Debate Magazine

Numbers Not Content Is What Counts

By Kelly058
As a member of City Council I made some decisions that did not receive universal acclaim. But in leading up to those decisions I laid out my position in OpEds, news interviews, and on-line. I answered questions and addressed comments no matter if the person involved lived in the city or not. If the question or comment had merit it is immaterial where it came from. As far as I was concerned it was part of my job description. In reading the FLS editorial Courts Forward (Link upper left), I learned I was wrong.
I cannot expect Council to see things as I do and recognize the current shape of the economy and the impacts of a new courts facility on city taxpayers, services, other city priorities, and slow down. What I believe should be expected is that Council would explain their positions, acknowledge what the impacts there will be on the city moving forward with this project, and address comments and questions. And, also to ensure that if they move forward that we get the best return on investment. But again, because only a few people have voiced this view it is irrelevant in the eyes of the media and Council. So what should we expect? Here is the answer provided in the FLS editorial--
"So at least let the sleeper behold a truly handsome and fully functional new courthouse facility. The worst outcome would be a civic sacrifice of finances and opportunities that brought forth a mediocre product."
And what about obligations to the public?
"The council should have invited public input earlier in the selection process, before the embryos were fully formed, and it has played some of its deliberations too close to the vest. Yet attempts by foes of a full-scale courts project--e.g., former Councilman Matt Kelly--to galvanize the citizenry have made little headway."
So, relevancy is based on numbers, informing the public is not a requirement, silence is assent, and if anything goes wrong it will be the fault of city residents. Again speaking for the minority I take issue with this line of thinking. Always thought that through public debate and discussion the best solutions come forward.
So what next? There are still many unanswered questions. Let's take a look at some recent questions submitted to the FLS and get your thoughts on whether they are irrelevant. First to the newsroom--
"There is are some underling questions behind the request for the referendum which I would suggest be asked of Council members. Do they believe that a single public hearing, in what they describe as at least a five year process (beginning with the Mosley study), which was advertised as a discussion on which court facility to build, is sufficient to gage public support for building new court facilities? Do they believe, and I've enclosed the quotes for the FLS I referred to in my presentation, that they took adequate steps to inform the public throughout this process? Can the public expect any further hearing to address the comments and concerns expressed Tuesday night or is one public hearing all that will be provided? Just a suggestion."
To the Editorial Board--
Rob copied me on what he sent on to you. A few points should be made for context:
1. Rob is not the only one with a background in this area which has questioned the scope of the proposals submitted. During the public hearing the project manager for the Spotsy courthouse spoke. He is quoted in the alternative news source as follows: "David Breedon, both a city resident and the project manager for the new $20 million Spotsylvania Courthouse said that the scale of the proposed new city court facilities were too large."
2. Another interesting statement made by Commonwealth Attorney LaBravia Jenkins was that she had never been consulted on the court plans. In talking to some of the proposers they explained that as part of the RFP they were not allowed to talk with anyone involved with the courts.
3. In relation to #2, it was pointed out (I picked this up in a discussion with Hap Connors who was involved in Fed court construction when he was with GSA) that a needs/space assessment was never done. Not even by Mosley when putting their report together in 2006. This process involves on-site inspections and interviews with the people who work in the courts, or use them, to see how things are done and how space is actually used. From this changes can be made in procedures as well as changes noted by Rob in better utilizing space.
4. None of the proposers covered technology in their proposals, as noted by Rob, which present both advantages and challenges. This is a key factor in designing a 21st century courthouse.
5. One would hope that the issues highlighted by Rob were brought up in the Council's closed session. If they were then the question is again why was the info held from the public. If not there is still a lot of work to be done.
6. I agree with Rob that the proposals submitted were done in good faith but when they only have the Mosley report to go by they did the best they could. But under the time line, the open-ended site selection, and rules of the RFP we got what we asked for--"cookie-cutter" proposals which do not deal with the real issues at hand.
7. None of the proposals deal with the parking issue. If, as we are being told, that caseloads are skyrocketing then additional parking is going to be necessary unless we plan on shutting out shoppers and visitors during the week. When discussing the post office site it was made clear that at some point another parking deck would be required just to service the courts.
I still believe that this is not the time to take on a project of this magnitude. I also do not believe this project and its impacts have been adequately explained nor the public given the opportunity to comment. Thought due to the lack of information coming from the city it is difficult to be in a position to comment. Most people I've talked to about this project begin their comments with, "I don't understand....." However, if the Council majority is set to move forward then we should make sure we are getting what we need and not just rushing forward to build something. Right now we seem poised to build a larger than necessary facility based on 20th century technology and thinking. At a minimum Council should not take any further action go back and take the proper steps to make sure we are in fact building a 21st Century courthouse.

So will these questions and comments, and all the others put forward over the past five years remain unaddressed? Should they be addressed or are we just expecting too much from our local elected officials and media?
I would like to get your thoughts.

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