My Side of the Fence

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

Page 2 of 403

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.


Mr. Randolph

I saw on Facebook about two days ago that former City Councilman Steve Randolph passed away.  There is no mention of Steve's passing on the City's Facebook page which I find discouraging.  See, Steve served the citizens of Manassas for a very long time.  24 years maybe?  He was one of those guys who really believed in what he was doing – there was no cynicism or "self" in Steve's politics.  He never once thought about how to elevate himself or what was best for Steve.  It was always a vote for what he thought was in the City's best interest.

I had the pleasure of serving with Steve for 8 years on the Council.  The first time I ran it produced a lot of heartache in the ranks of the GOP because you would always see the same two yard signs together:  Randolph and Harrover and Steve was an independent, not a Republican!  In truth our politics, especially at the local level were a lot alike.  We both believed in governance over drama.  Steve was always willing to make principled, unpopular votes and we both were willing to swallow hard and spend taxpayer money when we thought it best for the citizens.  Many of the folks from previous Councils share that trait. However, Steve never forgot that he represented the people.

While our politics may have been a lot alike, our life experiences were not.  I came on to the Council a brash, young-ish entrepreneur, ready to apply business lessons to government.  When I got there, Steve had already been on the Council probably 15 years….and don't forget Steve had long involvement with the schools prior to Council.  Steve was very much the moderating influence on any number of people.  He was a careful, thoughtful man.  At one point, in a heated budget debate I told Steve that "this is the way we do this in Business!!!".  Steve's calm reply was "that's great Andy, but we're not running a business here".  That stung a bit but Steve meant no insult – it stung because he was right and I knew it.  That statement (and one other that I'll get to) has been with me ever since.

In a public meeting, Steve was always careful and thoughtful.  He was a veteran of many of the epic public hearings that took place during the heavy development in the City in the 90's.  I well remember some of those meetings as an observer.  Lines out the door.  Not a lot of happy faces in the crowd.  Steve was there for those and I feel the experience made an impression upon him.  He very much wanted to represent the ordinary people of Manassas.  Steve was an Everyman, make no mistake.  If he came to a public hearing and there was a full house of angry people, he was willing to work hard to find a different way to achieve an end.  He was there to represent the citizens – ALL of the citizens.  During a very long Public Hearing, when everyone was really trying to get things wrapped up Steve said something I'll never forget:  "Everything has been said but not everyone has said it".  That really took the temperature of the room down a few degrees….but the meeting went on for another hour.  🙂

Steve had the single best campaign story I've ever heard.  I think this took place during the campaign where he earned the name "Landslide Randolph" (he beat a competitor by 2 votes).  He said, "I was driving by a persons house who I know had a yard sign but I didn't see it.  So, I pulled over to find out what had happened".  Recall that back then, a yard sign was no small commitment.  It wasn't "yeah, whatever", it was a four-square endorsement and when one of your signs came down, you went and found out why.  Steve pulled over and, as he was walking down the sidewalk to the house, he noticed a black spot in the lawn.  He bent over, pushed aside some grass with his hands and discovered a black pattern in the grass that was longish….with a wider spot in the middle.  It dawned on him, as he was bent over peering at the ground, that someone had set his sign on fire and that the black outline was where the burning cardboard and wooden pole had burned the grass!  Single best campaign story ever.  His friend explained to him that a neighbor kid had set the sign on fire and that he had meant to get a new one.

I'm sad that Steve moved down south after his retirement from Council but I know that his single greatest joy at that point in his life was his family and his grandchildren.  He enjoyed serving the citizens but he enjoyed those closest to him even more.  Godspeed Steve, you were a good man and I'm better for having known you.

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