The Future

The truth of the matter is that I had a long, convoluted, blog post already ginned up to answer this question: are you going to run again?  I weighed cons and pros.  I paced up and down my street, gesticulating and debating with myself like a crazy man.  My neighbors have gotten used to it I guess.  Nobody called the cops in any event.  However, a funny thing happened on the way to the "publish" button for that post:  I ran into a buddy of mine the other day that I hadn't seen in a long time.  He used to live in Manassas but moved about 5 years ago.  He keeps up on what's going on in Manassas.  He knew that I was up for election again this year.  He urged me to run again and asked if I was considering it.  I told him I was struggling with the decision and he said "well, it's pretty simple really".  

I raised an eyebrow (OG Star Trek syle) and said "go on".  

"It's simple really.  Two things: do you like doing it and can you make a difference"?

That's the type of insightful observation that only someone removed from the details can make.  I've been killing myself over this.  So:

First things first.  Do I like it?  Yes, I like public service.  It's cool to be able to help.  Doing Manassas Next was great.  Governing in tough times is challenging.  Settling a Federal lawsuit was hard work.  Hiring a great City Manager (twice) was a challenge.  I like it rough – it makes you grow as a person.  However, this job also has an unpleasant aspect: politics.  The deal-making part of politics I'm pretty good at and enjoy.  The destructive part I despise and politics in Manassas has become somewhat more destructive over the past couple of years.  I experienced it directly at the last convention in my run for Mayor and I didn't like it.  I watched a pretty vicious campaign unfold against Mr. Wolfe not too long ago.  Recounting someone's record is fine.  People in elected office should be held accountable.  What's been going on recently is not something I'm interested in doing.  More importantly, that stuff made a definite impression on my family.  If I didn't much care for these things, my family reeeaalllyyy didn't like it.  People on the blogs even commented on my daughter.  Really?  A 15 year old girl?  My continued existence is direct evidence that my wife is one of the kindest people in the world.  When she's ready to strangle someone, there's a problem.

Second things second: Do I think I can make a difference?  I believe I have already made a difference.  Can I continue to make a difference?  Boy, that's an open question.  The rate of change has definitely slowed over the past 2 years.  I guess I don't think there's the votes on the Council to pursue an aggressive agenda of moving Manassas forward.  Progress for this Council has been setting up a CIP.  I'm glad we did it but a CIP seems more like a requirement to me.  I'd prefer that the Council was spending time on big-picture policy issues.  That's my idea of making a difference long-term.  People speak in hushed, reverential tones of the leaders who had the nerve to construct our own lake.  We need to be working on the "lakes" of today.  I'm not throwing rocks, it's just the facts as I see them.  Put differently, my views on what we should be doing are out of step with the majority and I'm just one guy.  Does that make me some sort of misunderstood genius or tortured soul who has singular insight?  No.  My colleagues are smart folks with their own gifts. We just differ on how to proceed.  Of course, that doesn't make it any easier for me…:)

So, the calculus conducted inside my skull says no.  My pride says yes – I should be able to get this done.  I have prevailed in far more difficult circumstances.  However, my life isn't that simple.  It isn't really about me anymore.  I've a family.  I'm responsible for my employees.  Responsible for their salaries, health insurance and their families as well.    I met with my team at work and my family during this process.  While I didn't hear anyone saying no, I didn't hear a lot of yes either.  I think my family wants me at home more.  My team at work believes in our mission and I'm excited to work with that group of folks.

At this point it seems as though I'm avoiding the issue so: No, I won't run as a republican in this election.  I've been under a lot of pressure to run again but I'm going to have to disappoint those people.  I appreciate the calls, emails, drop-ins and lunch meetings but I can't see the fundamentals changing much and I will not run for office just to "be on City Council"  If I'm going to do this, it's going to be go big – big picture policy solutions – or go home.  I have not had much luck getting that discussion going so I'm going to posit that Einstein was right and go do something else for awhile.

Posted in Politics | 11 Comments

School Budget

I know.  I promised.  I wouldn't waste anyone's time with an annoying budget post.  I'm like a compulsive gambler.  Minus the chips, add a keyboard and some half-witted attempts at humor.  A bug drawn to light.  Whatever.

I went to the joint Council – Schoolboard budget work session last night.  Given our new-fangled budget process I really didn't know how long the meeting would be but an hour or so seemed about right.  As it turns out, there were many items to be discussed that were NOT on the agenda last night.  Agendas are not normally a problem for us….anyway, the schools showed up and we talked about thier budget.  I gotta tell you – what a difference.  Gone are the days where nobody really seemed to know the answer and the City people rolled their eyes at the school people.  DMag is really good at what she does.  If the School Board lets that woman leave anytime soon they're idiots. 

 She was confident and, based on her experience last year, pretty much anticipated the questions she got.  Her staff were prepared and confident.  The age old "why are our per capita costs higher" question has been put to bed (class size and a few odds and ends – PWC is struggling to catch up to us on that account).  There's an actual CIP that's more than a trial ballon.  I didn't sit through the blood, guts and feathers (thanks Jon) school budget sessions but the school board seems united behind their agenda.  They set goals and instructed their executive to prosecute that agenda.  She gave them what they wanted and they've backed her.  That's the way the governance process is supposed to work.

The City Manager is not so lucky.  We gave our executive fiscal guidance, he presented a budget that accomodated that guidance.  He then took the further step of helping make our budget more transparent by placing the Jail costs into the operating budget and not year end.  Paying for operating costs out of what we call "one time money" is a bad idea.  This had the side effect of adding $1.5 million to the city's operating budget.  That's a big number for our General Fund budget.  The Manager realized this and absorbed about half the cost in his operating budget to make the number easier to take.  He also – unilaterally – setup a Jail fund that we don't share with the schools.  This in an attempt to keep the cost as low as possible.  Technically the schools are entitled to half of that money for the jail but they haven't complained so far.  I support the Manager in his efforts.  Given his almost non-existant tenure and lack of major staff members when he started, he put together a hell of a budget.  Is it outside the Council's fiscal guidance?  Yes but the moves he made are wise.  Is it a tax increase?  Yes.  However, in 2004 dollars, per-capita tax revenue is only $100 higher than it was in 2004.  10 years.  $100.  Seems pretty tight to me.  Manassas average tax bill will be $350 lower than PWC.  Almost $2,000 lower than Fairfax.  We're paying jail expenses, not (gasp) starting a Parks and Rec department.  In any event, the Council voted last night to not advance the Managers budget.  I can't explain it.

In this neck of the woods if you're the cheapest place to live….you're just the cheapest place to live.  It's great to have low taxes – believe me I pay almost every tax we have and would prefer that they were lower.  However, if you're the cheapest place to live you have to accept the natural consequences of such an agenda.  As you cut the budget you *will* have to reduce services.  In our budget that means eliminating positions.  You're going to have increasing crime, less solid development, fewer businesses locating in the city and an increasing real estate tax burden as the businesses and well-to-do residents continue to leave.  It's a downward spiral.  It *will* feed itself.  You have to compete in the context you're given.  In my business, if I elect to eliminate a service or not provide a service that my competition provides, I have to accept the consequences.  The City is no different.

Anyway, I think the schools are starting to get it done and I support the City Manager's budget.  Both of our executives know their business and we should support them.  I do.

 

Posted in City Council | 13 Comments

Precincts?

One quick thing: filing deadline for Republican primary is April 11th!!  It's the first step in our new November-centric electoral process.

Ya know, when I "got into" local gubbmint" I couldn't begin to imagine the issues I would eventually be facing.  We were in the middle of what has been termed an "immigration event" where the face of the city was radically changing.   The Federal lawsuit over definition of a family was in full swing.  Our schools are now majority-minority.  The percentage of latino residents doubled in 10 years to around 30%.vote

Yet the face of the governing body hasn't changed at all.  It has, in fact, gotten less diverse.  Manassas is now goverened by 7 white dudes.  For some, that's a problem as the government no longer reflects the electorate.  I guess I could agree with that but the government really doesn't reflect the electorate at any level.  Half of those in federal office are millionaires.  How many women in the GA?  That's certainly not how the country looks.  I suppose that as long as the government is responsive to the problems of the electorate it isn't that big a deal.  However, I'm not sure the city government has done much to address the issues facing our changing city other than hire more police and fire personnel.  That's been a major frustration of mine for awhile now.  

Just to clarify, in a typical precinct (district, parrish, whatever) system, people that live in a certain part of the jurisdiction are reperesented by a single person.  Manassas is a bit different in that all of our elected officials are "at large" meaning you get to vote for (or against I guess) every elected official in Manassas.  Manassas already has precincts but that's only to determine where you vote.

As with most issues there are ups and downs on both sides of the thang.  Those that support precincts have pushed them so that the elected body more accurately reflects the population.  They may, in fact, do that but as my friend Steve rightly points out – elections are won by them that show up.  If you want to see a woman (or whatever) elected to office, round up a candidate, some supporters and get after it!  I hold no dogmatic predisposition for or against more accurate (whatever that might mean) representation but given my experience on Council so far it seems like a reasonable idea.  It's still no substitute for an involved electorate but in the absence of that….

One downside that many do not consider: when precincts are involved: you literally have 1 member of Council who is "yours".  Currently all 6 and the Mayor represent you.  They have an interest (presumably) in whatever your issue is because they are your representative.  If we were to switch to a precinct system and away from at-large, you are not represented by anyone but the person from your precinct.  You could certainly lobby those other members of Council but they would no longer directly represent you.  That might not matter much if you are trying to get a pot hole patched but when there's a question that affects one particular part of the city – a new development comes to mind – you might want to be able to influence all 6.  Again, you could call the Council members not representing you but if it's a tough vote?  They're going to vote with their peeps.  Hell, we don't have a precinct system and we already see that happening.

What do you think?

Posted in Politics | 15 Comments

Coffee Friday

I'll be at Simply Sweet on Friday at 7:30.  Anyone want to stop by and talk budget?

Posted in Andy's Stuff | 3 Comments

How do you do that?

That's the number one question I get from people after they watch a long public hearing or citizens time.  "How do you sit up there and listen to that?"  I reply, "well, it's my job".  After an hour or so it isn't a lot of fun as my back starts to hurt but it is part and parcel of this job so I get up and stretch.  That helps some but by the next day I am in a fair amount of pain.

Another question is "How do you listen to those people when they are obviously wrong/crazy/uniformed/whatever"?  The answer is easy:  almost everyone that speaks gets a least something or almost everything wrong.  Nothing wrong with that.  Their job is to tell me what they think.  My job is to use the time I've spent on these subjects, the city's staff and my life experience to figure out what, if anything, to do about it.  For instance, people at the recent public hearing regarding abortion clinics wondered why such a "common sense" approach to regulation wouldn't work?  I can tell you in all honesty that, based on my experience with "Definition of a Family", the federal courts aren't much interested in common sense.  The Federal system is an otherworld where common sense is not a primary concern where constitutional rights are at stake.  No indeed, my job is to discern what an individual speaker is trying to convey.  Some folks are passionate and tightly focused.  Some are angry.  Some wander all over the place.  Some, well, you're not really sure what they're talking about but I need to figure out – at the most fundamental level – what they are trying to get accross.  Most times you can sift something from the speakers words.

I will say that I have never understood why speakers feel compelled to threaten or insult the Mayor and Council members.  Delegate Bob Marshall the other night told the Council "we will be responsible for the mayhem and unrest in the city" (or something close to that) if we didn't approve the "Aveni Amendment".  What does that mean?  Is he going to lead the unrest and mayhem?  Another speaker indicated that the only reason the Council hadn't already approved the Aveni amendment was that we were being "paid by the abortion clinic".  Money/corruption is always a fan favorite.  It is with some regularity that we're accused of "lining our pockets", being ignorant, greedy, dumb, etc, etc.  I think it's fine to disagree and be passionate about it but bribes from the abortion clinic?  Really?

The one thing that I would change about citizens time: I would move non-resident speakers to the back of the line during citizens time.  The taxpayers of Manassas should be first in line to address their leadership and not blocked behind people from all over.  It is, after all, our money and our home town that is on the line.

Posted in Andy's Stuff | 5 Comments