Sunday, July 13, 2014

Please, Reva, Watch Your Step

In a Richmond Times-Dispatch article penned by Graham Moomaw and Michael Martz -- “Jones Dismisses Boulevard Stadium as 'Second-Best'” -- it says Mayor Dwight C. Jones has turned his back on building a new baseball stadium on the Boulevard. Well, it seems to me the mayor has turned around on this issue more than once.

Via email, Mayor Jones' office told Moomaw and Martz the mayor has "ruled out" the idea of a new stadium on the Boulevard. The email added that Jones will “enthusiastically reintroduce” the revised Shockoe Stadium plan when he senses, “the time is right.”

My respect for good timing notwithstanding, after reading more warmed over folderol along those lines, a few sentences near the bottom of the piece caught my attention. In part, it read:
Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell, of the 8th District, plans to introduce a resolution calling for an advisory referendum to allow voters to weigh in on the stadium issue in November.
Bravo, Reva Trammell!

Yes, John Q. Public definitely wants to have some say-so on this issue. After hundreds of conversations about this matter with all sorts of locals, I have no doubt of that. However, the wording of the referendum's proposal is supremely important.

The writing task can get sidetracked by hidden agendas. It can get twisted by trying too hard to avoid stepping on any toes, whatsoever. All of which can lead to tortured language that isn't clear and precise enough to gather the support it deserves. Word the thing wrong and it will get picked to death.

Over the last year, I’ve seen how that wording process can get butchered. So, I hope Ms Trammel’s mind is open to input from some folks who’ve already given a lot of thought to what an "advisory referendum" ought to set out to accomplish.

Please note: However well intended, last summer Charles Samuels’ advisory referendum proposal wasn’t well written. It failed by a 6-3 vote, probably for several reasons, but part of it was the wording was confusing. The Citizens Referendum Group’s two proposals (Proposition A and Proposition B) are also unclear in ways that have seemed to work against them. At this point, I won’t speculate about why the wording of both of those efforts failed to be clear enough to articulate specific goals, or to inspire widespread confidence.  

Given what I've learned about how NOT to do it, I hope Trammell will state at Monday night's City Council meeting exactly what her aim is with a referendum. Then I hope she and her colleagues who agree with her will put a small team of writers together, people who are in accord with that stated aim, to craft the new proposal's language.

After all is said and done, in my view, a well-written ballot proposal would finally allow voters in all nine districts a chance to say whether, or not, Shockoe Bottom should be declared a special historic area that is a “no-stadium zone.” This approach would not say where to build, or whether to renovate. It would simply rule out the Bottom for sports stadiums and arenas. It would protect an old neighborhood many have come to understand now matters to the nation's history

After Richmond's voters overwhelmingly reject Shockoe Bottom as a place to build a baseball stadium -- yes, I'm quite sure they will -- City Council should promptly call for proposals to build a new stadium and/or renovate the old one. Yes, I think the Save the Diamond concept should be studied. The process of gathering proposals should be wide open. Moreover, there’s no reason to rush the selection process by setting artificial dates for the Flying Squirrels to open a season in their new or renovated home.

After public hearings, City Council should be the entity to select the best plan. After all of Mayor Jones’ starts and stops, promises and changes, grins and fits, Turn! Turn! Turn! it will be time for him to forget about launching any more PR campaigns and just stand aside to await Council's decision. 

Richmond is still learning how to make its 10-year-old "strong mayor" system work smoothly. Now it’s fair to say it's been demonstrated that Richmonders don’t really want their mayors acting as shills for cabals of developers, contractors and hidden players, to build large publicly-financed projects. For the next two years the mayor should probably focus mostly on trying to be a good executive.

Bottom line: Go for it, Reva!

-- Photo from Reva Trammell's Facebook page.