My Side of the Fence

The danger isn't going too far. It's that we don't go far enough.

Decorum in local politics

As promised, I'm not writing about politics on my FB page.  In fact, I don't have a FB page anymore.  I'm sick of it.  The delay in my posting this will anger some but I'm not going back to arguing with the whole world on Facebook.  This produces a much more considered response I think.

In any event, as politics heat up around election time, there are always hot button issues that pop up.  Crisis and conflict between candidates and parties.  This was the case during the last Council election and my feelings surrounding the infamous "mailer" are well-known.  I quit the party over it.  

This time around, there isn't a mailer (and that must remain the case) but there are individuals making comments on social media that are inflammatory and that I disagree with.  I cannot control what these people say.  I've always thought (take a tour of most of my earlier articles) that local politics should be somewhat more genteel and humane.  I don't know, maybe that particular brand of politics is already in the ash heap and I just don't see it.  I know that as chair of the local GOP that I've received death threats via the mail.  Yes.  Here in Manassas.  Think about that a bit.  People don't want to just call me names, they want me dead….

When I was in office I had dozens of occasions to have pretty pointed discussions with constituents.  Things got heated.  Occasionally overheated but not often what I would call ugly.  Yes, comments on various and sundry blogs were often downright vile but the face to face stuff stayed mostly respectful.  The letters we received from constituents were also generally respectful.  Citizens time was often more…passionate.

I think that the dialog as we run up to the election in November should remain respectful.  Let us disagree and argue over policy and leave the people out.  I know, that isn't the way of current electoral politics but it would be for the best – in all races really but especially for Council and School Board.  These candidates are our neighbors, not some distant Senator that you have .01% chance of ever meeting in your life.  You will probably run into them in the grocery or in Old Town.  Mostly they're just people.  Yes, their politics may be wildly different and/or you may just not like them but they're either in office or running for office and they deserve your respect. 

That goes for both sides. 

In addition, family members should be off limits.  Just as those in elected office serve the citizens, so do their family members.  The family members take the hurt and abuse inflicted upon those in office and feel it tenfold.  Many was the night that I had to restrain Sarah from calling someone to deliver a piece of her mind.  I think that those who attack family members exclude themselves from the policy debate.  It's hurtful and I resent it.  It turns people off and, especially at the local level, it does not help whatever candidate you are trying to support.

So, let us stick to things that are germane: voting records, ideas, policy positions and if things get tough, the person that is running for office – for that person is standing for election.  However it should be respectful because I know that, no matter the outcome, we all have to live here – and with each other the day after the election.

Schools and Taxes

As I understand it, our local elected folks are having discussions about raising taxes over the next three years by about 10 cents….and that's just extra money for the schools operating budget.  That doesn't include building a school or increasing funding for City programs.  I'm simply stunned.  Something has gone horribly wrong when taxes have to go up that much and that isn't all that will be required.  The budget projections to rebuild Dean appear to be about twice that of Baldwin – that surprised me.  Everyone knows that the rate is essentially meaningless without valuation and valuations in the City aren't plummeting like they were in 2008.  They're stagnant or slightly up….so it isn't as though the rate is going up to keep the tax bills flat.  The other big part that's missing in this discussion, and it's something I think our Council should be asking for, is a plan to increase the school's performance.  Indeed, we seem to be facing this increase to simply maintain the status quo.

My rather harsh stance on this has surprised some folks.  "Don't you support the schools?" is a common refrain.  I sent my kid to those same schools so of course I do.  In addition, while on Council, I made some tough deals and worked to get budgets passed that increased taxes – that built a new elementary school and started a Science and Tech program.  My critics might ponder on that a bit.  I took a lot of heat for making that deal for Baldwin.  The city actually had to cut its operating budget to fund the construction of Baldwin.  I helped make that deal and I took the heat – many of my party members called for my head during those years – so of course I support the schools.

However, what I don't support is what seems to have happened since.  When we made the deal to build Baldwin it was supposed to put the schools on a glide slope so that, as debt service payments rolled off, they could afford – with some tweaking – to rebuild Dean.  Evidently someone dramatically missed the mark on their budget projections.  Indeed, I feel as though someone wasn't exactly straight with me at the time.

Let's be clear: what we are facing is an existential threat for our schools and city.  People are having discussions on social media about folding the City back into the County.  It's heartbreaking.  Should we throw up our hands and give up?  Never.  However, we can and should demand more from our leadership than simply increasing taxes.  With even the latest increases the City has a difficult value proposition.  We will need strong leaders – who aren't busy playing games – and much more public involvement to get this train back on the tracks.

I have avoided city hall like the plague since leaving office but I'll be at the budget meeting tomorrow night.  Before I write further on the matter I need to get a better flavor for what's going on….I admit that it's the size of the increase that so surprised me but I owe it to the schools to get better informed as to what's going on if I am to be a critic.  I suppose it is possible that I'll leave that meeting singing a different tune.  I don't think it'll happen but I'm open to the possibility.

 

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