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back to morven farm for day two of the city council planning retreat. this event is “open to the public,” but is 20 minutes outside of town, GPS to the address takes you to the wrong gate, the number on their site is dead, & you have to give your name to a gatekeeper. “open” huh?
civic engagement starter pack: notebook, pen, external battery, snacks. not pictured: steely resolve to make it through the whole damn day.
the false entrance is blocked off with cones this morning and the gatekeeper only asked if i was “a citizen,” not for my name. i can’t help but feel like these changes are a response to my furious call to city hall yesterday.
glad to hear the facilitator checking with staff to ensure the meeting will be accessible to folks who may have trouble walking from the auxiliary lot if the main lot fills up. that ‘short’ walk is over some uneven, icy terrain. ask the gate house if you might need assistance!
so much for starting right at nine. jones was on time, but the rest of council is just showing up.
finally getting started, 25 minutes late. this paid facilitator is only here 9-12 today. how many tax dollars just went toward having her watch them arrive late & eat eggs?
but i’m so glad to see about 10 members of the public here this morning!!
they seem to have settled on a new meeting structure.
5:30-6:30 closed session
6:30-8 “community matters” 16 speakers (8 online signups, 8 signups at meeting), 3min each and (NEW!) council has optional 2min response after each speaker
8-? business
unlimited matters from public
it’s unclear if the end of meeting matters by the public will ALSO have the new 2min response from council. the intentional difference in the names (community matters vs matters by the public) seems to indicate no?
they are eliminating the announcements section. this usually takes like 30+ min, so this will save a lot of time! instead, announcements will run continuously on the TV screen & will be projected in chambers during the break.
award, recognitions, & proclamations now quarterly
council is proposing joining the 21st century & using social media to facilitate community engagement: posting votes, making post-meeting recap videos. these are really good ideas! coms budget may need increase, possibility of new staff position: dedicated coms person for council
as the youngest member of council, wes is the only one at the table who seems to have any level of comfort or coherency when talking about social media. galvin suggested using local radio station WINA instead 🤷‍♀️🙄
nikuyah underscores the effort involved in good social media presence - she had 3 people managing social media for her campaign. council seems to agree they’d need a staff position to manage this.
a lot of weird obsession with complicated hypotheticals. not sure why the idea of disseminating factual information to the public in an accessible way is so confusing or controversial.
at least we’re getting our money’s worth out of the facilitator. she’s been decent about cutting off unproductive infinite discussion of hypothetical minutiae.
i’m so damn proud of my comrades! council is discussing an idea proposed by @saggiotipo — looking at asheville’s open town hall model. this allows more people to participate in more ways.
the interim communications director just interrupted from the peanut gallery... the facilitator seems displeased with this. he says he’s sent paige a whole list of options like this. our existing platform, granicus, has a suite of public engagement options to explore.
galvin suggests we add this topic to the first town hall to see how the public would like to engage. this is a good idea, but they need to be careful to make sure the public has a good picture of the available options. wes wants this on a feb council agenda.
one of the concerns with allowing the public to log concerns publicly, like on facebook, is the need for a staff member to respond quickly & appropriately. another argument for the new staff position.
heather argues against using facebook at all because some people don’t use it.
discussing the need for protocols re: “use of electronic devices by council members during meetings.” GOOD. i’d love to see certain members of council off their damn cell phones when people are speaking to them. heather says her babysitter will call the clerk, not her.
mike saying he’s been texted by members of the public trying to influence his votes during meetings. that’s a pretty big confession?
wes says he will not comply with a no devices policy.
galvin says members of the public feel disrespected when council are looking at their phones when they are speaking. i agree. but i see wes’ argument that they are adults & shouldn’t have to turn in their phones. self regulating & being respectful shouldn’t be too much to expect.
spicy take from wes. “we’re all adults. you can’t control that [phone usage]. you damn sure can’t control me.”
mike is taken aback. “but if the body takes a vote and passes a rule...”
the hardest part about sitting in on this meeting is restraining myself from interjecting. watching mike text when a woman is crying at the podium is fucking disgusting. but that doesn’t mean everyone shouldn’t be able to regulate their own behavior.
facilitator gets us back on track again. “instead of focusing on the devices, focus on the outcome you want, what is the behavior you want?”
heather emphasizes need for the public to feel heard, getting eye contact. agreed.
mike is concerned about influence. some members of the public have the privilege of having his phone number & can text him during meetings. this is a relevant point, but it’s not like these privileged few aren’t influencing him during the 13.5 days between meetings
these people don’t seem to realize how easy it is to text from a computer. there’s no discussion of banning computers, just phones. y’all, use imessage. download the signal desktop app. you can concede this point without losing anything.
the facilitator is trying to reframe this as a prohibition on engagement with individual members of the public during meetings. conversation seems to be pivoting to mike’s question of influence rather than the original issue of distraction.
wes called out don gathers, who is here in the peanut gallery — don sent wes a message during the meeting just the other night. wes says that message was information he needed.
aaaand we’re in the weeds again. getting a piece of information from an individual during a meeting is ok but ‘communicating back and forth’ is not?
nikuyah brings up meaninglessness of mike’s influence issue - citizens can talk to you any time.
“we can’t apply old rules and norms” wes isn’t wrong here. he and someone like galvin obviously have different approaches to things!
i don’t love seeing an old white lady patronizingly explaining “the golden rule” to a young black man. this feels a little gross.
facilitator is moving us along. “you’ve let each other know how you feel.”
fascinating to see mike be the most holier than thou about this. the complaints from the public are ABOUT HIM. he’s constantly staring at his phone during matters by the public. everyone else is self regulating just fine.
nikuyah has repeatedly underscored her own discomfort and unfamiliarity with social media, but her efforts to get all city board & committee meetings set up as facebook events has been transformational! it makes it so much easier to know about & attend these important meetings.
update on that gate situation: at least part of the reason it’s blocked now is because mike made a wrong turn last night and crashed his car through it. he’s fine, but his car & the gate took a beating.
back from our fifteen minute recess. to give you an idea of the unnecessary fanciness of this meeting space, the paper towels live in a golden basket. 🙄
expanding accessibility to meeting materials & meetings: coms office will investigate spanish language agendas
heather seeks clarification from page on how printed agendas & background can be accessed: city manager’s office can print on request
jones says closed captioning & sign language interpretation are very expensive. coms office will investigate & report back.
i feel like spanish language agendas should be PRETTY EASY though?
never considered this, but apparently a back & forth group email exchanging information/having a discussion technically constitutes a meeting & is not ok (should be public meeting). they’re hashing out details of exactly how much emailing is permitted. very blurry line.
if three or more councilors are responding to an email chain, “having a simultaneous conversation,” this may legally be a public meeting. sounds like this is still being litigated somewhere?
deep irony: the facilitator is texting under the table
“polling” is allowed — emailing to ask for position statements on upcoming agenda items. you can’t have back & forth or discuss how you’ll actually vote. no decision making outside of public meetings.
kathy is nervous about engaging in any group emailing. in her time on school board, they avoided the issue by just not doing it. she concedes they she’ll do what the group is comfortable with, with the guidance of the city attorney. good to know they are mindful of transparency.
mayor & city manager make agenda together. agendas are supposed to be sent to full council 3 meetings in advance. interesting that the public only gets them, what, like 5 days in advance? i believe this is the legal bare minimum. @saggiotipo correct me on this?
now discussing possible venues for town halls, somewhere more open, without the raised dais of council chambers. kathy suggests carver rec, city space. wants to offer daycare. this is so important.
discussing current chambers. mike referencing “some guy” (an academic who has written on physical space of council chambers) — the architecture reinforces hierarchy. wants to investigate lowering the dais - new chambers would be too expensive. or just relocate to another space.
kathy says an architecture professor at UVA is using redesigning council chambers as the basis for a course. maybe we could use some of those ideas.
wes’ take: “the space is old. it’s old as hell.” truth. it’s original to the building, maybe the 60s? never updated.
kathy: new consolidated court building will have an unused courtroom that could be used?
heather emphasizes need for better space, says it came up a lot in her talks with constituents during her campaign.
nikuyah is hesitant. “if it’s housing or council chambers, i’m going to go with housing.”
yes. yes if we have money for housing, that comes first, second, AND third. the council chamber is a bummer, but i don’t live there. people need homes. homes without leaks and mold.
concern about community town halls is the need to broadcast live, like regular council meetings. outside of council chambers, where equipment already exists, this would be difficult & costly. this needs to be examined.
mike suggests there’s no need for multi-camera broadcast like in chambers — a fixed camera broadcasting via facebook like & picked up by granicus (existing video platform) would work fine.
ok, NOW back to monthly policy town hall. kathy: “sensitive to the needs of working families” - after work hours, has dinner, has childcare. focus would be to shape agenda, discuss great concerns about specific issues. supplement to, not replacement for, neighborhood town halls.
mike now bragging about a consultant telling him we are the only city she’d worked with that had a “community engagement requirement.” not sure what to make if this statement. he seems to be arguing that we don’t need more?
speaking of community engagement, there are about a dozen members of the public here to observe this meeting! people filtering in and out as their schedules allow, but it’s a really good showing. proud of this town for showing up & keeping the pressure on. it’s not easy.
kathy envisions community town halls as people sitting in a circle. heather worries that more than 20 people would make that format difficult. doesn’t want the our town format, though: people standing in line to speak at a mic
nikuyah concerned about venue for neighborhood town halls. current “our town” town halls are in locations they present race and class issues. location has a big impact on who shows up.
have i mentioned lately how happy i am to have nikuyah as mayor? it’s amazing what a difference it makes to have someone at the table who will force discussion of race & class. good work, charlottesville, on electing this amazing woman.
kind of in the weeds again trying to differentiate between neighborhood town halls and the monthly policy town hall.
wes is coming back to nikuyah’s point that we need more neighborhood-based meetings, especially in underserved communities. we need to make sure people who aren’t currently showing up have more opportunity to be heard. this takes work & outreach.
wes insists that “just hearing complaints” (something kathy has said we shouldn’t focus on) is important. not everyone can read the 300 page agenda background & show up with all their questions & opinions clear & ready for discussion.
mike seems kinda down on the town hall idea. implied that nothing substantive or important comes from them. jones reminds him the original intent was simply to allow anyone to speak about any concern. not all community engagement needs to be an issue mike personally cares about.
barely restrained myself from shouting “no, not everyone” when the facilitator said, “well anyone can drive to the neighborhood meeting.”
mike is concerned that it’s hard to schedule all five councilors for additional meetings. sounds like it’s possible we could have mini town halls with a smaller number of councilors. depending on the councilors, that’s really appealing to me! 😂
the monthly agenda shaping community engagement meeting is now called “the policy round table.” there was disagreement about discussion vs. dialogue. critical details i guess.
oh, nope we’re back to disagreeing on the name. sure, with ten minutes left on the clock for the facilitator, let’s keep doing this.
kathy talking about some seattle council guideline on cultural proficiency — one of the ratings is “culturally destructive.” not sure what the other ratings are, but it doesn’t matter. this one is it for us.
wes talking about a “racial equity lens” training — when you’re making laws & policies, you put it through this tool to analyze. says this will have a cost, but would really like to see the city do this. jones says this can go on a march agenda.
kathy & wes are arguing over whose racial & cultural sensitivity tool is better? he says seattle’s plan, which he’s familiar with, isn’t as good a fit for us as the “racial equity & transforming government” model he is proposing.
we are ten minutes into a 30 minute lunch break. this afternoon should be all budget, all afternoon. looking forward to some very dry numbers talk!
my budget proposal: raise real estate tax even just halfway to the statewide avg for a city like cville, slash police budget. that leaves millions in surplus we can pour into affordable housing. see? simple.
gonna be spotty on these. budget is so dense and dull. PLEASE attend the feb 1 budget work session if you can. budget isn’t approved until april, but it actually gets finalized a week after that meeting because real estate tax changes have to be advertised well in advance
she’s being careful to say they aren’t PLANNING to change the real estate tax, but it’s a possibility. most cities cut rates in 06/07, but have raised them back to those levels since. we have NOT.
we’d see ~$600k in revenue per 1cent increase. it seems like a simple choice!
(that hasn’t been discussed here, yet, but was mentioned during the budget work session i attended last month)
she showed the results of the public input on the budget. unsurprisingly, people want lower taxes across the board... at the expense of some important services. property owners don’t want to pay real estate taxes, don’t care about poor people. shocking!
discussion of public input eventually settled on “the public doesn’t really understand what a lot of these programs are/what they do.” as much as i hate to see public input dismissed, i think they’re right in this case.
the budget comment process had one open ended comment box at the end. here’s the word cloud derived from that input... seems clear to me!
of the “virginia first cities,” the only ones with lower property tax are winchester and harrisonburg (which is no longer a “first city.”) AND both of those cities have raised rates 28 & 23 cents, respectively, since 2004.
they’re picking 3-5 priorities to discuss, examine available resources. powerpoint has those priorities as affordable housing, race & equity, workforce development, economic development, and safety & security. now opening discussion on the proposed priorities.
nikuyah probing on what “safety & security” means. sounds like policing to me. jones says “this is generally what cities are doing around the country.” now citing riots & terror attacks in europe, new york. car attacks. august 12. (what will safety cost us?)
one thing jones says we might buy are barriers that can be easily raised to close roads. didn’t catch the term for it. something structural — we currently rely on just parking a truck in the road to block it.
good god i love our mayor. she’s warning against using “safety” concerns to advance the police state. i’ve never heard my politicians raise concerns like this ❤️💚🖤
simple, easily fixed things: better customer service by the city, not getting bounced around when a civilian tries to get help from city hall/some department. this is important for better community engagement.
heather: “i really feel strongly about our sidewalk infrastructure.” not my top priority, but she’s not wrong. a town this size should be more walkable.
galvin: “community sensitive redevelopment” — what exactly does that mean?
just realized i’m switching back and forth between first and last names a lot. for those of you who aren’t spending a gross amount of time engaged in city politics:
mayor nikuyah walker
vice mayor heather hill
mike signer
wes bellamy
kathy galvin
city manager maurice jones
nikuyah: community engagement on gun violence. make it a priority & making sure the community knows it’s a priority. commit to no gun deaths in 2018. getting guns off the streets.
“we always start out the budget with more expenses than revenues” then you adjust. make cuts. (or you could just raise real estate taxes!!!!)
“this is an imperfect science” - the answer to kathy’s very reasonable question about past underperformance of sales & use tax, but an unexplained projection of it bouncing back quite a bit. this is all guesswork.
meals tax is underperforming, lodging tax is doing ok. (ed note: explanation that summer meals tax dips are due to students being gone doesn’t make sense to me - that change would be the same year to year. doesn’t explain a dip compared to last year’s numbers)
heather: the city doesn’t keep data in a way they makes it easy to track economic trends by area. (this seems like something they ought to work on.) last detailed economic analysis of the downtown mall was 2012.
she’s referring to the good numbers on sales tax as “the wegman’s effect.” says “the events of the summer” may have had a negative impact, but there’s no way to know.
wes wants to know how we can quantify the effect of the new wegmans/overall 5th street station development. (perhaps naive of me to think they could just ask wegmans for an estimate of the sales tax they’ve collected? surely they could get that number.)
oh look at that. brief mention of real estate tax revenue increasing by $3.5mil. not clear what the rate increase is, but increased in assessed value is also a piece of this.
sorry, even after living in this city for 10yrs, i’m never sure what’s in the city/county. 5th st station is in the COUNTY. that’s drawn people to spend their money OUTSIDE of the city. the presenter has such a neutral tone that i didn’t even realize she was talking about a loss.
not sure how that one slipped by me 😂 coming up on hour five here at morven farm. but i must admit, i’m part of the problem. i buy my groceries in the county now, apparently!
comrade pointing out in the slack channel that it’s really cool to hear them discuss the economic impact of a grocery store & a nazi terrorist attack in the same tone. BUT THE SALES TAX REVENUE!!1!1 😱
talking about the decline of the downtown mall: combination of it not being at all affordable & no longer being “the” destination. much more competition for locals’ $$. kathy: downtown mall should focus more on serving the neighborhood around it vs tourist destination
to be super honest, i spaced out for a minute or 3 during a discussion of the city/county revenue sharing situation. sounds like it’s less money. the agreement is based on how they structured taxes in 1980 & the county has changed their taxes? i don’t know, ask a real journalist
real estate tax up a proposed ONE CENT for $700k revenue increase. so what was that $3.5mil number they tossed out earlier?! again, please refer to actual, responsible journalists @seantubbs and @Suarez_CM
current gap between expenses & revenues is $2.8mil. presenter says she doesn’t expect it to be fully resolved before february. wes wants to add something. she says it’ll make the gap worse, but will discuss later.
kathy asks for a short, clear look at the efficiency study’s findings, what’s already being done, progress. heather seconds that request. the response seems a little evasive. sounds like a no. “it’s a very onerous report to try to go through” she’ll try to summarize.
kathy’s right — what’s the point of the efficiency study if it’s not clear how it’s being used and if any benefit is being realized. this city has a variety of data problems, it sounds like. how can they improve outcomes if they can’t use the data they paid to collect?!
if you want to know more about capital improvement program strategies and reducing general fund contributions, please check with a real journalist. i was reading dril tweets as reconstructed by a neural net.
kathy is defending the use of outside consultants. “you need a degree to understand this,” says the woman who does, in fact, have a degree in economics from boston university.
i don’t recall exactly what time he stepped out, but mike did say this morning he has a work call at 1:30. just noticed he still hasn’t come back. i get councilors have day jobs, but the city budget ought to be a pretty high priority.
kathy: the housing authority does not have a bond rating, the city has AAA rating. how can the city help housing authority start floating its own bonds?
kathy: community development corporation would have to be supported by the city to start, eventually become more financially independent, get its own bonds.
i must admit, the details of a community land trust & a community development corporation are a little murky to me. i know some of my comrades at @CvilleDSA have a clear vision of how the city could proceed in developing affordable housing. in 2018, let’s get informed & mobilize.
jones says we could just modernize existing public housing units instead of rebuilding. mayor walker says, having lived in public housing in this city, she doesn’t see how “modernizing” these units could possibly work. this is why we need race & class represented at the table.
looks like all taxes (real estate, property, cigarette, meals, lodging) are going up one cent. revenue change varies from $13k (cigarette) and $2mil (meals)
wes is proposing raising real estate tax TWO cents instead of one, for an extra $700k in revenue, and putting that money toward the purchase of public housing. city cannot actually purchase housing or land for housing directly. (CDC/land bank are needed for this.)
homeless population is about 200, almost entirely “unaccompanied adults” (not families/couples). issue with subsidizing housing because developers only wanted to offer larger units, not studios? bureaucratic nightmare.
this city has fewer than TWO HUNDRED homeless individuals. this is not an insurmountable task. why can’t we pledge to be a fully-homed city?
mike started seriously considering wes’ proposal to add a cent to real estate tax specifically to fund public housing. kathy is frantic, clarifies that they can add funding to public housing but NOT increase real estate tax. reminds mike they he was hoping to DECREASE that tax!
so now they all seem to be in agreement that they should add funding to affordable housing... with no plan for where that money comes from. it’s nice to have dreams, i guess, but that’s tough in budgeting.
jones: “there are varying degrees of homelessness”
wes: we have a significant population of young black men who are effectively homeless, going couch to couch.
housing authority has high demand for one BR/studios
housing wait list is 1866 (approx 250 folks are overlap, signed up for vouchers & public housing), ~900 people on the list are single occupancy. study needed to assess need vs availability.
how often is the list checked to see if everyone on it is still waiting?
DBAC (pronounced dee-back), the downtown business association of charlottesville, sounds ENTIRELY too much like d-bag for not to be giggling a little here 7 hours into this meeting.
update: the human body was not meant to spend seven hours in a folding chair. my left leg went to sleep about fifteen minutes ago.
mike raises idea of batten interns they’d used in the past. kathy feels it’s not a good role for a student, they need a professional to perform these tasks. heather is concerned about physical space — where will they work? who will they report to?
nikuyah is asking about the DBAC request. they want an office, staff member, expenses for, essentially, a lobbyist for their interests. this is *not* in the current budget draft but will be discussed in the future. staff will make a recommendation to council.
apparently that request is NOT for the next fiscal year — it’s an immediate ask. after study by & recommendation from staff, council will vote at some upcoming meeting on allocating funds for the position. we have to stop this from passing.
“i know wes wants to talk about this first item.” it’s participatory budgeting! wes specifically names my scary-smart comrade michael as he introduces the issue! @CvilleDSA doin’ big little things!
wes’ proposal: two projects, $50k + $5k administrative costs each (outreach, meeting space, etc). this is a small budget for a small project to test out the process.
kathy: how is this different from the neighborhood grant program? (those are smaller & they are applied for, things like neighborhood signs) please god don’t reduce participatory budgeting to a new fifeville neighborhood sign.
now mike is talking about the whole budget with more citizen engagement, a citizen advisory board. kathy says is this not the role of the planning commission? (there is public comment at those meetings but it’s hardly putting power in the hands of the people.)
debate now over whether this means the public helps prioritize existing CIP projects or does the public bring new ideas?
i don’t know if kathy is being deliberately obtuse or if she’s really having this much trouble understanding what’s being said? she isn’t always like this, but i noticed it at the budget work session, too.
she’s sitting back in her chair with her arms crossed, staring down at the table after an outburst of “i’m not committing to anything!!!” i think she might need a break.
a LOT of discussion to circle all the way back around to the small pilot program originally proposed by wes. unclear exactly what this will look like, but i’m excited to find out.
(also, hi mike, if you’re still reading this! wes told me during the break that you’ve been keeping up with my updates!)
city claims they can’t afford to bring city employee wages up to market rate. i don’t know about other jobs, but our public librarians are some of the lowest paid in the state.
kathy: 80% of city employees don’t live in the city (THEY CANT AFFORD IT BECAUSE YOU DON’T PAY THEM)
“$13.79 isn’t enough to raise a family.” kathy, $13.79 isn’t enough to live with a roommate in a shitty apartment in this town.
proposal to shoot for a city employee minimum age of $15/hr by 2021. we will continue to lose talent & hurt employees. what about that surplus? what am i missing here?
when asked what she thinks, nikuyah says “that seems like a long time.”
jones floats the idea of down payment assistance instead of raises to get city employees living in the city. but most hourly wage earners are never gonna buy a home in cville, assistance or no! just use that money to PAY PEOPLE.
jones has been standing up with his coat on for at least half an hour. it’s uncomfortable.
kathy is very anxious to discuss the issue of the school construction projects (renovating schools, possibly building a new elem school). efficiency study is still being done. it’s not in this budget. kathy won’t let it go, getting a little frantic.
aaaand kathy is done here. she’s yelling. “it’s really late and i’m having trouble making decisions!”
yeah, it’s been a long day... but actually the meeting started 8 hours ago and we had three breaks. so that’s kind of just a regular workday. lower your voice.
actually? meeting started 30min late because she, and most of council, was late. and she stopped being reasonable 30min ago. so that’s 7 hours of work, including a total of about an hour in breaks. that’s where she maxes out. good thing she makes more than $13.79 at her day job.
ok. i’m home. rereading some of this and forgiving myself for not being a policy expert. that’s why we organize — not everyone has to be all things. and now i hope everyone who muted me today remembers to unmute 😂
so sorry, one last thing. just a reminder, for correct facts or real policy analysis, please look to a real journalist. there are DEFINITELY some gaps in my knowledge of some of today’s topics. @seantubbs has been covering cville for years & has thorough, insightful analysis.
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