Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Council, school board candidates forum at Region Ten

Charlottesville, Va.

Last night's forum was sponsored by the 10th and Page neighborhood association and moderated by its president Gate Pratt. It took place in a basement room of Region Ten on Preston Avenue.

First there was a crime report by several police officers who patrol this neighborhood. Then the 3 Council cadidates for 2 seats answered questions. Finally, the 6 candidates for the 3 school board seats spoke to the smaller crowd that remained.

The officers handed out crime statistics for the neighborhood from West St. to Hardy Dr. and from 7th to 11th streets NW. From 2001-04, the were around 1,900 calls for service a year, dropping to 1,410 in '05, while the number of serious "part 1 crimes" has been steady between 55 and 67 each of the last 5 years.

Citywide, statistics from last year and this year were presented. 4 roberries last year and already 12 this year. Burglary 10 last year and 28 this year. 3 rapes last year and none yet this year. One murder last year and murder-free so far this year.

What was unusual is one of the officers apologized for not having more specific statistics for the neighborhood. Apparently, the position of "crime analyst" is unfilled. The job of crime analyst is to retrieve crime data. Therefore, the data was unavailable. The explanation was awkward and seemed to show embarrassment.

Then followed the main event: City Council candidates

Julian Taliaferro would have to be the newsmaker of the night for dismissing a citizen's comment as untruthful.

A lady reported that, in the early 1990s, fire trucks would park on Water Street so firemen could work out at ACAC (Atlantic Coast Athletic Club) while on duty. At the time, the city's main bus transfer location was on Water St. The woman said she missed the bus a few times because the bus driver's view of riders was blocked by fire trucks, essentially.

So she tried for two months to have an appointment with the fire chief, Taliaferro. When she went in for the appointment, she was told the chief was too busy to talk with her. So she aired her complaint at a city council meeting. And the fire trucks immediately stopped parking on the street.

She asked Taliaferro if he would continue this mentality if elected to City Council. Taliaferro said he couldn't believe she was unable to get through. The lady even said, "I'm not making this up." And Taliaferro dismissed her testimony even further. It was an incredible thing to witness.

Rob Schilling is the incumbent who led the movement to switch from an appointed to an elected school board. The referendum passed last November by a 3-1 margin, with voter turnout 3-4 times the typical May election turnout. Schilling asked that voters re-elect him so he can help guide the school board transition and because the change continues to face great institutional opposition.

Schilling also took leadership credit for lowering the real estate tax rate from $1.11 to $1.05 per $100 assessed value. Even so, the city budget has doubled in 10 years. Schilling also cited constituent services as a reason to vote for him. If you have a problem with the city, Schilling is the councilor most likely to listen with respect and help you get the information you need.

Schilling seemed a little grumpy when someone asked him why he doesn't support tax relief for poor and elderly. It did sound like a seminar question designed to make the candidate look bad. Schilling said he does support the relief. The guy asked a followup: if so, why did you vote against the budget. Schilling replied he couldn't support the majority of the budget, so he had to vote no even though he supported some parts. He recommended a book by John Norquist called "The Wealth of Cities".

Several times, Schilling warned ominously that "sooner or later" we'll have to deal with the budget in a serious manner. Seems we're headed for a train wreck.

Dave Norris is the third candidate for Council. He gave credit to Schilling for addressing the high tax aspect of affordable housing. Norris said the city should create a housing trust fund for loans to low-income home-buyers. The loans would be paid back if the house is later sold.

Norris said the city has a number of surplus vacant lots it could sell for affordable housing. Norris was appointed as chairman of the board of directors for the Redevelopment and Housing Authority about 5 years ago. His tenure lasted only a couple years. He did not say how much surplus land the city has available or how much land in the city is not paying taxes.

First ever school board election in Cville: 6 candidates for 3 at-large seats

Leah Puryear and Juandiego Wade, the only black candidates, have paired themselves together as a ticket. They share the same slogan "REACH TO TEACH!" Their campaign brochures had the same format. And they both asked that people vote for the both of them. They seem to be a team.

Vance High has taught in Seattle schools and moved herein 1990. He ran for Council as an independent in 2004, receiving around 700 votes. If elected, he said he would donate the $3,000 school board member pay to fund school supplies for teachers.

Sue Lewis has been applying for the school board since the '80s and has served on important commissions: Planning Commission, Housing Authority, MACAA, FOCUS, LWV.

Ned Michie is the only incumbent. He was appointed to the school board by city council and was on the board during the controversy surrounding the previous superintendent. He said there's been 4 superintendents in 5 years.

All the candidates agreed on the platitudes with which we all agree. Close the achievement gap. Safe environment for everyone. Adopt best practices. Accountability.

Charlie Kollmansperger stands out as the only candidate with a coherent vision. He was the only candidate who came close to articulating a policy on violence. If a student hits a teacher, said Kollmansperger, it would be hard to justify keeping that student in school. All the candidates support safe schools. But only Kollmansperger was willing to go to any detail.

His brochure was the best of the four available. He's the only candidate with a website. His ideas are organized in the acronym CHANGE.

C communication and connectivity
H high expectations
A attention to achievement
N no excuses
G gather and generate support
E efficient use of resources (Dave Norris) (Julian Taliaferro) (Rob Schilling)


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