My Side of the Fence

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

Category: City Stuff (page 1 of 49)

Public Safety Building

The big tamale in the City's Capital Improvement Budget (CIP) is the "Public Safety Building" (PSB).  $30 million bucks worth of big tamale.  This is a facility that has been under consideration since I was first elected.  The big idea then was to buy up some (most?) of the Georgetown South Shopping center and put a large police headquarters on the property.  I didn't really know where this project currently stood so I emailed the Council and Mayor.  Of the 2-3 replies that I received (only 2 from incumbents running for office) what was clearly communicated was that "no decision has been made and in fact we aren't sure if this will ever happen"……imagine my surprise when I was watching the Council meeting last night and they voted to buy a hunk of the Georgetown South shopping center for a "public purpose"…..sounds like we're a little further along than "no decision" to me…..

The PSB has looked different according to different plans but the general idea is that it would be a place where we consolidate all of our public safety administrative offices and maybe some operational space.  Back in the day, the facility also included a firing range.  With the advent of Elite shooting sports that may or may not be necessary but it has been part of the plan.  It has also included a fire/rescue station at times in the past.  Is consolidating all of these offices in a single place a good idea?  I really don't know.  There is so much that goes into this.  The cost to build is high.  Could we use the current Rescue Squad building for something else?  The current state of the office market is cheap and the rent on the Fire department HQ space is quite modest.  Would it be nice to have a shiny new administrative building?  Sure….but I'm not sure it makes fiscal sense.  Yes, we need a second fire/rescue station over in Wellington but a new admin HQ ?

There is no denying the police need more space.  The department has continued to grow over the years as our population has expanded.  The size of their building has not expanded to keep pace.  Instead they have converted interior space to accommodate their staff.  About the only thing that hasn't been "reconfigured" is the public conference room and lobby.  The police department needs more space…but I think the police department's building is in the right place: right next to the largest concentration of schools and students in the city.  And maybe in northern Virginia.  I'm wild about the fact that the police are literally next door.  I'm pretty sure I don't need to draw you a picture as to why I'm so taken with their proximity.  In my mind, it makes a lot more sense to keep the current facility and expand it.  If we need to buy adjacent property then let's do that.

Ten years ago, the idea was that the PSB would be built on the north side of the Georgetown South shopping plaza.  I don't know that it was ever communicated to the public as such but the thinking in City Hall was that this might possibly be the impetus for a massive redevelopment of the GTS shopping plaza area.  It appears that, in this vein, we are indeed converting part of a bustling, if not exactly attractive, commercial center into a public use….and taking it off the tax rolls.  In any event, We didn't talk much about the PSB project over the ensuing years because the economy went south not too long after I was elected and the Council spent a lot of time trying to balance the operations budget and ultimately eliminated almost all CIP spending.  The project now seems to be back and I think it is time for a more thorough airing of our options.  I'm not interested in "well we had a public hearing on the CIP and nobody came forward."  That's weak sauce and a cop out.  Take a look at the process that the schools used when they were preparing to build the new Baldwin.  

There is also this: I believe that the optics of building a huge police / admin facility immediately adjacent to our largest immigrant neighborhood sends the whole wrong signal.  My friends on the Council can tut-tut all they want and insist that this isn't an issue but I'm not buying it.  Think about a very large 2-3 story government building in that parking lot.  How do you think the residents of GTS are going to receive that?  The schools do huge outreach into these communities, the city does it through enforcement.  I'm not sure this is the way to handle this.  It continues the tendency of the City government to govern the city they want to have, not the one that is here.  If we're to be successful, that has to end.  Face it, diversity is our hallmark and these communities must be engaged if the city is to grow to our full potential.  The sooner the government gets down with that and figures out a way to embrace it instead of holding it arms length like an inconvenient truth that nobody wants to recognize, the sooner things will get better in Manassas.  

The Comstock Kerfuffle

This is a bad post.  I wouldn't read it.  Only reason it is up here is b/c I've wasted so much time on it.

I'm a local elected guy.  We're the bottom of the political food chain.  Most of us you wouldn't really even call politicians.  We might *also* be politicians but we're usually pretty bad at political strategy and anything Machiavellian is outta the question.  When someone comes along who is pretty good at politics at the local level they usually end up in the state house before too long.  Jackson Miller was on the Council for 2-ish (?) years before he was running for the HOD.  He's now in the GOP leadership.  Safe to say he's a politician and a pretty good one.  The impending retirement of Frank Wolf has created a big hole in our local elected ranks.  His one-time aide and current HOD member Barbara Comstock appears to be the front runner.  

I don't know much about her as her webpage contains no position information.  I hit her campaign up on Facebook about a month ago and was told that they were working on updating it.  I think they need a new webmaster.  All in all, it appears that she's avoiding having to establish those positions.  Her wikipedia page (which is pretty short) reads as though she was a republican operative for quite a while and doesn't have much private sector experience.  That's disappointing, if accurate.  Her delegate page has more info and seems to reflect more private sector experience but it's hard to untangle all of those "Government Relations" firms.  There is also more meat in the issues section.  That's good but they're mainly state issues and read like a McDonnel campaign brochure.  Given her extensive experience working as a republican operative I wonder about the issues on her delegate page.  In addition, she doesn't mention abortion on her delegate page but wikipedia indicates that she was or is on the Executive Committee of the Susan B. Anthony list.  An organization dedicated to the eradication of abortion.  I make no judgement but it seems like it would be worth a mention.  That's likely to be a big deal in a 10th district election.  Overall it just seems a hell of a lot less direct that I'd like to see.  Dunno, maybe I'm missing something.  Frank Wolf appears to have endorsed her so I'd like to know more about her federal positions….

However, if that's all just a little too complicated, the explosion in the blogosphere has been pretty surprising.  Most of this has happened since Bob Marshall has entered the race.  Greg over at Black Velvet has accused other bloggers over at Bearing Drift of being paid shills for the Comstock folks.  They, in turn, have accused Greg of being a paid blogger for Bob Marshall and right-wing candidates.  The truth appears difficult to figure out but it does seem clear that all parties invovled have done some paid work – but not necessarily blogging – for some of the parties involved.  I don't know, I think it'll all pass.

What all of this does illustrate is that there really is no substitute for an honest and healthy 4th estate.  At every level of government.  Indeed, there was a blog post over at Too Conservative not long ago lamenting the dearth of postings on previously very active political blogs.  I think that this and, to some extent, the blowup in the blogosphere, are a direct result of no local media.  Sure, some media are left-wing hacks and some are right-wing hacks but there is nobody doing the legwork that was done as recently as 4 years ago.  When I was first elected the WaPo had an office in Old Town.  That damn reporter of theirs was in every meeting and would spend the time necessary to assemble facts, connect dots and ask for positions from the electeds.  The MJM did the same for years.  Then it was shot in the head and tossed out back.  I can't remember the last time I had an actual reporter ask me a question about an issue.  Might be more than a year ago.  The WaPo closed their Manassas location years ago…

The end result of this is that "the blogs" end up serving as a sort of surrogate for investigative reporters.  They do most of the writing about most of the politics.  Based on what I read on most of them, it's evident that the amount of time they spend on collecting facts varies widely.  They also spend some amount of time reporting on each other.  Surely there are some bloggers who try to do the legwork but let's face it: understanding municipal finance and/or policy is tough.  It takes time and a fair amount of it.  In addition, if you've never tried to sort out a $50 million budget it ain't easy.  I was running my own business for years before I was elected but municipal finance is pretty convoluted.  It's a modified accrual basis of accounting.  You can certainly drop in and watch the budget presentation online and get the highlights: Is there going to be a tax increase or decrease?  What's changing?  That part is easy.  However, understanding the root causes of some of those outcomes might involve going to a fair number of committee meetings that may or may not be directly related to the budget.  

For instance: if the City Council gives no raises and allows no spending increases the City budget is going up by half a million bucks this year.  I can hear it now, "That's an outrage!"  "Fat-cat politicians lining their pockets with taxpayer dollars".  Not really.  The answer is actually a very fiscally responsible one: for years we've been paying for variations in the jail budget out of year end funds.  Year end funds exist because of salary savings, contract underruns, etc.  However, the variations in the jail budget have been consistently high the past few years for a simple reason: the city has more people in jail.  It's a byproduct of low-tolerance enforcement.  Our contract with the county dictates that we pay a higher share of costs when we have more than 11% (think that's it) of the jail population.  What that means is that we're having the pay the county an additional sum each year.  This has happened for several years in a row – which means that this has become more like an operating cost than a year-end expense.  The prudent thing is to put it in the operating budget….and you have an increase of $500,000.

Without someone pointing that out, it would have taken attendance at 3 seperate meetings for you to figure that out.  I don't say any of this to throw rocks at other bloggers, only to point out that it's a tough job that needs doing.

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