City Council: The people’s business

Well, it’s not all high drama, or even low drama, but the business of the people went on anyway last night at City Council.

Well, it’s not all high drama, or even low drama, but the business of the people went on anyway last night. It’s early in the season and budgets, schools, and jails are months in the future–but that’s a good thing. It gives the new president a chance to find his style and the freshman councilmen a chance to learn the ropes. Samuels seems to be settling into his role. The meetings so far have been quiet, orderly, and businesslike. For my sake, I hope that doesn’t last, but really it could be worse.

There’s a lot less than meets the eye on tonight’s agenda. Out of 53 items 32 of them are appointments to various commissions and committees, which could explain the decent crowd: new appointees are required to accept their appointments in person. Seven of 16 items on the Consent Agenda have been continued, and there is only one item left on the Regular Agenda. Still even quiet evenings have their merit. Loosely in chronological order here’s what happened.

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Awards and presentations

In lieu of the mayor, President Samuels issued a proclamation in honor of Black History Month to the community at large. Next came a surprisingly heartfelt public service award to two parking operations managers, Lynne Lancaster and Steven Bergin. While not exactly glamour jobs, they both received a rousing ovation from co-workers and grateful citizens. Last up was Ginter Park/Mary Scott teacher Katherine Zopp who received the Richmond Educational Excellence Award. It was noted she turned down a career in law for the opportunity to teach first grade. Judging by the smile on her face, she couldn’t be happier about her decision. Lastly, Bruce Tyler received the Thomas Jefferson Award for Government Service, which was presented “in the community at a different time/date”. I think he’s found better things to do on Monday nights–I’m sure he’s watching from home.

The Regular Agenda

The only remaining item on the Regular Agenda is an ordinance to impose a moratorium on applications for tax exempt status by non-profits. There is a commission that reviews and recommends these applications, but last year Council opened up the process and was deluged by new applications. Silver Persinger pointed out that each tax exemption cuts into the tax base and puts a burden on all other taxpayers. A number of amendments to the ordinance were recommended by the Finance Committee extending the deadline till March, but these were strongly opposed by Councilman Hilbert. With almost no public or Council debate, the amendments were rejected by a unanimous vote. The original ordinance was then passed by the same margin shutting the door on new applications.

The Mayor’s Anti Poverty Commission report

Commission member Thad Williamson gave a recap of the commission’s work and readily admitted that the city cannot do the everyday work of eliminating poverty like “caring for our children and creating stable families,” but there are concrete steps that can and should be taken to address the structural problems of poverty. They include: creating more jobs with better wages, better mass transit to connect residents with job opportunities in the suburbs, training to prepare the thousands of residents who have no employment history for the workforce, improved public schools with expanded vocational training, basic literacy programs, and outreach to dropouts. The full 144 page report can be found here and has also been reported on here.

The Consent Agenda

The “urban hen” ordinance was sent back to committee for reworking and to give new members a chance to review it. Oddly enough the same ordinance governs “the running of hogs and pigs.” Now that would make an interesting debate. The only item that received any attention from the gallery was the SUP to allow the development of apartments at 811 Albemarle in Oregon Hill. The project has been hotly debated by residents. After long negotiations, the size of the project was reduced and provisions were included to discourage the project from being primarily undergraduate housing. Todd Woodson of the Oregon Hill Neighborhood Association objected to last minute details and said they would be “watching (the developer) like a James River hawk to make sure they lived up to the agreement.” The developer expressed disappointment with the tone of the remarks and asked Council to approve the SUP, which they promptly did.

Citizen Comment

Marie Morton Hart was concerned about missing dedication signs in her Blackwell neighborhood. President Samuels directed her to a City representative standing by in the back of the chamber. Donald Hatcher repeated his concerns about racism. Michael Spence asked Council to keep the ball rolling on urban hens and to keep the public informed. Jodie Strange asked the Council to support the Richmond Police Canine program and build them a quality facility. And finally, Rosetta Torrente spoke in support of retaining Police Chief Bryan Norwood who “is the best Police Chief we have ever had.” She collected over two hundred signatures since last Thursday when she found out he was planning to leave.

Council Reports

These routine reports finally gave some of the Council rookies a chance to speak about neighborhood meetings and special announcements. Jon Baliles made a mock request to move the next meeting to The National so he could catch one of his favorite bands. Reva Trammell hawked smoke detectors, and President Samuels announced a meeting next month to discuss the development of a public park on the west end of the new Redskins training camp. No word about the missing trees, but it’s sure to come up.

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Paul Hammond

Paul has been writing about life and politics in Richmond for 11 years. You can often find him walking his dog up and down Franklin Street and yes, he does bite, the dog that is.

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