art of Congressional Compromise

From today's Roanoke Times commentary section

The Lost Art of Congressional Compromise

"In executing the duties of my present important station, I can promise nothing but purity of intentions, and, in carrying these into effect, fidelity and diligence."
- President George Washington in a Message to Congress, July 9, 1789

Recently, as Congress fanned out across America to their districts, I observed with amusement the desperation to vacate Washington to begin campaigning for the November 2012 elections with backslaps for a job well done regarding the debt ceiling standoff. I am certain that a significant amount of this month-plus off will be spent collecting campaign cash for re-elections nearly fifteen months away. This
last month observing Congressional gridlock has caused me to reflect on the origin of Congress during the founding of our country.

The structure of the U.S. Congress was determined through The Great Compromise in July of 1787 following months of negotiations between representatives from the largest states and representatives from less populous states. After eleven days of formal debate prior to the vote, in the sweltering Philadelphia heat, the Second Continental Congress voted on and adopted a compromise that provided proportional
representation in the House of Representatives and more equal representation in the Senate. It was a divided vote, but the compromise that passed became the foundation of our legislative branch. Our Founding Fathers, with differing interests, opinions and goals, worked towards and accepted this compromise as being in the best interests of the new nation.

Our country now faces some of the greatest challenges imaginable – two wars costing thousands of American lives and trillions of dollars, an economy on the brink of another recession, a coming societal restructuring caused by an aging population, a tax code with more holes in it than Swiss cheese, and a Congress that fails to meet even the basic expectations of our Founding Fathers. Compromise has become a dirty word in Washington, and political self-interest and an unwillingness to work in the best interests of the country threaten to cause severe, long-term and irreversible damage to our nation.

As governments have struggled for the last several years, localities have been forced to absorb significant cuts in funding. The City of Roanoke, for example, has cut more than $25 million - 10% of our budget since 2007, all while fulfilling our obligations for outstanding debt. Councilmembers, with the aid of a skilled professional City staff, compromised with one another and reduced spending to match revenue through spirited debate, disagreements, and ultimately, compromise. Congress, on the other hand, adhering to rigid political ideologies and with no electoral incentive to compromise, is likely to make our economic situation worse.

As Americans worry about keeping or finding jobs and businesses worry about making payroll, I question whether members of Congress have the ability to pass meaningful laws that provide stability to our economy. It appears that after a month-long debate about our debt ceiling and a capitulation of responsibility, they do not – and now they are on vacation until after Labor Day.

Political gridlock has already caused one rating agency to downgrade the U.S. credit rating and markets across the globe have tanked. This will result in higher interest rates for homeowners, small businesses, local governments and others, all because of Washington’s inability to work together to pass compromise policies that satisfy the vast majority of Americans in the political center. In fact, a recent CNN/ORC poll
shows that 86% of Americans disapprove of Congress – 86%.

All Americans must hold our “representatives” in Congress to the same standards our Founding Fathers expected of themselves. We must expect that members of Congress cease playing political games with our future and place the interests of their country ahead of their own interests. We must expect that, while our country is facing economic disaster, Congress not take the entire month of August off while the rest of us contend with uncertainty, fear of lost jobs or worry about meeting payrolls and interest payments.

Washington is broken. We must not fool ourselves into thinking it is one party or the other – the only party that is winning is self-interest. Glad-handing, fundraising and photo ops do not make for a good Congress. Hard work, commitment to advancing the interests of our country and basic levels of respect for one another, even those on the other side, should be the standard.

Americans should expect members of Congress, in President George Washington’s words, to “promise nothing but purity of intentions, and, in carrying these into effect, fidelity and diligence.”

In fact, our future demands it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Budget Reality (again)

On Monday, City Council was presented the working documents for the FY 2011-2012 fiscal year budget. While it's a better year than the past several, we still expect to have to make $4.8 million in additional cuts to the budget. This will be a painful process and we will do our best to find the program and service reductions in the least impactful areas possible. But we need to be realistic that we will all feel the reductions.

It's important to share that of the city's +/- $250 million annual budget, nearly $75million of this goes to RCPS off the top. Then the city must provide certain programs and services, carry out certain required and necessary administrative functions (managing and operating the city generally, collecting taxes and administering the courts and legal functions, funding public safety and human service programs and services required by the state etc.). So at the end of the day, the city has only a little more than 1/4 of the budget to discretionarily spend - the money that funds our more typical activities, maintenance of the city, operation of parks and greenways, management of infrastructural operations and systems etc. With nearly $25 million less money in the last three years, and having to cut this out of the discretionary areas (while maintaining public safety, increasing funding to schools to offset state funding cuts as best as possible), it has been a challenge.

Our city manager, Chris Morrill said it best when he said that we have cut the low-hanging fruit, the medium-hanging fruit and the high-hanging fruit. Now we are cutting limbs.

So this is the less than positive news but I think it's important to try to be as realistic as possible so that folks understand the "new normal" we are living in where we have to find ways to adapt to less revenue and increasing costs - clearly a daunting challenge.

The great news is we have excellent city personnel who are working tirelessly to deliver services and programs, provide public safety to the city and its residents, educate our kids, provide recreational amenities and keep the city looking wonderful and other services - all with 188 fewer staff positions and no raises or cost of living adjustments for several years (we are working to find the resources for a one-time bonus by une 30 of this year). Our budget staff are some of the best around and our administration is handling the many challenges with a genuine understanding of the effects additional cuts will have on the daily lives of our citizens. The initial budget we just received truly reflects this. And council recognizes the need to be fiscally responsible while continuing to position Roanoke and its residents on a positive course for the future.

We will get through this difficult period and I really believe come out in a stronger position on the other side. We've worked through the most challenging financial times faced in a long while, and believe we have generally done well and worked with our partners in the business, non-profit and other outside agency community to more efficiently operate and deliver for the taxpayers.

I hope folks will continue to call and email to provide input on areas to protect and areas where reductions may be palatable.

Thank you.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A possible future for Huff Lane

Last evening, I was invited and attended the Dorchester Court neighborhood meeting for the second time in two months. I've also attended the Grandview Area neighborhood meetings multiple times in the last several months.

Nearly a year ago, School Board Chairman David Carson and I were charged with coming up with a recommendation for the disposition of the Huff Lane property, the site of the former elementary school that was closed last year, the victim of budget cuts and the desire to take two neighborhood schools (Round Hill and Huff Lane) and merge them into one. Because of this, many students are currently in trailers and Round Hill needs additional classroom space constructed.

As we approached disposing of the property, we had three goals in mind:
1) To protect the neighborhood from further encroachment.
2) To gain a large portion of the resources to build out Round Hill.
3) To improve the existing, heavily used Huff Lane park.

At the neighborhood meeting last night, a local blogger was in the audience and though a recommendation was NOT imminent, it appears that an abridged story is being written.

The meeting last night was one of the most productive I've ever attended. By the end, each attendee indicated they supported moving forward, recognizing that at any time in the process City Council can stop it and not move forward.

No plans have been drawn for the park. Until we put the property for sale, it's hard to know what, if anything, would be an addition to the area and not a detraction.

I'm confident that we will find a solution to the existing Round Hill property that actually prevents further encroachment into the neighborhood while adding significant amenities to the existing park, and as a result, more greenery.

It's not always possible to get everyone on board with every effort. But we can find a great solution that's a win-win-win for everyone.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Common sense in Richmond

As the General Assembly begins its new session, I'm hopeful that some common sense will prevail. Roanoke has gone through enormous budget cuts - many of which should have occurred, and we've gotten to the point where we have very few areas to reduce services without having long-term impacts on our local economy, social network and core service levels.

I understand that, like Roanoke, the Commonwealth of Virginia has a significant budget deficit. I also understand that raising taxes during a struggling economy reduces short-term economic recovery. And I largely agree (meals tax not indicative!).

The result of continued cuts to public education and comprehensive services that the city must offer citizens creates short-term budget balancing capabilities, though I would contend the long-term economic recovery will be weaker and less stable. Once we eliminate core functions of schools and local government, those who use these services as foundations to future success and an ability to break cycles of poverty will be set back years. This isn't in the best interests of our communities or the Commonwealth, and though politically the short-term benefits seem desirable, the long-term implications are less than desirable.

Let's hope that common sense prevails in Richmond this year. Let's hope that there's a high expectation for civil and productive discourse. Disagreeing on issues is understandable. Attacking others for this philosophical divide at a personal level, or a level solely intended for political gain and targeted towards the next election cycle, is not what those we represent expect or deserve.