In advance of Election Day on Nov. 3, Charlottesville Tomorrow will once again mail out in-depth nonpartisan voter guides, featuring exclusive one-on-one interviews with all 25 candidates for Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, Charlottesville City Council and both local school boards. In the days before the election, we will also feature their responses to several important questions about key quality of life issues so that you can compare candidates’ answers and make an informed choice.
Charlottesville Tomorrow’s 2015 Election Center website features links to the full written transcript and audio of candidate interviews, copies of our 2015 voter guide, information on where to vote, and more. All the following passages are excerpts from our interviews.
CHARLOTTESVILLE CITY COUNCIL
SECOND IN A SERIES
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?
Three at-large seats available
Scott Bandy (Libertarian)
[C]itizen input. Well, that’s suggestive of citizen engagement….Engagement is good. I prefer to call that engagement also participation. Without the citizens, the government can’t run….
It boils down to the neighborhoods again. I could also, you know, say it ties in with an issue close to my heart such as trying to get the ward system for Council elections reestablished here in Charlottesville. You are going to have citizens that are fervently engaged and then you will have those citizens that…. That want their privacy and they want their privacy respected.
I think that’s what the question meant by alluding to diversity in there. You’re not going to have one hundred percent agreement on whatever plan to go forward. Compromise may be a disgusting and ugly word to some folks, but again, one person such as myself, if elected, I’m going to have to work with the other two under an at-large voter, the other two Councilors that are elected.
Home starts where the heart is and… we could stand to not just listen but actually hear and not try to dice up their words into further semantics. Citizens of neighborhoods. Charlottesville is a tremendously wonderful place to live. Its citizens are what have made it that way. An example. The bike community. And there’s another word that plays semantics there, community, but the bikes itself. West Main Street. I’m kind of inclined towards a direction that our outgoing mayor has stood so far with. In fact, I’d rather see the Belmont Bridge completed before anything is gone other than just repavement of the asphalt on West Main Street. I want to say something else like… I think there’s a better plan.
I think that… I was talking to another citizen, Nancy Carpenter, about how there’s got to be a better way that a long time ago, they would hold bond referendums for schools. You don’t see too much of that anymore. Every once in a while, and this is not just with cities but counties as well. The same thing could be done for parks or certain public, and again, and I’m not saying that I would go for such a thing because the Libertarian in me is like “I don’t want to spend if I don’t have to.”
But you realize that instead of putting those bike lanes on West Main that they could probably arrange it to have one heck of a wonderful parkway, park-style way type trail from Commerce, where Commerce Street is, along that back northern side of West Main. One heck of a bike-trail and you know, I almost want to tell, and this isn’t meant to be mean, it’s just trying to be practical and pragmatic, I’d like to tell the bicycle community, especially the participants who are so dedicated to their efforts on the bike-ped advisory committee in this city, run for office yourself. I mean, if you want, this is like a referendum. You know. You could do much better than bike lanes on West Main. I’m getting a little excited here, I don’t want to do that, because I don’t want to be accused of, you know, not being able to keep a civic pleasant demeanor so if we could move on.
Wes Bellamy (D)
I think we have to make a concerted effort to actively engage. Now, one of the things I do enjoy about our city is that we have the Our Town meetings and I think those meetings are active. However, we have to go a step further because we’re not hearing from everybody in the city. And this is where I come into play because I have those relationships and I’m able to be able to bring out different people to different meetings and so on and so forth. But Council and our government and our leadership also has a responsibility to meet people where they are. You know, it’s troubling sometimes when I hear from people in different neighborhoods who say that they only see our leaders when either there is something wrong or when they need something. They don’t build those relationships on just a normal everyday regular time as you would do with anyone else. We have to improve our engagement from that perspective. If the only time you see me in your neighborhood or see me, or see me around or I’m willing to talk to you is when something bad happens, or when I need your vote, or when I need to come out and support this “issue,” I need to have that relationship built with you at any time. I want to know your kids just like you know mine because you’re no different from me just because you live somewhere different. And that’s what we have to work on, and again, that’s why I feel like I’m in a position to really make an impact on this Council and really help us move this city forward, because we have those relationships already.
And it’s not about me. It’s about this community. So what can we do to leverage the relationships that we have, the community influence that we have, to make the city better. How great would it be if our councilors could go over for First Street and hang out and talk to everyone else the same way and maybe go into Fry’s Spring or Belmont. You know? How great would that be to have people from Belmont and Westhaven hanging out and talking and kicking it with each other? How great would that be? I want to see that happen and I’m sure it will happen but it’s going to take time, but we’re going to get it done.
Kathy Galvin (D) * Incumbent
Well I can happily say that because I was the one that initiated the first small area plan in the city, which was the Strategic Investment Area, I was also the one that initiated the first small area planning citizens’ steering committee. That had never been done before in the city of Charlottesville. We have had advisory groups, but we never had a steering committee tasked with working with the outside consultant and our own staff to basically shepherd through a vision plan for a piece of geography, a real tangible piece of geography in the city.
The Comprehensive Plan document, as we all know, is filled with lots of really great statements, a lot of platitudes, but it is that small area plan that starts putting that abstract idea into a concrete visualization. That is a first step. We had a lot of bumps in the road, but it was because of that steering committee, that was very diverse – it had public housing residents, it had business owners, it had residents from Belmont and Ridge Street neighborhoods, North Downtown residents – it was also very well attended for the most part and they were also the ones that helped create the guiding principles for the [SIA] document. So that was the first case of a steering committee.
Because we are about 18 months behind though in the implementation of the Strategic Investment Area, that steering committee has not met. One of the first things I would like Mr. [Alexander] Ikefuna to do, our new director of Neighborhood Development Services, is to resurrect that process.
One of the biggest things in terms of citizen input that we would need in that area of town now that we’ve got it adopted in part of the Comprehensive Plan, it’s supposed to get its own zoning, and it’s supposed to get a zoning overlay. We need to make sure what the public knows and understands about that and the public needs to really weigh in on what that means. Zoning is a tool, it is a tool for the vision, it’s not an end all be all, it is a means to an end. Unfortunately in most communities, and Charlottesville is no different, zoning is what begins to be institutionalized and established that seems to be impossible to change, and all we do is keep going through the motions of changing the vision every five years. So I am looking at in that specific case for the community input to be revived and we’ve already got the structure in place.
We have a citizen’s steering committee for the Belmont Bridge. The Belmont Bridge though, however, is a couple years late. The RFP hasn’t even gone out yet to the consultant. That means we have lost about $2.5 million in state money. That is a priority to get that bridge built and thankfully we do have a citizens steering committee made up of Belmont residents as well as downtown businesses and people who have expertise in design.
The West Main Street steering committee is still in play and last night at the council meeting they were brought back in to participate in working through some additional changes that council will likely put in place.
So I see that as something that we constantly need to improve upon. In large part I think we need to improve upon the facilitation of those steering committees so that we are not just pulling together people of different interest groups that then duke it out in the room. We’ve got to create professionals with the skills, and then empowered to do so to forge consensus with people in the room. So that to me will be the next step I would like to see us move towards, is that our own staff have the skills to both facilitate and then they feel empowered to facilitate groups to reach consensus.
Anson Parker (R)
This can get kind of complex. The baseline is that we can reach probably about 90 percent of the population through their phones. I mean, the number of people using smart phones is astonishing. One of the cool things about doing transparency correctly is that you can then put it into classrooms. I think if you’re 16 and you’re informed, you should have a say in what’s going on in this community. You probably know a lot more than somebody who just moved here. That’s just how it is.
One of the other things that you can do is look at how things have been gerrymanded over the years. Even in Charlottesville, we have gerrymandering, right? That’s how things work. People break up the pie to suit their needs at the time. One of the advantages of that is that you can do polling and really look at where people are living and say well, if you’re living in Tenth & Page, you know, that’s pretty cool that you’re actually forming and making a strong opinion because you’ve been neglected sufficiently over the years and you’re kind of used to nodding your head and going ‘well, it’s not going to work out for me anyhow.’ So, I think there’s an opportunity there to use some of the districting that’s been done to get a better block consensus.
Another thing to look at is proxy voting and this is something that’s really taking off in Argentina, in Russia, among these really disenfranchised communities is that they will say ‘well, I’m not an expert,” and they’ll go to a region and they’ll get everybody registered online. And people within those communities will say ‘well, you know, so-and-so down the street really does know education and whatever they go with, that’s what I’m going to go with.’ And so they get a weighted vote that way in this proxy-voting system. I think implementing something like that would be incredibly exciting, something where we go to each neighborhood and say ‘well, we’ve got these goals. Who would you like to listen to? Whose voice would you like to hear speaking on the matter?’ And it’s a much more fluid model of organization and I think is aspires to lessen the kind of corruption that takes place when you elect officials for any length of real time.
Mike Signer (D)
I was very interested to see this question which I just saw for the first time because I’m going to bring an unusual experience set as the head of a neighborhood association and at our most recent meeting there was a very vigorous discussion about some development decisions and as a result of that a committee of citizens in Fifeville developed, and we’re having our first meeting next week, about doing a small area plan on Cherry Avenue. There were about ten people who seem so far interested, there will probably be more, in working with the city and with Neighborhood Development Services and planning and economic development on providing a vision of what Cherry Avenue could be that would reflect what residents there want. What kind of retail, what kind of residential, what kind of nature, what kind of feel to the streets. So, I can’t speak to what the result of it is going to be but it’s on-going.
In general I think this really has to do with NDS, neighborhood development services. We have a new director coming in so there’s a whole new page being turned there which is really interesting. There’s staff. A lot of the rubber hitting the road is with neighbors’ interaction with particular staff members at NDS. One idea that I’ve had is that we should have a transparent tracking system where any request that goes into NDS is assigned a number and it can be tracked. The fancy $5 vocabulary word would be ‘longitudinally’ so you could track it over time. You could see which staff member has worked on that request, where it ended up. Right now we don’t have that and I think that all measures that increase responsiveness, transparency when neighborhoods are dealing with the city will be to the good for both city staff and the neighborhoods so everybody knows what’s happening.