Monday, August 18, 2008

Council and Countryside

Today, during City Council's 2PM session, I made the request of the City's Director of Finance that she put together a projection of what the debt service, capital needs and other necessary expenditures will be over the next five and ten years if the City retains ownership of Countryside. During my request, I made mention of wanting to have as much information as possible, and as a businessperson, the most effective way for me to look at the future of the course is to, as part of that outlook, know what the numbers will look like.

I made the mistake, admittedly, of mentioning that as we rush to put out a Request for Proposal with five and ten year terms for management of the course, we should not eliminate the option of selling Countryside if it makes the most sense. As you might imagine, this set off a firestorm amongst the mayor and a few members of the audience who are strong advocates of permanently keeping Countryside as a golf course. I was not intending to debate the highest and best use of the property itself, though it provided a political opening that was taken advantage of.

I have learned my lesson in terms of being more direct and clearer in what I am requesting.

I believe one can never have too much information. As our national, state, and to a lesser degree, local economies contract, we as a City government must also contract budgetarily. To me, this isn't a matter of politics, it's a matter of fiscal responsibility and the ability to be disciplined when times are tough and the budget is tight.

After forty-five minutes of banter about the merits of selling Countryside or seeking private management or the City itself managing the course, we finally came to a vote on my request (for the record, I really was only requesting information so no vote was actually needed).

The mayor stated that the voters had spoken and that they clearly wanted Countryside to remain a golf course. First, I am not sure who "the voters" are and when they made a decision on this particular issue, and second, the request was for information, not a determination on the future of the course (again, the request was not a vote on the highest and best use of the property). It was simply a request to have all the information available when deciding whether to contractually obligate the City to a five or ten year lease. If we don't take a look at the numbers now, it may be ten years before we can revisit this decision.

Council Members Price, Mason, Trinkle and I voted to request the information. Councilman Nash wants the information but did not like the process and how we arrived at needing a vote for information, and the mayor voted "no." I simply don't understand how one could not want more information to make a decision that could have such significant and long-term implications for the financial stability of our community.

Sometimes, you've got to put being good stewards of the taxpayers' money and a willingness to learn as much as possible ahead of politics. Let's take one step at a time, know what our options are, and understand the impact the decision we may make today will have on our community ten years from now.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

This Past Week

This past week, I heard from many constituents about some of the issues in front of Council. As you might imagine, the future of Countryside is on the minds of many, particularly those who have enjoyed the golf course as an amenity, beautiful backyard or green space for the community.

But the golf course should also be on the minds of all taxpayers in Roanoke City. It was a large purchase paid for with taxpayer money, with debt service payments of more than $460,000 per year. The course has some major infrastructural needs including the replacement of the irrigation system as well as golf cart paths.

I am a golfer, so I would be perfectly fine with the golf course remaining just that. But I am also involved in the business of real estate development, and from this perspective, the real property that is Countryside presents a number of issues that, in my mind, will prevent it from being developed into a residential community. Now is not the time for me to go into these, but suffice to say, I am convinced that the course, given market conditions and other factors, will likely remain a golf course. And again, I have no problem with this at all.

I do not, however, think that the City should be in the golf course business, and would like to begin a dialogue as a Council, community and taxpayer about the possibility of putting the golf course on the market and working to find a buyer who would put the necessary resources into making Countryside a long term success.

I will continue to learn as much as possible and hope residents of the Countryside neighborhoods as well as other taxpayers will share their thoughts with me.

Friday, August 1, 2008

An Exciting Start

This is my first offical post since taking office on July 1. I wanted to get grounded in my responsibilities and learn as much as possible about our city government, the finances, operations, etc. I still have much to learn, but am confident that I have gotten off to a solid start.

So far, we have not as a Council dealt with too many substantive items, and have spent a lot of time talking about procedural changes and the like. I am hopeful that we can put these items behind as I believe that our citizens deserve to have our full attention on matters that directly impact their lives, such as infrastructure, parks, economic development and the continued revitilization of our downtown. And I think we are getting to this point.

Monday we'll have a joint meeting with the School Board at Addison Middle School, which I am looking forward to. We have a wonderful new Superintendent, a committed and hardworking Board that is willing to make some tough decisions, even if we don't all agree with each and every one, and a committment from the Council to appropriately fund our educational system.

We will then return to the city building where we will deal with a number of items, including the upcoming appointments to the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority. This board is vital to the many folks who live in housing that the RRHA controls. And it's important that we appoint the best and brightest based on qualifications. I'm excited about this opportunity, and look forward to Monday.

I will continue to blog during the course of my tenure on Council. I hope citizens will share their thoughts, ideas, opinions and concerns with me here, or you can call me anytime on my cell phone at 597-3193. Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.