The five candidates seeking election to three seats on the Charlottesville City Council answered questions Thursday in a candidate forum held by Charlottesville Tomorrow and The Daily Progress.

The candidates were asked questions about the use of consultants in city planning, what their public education priorities are and how to increase public engagement in the local political process.

The event began with opening statements.

“I am an attorney and an author here in town,” said Mike Signer, one of three Democrats in the race.  “But more importantly than any of those things I’m a husband and a father to twin boys and we live right in the heart of town.”

Scott Bandy, a Libertarian, noted it was Constitution Day and quoted from his Libertarian Party’s platform.

“’Our goal is nothing more or nothing less than a world set free in our lifetime and it is to this end that we take these ends,’” Bandy said.

Democrat Wes Bellamy said he wants to help increase public participation.

“When we have events for the community to be informed we often see the same faces or not many people,” Bellamy said. “I believe I can change that.”

Republican Anson Parker also said he wants to increase civic engagement.

“We need to reach out to the community better and my platform is my technology,” said Parker, who said he is developing mobile apps to help make Charlottesville government more transparent.

Democrat Kathy Galvin, the only incumbent in the race, said her family experience prepared here for a career of public service working for the community as an architect. 

“My dad was a World War Two disabled veteran and that made my mother the bread-winner for the family,” Galvin said. “My brother and I were the first people in my family to go to college, though my mother later went on the G.I. Bill.”

At one point, candidates were asked to grade the city and its use of commissioning outside firms to conduct studies.

“I’d give Charlottesville’s efforts a solid C, maybe a D,” said Parker. He added the city should ask citizens to crowd-source studies such as the parking study.

“We spend entirely too much money on studies,” said Bellamy. “What I would like to do is see us simply make a decision.”

“I will concur with Mr. Bellamy on this,” said Bandy. “It surprises me that with as much talent as we have in this city, we have to go outside for expertise.”

“I spend a fair amount of time this week on a policy proposal called ‘Solutions Not Studies,’” Signer said, adding he would try to rely on planning staff or volunteers to study an issue before paying a professional consultant.

Galvin, the only incumbent in the race, gave a higher grade and defended the practice.

“A ‘B’ on the plans themselves and a C or C- on the implementation,” Galvin said. “This is very interesting question to know when do you stop doing consulting and you basically ramp up with staff.”

Galvin said outside consultants were necessary to help the community study the future of West Main Street because planning staff were too close to the issue. As a result, the City Council is now considering a zoning change that will bring the building heights lower on Wet Main Street.

City Council adopted a new Comprehensive Plan in 2013 that called for the city to conduct more small area plans for neighborhoods. Candidates were asked how to ensure a diverse number of views are heard in that process.

“One of the things I find troubling in the ways we interact with our community is that so often the only times we see our official leaders when there is an event or when it’s time to be re-elected,” Bellamy said.

Bandy repeated a campaign platform from when he was a candidate in 2011. 

“It’s time this city goes to an election of Council by ward system,” Bandy said. “With that kind of system in place you will have responsibility and answers that are directly to neighborhoods themselves.”

Signer, the president of the Fifeville Neighborhood Associations, said he would encourage those organizations to get involved. He pointed out that his group is asking for the city’s help in creating a small area plan for Cherry Avenue.

Galvin said the city’s first small area plan was the Strategic Investment Area south of the Downtown Mall.

“The small area plan is intended to bring all the different stakeholders into a community to determine what the future will be,” Galvin said.

Parker said he would utilize data and the Internet. 

“I don’t want to make technology seem like a panacea that can solve everything, but you can just look at a map to see if you’re getting feedback about what people want.” Parker said.

Charlottesville Tomorrow and the Daily Progress will next hold a forum on Sept. 21 when the two candidates for the Scottsville District seat on the Albemarle Board of Supervisors will meet at Monticello High School.

PODCAST TIMELINE

Opening statements

Moderator Question #1

00:15:00 — EDUCATION PRIORITIES: What will your priorities be for public education and how will you work with the school board to promote the self-sufficiency of all of our citizens?

Moderator Question #2

00:26:45 — STUDIES AND CONSULTANTS: The City of Charlottesville hires consultants to conduct studies and make recommendations for many urban design, transportation and placemaking issues.  How would you grade the city’s overall performance using professional consultants?  What past studies do you want to see implemented and how will that work be funded?

Moderator Question #3

00:35:10 — CITIZEN INPUT: In what ways would you like to see city government engage neighborhoods to ensure a diversity of voices is involved in the implementation of the city’s small area plans?

Moderator Question #4

00:46:00 – PUBLIC HOUSING: Do you support the redevelopment of Charlottesville’s public housing sites to create vibrant mixed income and mixed use neighborhoods without displacement of existing residents?

Moderator Question #5

00:57:00: BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION FOR SCHOOL FUNDING RECOMMENDATIONS: Which of the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding would you implement next, if any? How will you work to build a more sustainable school budget?

Audience question #1

01:07:15: What do you intend to do to produce low income housing and to alleviate the disparity of income and wealth in our community?

Audience question #2

01:14:10: As development proceeds on West Main Street, some businesses are signaling a need for more parking. How valid is this concern and what solution would you recommend? And in general, how would you influence on West Main?

Audience question #3

01:20:32: What is Charlottesville’s most overlooked asset and how would you build on it as a member of City Council?

Audience question #4

01:25:50: What would happen to Charlottesville if City Council was replaced with direct democracy?

Audience question #5

01:32:00: Do you see the McIntire/250 interchange as a successful project? Given that the city is about to embark on more massive transportation projects on Route 29, what would you change about the road construction process or outcomes?

Audience question #6

01:37:40: Public libraries are having an ever-increasing role in our community. Adult programs, teen programs, job access, etc. Will you support library programs at a higher level to benefit our city and region?

Closing statements