By Gary Gillen (as seen in the Herald Coaster)
Richmond City Charter Election
It is so rare that the City of Richmond asks citizens for guidance that it is critical for us to be informed and vote. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Richmond resident Tres Davis who took the time to study our charter, learn the procedures to bring about change and worked to gather the signatures needed to force the City to hold the Charter Change election we will hold May 7th.
To be clear, the Charter is the rule book the citizens adopt telling our elected officials what we expect of them. We adopted the current Charter in 2013. It is a reminder to our elected officials that they work for us and not the other way around. They MUST follow the rules in the Charter.
For too long far too much power has been vested in too few people in Richmond. With only two Commissioners and a Mayor, not every citizen feels represented. The first issue on the ballot is increasing the number of Commissioners to four. This long needed change will help the Commission serve our citizens, all of them, better by increasing the number of citizens involved in the governance of Richmond. I hope our citizens will adopt this much needed reform and vote “Yes”.
If we are to avoid ever increasing taxes to fund City operations we will need to annex more property. New citizens will have the right to vote for our leaders but under the current system it is conceivable that the new citizens could eventually outnumber the current voter base. To make certain that the current citizens are always well represented it is crucial that we adopt Single Member Districts over the current “At-Large” system we have. The Districts could be drawn to guarantee our current citizens are always well represented. I hope our citizens will vote “Yes”
If you think the City was pleased to hold this election the next two items on the ballot should disabuse you of that thought. I mentioned that Tres Davis used the Charter to affect change. He gathered 150 signatures, as required by the Charter we adopted three years ago, and forced the City to call this election. The Charter committee, appointed by the Mayor and current Commissioners, decided to try to make it harder for our citizens to ever force change again. Items three and four of the ballot would increase the number of signatures required from 150 to 300 for Charter changes and Recall Elections, a huge increase for a city the size of Richmond. It calls to mind the question, “if 150 was good enough in 2013, why does it need to be 300 in 2016?” It is clear that the city leaders are angry that their hand was called so they want to raise the bar so no one else dare question their wisdom. I hope our citizens see through this ploy and vote “No” on item three and “No” on item four.
Finally, our city leaders want to limit the financial information of the City that you see. Currently the annual audit of City finances is required to be published in the newspaper where everyone can see it. Item five of this election, added to the ballot by the Mayor and Commissioner’s hand picked committee, would stop the publishing of the Audit where we can see it and require you to go to City Hall and request to view the audit. While city leaders may claim this is an effort to save money, the minimal cost of providing citizens with access to the financial audit of the city and how our leaders are spending our money is of much greater value. There are many other ways to save money. Why would any elected leader want to make it more inconvenient and difficult for taxpayers to view this audit of City finances?
I hope our citizens will vote “No” to this effort to hide our financial records.