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« Albemarle candidates discuss transportation, economic development, and water supply | Main | County candidates square off on growth issues at final forum »

October 23, 2009

City candidates emphasize citizen input; local government accountability

Reader comments (0) By Connie Chang & Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, October 23, 2009

With less than 2 weeks left until Election Day, citizens had one last opportunity to hear Charlottesville City Council candidates come together to discuss their views on local issues.  All five candidates relayed messages of the need for a more accountable local government, preservation and acquisition of green space, and methods to assist those in the lowest-economic bracket in the City.


Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20091021-AON-Forum

20091021-Alliance-1
Bob Fenwick (I), Paul Long (I), Moderator Jack Brown
At the Wednesday night forum hosted by the Alliance of Neighborhoods in City Council Chambers, Democrats Dave Norris and Kristin Szakos and independents Bob Fenwick, Paul Long, and Andrew Williams, responded to questions provided in advance as well as to inquiries from the audience. The Alliance of Neighborhoods was created in 2008 in order to protect the quality of life for Charlottesville and Albemarle County neighborhoods, which was a theme that resonated throughout the forum.

One of the prepared questions asked candidates to respond with measures they would take to improve traffic conditions and safety on Charlottesville roads. All of the candidates agreed that implementing traffic calming measures can help lessen problems associated with automobiles already on the road, but that more emphasis should be made on encouraging pedestrian and transit use. Many felt that expanding the current transit system to include more routes with more frequent service should be a transportation commitment made by the City.

Long, who has been a long-time advocate of alternative forms of transportation, said that there should be an “equal commitment to transportation” as with other issues Council must consider.

Candidates also agreed on the need to preserve green space throughout Charlottesville. With current state law, the City of Charlottesville does not possess the authority to require developers to protect green space with new projects. However, incumbent Dave Norris (D) noted that for the first time in many years, the City currently has funding to purchase green space and has worked to expand its tree planting program.

20091021-Alliance-2
Dave Norris (D), Kristin Szakos (D), Andrew Williams (I)
The forum called into question the capacity of local government to address citizen concerns. Several agreed that citizens need an “ally” in the City who they can depend on to listen to their requests and follow-through with results.

“The ability and willingness to listen should radiate through the department,” said Andrew Williams, the race’s independent write-in candidate.

The Alliance asked candidates whether they would eliminate or change the structure of the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority and the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority, both entities are jointly administered by Charlottesville and Albemarle County. No candidate called for the elimination of the water authority and only Norris said the City’s participation in the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority should be reexamined in the next year.

“Both of these organizations have hard working and competent employees…but the leadership is dysfunctional,” said Fenwick who cited the community water supply plan and the lawsuit against Peter van der Linde as examples.

“I think we need to make sure these folks work for us,” said Szakos.  “One way to do that is to be more proactive in who we chose to put on those boards and commissions.”

On these particular boards, there is only one voting member who is not there by virtue of their job in local government or as an elected official.  That seat is currently held by citizen Michael Gaffney who was jointly reappointed by City Council and the Board of Supervisors in December 2008.

Norris also commended citizens for stepping up and questioning on-going work of the RWSA and RSWA.  He said the addition of elected officials on both boards earlier this year would lead to more accountability.

Another audience question prompted the candidates to discuss their priorities in assisting the City’s poor. Fenwick identified jobs, education and neighborhood associations as the main elements to reaching this goal.

“The key to a strong city is strong neighborhoods,” said Fenwick.

Other candidates agreed that the City must work hard to close the achievement gap and affordable housing gap for its citizens by providing a broader range of job opportunities and investing in technical and vocational training.

“We need to come together with businesses and non-profits to figure out how to get a community that doesn’t fail our kids,” said Szakos.

The candidate forum was moderated by Jack Brown, a member of the Executive Board of the Alliance of Neighborhoods, and was attended by about 30 people.  The forum was broadcast live on public access television.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST

01:00 - Introduction from Jack Brown, member of the Executive Board of the Alliance of Neighborhoods
03:00 - Opening statement by Andrew Williams (I)
04:31 - Opening statement by Kristin Szakos (D)
07:14 - Opening statement by Bob Fenwick (I)
10:35 - Opening statement by Dave Norris (D)
12:59 - Opening statement by Paul Long (I)
16:30 - Prepared Question 1: Countless surveys, formal or informal, over the past decade show traffic as the top problem confronting every city neighborhood -- too many cars and too much speeding.  But we have seen little effective action by city police, the planners, or NDS.  Quite the reverse.  What specific actions do you propose to address the problem?
25:54 - Prepared Question 2: Lately, Charlottesville has been placing an emphasis on our urban tree canopy.  Almost all can agree that our green surroundings are a matter of civic pride, and a draw to tourists and potential residents.  Would you support requiring developers to actively plant street trees and other significant vegetation-- even if it means that they might have to slightly reduce the size of their project to allow for this?
33:25 - Prepared Question 3: Almost every neighborhood organization has experienced the following scenario: They go before Council and/or the Planning Commission requesting assistance for a problem affecting their neighborhood.  These issues run the gamut from traffic relief to sidewalks to zoning conflicts.  Frequently, they are told that leaders or city staff will look into the problem and revisit the situation within a proscribed number of months, or meetings will be set up asking for neighborhood input.  But more often than not, the request either falls through the cracks, or the neighborhood's wishes are ignored, resulting in a carrot & stick scenario.  What would you propose to stop this frustrating and time-consuming cycle?
43:58 - Prepared Question 4: Many people in the city feel that both the RWSA and RSWA, including our appointed representatives on these Boards, are failing to represent the wishes of many residents.  In light of all that's happened over the past few years, should we do away with the Authority model entirely, or would you propose changes to the existing model?  What would those changes be?
53:40 - Prepared Question 5: What specific areas (e.g. institutions, joint services) could and should be administered jointly with Albermarle County?  For example, would you support joint City/County "Charter Schools" that can draw from the best of both school systems?  Should first responder services be merged, and if so, how and when?
1:06:36 - Audience Question 1: What is the number one thing you would do to help those on the lowest-economic rung?
1:12:27 - Audience Question 2: Are there city management issues that give you cause for concern? What are they? What do you plan to do about them?
1:17:57 - Audience Question 3: The city assessor has indicated that city assessments are down this year. Would you be more inclined to increase taxes or reduce services to make up for this shortfall?
1:23:40 - Audience Question 4: What will you do to offset the destruction of our natural resources by actions that the city may take?
1:29:45 - Audience Question 5: Do you favor requiring all landlords to conduct regular quality maintenance?
1:33:31 - Audience Question 6: Why say that the YMCA will be next to Charlottesville High School when it will really be in McIntire Park which we're trying to save?
1:37:15 - Audience Question 7: Why should City Council continue to support the Meadowcreek Parkway when the County has not lived up to its part of the agreement by for example, building the Sunset-Fontaine connector?
1:41:22 - Audience Question 8: We do not yet have a state-approved 30-50 water plan required by law by 2011. Will you pledge to get decade by decade calculations of the amount of water needed as required by the state plan before signing any agreement with the County to move forward with a new dam?
1:45:13 - Audience Question 9: Why did City Council allow the RWSA and RSWA to "fly under the radar?" Isn't it the responsibility of City Council to make sure that proper maintenance is done for the reservoir? Why wasn't dredging done? Is City Council paying attention?
1:51:46 - Closing statement by Paul Long
1:52:56 - Closing statement by Bob Fenwick
1:54:17 - Closing statement by Andrew Williams
1:56:06 - Closing statement by Kristin Szakos
1:57:00 - Closing statement by Dave Norris
1:58:18 - Closing remarks by Jack Brown

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