1. Unite the community in support of Richmond Public Schools
As Mayor, Berry will convene a Mayor’s Education Advisory Council with representatives of the Mayor’s Office, School Board and Superintendent, City Council, nonprofits serving Richmond schools, the business community, parents and teachers to create a united effort to support and to stimulate change for Richmond Public Schools. With Berry as Mayor, City Hall and the school system will no longer work against each other, but instead, will work in tandem with the community to improve Richmond schools. There will be regular meetings of elected and appointed officials, a designated liaison from the Mayor’s Office to RPS, and a coordinated strategy. Just like he did in Hanover, Berry will make City Hall a credible and capable partner so that community resources are drawn to the effort, not repelled by dysfunction. Berry does not just talk about unifying efforts to support kids he has done it.
2. Create a Five-Year Financial Plan for Richmond Public Schools
Berry believes that funding for RPS should be predictable and reliable. Berry will create a Five-year Financial Plan with a funding stream for the baseline budget that is tied to a percentage of the city’s real estate tax revenues. In the future, budget debates will focus on enhancements not core services. Five-Year budget planning was a hallmark of his tenure as the Hanover County Administrator. It forced a constant dialog about issues, opportunities and constraints, which made everyone aware of the challenges faced by each other, and promoted teamwork toward the common goal. Berry does not just talk about results-oriented budget planning he has done it.
3. Value teachers and reward performance and experience
We need to do a better job retaining teachers in city schools. Currently, almost half of RPS teachers stay five years or less. Many teachers face burnout and are discouraged when merit increases are withheld year after year. Through the budget plan, Berry will ensure that adequate funding is in place to reward experienced teachers, provide classroom support and implement recruitment efforts to attract the best teachers to Richmond’s schools. In the past, Berry has helped lead recruiting missions to teacher job fairs in other cities in partnership with local companies, and has annually hosted teacher recognition events to thank new teachers for their commitment to our children. Berry does not just talk about valuing teachers he has done it.
4. Fix neglected buildings and build for the future
Every child in the city deserves to be learning in clean, safe, high-quality classrooms fit for 21st century learning, not buildings with ceilings falling down and mold issues. Every building does not have to be new, but every building should be functional. Much work has already been done to chart a course for renovations, consolidations, expansions and new schools, but plans are meaningless without an implementation strategy. The City’s debt capacity is limited, but there are creative financing strategies to get the first phase of improvements underway quickly. In the first 60 days as mayor, Berry will propose a plan of finance that breaks the log jam, honors the City’s financial and debt policies, and preserves the City’s credit rating. He will redirect savings from the City budget to schools, re-order some of the priorities in the City’s 5- Year Capital Improvement Program, and pursue interim financing strategies that overcome short term constraints. He will work with the Superintendent to fix RPS school buildings that are falling apart and improve learning environments at neglected RPS schools.
5. Support school improvement programs targeted to schools facing biggest challenges
Too many children are attending underperforming schools because of where they live, and because other opportunities are not within reach. Schools are not immune from society’s ills and are often a reflection of the communities they serve. Berry will work in tandem with RPS to target resources to the greatest needs within struggling schools. He will support school turn-around programs that may include lower class sizes, more reading and math specialists, more teacher aides, and incentives for teachers to take on the toughest assignments. He will also support community efforts such as existing faith-based mentoring initiatives and the Communities in Schools program. His school strategy will go hand in hand with his strategy to reduce poverty and build healthy, mixed income neighborhoods.
Jack Berry Announces Education Priorities
Jack Berry today released the public education priorities he will champion as Richmond’s next mayor. His top five priorities focus on uniting the community around Richmond schools, creating a five-year financial plan for RPS, supporting the city’s teachers, fixing neglected buildings, and implementing school improvement programs.
“Richmond parents desperately want a school system that meets the needs of their children,” said Berry. “They want classroom environments that are conducive to learning. They want administrators that listen, respond and communicate well. They want school buildings that aren’t falling apart from neglect.”
“Parents are weary of budget battles and political drama,” Berry continued. “They just want schools that are accredited, with test scores that are improving, not declining. They want to live in a community that values public education and pulls together to support our kids. Parents want their children to learn and thrive in a safe, nurturing environment.”
“We need a mayor who will unite the community in support of public education,” added Berry. “We need a mayor who will bring financial and community resources to the task of improving Richmond Public Schools. The first step is demonstrating a level of competency and caring that earns the trust of the community.”
“Growing up, I saw first hand how transformative education can be,” said Berry. “My mother was a public school teacher. I am proud of the fact that she was a civil rights leader in Lynchburg in the 1960s. She believed in civil liberties and she believed that a good education was a basic right. She was very intentional about building close personal relationships across racial lines and she stepped up for justice and equality when others did not. I’ll never forget the impact she had on the community’s mindset when she volunteered to be the first white teacher in an all-black school. I still have artwork from her students, and some still share memories of her from many decades ago.”
“My top education priority as mayor will be to bring our community together to fix our troubled schools, support our teachers, and marshall the community resources that will put all of our schools on a path to success,” Berry concluded.
On October 10, 2016, Berry will hold a “Back to School Town Hall” at Holy Rosary Catholic Church with parents and teachers to discuss the future of public education in Richmond. More information will be available soon.
“When Jack was County Administrator for Hanover County, he brought the community together and helped to lead the largest ever bond referendum for school construction and improvements,” said John Gordon, former chairman of the Hanover County School Board and Board of Supervisors. “It was his leadership, capability and dedication to Hanover’s schools that made this possible. I know he will bring the same leadership to Richmond as mayor.”
Q1 – What is your reason/motivation for seeking to become Richmond’s next Mayor?
Richmond is on a roll. The city’s population is growing. Long neglected parts of town are being revitalized. There is a new sense of optimism and hope for the future. Today, we’re a trendy, list-topping, up-and-coming city. Richmond is on its way to becoming one of America’s great cities.
But there is more work to be done to make sure that every person, in every part of town, fully shares in the new opportunities being created in our city.
I’m running for mayor to make Richmond a magnet of opportunity for young people, families and businesses, and a more hopeful place for those who have been left behind.
I decided to become a candidate because I have the experience, record of accomplishments, and vision to be a strong mayor who unites the community and leads a capable, responsive City Government.
We have a city government that isn’t keeping up. Too many are being left out and left behind. Richmond deserves a mayor you can trust, someone who will guarantee transparency and listen and work with every citizen. Partisan politics and patronage have no place in City Hall. Richmond needs a mayor who will unify the community to tackle the enormous challenges we are facing today. It can be done; it is all a matter of leadership. Together, we can make RVA a magnet of opportunity.
Q2 – Since the current inception of Richmond’s “strong-mayor” system of city government, only two men have served as mayor and each with a distinctive style of leadership. Describe the style of leadership you will bring to the office of Mayor?
We have some huge issues to tackle in Richmond and we need someone who isn’t a politician, who doesn’t want to be a politician, but a leader, with a track record, who can bring the community together.
As CEO of Venture Richmond, I brought over 1,000 volunteers together and led the organization and production of the Richmond Folk Festival, which has been a source of pride for the entire region.
We powered the highly successful RVA branding campaign, which has been embraced by the entire community because of its grass roots appeal and open source approach.
As a county administrator, I championed the largest bond referendum in county history for school construction.
I also negotiated a break-through water supply with Richmond, Hanover and Henrico.
As Richmond’s Deputy City Manager, I led the crisis response to the collapse of private ambulance services in the city, and the creation of Richmond Ambulance, which has become a national model of exceptional emergency medical care.
As mayor, I will work to bring communities together, bring stakeholders to the table, the bring the region together to find solutions to the major issues our city is facing. The days of politics and infighting will be over when I am mayor.
Q3 – Does Richmond’s mayor bear the responsibility of ensuring that Richmond Public Schools (RPS) has the resources necessary to provide a quality education to the students attending RPS? Please explain your answer.
Richmond schools are at a crossroads. Our community is failing far too many children. We have school facility needs that will require millions to fully address. And, we seem to fight more than we collaborate. Fortunately, we have a community with a strong desire to fix our schools.
It is the job of the mayor to deliver the resources to pay for our schools. The Council can make marginal adjustments, but it is the mayor who must find the money. I will work with RPS to create a 5-year financial plan, with dedicated funding, so that RPS has a predictable revenue stream and does not have to fight for its baseline budget.
As Mayor, I will bring every voice – community leaders, parents, the superintendent, School Board, City Council, and educators – to the table in a sustained effort to improve city schools. We must find a way to fund the needed improvements so that our students are learning in safe, high-tech, and nurturing environments. We also need to attract high-quality teachers, and improve teacher pay so that we can retain that talent and not have them leave to teach in surrounding school districts. We also need to find a way to fund targeted programs to improve STEM education opportunities, improve reading and math skills, and better prepare our teachers for the school year.
Q4 – A criticism often leveled against RPS is it maintains many neighborhood schools, some of which are severely under capacity. Many assert that closing such schools and creating larger, but fewer, schools would save the system much needed dollars. Where do you stand on the issue of small, neighborhood schools versus larger, more cost-efficient schools?
We have schools that are severely under capacity and are costing the city a lot of money to maintain them. Attending school in your neighborhood is important, and small learning environments are beneficial to increasing academic achievement. But we must find common ground on this issue. I believe that there is a necessity to consolidate some schools while building and renovating others. But my approach to this issue will be different than before. Rather than relying on the school board to propose a solution, I will bring all parties – including school leaders, teachers, parents, and even students – to the table to figure out how we best address this issue without disrupting learning environments and sending students too far away from their homes for school. We cannot stick our heads in the sand and pretend that this issue will go away. The leaders of our city must come together on a plan, and find a way to unite the community around a strategy to upgrade school facilities.
Q5 – School buildings in Richmond are relatively unused during summer months, on week-ends, and during weekday evenings. It has been suggested that Richmond could realize a greater return on its infrastructure investment by creating community schools. As such, these schools, through various partnerships, could function to provide the neighborhood/community with a variety of services to meet health care, employment, and recreational needs. As mayor, would you propose the establishment of community schools? Please explain your answer.
Peter Paul Development Center is an excellent example of community center that provides services to a wide variety of Richmond residents – from children to senior citizens and in between. Their afterschool learning for students is just one of the many activities that takes place there. I don’t see why something like Peter Paul couldn’t be expanded to a number of our schools. In doing this though, we need to be careful not to pull resources from other existing community centers.
We have made a big investment in school buildings and should continue to find ways to use them fully after the school day. Many students would benefit from positive activities, good role models, and healthy food in the afternoon.
One of my priorities as mayor will be to strengthen the Mayor’s Community Wealth Building Office. I would like to grow the successful innovative efforts of this initiative to attack poverty on a multitude of fronts, including housing, transportation, job training, and health. Many of these initiatives could be run out of community schools. Our schools that have parks next to the school could be a bustling hub for recreational sports, while in the gym after school an exercise class is taking place for adults. This is definitely something we should consider when talking about school improvements and updating our schools.
Q6 – Is Richmond spending too much, too little, or just about the right amount of dollars to educate the students attending RPS. Please explain your answer.
More so than looking at whether we are spending the right amount or not on students, we need to look at where the money is going. Superintendent Bedden proposed a comprehensive school reform plan that ultimately the mayor’s budget didn’t support. This isn’t the solution to improving our schools and getting our education back on track so that every student in the city has the opportunity to succeed. The mayor has got to work hand in hand with the superintendent and school board to properly fund our education system and implement innovative reforms to improve education in the city. There also should be a solid five-year financial plan for schools with a reliable and predictable funding stream tied to a certain percentage of the budget. We have to look closely at where the money is going and make sure we are funding the right programs and at the right amount.
Q7 – In recent years, child advocacy groups have questioned the high rates of long-term suspensions and expulsions in public schools throughout the United States. They argue the practice of suspending and expelling disruptive students leads to poor academic progress, higher drop-out rates, and feeds the school-to-prison pipeline. Long-term suspension and expulsion rates in Richmond Public Schools are among the highest in Virginia (see: Suspended Progress, a report issued by the JustChildren Program of the Legal Aid Justice Center, Charlottesville, Virginia, May 2016). What are your thoughts on how best to handle disruptive students in our schools? How would you utilize your position as Mayor to address this issue?
Admittedly, I do not claim to be an education expert and acknowledge that it is going to take the whole community to find solutions to our education system. One thing I do know is that we have got to end the school-to-prison pipeline. I want every child in Richmond to grow up to be a productive member of society. That starts with providing them the opportunity to get a great education with skills and ambitions that can lead to jobs. We definitely need to lower our long-term suspension and expulsion rate while making sure that teachers are able to have a safe and productive learning environment in the classroom. Where discipline’s role falls in the equation is one that as mayor I will have to defer to the experts on. As with many other aspects of Richmond Public Schools, this is something I will work with the superintendent’s office, public safety officials, and community leaders to address.
Q8 – As Richmond becomes a more attractive place to live, many young couples move into the city only to leave for the counties once their children come of school age or make the choice of enrolling their children in private schools. As Mayor, would you advocate and encourage residents to send their children to Richmond Public Schools? And if so, what form would your advocacy take?
I would love to see a public school system in the city that attracts every single parent and child to our schools. But it takes high-performing schools to do that. Every neighborhood in Richmond should have schools every parent wants to send their children to. It starts with advocating for improving our schools, and supporting our schools from the mayor’s office. If parents see improvement and support, they will be more inclined to send their children to RPS schools, and more inclined to stay in the city. Parents are often reluctant to join an effort when they see leaders fighting in City Hall. The first step is to unite the effort so that parents feel they are joining a positive movement. Success breeds success. Once we bring the public and private resources together with a united group of parents, teachers, community leaders and officials, we will be successful. Success at one middle school helps build success at the next one.
Q9 – A large body of research continues to document the negative effects of poverty on children and their later life outcomes. Too many impoverished students in Richmond come to school unprepared to learn; witness, or are the victim of, abusive behavior at home; lack proper parental/adult supervision; or struggle with homelessness or fear from where their next meal will come. What do you believe to be workable and realistic proposals to address the issue of poverty, and especially concentrated poverty, in Richmond?
Stress and trauma at home have an enormous negative impact on the abilities of students to succeed in school and in life. Concentrating the poorest residents in segregation era public housing has contributed greatly to the challenges our children face. We must begin to redevelop these communities into healthy, mixed income neighborhoods where role models and wrap-around support systems exist.
Q10 – It has become popular among politicians and others to say the quality of a child’s education should not depend upon the zip code where he/she lives. Unfortunately, in Richmond a child’s zip code often signals the quality of the facility in which the child is taught, the sense of safety the child feels, and the extra-curricular opportunities afforded that child. What leadership would you provide to ensure the quality of a child’s education in Richmond is NOT dependent upon where they live?
Again, we have got to work to get every single school fully accredited, well-funded, and staffed by the best teachers. Looking at other urban school districts, it is possible. But it’s going to take community support, working together, and getting innovative so that we provide the same opportunities to children in the East End as exist for children in the West End. It must be a joint effort between the mayor’s office, the superintendent’s office, the business community, and parents and community leaders.
Q11 – REA applauds Superintendent Bedden and the School Board for their efforts to address the salary disparities Richmond teachers have endured for many years. Unfortunately, City appropriations for the 2016-17 fiscal year were not sufficient to fully “decompress” the salary scales’ disparities. As Mayor, would you propose funding in 2017-18 to complete the decompression of the RPS teachers’ salary scales?
We must value our teachers and support teaching as a career, not just a job. That means compensating teachers for performance and experience. It is inexcusable for teachers to have to wait nearly 10 years for a step increase. I will support further salary decompression in the 2017/8 budget.
Q12 – Poverty is highly concentrated in Richmond. Our children suffer the consequences of misguided federal, state, and local housing policies. Would you work with HUD, RRHA and City Council to deconcentrate poverty in Richmond? If yes, what do you believe to be ways to deconcentrate poverty in Richmond?
Richmond missed out on Federal funding when many cities developed mixed income communities to replace public housing. We have a lot of catching up to do. Developing healthy, supportive communities with one for one replacement will be a priority of the city working with RRHA and community development organizations.
Q13 – Most would agree the classroom teacher is the single most important factor in the quality of child’s education. Therefore, attracting and retaining a high quality teacher cohort in RPS is essential. What challenges do you see to attracting and retaining high quality teachers to Richmond, and what solutions do you contemplate that would address these challenges?
One of the biggest challenges is teacher pay. The next is the difficulty of teaching in urban schools like Richmond Public Schools. We must do a better job of valuing our teachers and rewarding performance and experience. We also must pay competitively to attract the best teachers to the city and not surrounding counties. I will continue to support the superintendent’s teacher pay initiatives and work to get pay up to a competitive level. I will also work to support our schools in general. Teachers are an incredibly important part of our city and for too long haven’t had the support of city hall. Together we can work to improve our schools and ultimately teaching conditions which will help us attract and retain teachers. While the CEO of Venture Richmond, we led teacher recruiting missions with business and community leaders and we hosted annual receptions to honor teachers and thank them for their service.
Q14 – How would you define the corporate community’s responsibility toward the success of Richmond Public Schools? As Mayor, how would you work to ensure the corporate community meets that responsibility?
The business community is an important and needed partner to improving Richmond Public Schools. As mayor, I plan to bring together the mayor’s office, city council, superintendent, non-profits, parents, and the business community to create a united effort. I have over 35 years of working in the Richmond community, many of those with business leaders through Venture Richmond. At Venture Richmond I brought the corporate community together to support our various initiatives, including the Folk Festival and the revitalization of downtown. I will do the same as mayor. It is the mayor’s job to find the necessary resources and I have the relationships to do that.
Q15 – In far too many cases Richmond students attend schools filled with mold and falling ceiling tiles. The blame for these decrepit conditions is often attributed to the age of the school buildings and the inability to properly maintain these facilities. The bottom line is funds necessary for new construction and adequate maintenance have never been fully available. (RPS believes the cost to address these conditions to be $563 million.) Some suggest that raising debt service from 10% to 12% of the City’s General Operating Budget could produce approximately $243 million annually to begin to address facility issues. Would you favor such an approach? Please explain why or why not.
The community will not support a big tax increase as long as they see leaders fighting and as long as they feel there is waste and a lack of accountability. The city’s financial operations are so dysfunctional that citizens don’t trust the city’s ability to manage the money and spend wisely. An inability to resolve the consolidation issue feeds the perception of waste. Borrowing a large amount of money without a source of repayment will only further squeeze operating budgets for schools, police, public works, etc. That will make it even harder to fund teacher salaries and ongoing maintenance. Again, the only way to break through the stalemate is to elect a mayor who can bring the entire community, and its resources, together.
Q16 – The bureaucracy/administration of both Richmond Public Schools and the City of Richmond have been accused of being overstaffed and wasteful. Do you believe the management of Richmond Public Schools and/or the City is competent and efficient? Please explain your response.
I have been impressed by RPS leadership and look forward to working with them. There are a lot of issues on the City side that must be addressed, particularly at the leadership level. We spend more for basic city functions than many similar localities. Some department leaders are in their positions because of whom they know, not what they know. The first step is to address shortcomings on the City side of the budget so that more resources can be freed up for schools. As a former budget director, I am uniquely positioned to do this. Partisan politics and patronage have no place in delivering basic municipal services. On Day 1, I’m going to look at the budget and see where there is waste and abuse. One Day 1, I’m also going to evaluate the staffing and size of city hall. And, on Day 1, I’m going to look at how much and what we’re spending for city services and find a way to do it better. The days of inaction will be over.
Q17 – The Patrick Henry School for Science and the Arts is Richmond’s first and only charter school. To your knowledge, has Richmond’s venture into the establishment of charter schools been a success or failure? Please explain your answer.
The intention of Patrick Henry School for Science and the Arts, was good. Parents came together to work directly on creating a new option within the public school system. If every one of our schools was performing at a high level and was fully accredited, the desire for charter schools wouldn’t be there. I am going to work tirelessly as mayor to be an advocate for Richmond Public Schools and to make public education in the city a top priority. It might mean getting innovative, finding new approaches, or bringing new ideas to the table. But if we’re going to open more charter schools in the city, they must be high-performing, they must be accredited, and they must have community support. The road to the establishment of Patrick Henry has been rocky, and we may not be able to judge its success for several years. But new approaches have worked in other places, including Harlem, and we should be open to alternative models.
Q18 – It has become apparent to many that the challenges facing Richmond Public Schools can only be addressed, at least in part, with an influx of increased revenues. Do you believe this to be the case? If so, from where do you foresee this new revenue coming?
Right now, citizens have a lot of questions about how Richmond’s money is being spent. I am sure there is waste in the budget. Before proposing to raise taxes or increase our debt limit, we need to identify the problems in the budget. Balancing the budget and funding essential and basic services is my top priority and what I plan to tackle first as mayor. The reality is if we raise taxes in the city, it’s going to be even harder to keep young people and young parents in the city. Before we defer to that solution, we have to see where the money is going and cut out waste and adjust priorities in the budget. And the more people and businesses we retain in the city by improving education means a potential increase in home values and sales tax and ultimately more revenue to fund education. All options should be on the table, but the first step is uniting the community around a plan.
Q19 – Using the standard grading scale of A, B, C, D, and F, what grade would you assign to the Richmond Public Schools. Please explain your response.
C – Meeting the needs of some children but not others. Trying very hard under challenging circumstances, including oppressive poverty. Love of children by RPS teachers and administrators is inspiring.
Q20 – What is your most recent experience with our city’s public schools and/or public school students? What did you learn from the experience?
My most recent experience was at the end of the school year when I hosted a Venture Richmond teacher appreciation event at New Market Corporation with Superintendent Bedden. I talked to teachers about their passion for teaching and their commitment to their students. I listened to classroom stories and was inspired by their love of their students. I spoke to the teachers and thanked them on behalf of business and community leaders. I know that RPS can be successful if we get behind our teachers.
Q21 – What do you believe to be the appropriate relationship between the Mayor and the Superintendent of Richmond Public Schools?
The mayor and superintendent must work in tandem. Today we have too much fighting and drama. The mayor and superintendent must work together to resolve long simmering school issues. The same goes for the city council and school board. It should not be one office versus the other. It starts with having important and regular conversations and meetings. We need to all work together to find solutions and take personal priorities and politics out of city hall.
Q22 – Should you be elected Mayor in November, describe the relationship you foresee establishing with the Richmond Education Association.
The Richmond Education Association is an important partner to the mayor. I am a community builder and have a history of bringing people together to find solutions – whether it was launching the Richmond Folk Festival, leading Hanover’s largest ever bond referendum for school construction, or founding Richmond Ambulance when the city’s ambulance system failed. All of these things took a team of people and a coalition of stakeholders to it done. Similarly the Richmond Education Association is vital to tackling the many education issues our city faces. There is an incredible amount of passion, commitment and expertise within REA and I commit to working closely with REA as a partner.
Q1 – What measures can we expect your administration to take to expand access to safe walking and biking infrastructure for all Richmond residents?
Transportation equity reflects a commitment to build networks that serve everyone, not just those who can afford to drive a car. Richmond’s transportation network should be multi-modal and balanced to serve the whole community. More emphasis on biking and walking will have positive benefits in shaping the community, promoting economic development and influencing health. Bike-ped infrastructure must be seamless, convenient and safe. It should incorporate protected lanes, not just lines painted on a street. We should build safe, walking and biking infrastructure that is part of a comprehensive network, not just a series of disconnected fragments. Walking and biking infrastructure is important in attracting the young professionals who will power RVA’s economy in the future, and it is even more important for those residents who do not have access to a car. Richmond’s bike infrastructure has a lot of catching up to do if we aspire to be among the great cities in America. The next mayor should commit to a sustained effort to build out a network of protected lanes, leveraging transportation grants with annual appropriations of local funds. Most importantly, the mayor must be capable of building a strong City Government organization that will ensure prompt execution of approved projects so that thoughtful plans become a reality, not just a talking point.
Q2 – If elected, how would you work to implement the City’s Complete Streets Policy?
Complete streets are streets for everyone. They are designed not just for cars, but for all users, including pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Complete streets give people alternatives to the automobile that are safe, convenient and attractive. Design features often include crosswalks, curb extensions, bike lanes and narrower travel lanes. As the City prepares to update its Master Plan, the Complete Streets policy should be integrated into every neighborhood plan. It is unfortunate that nearly two years after the adoption of the Complete Streets Resolution, the necessary codes, standards and construction manuals have not yet been modified to reflect the broad policy. There is a recurring theme that Council policies don’t always get translated into actual implementation. There must be a commitment from the Mayor’s Office that adoption of policies will be followed by effective execution. That takes a strong organization. Execution of approved plans is what high performing cities do. We should expect no less.
Q4 – As Mayor, what policy steps would you take to improve education, engineering, enforcement, and emergency response with the purpose of achieving zero traffic-related deaths and serious injuries by 2030?
Within our local transportation network, those walking or biking are the most vulnerable. City Council has called for a Vision Zero strategy, but the support resolution will be an empty gesture unless an action plan is adopted and fully implemented. There should be a comprehensive set of policies and a focused plan to coordinate implementation across all City departments. The plan should include educational outreach to teach the public about traffic laws and the importance of yielding. Speed limits should be reviewed and enforcement actions should be coordinated. All of the new roundabouts installed throughout the city are designed to calm traffic and improve safety, but they only work when there is a common understanding about how the public, both drivers and pedestrians, are supposed to use them. Broad policies are an important first step, but implementation is what matters. That takes strong leadership from the mayor’s office.
Q4 – As Mayor, how would you grow the mileage of bikeways in Richmond to fill in the gaps and form a connected network?
The City has an impressive Bicycle Master Plan, but thus far the implementation of the bikeways plan has been slow and disjointed. A policy, plan or project is only as good as its execution. There needs to be a concerted effort across departmental lines to resolve issues and get projects moving. Connecting communities through a seamless network is the primary goal. Every isolated project helps, but the real value comes when they are connected. There should be goals, annual targets and accountability to the community for achieving results.
Q5 – Do you support pursuing additional funding (in the CIP or other sources) for biking and walking infrastructure? If yes, how much?
There should be ongoing funding in the Capital Improvement program (CIP) that ensures that biking and walking infrastructure is a sustained priority. Federal and State transportation funding and special grants often require local matching funds from the locality. The City needs to be ready to leverage local funds to draw down State and Federal funds. The City also must demonstrate a track record of implementing grant-funded projects in order to win additional grants. The City has received funding for over a dozen transportation projects that are languishing. In the last round of grant awards, Richmond missed out on funding because of an inability to execute on previous awards. City Government fails its citizens when it cannot leverage available grant funding because of an inability to execute. It does little good to embrace new policies and plans if the City cannot do the basic job of contract management and project implementation. I will ensure that projects are implemented successfully and that we leverage every available outside dollar.
1. This is a pivotal time in Richmond’s history. The city is being pulled by two forces. On the one hand, the city is alive with new businesses, new investment, population growth, bustling streets, great food, music and arts. RVA has become a rallying cry for creativity and innovation. But our city government is not keeping up, and many of our citizens are being left behind. I am running for mayor because I have the vision to see our potential, and the experience and capability to get us there. I have spent my career leading many efforts to make RVA a great place to live and work, and we’ve come a long way, but we won’t get there unless we have a capable city government that can do its part. We can’t fix our problems or get to the next level unless we strengthen the foundation. To serve our kids, improve our schools and revitalize our neighborhoods, we need a city government machine that works for everyone. I am the candidate that can make that happen.
2. My first priority is to get a handle on the City’s finances and build a high performing city government organization. The City ended the year with a deficit, which is inexcusable. The City still has not been able to produce an audited financial statement for the fiscal year that ended over 12 months ago. The City adopted a budget that apparently wasn’t balanced because it failed to include sufficient funds for basic services like leaf removal and snow clearing. There are massive infrastructure and school facility needs. The pension plan is grossly underfunded. In the first 90 days I will develop, with lots of input, a global plan of finance to address all of these pressing needs. I am the only candidate with the experience to do this. My other top priority is to unite the community around public education, working closely with city and school leaders and community stakeholders to address longstanding financial and performance issues.
3. The city’s three most significant challenges are underperforming schools, intense poverty and a city government that does not have the capability to play its fundamental role in improving the community that it is meant to serve. We need to unite the community to support our schools. Partners are easier to attract when there is an absence of organizational dysfunction, hyper partisanship, and in-fighting. Partners are more likely to come on board when they see leaders that have a shared vision and a commitment to united action. I will lead the effort to bring people together to support our schools. Poverty rates are incredibly high and getting worse. Segregation era public housing has concentrated our poorest citizens. In their place we must build healthy, mixed income communities with comprehensive support systems. Addressing these challenges requires a highly capable city government that demonstrates competency and results, and in turn inspires trust and unity.
4. As a former city official and county administrator, I understand the perspectives of all the players. Regional cooperation depends on mutual trust, respect and effective working relationships. These relationships are built over time by working together and communicating constantly. Professional respect of each jurisdiction’s organizational capacity is important, as is avoidance of overly partisan politics. Both the current Hanover and Chesterfield County Administrators used to serve on my staff. We know each other well and have the utmost respect for each other. In addition, the Henrico Manager served as an intern in the Richmond Budget Office. Between those leaders, plus the City’s CAO, and all of the elected officials, some of which will be new, this is a perfect time to push the reset button and get to work on regional issues, starting with transportation.
5. While we have a number of high performing public schools, many are not meeting the needs of our children, particularly those serving children in poverty. The only way to create transformational change in our schools is to unify the community around the priority of public education. That starts with constant communication, open and honest dialog, and frequent joint meetings of all the key players, including City Council, School Board, School administration and Mayor’s Office. There should be quarterly joint meetings and a coordinated and unified effort to reach agreement on key educational priorities, budget objectives, facility plans and community needs. I will communicate constantly, be present in the schools, and work hard to develop trusting relationships with other elected and appointed leaders to create the environment for change. I will appoint a senior position in the Mayor’s Office to be a liaison with RPS and other agencies that impact public education. I will work with RPS to develop a 5-year funding plan to bring predictability and consistency to the annual budget process, just as I did in Hanover. It is the mayor’s job to deliver adequate funding for RPS. While every effort must be made to tap private, philanthropic, state and federal funds, it is not realistic to think that others will bail us out. We must be prepared to solve this problem here at home without outside miracles. Within the first 90 days I will propose a global financial plan that will address school needs as well as city priorities. Working with the Council and School Board, we will reprioritize the 5-Year Capital Improvement Program, develop a borrowing plan that does not put our bond rating in jeopardy, and identify sustainable revenues. As the former Budget Director and Deputy City Manager for Finance, I am certain that we can develop a financial plan that works for the future. The economy is strengthening. We can find the resources.
6. The Office of Community Wealth Building is one of the most important initiatives that our City has launched. It is led by a highly capable professional and will have my full support as mayor. I will personally take responsibility for the success of the effort and will be fully engaged and a leader in all of its initiatives. There is nothing more important for me to do than be a champion for this effort. It will be a mission for my entire team. Policy initiatives to deconcentrate poverty include strengthening the City’s Housing Trust Fund, the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust, inclusionary zoning, partnerships with non-profit housing organizations, job training, economic development initiatives, regional transportation, and delinquent tax sales of vacant, blighted properties, etc. Change is coming as RVA becomes more and more attractive as a place to live. That change must be matched with a commitment to making sure that existing community residents benefit and participate rather than being displaced or disaffected.
7. Regional transit is one of the most important opportunities to connect underemployed city residents with job opportunities in the counties. Currently, less than 30% of jobs metro-wide are accessible to residents living in transit served neighborhoods. And 18% of city residents don’t have a car. High quality regional transit is a key component of the City’s anti-poverty strategy, and it is an expectation for choice riders as well, as more and more citizens want options beyond the private automobile. I am encouraged that the Richmond Transit Network Plan could provide a dramatic transformation of the GRTC system. Connectivity to BRT will be an important priority for the revised network. It is important that citizens have a lot of input in rebuilding a system of public transit that impacts so many people on a daily basis. My role in transit will be to serve as passionate advocate and consensus builder in the region. I believe that region transit is attainable if the mayor leads a new era of regional collaboration on a sustained basis. That is most likely to be successful if the City leads from a position of strength and trust.
8. The City needs a comprehensive strategy to address the revitalization of neighborhoods and even more importantly, the City needs a capable team to implement the strategy. The City needs a focused approach with a dedicated leader and team that brings together RRHA, City staff and non-profits to get things done. Plans serve no purpose unless there is a high performing city team that is capable of results. There must be specific priorities for redeveloping old public housing communities as mixed income, healthy communities with support services. The CIP and CDBG funds should be aligned and there should be a clear leader in City Hall for all housing and revitalization initiatives.
9. Vacant and blighted tax delinquent properties are an enormous problem for the city as well as an enormous opportunity. Blighted properties harm community revitalization initiatives, harm nearby property owners and residents, deter private investment and create enforcement burdens for city government. At the same time, these properties represent a huge opportunity for the City to get properties back on the tax rolls and for home owners and entrepreneurs to renovate buildings for productive use. Making it a priority to get these properties turned over is important, but the goal is meaningless if we do not have a focused and capable city government that can execute on these goals and policies. Again, the recurring theme is that we need a City Government that is capable of performing. And we need to align the work of City staff with the City Attorney’s Office, which may require a charter change. We cannot allow any office of City Government to be a bottleneck because of different agendas or reporting relationships.
Q1 – Do you support a higher speed rail connection between Richmond and the Northeast Corridor?
Yes. Higher speed rail connecting RVA to the Northeast corridor would be a game-changer for Richmond. Improved connections to the nation’s capital, the high tech economy of northern Virginia, and the Northeast corridor would provide a significant economic boost to our region. The I-95 corridor is congested and travel times to Washington are often unreliable and inconvenient. We’ve reached the limits of further widening of the interstate. In addition, there are environmental consequences of auto congestion and auto dependency. Population growth in the corridor is leading to an increased demand for safe and reliable alternatives to driving. Unfortunately, existing rail service is unreliable as well, with trip times varying based on conflicts with freight traffic, breakdowns, and congestion due to bottlenecks. Higher speed rail would add tracks that would dramatically improve reliability, which is even more important than increasing speed.
Q2 – Which Richmond station option do you think offers the greatest opportunity for economic development and connectivity?
I generally view downtown to downtown service as the ideal model. The city’s largest employment base, and its most important economic engine, is the downtown central business district. As downtown’s chief advocate for the past 18 years, I have seen the benefits of working for a stronger, more vibrant downtown. The recent Main Street Station renovation as a multi-modal center, coupled with the major renovation to the train shed now underway, plus the BRT route, make the station an ideal location for RVA’s transportation hub. This option also preserves the opportunity for an improved Staples Mill Station, which is important to our regional neighbor, Henrico. It is possible that studies now underway may determine that this alternative is not realistic given the improvements that would need to be made to the infrastructure from Acca Yard to downtown. If that turns out to be the case, I would support the Boulevard option as a centrally located station that could anchor the future development of Richmond’s “mid-town”.
Q3 – What are the barriers to regional cooperation from your perspective, and how do you intend to foster more collaboration in order to bring this much-needed plan to fruition?
As a former city official and county administrator, I understand the perspectives of all the players. Regional cooperation depends on mutual trust, respect and effective working relationships. These relationships are built over time by working together and communicating constantly. Professional respect of each jurisdiction’s organizational capacity is important, as is avoidance of overly partisan politics. Both the current Hanover and Chesterfield County Administrators used to serve on my staff. We know each other well and have the utmost respect for each other. In addition, the Henrico Manager served as an intern in the Richmond Budget Office. Between those leaders, plus the City’s CAO, and all of the elected officials, some of which will be new, this is a perfect time to push the reset button and get to work on regional issues, starting with transportation
Q4 – What do you think is the next key corridor to focus on expanding our BRT system? Why?
The logical next step is to extent the Broad Street BRT corridor further west to employment centers and retail centers in Henrico. I believe breakthroughs in regional cooperation are possible with the next mayor, and I plan to engage Chesterfield in dialog regarding transit. After expanding west on Broad Street, the next priority is probably the Rt. 60 Midlothian corridor, as it would have the highest potential to connect citizens to jobs, since there are over 40,000 jobs in this corridor not currently accessible by GRTC patrons.
Q5 – Do you support a dedicated source of funding for transit? If so, what funding source would you prefer? If not, why not?
Regional transit is one of the most important opportunities to connect underemployed city residents with job opportunities in the counties. Currently, less than 30% of jobs metro-wide are accessible to residents living in transit served neighborhoods. And 18% of city residents don’t have a car. High quality regional transit is a key component of the City’s anti-poverty strategy, and it is an expectation for choice riders as well, as more and more citizens want options beyond the private automobile. One approach taken by other regions in the country is to combine state and federal funding with a regional dedicated funding source, such as a portion of the sales tax or the gas tax. A regional transportation funding mechanism would allocate funding to many regional transportation projects, including roads, bridges as well as transit.
Q6 – How will you personally play a role in the creation and implementation of the RTNP, regardless of the outcome of the election?
The Richmond Transit Network Plan is an excellent planning process to evaluate alternative route structures and trade-offs in the context of implementing BRT. The results could provide a dramatic transformation of the GRTC system. Connectivity to BRT will be an important priority for the revised network. Community preferences for speed vs. coverage, and willingness to walk further to get more frequent service will be evaluated. It is important that citizens have a lot of input in rebuilding a system of public transit that impacts so many people on a daily basis. Just like the master planning process, civic engagement is the key to getting buy-in for new approaches. My role is to encourage broad based civic engagement, find resources for implementation, ensure that the very best options are put on the table, and be a passionate advocate and consensus builder. The City government must become a strong, capable partner with the ability and determination to get plans implemented.
Q1 – What is your plan for supporting the James River Park System?
The James River is an incredible natural resource, a wilderness in the heart of an urban area. In addition to being an ecological treasure, a water source and an economic driver, the river is an amazing recreational resource that enables citizens to experience the natural world here at home. It must be protected at all costs, nurtured and made more accessible to the public. The Park system is straining under the pressures of over a million visitors. The Park has long been understaffed and underfunded, but has been sustained and improved by a small but incredibly dedicated staff along with committed organizations and dedicated volunteers. The Park System should be viewed as one of the City’s most important assets, and should be treated as a higher priority than most of the latest and greatest pet projects. Maintenance of the park should be viewed as a fundamental and essential function of City Government. I will be a champion for sustained investments in manpower and phased capital improvements. I will build a strong City organization that gets things done. City government will become a capable community partner that is able to leverage resources and show results.
Q2 – How will you continue implementation of the Riverfront Plan? Which projects are priorities?
The Riverfront Plan is an excellent example of an inclusive planning process that galvanized the community to appreciate and invest in the riverfront. The Plan focuses on creating a cohesive system with good public access and strong connections to the communities on both sides of the river. Priorities include projects that improve connections, like the completion of the Potterfield Bridge, the Missing Link, the Manchester Canal Trail, the 13th Street Tunnel, Pipeline, etc. To ensure that additional open space is protected and available for public use for future generations, a plan to acquire private property should be developed targeting Mayo Island and USP. The City should evaluate organizational mechanisms that facilitate acquisition, implementation and maintenance of Riverfront Plan components.
Q3 – How will you address the City’s CSO System and ensure water quality improvement continues?
The City’s CSO system is a source of significant pollution during major rain events, particularly in the downtown and Gillies Creek areas. There have been massive projects to convey CSO flows away from recreational areas of the river and to catch the first flush at the Shockoe Retention basin. These projects have been funded by State, Federal and local funds and the effort dates back over 40 years. The efforts are very expensive and depend on all levels of government. It is important for the City to be able to keep making incremental progress and to execute grant funded projects expeditiously. It is a long term effort but persistent, steady progress each year will produce results over time.
Q4 – How will you ensure that neighborhood scale water quality improvements continue and address community concerns?
It is important for localities to do their part in reducing the pollutant load that harms the Chesapeake Bay. There are many approaches to reducing pollution including stream restoration, rain gardens, retention ponds, reductions in impermeable surfaces and tree planting. It is important that choices are made based on which approaches provide the best benefits and least negative impacts. Availability of grants is one of the criteria but should not be the determining criterion. As with any project that creates neighborhood impacts, there should be considerable public education and input prior to choices being made. The City must earn the trust of the community when pursuing disruptive and controversial projects. The City has the burden of demonstrating convincingly that the project is truly beneficial, that other alternatives are less beneficial, and that the stream and associated tree canopy will not be unnecessarily harmed. In the case of Reedy Creek, that apparently has not happened. Communication of the facts with integrity and openness is important in every project of this nature.
Q5 – What is the Mayor’s role in ensuring every child has access to outdoor recreation experiences?
Exposure to new experiences and opportunities is critical in expanding the world of possibilities to young people. With new experiences and knowledge, children expand their horizons, set new expectations for themselves, and have more reasons to apply themselves in their school work. Many children are deprived of outdoor recreation experiences and miss the health benefits and joy of being amidst nature. I saw the impact of these experiences first hand as the director of an urban backpacking program for 13-15 year-old disadvantaged kids. Many students had never been outside of the city and had never challenged themselves to the rigors of a 40 mile backpacking trip. The accomplishment and adventure was life changing. Today, I care for a cabin on the Appalachian Trail as a volunteer of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. As mayor, I would love to enable many Richmond kids to experience the Shenandoah National, the trail, and this particular cabin. As mayor, I would encourage and support these kinds of opportunities and programs offered by City Parks Department and by RVA non-profits.
Q1 – As the City’s Master Plan is updated in coming years, how will you as Mayor ensure that the city has a robust and inclusive engagement process?
The recent planning processes for the Downtown Plan and the Riverfront Plan were excellent models for engaging citizens in the public policy-making process of City government. The level of public involvement in these plans was remarkable, reflecting a high level of passion for our city and its future. An inclusive process that allows genuine participation by all citizens creates broad ownership in the policy outcomes. Access to information empowers citizens to make a difference in their community. As Mayor, I will assure that the upcoming master planning process reflects the same robust civic engagement process. I will ensure that there is effective communication throughout the process, solid research that is shared with everyone, opportunities for citizens to share ideas and influence the plan, multiple options for everyone to consider, and a genuine effort to build consensus. The best way to ensure active participation is to demonstrate that the plan will actually be implemented and that citizens will actually see the results of their work. A renewed commitment to implementation of the recommendations of the existing Downtown Plan and Riverfront Plan will generate huge interest in the next City Master Plan process. We need to build a strong organization that can execute on plans, not just write plans.
Q2 – What tools do you think the city could use to promote more equitable development?
Equitable development creates healthy, vibrant communities where residents are able to shape their neighborhoods and create affordable housing choices, good schools, public transportation, job opportunities, safe streets, recreation, and access to healthy food and desired services. Equitable development requires community engagement in the planning process, especially by those who will be affected by change. Tools to help achieve equitable development include the City’s Housing Trust Fund, emergency funds for rental assistance, the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust, inclusionary zoning, partnerships with non-profit housing organizations, job training, economic development initiatives, transportation choices, delinquent tax sales of vacant, blighted properties, etc. The CIP and CDBG funds should be aligned and there should be a clear leader in City Hall for all housing initiatives. The Mayor’s Office of Community Wealth Building is a groundbreaking initiative to bring a comprehensive array of strategies to build healthy communities and should be strongly supported by the next mayor. Change is coming as RVA becomes more and more attractive as a place to live. That change must be matched with a commitment to making sure that existing community residents benefit and participate rather than being displaced or disaffected.
Q3 – How will you engage with Richmond neighborhoods to keep your finger on the pulse of our city? What will you ask of the community to help you with your job?
I will re-create the Neighborhood Teams process to provide a better opportunity for neighborhoods to have a voice in the planning process and for neighborhoods to have an effective mechanism to address concerns. The former Teams process empowered neighborhoods to be involved in land use cases and infrastructure investment decisions. It fostered communication within neighborhoods and between neighborhoods. It encouraged neighborhood leaders to step up. I will re-establish some form of this engagement process to better connect the City government organization to the communities it serves. In addition, I will personally be involved and visible in neighborhoods, working closely with citizens and City Council leaders to make our neighborhoods stronger. I will work to empower neighborhoods by building a city government team that is a capable partner with them. I will listen and I will bring the community into the process of governing and serving. There is an incredible amount of talent and passion among the people of our city. We just need to invite everyone to play a role in building RVA.
Q4 – What superlative would you like to see as a headline? What role did the community play in its own transformation?
RVA: Creativity and Community. Twenty years ago, Richmond faced enormous challenges. Richmond was crime ridden and the city was hemorrhaging population, jobs and investment to the counties. Many Richmonders were pessimistic, even cynical about the city’s future. But the community never gave up. VCU believed in the City and invested heavily. Several major corporations invested in downtown rather than fleeing to the suburbs. And entrepreneurial pioneers began reclaiming old buildings and turning them into loft apartments. Organizations like Venture Richmond, GRP and the City began promoting the heck out of the resurgence, and pretty soon the momentum became unstoppable. Richmond realized that it was in fact a very creative city that was attracting innovative people and businesses. That creativity was fueling a new vibrancy characterized by world class festivals, a nationally recognized food scene, plus a robust arts scene, music scene and beer industry. Recently, a collaborative branding effort between the City, universities, several marketing firms, non-profits many other stakeholders created a stronger identity for Richmond as a creative city. The RVA identity was an open source experiment that has become a powerful brand. It is an example of visionary leadership, collaboration, and grassroots involvement and ownership that has helped transform the way that Richmond thinks of itself. This approach to collaborative leadership will work in the Mayor’s Office, just like it has worked at Venture Richmond, and just like it has worked in the community as a whole.
Q1 – What will do to ensure that your office bolsters inter-governmental efforts to support a world-class educational system?
The only way to create transformational change in our schools is to unify the community around the priority of public education. That starts with constant communication, open and honest dialog, and frequent joint meetings of all the key players, including City Council, School Board, School administration and Mayor’s Office. There should be quarterly joint meetings and a coordinated and unified effort to reach agreement on key educational priorities, budget objectives, facility plans and community needs. I will communicate constantly, be present in the schools, and work hard to develop trusting relationships with other elected and appointed leaders to create the environment for change. I will appoint a senior position in the Mayor’s Office to be a liaison with RPS and other agencies that impact public education. I will work with RPS to develop a 5-year funding plan to bring predictability and consistency to the annual budget process.
Q2 – What is your plan to identify the necessary combination of state, private, and local revenues to provide sustainable funding for an educational overhaul?
Richmond suffers from an unfair State funding formula for education that does not adequately address the needs of communities with high levels of poverty. The City has recently stepped up to build new schools but is now constrained by limited capacity to take on new debt. The public is reticent to accept higher taxes when there is a widespread perception that funds are not used wisely, particularly given the acute dysfunction in the City’s finance functions. While every effort must be made to tap private, philanthropic, state and federal funds, it is not realistic to think that others will bail us out. We must be prepared to solve this problem here at home without outside miracles. Within the first 90 days I will propose a global financial plan that will address school needs as well as city priorities. Working with the Council and School Board, we will reprioritize the 5-Year Capital Improvement Program, develop a borrowing plan that does not put our bond rating in jeopardy, and identify sustainable revenues. As the former Budget Director and Deputy City Manager for Finance, I am certain that I can develop a financial plan that works for the future.
Q3 – What will you do to maximize community support for public education by establishing transformative partnerships which empower individuals towards sustainable change?
Success breeds success. Partners are easier to attract when there is an absence of organizational dysfunction, hyper partisanship, and in-fighting. Partners are more likely to come on board when they see leaders that have a shared vision and a commitment to united action. Partners stay on the sidelines when they see political fighting. We will build a City Government that is highly capable and trustworthy. A high-performing organization is essential to tackle the community’s most difficult challenges. I will motivate the private sector to join the effort to strengthen public education in ways not yet seen in RVA. We will inspire confidence in potential partners by getting City Government on the right track, particularly in the area of financial management. Several years ago, at the request of a former superintendent, I helped to lead community and business efforts to recruit teachers for RPS. By joining forces, we can do much more. We will bring resources, talent, and a community-wide effort to embrace the needs of RPS students.
Q4 – What is your economic development strategy to provide incentives or negotiate benefits, which recognizes education as a priority?
Richmond is poised for much more high quality economic development which will strengthen the tax base and help fund RPS. The City’s population is climbing and investment is growing. RVA is attracting economic activity that will generate new money for schools and other city services. The days when Richmond had to subsidize every deal, incentivize every project, underwrite every event, and routinely forego taxes are behind us. Going forward we should only incentivize economic development activities that otherwise would not occur. RVA’s economic outlook is improving, so it is time to reevaluate subsidies and be much more cautious and intentional about how we use taxpayer money to leverage investments. We will build a highly capable team that will have the skills to negotiate better deals for the community and generate more funds for schools.