Monday, October 24, 2011

Softball season extended

Chamber forum shelters incumbents

Hardball was not on the agenda of the Chamber of Commerce candidate forum on October 18 for those seeking the offices of supervisor and treasurer. The high school auditorium was about one third filled.

Given that public speaking is difficult for most people, the participants did a great job getting their points across to the audience. Andrew Pryor, the 40 year District 1 incumbent even roused himself to speak in clearly audible declarative sentences.

None of the questions addressed the recurring scandals that plagued county government for the past few years.

Perhaps forum organizers decided that it was simpler to ask the same questions of all candidates but allowing incumbents to sidestep responsibility for the dysfunctional management of county government under their watch is unacceptable.

Happily, challengers jumped in with barbs to bring some of the mess to the forefront.

Multi-term incumbents used the event to blithely insist that their experience makes them eminently qualified to continue to run Goochland. Both Malvern R. “Rudy” Butler District 4 and Pryor assured attendees that things aren’t as bad as they’ve been led to believe. They provided no specifics. Perhaps they know about another stash of unnegotiated checks.

Ken Petersen District 5, who prevailed in an August Republican primary and faces no challenge in November, began his remarks with a definition of politics: “poli, meaning many and tics meaning blood sucking insects.”
He said that repeated revelations of fiscal mismanagement in the county utility department compelled him to run for supervisor. Petersen, who has advanced degrees in finance and decades of high level experience with bonds, observed that there was a lack of financial expertise on the board of supervisors that he hopes to fill.

Butler illustrated this deficiency a bit later when he contended, in response to a comment from his opponent Bob Minnick that the Tuckahoe Creek Service Debt is $167 million, that Goochland only owes $58 million.
Does that mean Butler will use his “connections downtown” to get the state to forgive the interest on the TCSD bonds?

Butler also overlooked the approximately $5 million in an arbitrage account that is part of the TCSD debt. Anyone who has ever had a mortgage knows that, when you factor in the interest, the real cost of a house is a good bit higher than the face amount. Perhaps he’s been following the Greek debt crisis for tips on dealing with the TCSD debt.

District 1 challenger Susan Lascollette said that one of her first priorities is to roll back the mechanism put into place by the supervisors earlier this year to raise their own pay. She rejects a countywide tax increase to pay TCSD debt as was suggested in the recent Davenport study.
Lascollette is ready to work to get county schools back on track and encourage economic development that will enhance the county’s revenue base without threatening the rural atmosphere. She said that the county will face another year of declining revenues and hard budget choices.

Lascollette said that the people of Goochland make it special and serving them is her first priority. She cited her work background investigating and evaluating businesses as her one of her primary qualifications to serve as supervisor.

Pryor touted his 40 years on the board as his prime credential for reelection. He also said that he has served his constituents well because he has a good relationship with all county department heads. Has he forgotten that virtually every department head has been replaced in the past two years as part of the house cleaning in county administration? His remarks also contrast reports of many folks in District 1 that Pryor rarely returns phone calls.

Pryor also rejects the notion that all county taxpayers should share the TCSD debt burden. He said that TCSD landowners will reap the benefits from the utilities and they should pay for them. Pryor said that he supports schools and fire-rescue but offered no specifics.

Board chair William Quarles, Jr. District 2 touted his certification as a qualified supervisor and experience as reasons to reelect him. Quarles also said that many things need to be done to move Goochland ahead.
In office for eight years, after succeeding his father-in-law as District 2 supervisor, this is the first time Quarles has been challenged. His opponent, Manuel Alvarez Jr. asked why Quarles failed to do any of these things in the eight years he has been in office.

Alvarez contended that his being a relative newcomer to the county is an asset. Indeed, he brings fresh eyes to old problems and is not beholden to the special interests that seem to pull the strings on the MTIs. He also managed to get Comcast service to his home. That kind of persistence persuasiveness alone should get him elected.

Only Ned Creasey District 3, running for his second term, addressed the disastrous mismanagement that plagued Goochland before his election.

“Imagine what things would be like if the election four years ago had turned out differently,” Creasey said.

Indeed. In his first year in office, Creasey fought an uphill battle against an entrenched county administrator to gain access to basic information about county operations. His refusal to vote for approval to pay a years’ overdue bill for more than $1 million was the first volley in what became a war to clean up the utilities department.

Creasey asked to be reelected because there is more digging to be done. He said that Goochland’s potential is far from being met. Creasey believes that the right people need to be put into place to polish the many facets of the jewel that is Goochland.

Creasey contended that the right plan, executed by the right people, needs to be put into place to move the county forward. Most important of all, the supervisors need to regain the trust of the citizens.

All of the MTIs said that the county will soon hire an economic development director to bring new business to the county. Have they forgotten that that the county had an incredibly ineffective economic development director for about ten years?

Butler took credit for the expansion of Richmond International Airport during his tenure as president of the Virginia Association of Counties. He did not explain why he did not use that clout to bring some bacon home to Goochland.

Quarles promised transparent and responsive government. Yet he worked hard almost three years ago to ensure that important matters were discussed only behind closed doors. His back to back terms as board chair, in violation of an allegedly agreed upon rotation policy, has allowed him to keep embarrassing matters off of the agenda. It would be nice to know exactly how he defines transparency.

District 3 challenger Alan Tucker made vague statements about transparency and collaboration between the supervisors and school board. He supports appropriate economic development and protection of rural character but offered no specifics.

Minnick, who came very late to the race, said that the county needs to quickly adopt a more user friendly approach to economic development. A resident of the TCSD, Minnick said that the county needs to identify and fund core functions first.

Minnick, who started a small business in 2006, said that the county needs to find the best ideas to generate economic development here. In spite of the bad economy, neighboring jurisdictions have managed to attract new businesses, but nothing has happened in Goochland. He said that he brings new ideas to make things happen that will move Goochland from a good county to a great county.

Alvarez said that the supervisors need to regain the citizens’ trust. School graduation rates need to be better and that does not necessarily translate into increasing the school budget. He believes that the county needs to create an environment that will attract more businesses and that the county should stop harassing the businesses it has.

Quarles used his habitual buzzwords of procedures, processes, continuing dialog and connectivity to answer pretty much every question. It would be nice to know what he really thinks.

The bottom line is that the forum provided the opportunity for voters to see the candidates side by side. While the turnout wasn’t too bad, it remains to be seen how many people actually care what happens in local government.

Please ponder these matters and make an informed choice at the polls on November 8.


Pat said...

I found the forum to be rather uninspiring. Not a single "big idea" was espoused by any candidate, new or old. Everyone said we need to bring business to the county, but no suggestions - other than streamlining processes - were proposed. Does 'bringing business to Goochland' simply mean extending Short Pump all the way out here? What does that mean? How do we go about it? What businesses should we try to attract? No interesting ideas or suggestions were provided. Clearly this is because 'big ideas' are easily attacked by those who find it easier to attack other's ideas than to propose their own - but without that kind of discussion, we're going to continue to muddle along as we always have, and maybe that's really all we want...

As a voter in Dist 3, I like Ned Creasey and I applaud his efforts to "clean up" the county government, but I think we've had enough of tearing things down, and it's time to start building back up again. His opponent, however was uninspiring and had nothing refreshing to offer. I wonder if it's too late to run Brett the Wonder Dog as a write-in candidate...

Manuel Alvarez Jr. said...

Pat, it's hard to provide specifics with only two minutes to answer a question. I never really knew how difficult that was. I think it's even more so for those of us who are not politicians, or I should say, are new into politics. This was the the third forum in addition to several meet and greets. I think some of the details that you would have liked to have heard were communicated in other forums, but a lot depends on the questions asked.

I have been providing details in my personal conversations with District 2 citizens. You can visit my website or call me at 556-0115 if you have any specific questions or suggestions. I would love to discuss them with you.

Pat said...

I'll give you a big idea...

Let's recruit an investor/business to put in an indoor surfing, skiing, skating, rock climbing, etc. recreational center somewhere between Richmond and C-ville. There's great new technology available to do this. You put it somewhere near a lake for a water supply, make room for a couple hotels and restaurants, and you get people to come, spend their money and leave (thereby preserving the rural character) - kind of like "South of the Border" - but not the decrepit scuzzy place that has become.

That's an example of a big idea. Only takes 30 seconds to propose it, although of course the devil is in the details; but until people start throwing out big ideas, there's really nothing to discuss, is there?

Check it out:


Anonymous said...

Pat, funny you should mention this. I was in Winthrop, WA this past year. They tripped out the town some years ago to have a Western theme. When we visited, lots of B&Bs, artisians, etc.

We also visited Levenworth, WA...same idea, but with a Alpine theme.

Why don't we take that European Village concept that was in the Goochland master plans...and set up the zoning for theme towns (small french village...small Tuscan village, etc). Certainly not an overnight idea....but both Winthrop and Levenworth were packed when I visited

Pat said...

Dear Anonymous, what a great concept! That leads me to another thought resulting from a recent discussion with a friend who was telling me about Sonoma Valley in CA and how they worked together to encourage locals and restaurants to buy almost exclusively from local farmers and other businesses so the farmers could afford to keep their properties in the face of rising property values.

Back in the "olden days," most towns were largely self-sufficient. You bought most of your goods and foods from other locals. If we could come up with a community theme such as you suggest, and incorporate into that a larger, more inclusive 'farmer's market' concept encouraging people to purchase as much as possible from locals, particularly restaurants and grocery stores - that would help preserve a rural character, and bring in visitors to spend their money and leave.

It's hard to see where we aren't going to be forced to become more self-sufficient in the future. Our current path is clearly unsustainable. We'll go after the rich first because they are an easy target, then the middle class; but ultimately there just isn't enough money to pay off the federal debt and inflation is going to destroy what savings remain as they print more money in a futile attempt to pay it off. The rise in consumer spending in China, Brazil, Indonesia and India may help pull us out, but if the factories are gone, I don't know what we'll sell them, when their own people will produce those same goods for less, and do we really want to continue to live off bubbles? We will therefore have to become more dependent on each other locally in order to deal with the impending difficulties.

Creating the village theme that you mention, and incorporating more local commerce into that theme would give us a head start for when the bad times get here - and I don't think it's that far off. I think we all know they are coming. We feel it in the air. It's what the Occupy and other movements are really all about at a deeper level. The limitation with these movements is that they look to change conditions rather than beliefs - and we have to address the core beliefs and our cultural heritage if we are to move forward together (I won't go into that here!). We don't have to look at the impending changes with doom, if instead we look at them as an opportunity to live life in a simpler, friendlier, more relaxed fashion - which after all is what we were looking for when we came here in the first place!

Big ideas are possible. I would feel so much better if I saw some coming from those who want to lead us. In answer to Manuel Alvarez, I understand that you only have 2 minutes to talk at a forum, but that's an excuse. I looked at your web site - I see no big ideas. The Gazette will print any big ideas you have and you can take your time and get them down the way you want them presented. Share your ideas if any with the entire community. You have focused on broadband, and that will be key to supporting an independent community when most people can't afford to drive to Richmond to work any more. Weave that support for broadband into a larger, bigger idea... I liked you, but you aren't in my district. I'd like you even better if you espoused some big ideas.

Someone recently promised fresh home-made dog biscuits if I would run Brett the Wonder Dog as a write-in candidate again!!!