Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Council may create new commission to update precinct boundaries after ignoring 2 commissions in 2 years

This is the 4th time in just over 2 years the Council has been asked to modernize its antiquated precincts.

Charlottesville, Va.-- Tuesday night voter registrar Sheri Iachetta asked the Council to create a committee to study a redrawing of the 8 precincts because they currently are "not optimally configured." There are now over 23,000 registered voters in the city compared to 18,000 when Iachetta became registrar. The city's population has remained unchanged.

She was joined by electoral board chairman Rick Sincere, who said voting patterns have changed and updated precincts would mean better allocation of resources and manpower on election day. He said Justice Department approval is needed only if a precinct has more than 5,000 voters.

This is the fourth time in just over two years the Council has been asked to modernize its antiquated precincts.

First time was the Council Election Report January '05. Then again in August '06 by the School Board Election task force. In October the Council voted unanimously to continue at-large elections for the school board that had been appointed 4 wards and 3 at-large before the Nov. '05 referendum.

In 1920 a referendum approved the change in city government from a 12-member mixed ward/at-large bicameral City Council modeled after the federal system of representation to the current 5 at-large members modeled after corporate governing boards.

The councilors wanted all other steps looked into before changing anything. Councilor Kevin Lynch cited an example where a pool table was moved, which created the needed space at a polling station

Iachetta and Sincere said they will look into it and are to report back to the Council in two weeks.

Last night's meeting kicked off with a full chamber. Half the people were high school students there for extra credit. The other half wanted to closed Old Lynchburg Road at Moore's Creek to prevent commuter traffic.

The president of the Fry's Spring neighborhood association spoke along with a half dozen others. Their chief complaints were speed and volume of traffic, narrow streets with high pedestrian traffic but no sidewalks, and drainage issues as the road runs along a stream bed. One person said 95% of the neighbors supported the closure and 72 on the streets actually connecting to Old Lynchburg have signed a petition to that effect.

The Councilors were sympathetic but agreed that closing the road would be a last resort. Several expressed exasperation that Albemarle County is not building connector roads to handle the explosion of development south of town. The Council promised to look into it.

Last summer the neighborhood association and active neighbors packed the chamber and had a traffic thumb at Cherry/Willard/Cleveland finally removed after a year of unanswered complaints.

The other interesting thing from this meeting is the design competition to develop 2 blocks on Water Street, the City Market and municipal parking lot/H&R Block and the private lot across the street from Live Arts.

Councilor Kevin Lynch opposed the $150,000 competition because there is no developer interested in either property. Unlike the $25,000 Sunrise Trailer Court design competition, a developer was already planning to redevelop the property.

Lynch recalled 2 times already that the city has tried to sell the City Market block, most recently in 2002. City Manager Gary O'Connell recalled only one time around 1998. This time as well, after the competition and the money is spent, there's no guarantee anything will be built there. No action was taken tonight.

Think about it. Who would want to buy a piece of land and not be able to build on it what they want? If you buy this property, you'll have to build what the city wants and follow someone else's design selected by a committee. But the city just doesn't understand why people don't want to buy their stolen properties and have its use dictated by the seller.

Council Beat: Meredith Richards cameo, Elections report: distrust and disdain

Blair Hawkins, Charlottesville Indepenedent Media, January 8, 2005

The highlight of the Monday evening meeting was the radiant Meredith Richards and her public comment. She has drafted a letter in support of a regional rail system. She asked Council to endorse the petition and forward it to the governor and transportation officials. Richards failed to receive the city's Democratic nomination for a third term last year, but received seven hundred writein votes. And she subsequently voted for the Council Elections Task Force before leaving office on June 30. ( Photo on her last day as a city councilor: "Gay rights rally at old Lane High School", )

The most anticipated moment of the meeting was the ward-mayor study. The speech by the task force chairman and Council discussion acted as a counter-balance to the remainder of the 4-hour session. The desire to change the local form of government stems from the perception that the system is broken and needs to be fixed. The task force was commisioned by Council in a 3-1-1 vote (for: Maurice Cox, Meredith Richards, Rob Schilling; against: Blake Caravati; abstain: Kevin Lynch) on Apr 5 2004.

While the report dealt with the community's mutual distrust of city government, the bulk of the meeting illustrated the parts of the machine that need repair and foster distrust. These broken pieces take the form of policy statements and guidelines, ordinances and resolutions, subsidies and exemptions. The good working parts are consistent with our core values and promote them. The broken parts, the misaligned priorities, seemed to be on display to begin the new year.



Councilor Kendra HAMILTON: Mumbles "Let's get it out of the way" as task force chairman readies to deliver the report.

Sean O'BRIEN, Council Elections Task Force chairman: Thanks to everyone. The changes studied in the report, last studied in the 1980s, would have profound implications. He said the task force was surprised at the low turnout at the 8 public forums given that the civic study was well-publicized. He attributed this apparent low interest to disillusionment lingering from last attempt at major reform, the perception that those in power won't do anything to threaten that power, and general apathy of the public reflected in declining voter turnout. Two camps of participants: those who feel everything's okay and those who feel totally ignored. Communication seems to be the underlying problem. He sees this report as a starting point.

BROWN. Thanked the committee. Wants to have a work session.

CARAVATI: Thanked the committee for its hard work. November just saw the largest voter turnout in a while.
LYNCH: Since we seem to have a high school class here, getting a copy of the report might be worthwhile. Talked about the proposal that councilors have additional staff to help them serve the constituents.

O'BRIEN: Thought it was a meritorious idea.

HAMILTON: Thanks for creating an enjoyable, accessible and brief report. Does mixed ward-atlarge create a two-tier system?

O'BRIEN: The option increases access to public office for more people.

SCHILLING: Read lengthy remarks and entered them into the record. Invited O'BRIEN to sit for the remarks. (Those high school students all got up and left at this point, to the delight of CARAVATI and HAMILTON at the timing.)

Schilling's remarks gave some historical perspective for discussing these issues. He ended by mentioning the experience in Richmond with its new strong mayor, former governor Doug Wilder.

CARAVATI: If you went to an elected mayor, the form of government would have to change substantially.

O'BRIEN: This study only considered if the mayor were directly elected with no other shifts in power.

BROWN: Is there evidence that elections by ward increase voter turnout?

O'BRIEN: The evidence is mixed.

LYNCH: When campaigning, especially on southside of town, many people can't vote because they are exfelons.

O'BRIEN: Restoring voting rights is a state issue.

HAMILTON: Would like to raise 2 issues. Who showed up at the meetings? The activist minority or the silent majority? Looking over the sign-in sheets of the meetings, it appears that the participation involved the "usual suspects" that are always vocal.

O'BRIEN: Some people came to the forum just in their precinct and one person came to every forum. "Just because you're vocal doesn't mean you should be ignored." Because of the level of participation, we expected a higher turn-out.

HAMILTON: Another issue lacking was a class analysis. In the last few decades, Recreation and Walker precincts had the most candidates and councilors, while Clark and Tonsler had the fewest. Recreation is the most populous, Walker the most affluent. On the southside there is a wealth gap, contacts gap, and education gap.

O'BRIEN: Just because you are elected to a neighborhood doesn't mean you "represent" the neighborhood or even know the historical problems that affect Belmont, for example. We did talk about African-American represenation as well as socioeconomic issues.

HAMILTON: "One final thing is that the voice of the people has been ringing my line. And the people that I have been hearing from, 90% of whom are African-American, have been urging us to keep things as they are. So you're evidently talking to different people, Mr. Schilling."

SCHILLING: "Yes, I evidently am."

BROWN: Wants us to keep in mind there will be a work session on this subject.

LYNCH: Went to all but one of the forums. There seems to be a myth about how approachable Council really is. All of us are in the phone book. Don't call me after midnight. We are happy to hear from people.

HAMILTON: My number changed so I'm not in the phone book. After being prompted, she called out her new contact number, 245-0241.

LYNCH: Another theme was communication. People want advance notice of changes.

O'BRIEN: Some people seem to be intimidated by elected official and don't want to bother them.

CARAVATI: While mayor, he had office hours and talked to over 500 people. So, if you make yourself available, people will talk to you.

The discussion came to a close. There was no vote resolving to endorse or support the study.

POLICY OF STREET CLOSING presented by Lisa Kelley, assistant city attorney.

SALE OF CITY LAND presented by Craig Brown, city attorney.

These two subjects were tedious and difficult to follow but were not acted on by Council. They will resurface at a future meeting when staff have done more work. The city attorney did define fair market value as the price a willing buyer will pay to a willing seller, neither one being under any compulsion.



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