Converations with the Candidates
Glenn R. Davis Jr., Princess Anne District Candidate
VNS Exclusive Interview
Glenn Davis is seeking the Virginia Beach City Council Rose Hall District seat. The incumbent is Reba McClannan.
Davis began a career in telecommunications in the 1990s and started his own telecommunications management firm in 2001. A year later, Davis merged with two partners to form Comverge, Inc, recently named to the “Rising 25” of growing small businesses in Hampton Roads by both the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce and the Virginia Beach Department of Economic Development. Davis’s firm has also earned the honors of “Inc.5000” for several consecutive years. His website is http://glenndavis2008.com
Q: Glenn, this is your second run on council. Now you are going to be running in a different borough but also at a different time. Do you envision the demographics of the election will be any different in November than they were in a May election?
A: Wally, the big question going into November, is how are the demographics going to change. I mean, you are looking at a non-partisan race during a November election where we are expected to have about 70% voter turnout compared to 17% voter turnout 2 years ago, which is the difference between 40,000 people and 170,000 people.
And you have the President at the top of the ticket, congress and senate. It’s crazy. I think realistically 25% of the people going to the polls will realize that there is a city council and a school board race going on as well. We will kind of be lost in the shuffle. So, all we can do as candidates at the local level is really get out there with grass roots, meet these people and let them know there are these two races going on. We are not going to get the play on the airtime like the big national candidates are going to get.
In addition what you said, congress, senate, president, there are 27 people running for city council and school board. To get your name out is going to be tough.
Q: Even though the city council and school board elections are non partisan, do you think there is going to be a partisan effect on the city council races?
A: You know what, I don’t know. From my understanding right now, neither party is going to endorse and I like the fact that it is non partisan. I think one of the benefits council has over state government or federal government is the fact that we don’t have that partisanship and that inner fighting there. I would like to see it stay that way. From what I have been seeing so far, I have been very blessed. I have been endorsed from both sides of the aisle, from different groups that lobby both sides of the aisle and I hope things stay that way obviously with elections in November.
Q: Do you feel you are a democrat, independent or republican?
A: It really depends on a lot ……I’m an issue type of guy, I truly am. I think that the parties from the 80s and 90s have morphed into something different in 2000 and obviously today, but I tend to be a business guy. When I look at things, whether it be the state, federal or my own business, I look at it from a business perspective, and I tend to like guys, sometimes on either side of the aisle that do what is right for the citizens based upon long term vision and a return of investment.
Q: Do you believe endorsements can be good or can be bad, and what do those endorsements entail? Do they just say, ok we believe in you? Or do they mean they will come out and support you with people? What do endorsements really mean to you?
A: You know, unfortunately, you don’t know what they mean until the last week of the election. What I hope they mean is that they will send a letter out to their membership list, saying here, this is who we endorse; please remember to vote for them. Likewise, on Election Day to have the membership out there working the polls. We know that some groups do that. Obviously the unions are renowned at getting people to work the polls for the candidates that they have endorsed. I hope that is what the majority of the organizations endorse do do. Because not only does it help the candidate but also raises the awareness of the local elections that are going on.
LIGHT RAIL ANYONE?
Q: Let’s get to some issues. How do you feel about light rail?
A: You know Wally; we need a transportation solution that is going to solve the issues that we are going to face in the next 10-15 years. A lot of the citizens that I have talked to, when we start to talk about mass transportation and sometimes more specifically, light rail, their concern is do we need it or not. But when the question comes to needing mass transportation 10-15 years down the road, unequivocally, the answer is yes. I think we need a mass transportation system. Whatever we decide to do in the next 1, 2 or 3 years, we are not going to see the fruits of it for 10-15 years. So I think we are going to have to have a mass transportation solution in place which may include light rail. But, I think we have to do the due diligence to start going down that road to solving that problem and find solutions whatever they may be. We can’t wait 10-15 years and say now we really have the problem, what do we do and then start the process. At that point, it is too late.
A: I think there should be citizen involvement regardless, whether it is town hall meetings or referendums. You know you have to have involvement from the citizens for something like this. First of all, regardless of what dollars we get from the federal or state governments, there will be some taxpayer money involved. Secondly, it will only be successful it people utilize it. So, to go full steam ahead and do something without citizen involvement I think really almost sets you up for failure There are numerous ways to do it, but I definitely think we need to have that buy in from the citizens from one avenue or another.
Q: How do you feel about the third crossing? Should be funded by the region? If not, how do you think it should be funded?
You know, where all the roads combine at the right points and that is what we need to work towards. One of the pieces of that puzzle is making sure that we work together as a region. Obviously, the HRTA was found unconstitutional and has some issues with it from the get go. But regardless, transportation in this day and age only works with a regional solution.
Obviously, if we build a road in Virginia Beach that hits the Chesapeake line and Chesapeake doesn’t pick it up, it is a waste of time and money. The same thing with an interstate, you know if the federal government comes in and does something but we don’t have the roads coming off of it or the secondary roads which is a major catastrophe right now.
So, I think we basically need to have a regional solution that we sit down and all the local governments agree that this is a solution. This may include a third crossing or it may not. But we all say in 15 years, this is what we need to work so that we can still commute around the area without having the type of congestion that we are experiencing today and what we expect to come over the next decade.
Q: It has been said that the third crossing or the Craney island connector really does not have anything to do with congestion. Do you think the Port Authority should have the responsibility or the Commonwealth has a bigger responsibility in that portion transportation projects?
Q: So then, you do agree that it is not only just an issue of the third crossing but the development?
A: I think if we don’t do anything today, that becomes more of a congestion solution but if we do what we should be doing, as we move forward, we will be able to alleviate some of that congestion to begin with and then it becomes more of an economic issue.
Q: Concerning the Green Belt or Southeastern Expressway, it has been suggested that completing it would initially reduce congestion, but would eventually increase congestion because of new development along the route. What are your thoughts on that?
A: Wally, from what I have seen, I think it reduces congestion. I mean, look, we know that we’re developing the southern part of Virginia Beach right now, down the London Bridge area and some of those areas. We know that a lot of people have to get from that section to Chesapeake and right now a lot of people from other areas think that the southeastern expressway would serve the people who hop onto 264, take 264 to 64 and then come off in Chesapeake.
It’s generally congested now and could it potentially increase congestion with what happens around that road? There is a possibility for it. But if we plan for it properly and we plan properly with the areas that surround that road, I think we can make sure that that doesn’t happen. But if we just throw it out there willy-nilly we could worsen issues. But it all comes into the details. You know, I think it is a good idea, but like with everything, you have to do it properly.
A: I don’t believe in cookie cutter solutions for everything. One thing doesn’t always fit everything. It takes you back to when you were a kid. When you’re really young that the round peg doesn’t fit in to the square hole no matter how hard you try.
I think that we should be careful with TIFS in that perspective. I think from the 30,000 foot view TIFS are a good funding mechanism for a lot of needs that the city may have. However, they have to be done properly to make sure that the city doesn’t short itself and is able to provide the infrastructure necessary for the result of what that TIF is going to bring about development, etc.
I can give you a prime example. Town Center – my personal opinion, I think Town Center has done a lot for the city of Virginia Beach and obviously I think we have more return on that investment coming around, but if you look at the TIF and the way that the TIF was put together, it takes the paths and baselines set at the beginning. After a time, that money will come back in, but during the TIF period, all the incremental revenue goes into the TIF district. I think we may have done [it] a little bit better.
We knew two things:
The first thing we knew was that land, regardless, was going to increase in value if something was going there. Maybe not to the extent of the tax based revenues coming off it today, but something was going to be there because revenues and sales increased in value.
The second thing we knew was that once it was there, the demand on the city infrastructure was going to increase. It is just as simple as police and fire, not to mention other city infrastructure. So if you were to take that same TIF area and instead of just baselining it, but you index the baseline to account for two things: (1). To account for the fact that there was going to be some incremental money going year after year into the general fund to help out the rest of the city, (2). likewise to incremental monies going into the general fund to pay for the infrastructure needs that that development is going to bring about.
That is why I think TIFs in theory are great. I don’t agree in the one size TIF fits all. I think we need sometimes to have innovative thinking to maybe massage it a little bit, to put TIFs of significant need that were put in there, recognizing the results that are going to come out of it once it is in place.
Q: Can that be done?
A: I think not only it can but it needs to be.
A: Well, the answer to the first question is yes. I mean the citizens are the ones that are paying for that debt. They always should have a voice in whether the city incurs it or not. You know, it comes back to the taxpayer pays the money, the money gets used to cover the debt and as the interest on the debt increases, so does the demand on the tax base, so obviously they should have input on whether we incur debt and what that debt is being used for.
That being said, I think that right now we do have debt that is manageable. I think it is getting little bit dangerous but it doesn’t always look at everything from return on investment perspective. I don’t mind incurring debt in my company as long as I know that that debt is going to increase my revenues, not only to cover my debt service but also some profitability on the back side to the shareholders.
I think that is the same logic that needs to be applied to city government. If we incur debt where the revenue generated covers our debt service and brings revenue back to the citizens to help put the tax rates and the demand on the taxpayer, I think it is a good debt. Bad debt is where you go out and you incur debt and you don’t cover your debt service at all and at that point all you do is really hurt your cash flow and increase the burden on the taxpayer.
A: Well, I can guarantee, their disposal income, like mine, is getting less. Taxes have gone up, price of gas has gone up, price of groceries have gone up. Unless someone is seeing something that I am not seeing, disposal income is down near zero if not negative for most of us nowadays.
I think on some projects the citizens are getting return on their investment. I think it is something you almost have to analyze on a project by project basis. You know, unfortunately, some projects and maybe future projects we get involved in; the return investment typically is not immediate. You know, you can’t always be shortsighted when you are making a decision. Sometimes a good project is one that you may get hit up front for the first 5-7 years but make it twofold over the next 2 decades on the back side. So, you always have to keep that in mind.
Secondly, when you calculate return on investment, you have to look at direct and indirect revenues generated by it. I have seen a lot of reports on a lot of projects.
Q: Let’s go about personal information.
A: That’s easy.
Q: You have a family, you have children?
A: No, a wife and a dog.
Q: And you have a business?
A: I have a couple of businesses.
Q: Okay a couple of businesses, and you have to find time to do City Council busiess. How much time do you expect it will take you?
A: I am pretty sure the whole part time theory is not exactly accurate. No I expect it to take 20-40 hours a week.
I am blessed to have a couple of companies where I have tremendous partners and great staff. You know when I first started the companies; it was one of those things where I had to be the day-to-day guy in there. Since then, I have a staff that is accountable, they are great at what they do and really I mean from a 30,000 foot view it is what business owners strive to get to.
There is difference from working in your business and working on your business. Right now, I am able to work on my business. This means I am not in day-to-day stuff on a constant basis. This allows me to be able to work on the city council things and for me it really comes down to my passion.
My work is what provides the lifestyle for my wife and I, but I am passionate about the city of Virginia Beach. I grew up here. It gave me a lot of opportunity to have a good education from public school system, to have my businesses, to be able to give back to the community and that is my passion and that is why I wanted to get from my business where I was able to step out and be able to be a city servant.
Q: You mentioned schools. We have an elected school board. The school board does not have taxing authority, but they do have certain revenue flows through a formula. Have you examined that formula? Do you think it is sufficient? Does it need to be revised? How should they establish their needs?
A: There is not much that needs to be examined. It is pretty simple. They get percentage and it is called a day. I am kind of a needs based type of guy. The VBEA questionnaire asked about the formula. My answer was, “ I don’t want them to come to me with a need -- I am not always concerned as to what we have funded. Tell me what it is I am not able to fund. Tell me what I funded, what I haven’t funded and allow us to kind of tackle that. “
I tend to like it from the needs base. I am not the guy who likes to throw money at something and say make this work. I want to know what it is I am funding. Maybe there is a deficiency that we can find to make the dollar stretch further. Maybe there is something that they didn’t bother sending up to us because they didn’t think there was money there for it, but it would be a tremendous impact had we found the money to fund it. So, I think the formula in some cases is shortsighted because it just allows us to just deal with it and not get into the issues.
But, I think, as elected officials, our job is to get into the issues and find out exactly where that money is going and is there better us of it? Or other fundings out that that we should have been funding but don’t know about because we don’t know if money is available for anything else.
Q: The city tends to justify its revenue sources and expenses by comparing ourselves to another city or areas. For example, teachers used to be compared on a national level and found to be very low. Now they are compare to selected southern states and teacher pay is higher than the mean How do you feel about the comparison methods?
A: Goodness, well you have to be careful. When you compare yourself to the national average and you say we’re low, do we raise our rates? All of a sudden, the national average goes up and all of a sudden you are low again. So it is kind of a self fulfilling prophecy. You can raise yourself and you never will hit that bar. I can tell you how I feel about teachers.
I am sitting in front of you today because of a teacher. I was always your A B type of student going through school, maybe a C here and there but I was a D student back 1st through 6th grade. I could care less about government, didn’t understand why people got involved and I never wanted to get involved.
In 7th grade I had a teacher, Ms. Marniano. I still remember her with her overhead projector slides with the Lincoln-Douglas debates where she had the stick figures for Lincoln and Douglas and she really caught my interest. I was an A student in government that year (also called Social Studies at the time). Next year I took it as an elective because you didn’t have to take it. If you can believe it or not, I was an introvert back in 6th grade. I joined the debate team in 8th grade after that year with Ms. Marniano, got interested in government and decided I wanted to be more so.
From there my interest just flourished and it is really because of that one teacher. I have always said it, where parents nurture the interest of a child and help him become successful, but it is the teachers who instill what that child can become and instill the interest of the child. I think our teachers need to be compensated at a level that we can acquire the best teachers for our children here in Virginia Beach.
Q: And jobs, so we don’t lose the ---
A: And jobs so that they come back.
I was lucky, I left to go to school, came back here, was able to get involved in politics, start my own company and the economy of Virginia Beach which would provide with such that my company would be able to flourish. But a lot of friends of mine after they became engineers could not come back here, because the jobs weren’t here. In some instances, the life style was not here either.
People come to this area, people go anywhere for 2 reasons. The first reason is obviously the wallet. Does it make fiscal sense for a family to move there given what they can get paid for a job and the cost of living and the second reason is the life style. Is the life style there for their family? To be able to enjoy themselves in that environment and we have to have those. I think Virginia Beach has done well and is still trying to provide for that. But a large portion starts with the educations, and the jobs are here so the students come back to this area.
Q: Do we depend too much on retail? It seems like another shopping mall is going up on everyplace. How much retail can we bear?
A: This is an interesting question. If we bring in the big companies, those big companies will require the retail. Obviously the more people that come to this area, the larger retail base we can support. It may be slightly concerning that one is getting a little bit ahead of the other, but you know, the way I look at it, there are business owners out there that are starting businesses to take that retail space, and as an entrepreneur myself and a business owner, as long as these people are doing their due diligence first, I applaud them.
If someone sees a niche and it requires a retail space and they go out and they acquire it and this causes developers to provide more retail space, it is great. What would concern me is if we started seeing retail space start shutting down and that would result from not having the population base to support the business that start to grow in the area.
Q: Your opponent indicated that sometimes people point at her, saying that she says “no” to too many things; mostly because of costs. Are there any issues that she said “no” to that you would say “yes” too?
A: I could think of one off the top of my head – Rec Centers. You know, years ago the taxpayers in Virginia Beach voted in a referendum to use our tax dollars to provide Rec Centers for the city of Virginia Beach. I think it is a tremendous value for the cost. I think it provides great community support and I think that we should stand behind it and continue on that road. There is a reason why other localities like Norfolk are looking at our Parks & Recreation, or more specifically our Recreation program as a blueprint for what they want to put in place. That is one off the top of my head that I can think of.
I know she votes against a lot of things and it is not that I always disagree with her on everything, and we agree on a lot of things, but as an elected official I believe that your responsibility isn’t just to vote no on everything. Your responsibility is to create things that you can vote yes to. Sometimes the best ideas are more from a really lousy proposal, you know, take proposals you don’t like, think outside the box, come up with something that is a solution to maybe what the proposal is trying to solve but is a win-win scenario and I think that is an obligation of an elected official. I think sometimes it is shortsighted or a short-cut just to say no, I don’t like it. The goal is to solve these problems and you have to start with something. So, proposals need to be worked on and morphed into something that becomes a win-win.
Q: Conversely is there something that in the past 4 or even 8 years that city council has voted for that you were opposed to ?
A: Voted for, that I would have been opposed to. I know the answer to that is yes, but it is going to take me a second.
Oh, Mamoodis property (on Laskin Rd. where the city paid the owner many millions over what he'd recently paid for the property to avoid problems with the Navy). You know sometimes you have to think back a little ways on some of this stuff. You know it is one of those things that I think council was in between the rock and a hard place on. They had to do something to start making inroads with the Navy obviously over the BRAC issue.
I was not privy to the discussions that took place and a lot were closed session discussions on what was going on with the navy and what they said about certain things, etc. It was a little concerning that after all was said and done, the Navy said that the result in buying that property did not have an impact and did not need to happen. I thought maybe that should have been flushed out a little bit before that money was earmarked for it. There are definitely other issues that I have some doubts about. My wife and I have been together going on 3 years now but her and I only agree 85% of the time.
So I know there are probably a lot of things that I don’t agree with them on, but more importantly, I am the kind of a guy that wants to make sure that all the due diligence is done before you earmark taxpayer dollars. That is really my major concern.
Q: Is there anything that you would want to discuss that we haven’t talked about this morning?
A: Um, you know we covered a lot Wally. I think maybe taxes real fast. You know it is on the mind of everyone. We talked briefly on disposable income and obviously, thankfully, we are going to stay stagnant for our tax rates going into this year. But we have to look forward at saying, How do we solve the burden placed on the taxpayers in the city of Virginia Beach. The only way to alleviate that burden is to stimulate other revenue strengths inside the city. I think we need to make sure that we work on bringing in additional revenue streams or stimulating the ones we have and using that money to help offset the burden that has been placed on the taxpayers. You and I both know that the percent between business taxes and citizen taxes is way off base. You don’t solve it by just increasing the business tax rate.
You solve it by bringing in other revenue things and stimulating revenue strengths. I feel we need to start focusing on that so we can go down that road and start bringing that it and alleviating the taxpayers of this obligation.
The last thing is really the reason why I am running and that is there are a lot of people that have felt about different issues over years that they want to solve, whether it is the taxes, transportation, or economic development. There are people on all sides of the issues. You’ve got the republicans, you’ve got the democrats, you have people in between and it seems there always to be 3 or 4 sides to every issue. It seems there is a lot of talk. I tend to be a more results based guy.
Look, when I have an issue in my company, I bring them all into a room after hours. I shut the conference room door and we stay until we come to a solution. In business, they always say the worst thing you can ever do is just not do something. Pick a path and go down it. I think that is where we need to be. We get a lot of bad ideas flushed out, sometimes in a discussion with all these groups, but we never take for the result and say here is out path.
I am a results based guy. It comes down to – we are going to talk and there is something that will come out of it and then we are going to go down that path and let’s move forward with it. That is why I a running to hopefully be able to bring my background and my experience to bring these sides together and become a more results based government as opposed to just one that comes up with great ideas but truly never gets the ball rolling.
Q: Thank you for this opportunity.
A: No, I thank you and VNS for affording me the opportunity to express my views and platform.