Thursday, June 05, 2008

Ex-Councilors oppose their own water plan

Charlottesville, Va.—Thursday afternoon three former City Councilors, who approved the water plan exactly two years ago, recanted their support for the expansion of Ragged Mountain Reservoir. On Tuesday the plan received a permit from US Army Corps of Engineers, the final step in the approval process.

Rob Schilling, Kendra Hamilton and Kevin Lynch said they had been hoodwinked and not given adequate information about dredging. Given what they know now, they would have voted against the plan.

What they know now is what they knew then. They complained that there was no second opinion on dredging. Didn’t they know two years ago you should get several estimates from different people? When did they learn basic business practices? It begs the question: How many other projects did they pass without due diligent examination?

At the time, Lynch questioned the cost estimates coming from Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority. Why didn’t he vote against the plan? Why didn’t he act on his principles when it mattered, when he had the power of elected office behind him? At this point, there’ve been at least three second opinions. They all agree that actual dredging is relatively cheap. The largest dredger in the country, brought into town by the critics, says 75% of the cost is for disposal of sediment after it’s removed from the reservoir.

The three ex-councilors told so many lies during the one-hour Schilling show on WINA that they couldn’t keep a straight face. They laughed and giggled throughout the show. Schilling gave it away when he asked how someone else could tell such a falsehood and keep a straight face. He described the political trio as the Three Musketeers, a fictional group of merry men with swords.

Lynch mentioned the 2002 drought. But during the entire hour, he didn’t have enough time to dispel the myth that 2002 was the worst drought on record. He’s known this fact for six years. On May 19 he said he would have made the correction if he had more time in his speech to Council.

Hamilton said Councilor Holly Edwards had a point Monday when the current Council reaffirmed its unanimous support of the plan Hamilton voted for but now condemns. Edwards said people don’t understand the city manager form of government and how it functions. The current system was adopted following a 1920 referendum. In the early 1900s most cities switched to at-large systems to prevent minorities from being elected to a district or neighborhood. In the at-large system, 51% of the voters choose all the City Councilors (and since Nov. 2005 the elected School Board).

As a city councilor, Hamilton opposed efforts to study the local electoral process. She opposed switching back to any type of district-based elections because minorities would have a greater opportunity to represent the community.

During today’s show Lynch said he could support a directly elected mayor. In his 2000 campaign he supported this. While on Council for 2 terms, he opposed an elected mayor. He and Hamilton also opposed the elected school board. Under an elected mayor, we’d still have the city manager form of government. The mayor would not be the city manager but only set the Council agenda and conduct meetings.

The lies were so obvious and easy to document as untrue that something else must be going on. It’s human nature that we want bad people to say why they’re so bad. You see this in courtroom dramas. But in real life, bad people rarely explain their bad decisions.

What about Blair Hawkins? Isn’t he a flip-flopper? He was a strong advocate for dredging. Now he supports the current plan. Why doesn’t he flip back to dredging now? Because I’m thinking about the community. It’s not my way or the highway. The critics present a false choice.

In the context that the majority had ruled out dredging, expanding Ragged Mountain is a good second choice. It was 2 years ago and it still is. I’m glad to be with the majority for a change.

On Tuesday the Army Corp of Engineers gave federal regulatory approval of the plan. All approvals have been obtained. The 1983 proposed Buck Mountain Reservoir was never fully approved. Some of that seized land will be conserved as stream buffer and wetland mitigation for Ragged Mountain. What happens to suplus land is to be determined.

“Council approves water plan again” Jun. 2, 2008

“School Board to remain at-large” Oct. 3, 2006

“Council may create new commission to update precinct boundaries after ignoring 2 commissions in 2 years” Jan. 17, 2007. Includes “Council Beat: Meredith Richards cameo, Elections report: distrust and disdain” Jan.8, 2005.

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


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