Archive for July, 2009
An article in the Virginian-Pilot on July the 18th clearly drew the line between those who are opposed to the referendum versus the citizens who do want a say in how their money will be spent. The power centers that are using their political power to prevent a referendum include the Chamber of Commerce, the Virginia Beach Business Roundtable, Virginia Beach Vision and other groups that represent real estate companies, developers, retail and the so-called hospitality interests. Hospitality interests means, of course, the hotels, restaurants and retail at the oceanfront.
This is a formidable list that will no doubt lean heavily on Virginia Beach City Council to skip a referendum. Some complained that “the vote could delay the project, would cost money and would create confusion among the public.” That put-down is very similar to the comments made by those who did not like the results of the referendum on 31st St. hotel. Basically, the attitude seems to be that the taxpayers are too dumb to know what’s good for ‘em so don’t bother asking them.
The announcement that the Hampton Roads Transit has already started a $1.5 million study on the feasibility of light rail along the Northern Southern right-of-way should give everyone a clue that the proverbial “fox” is in charge of the “hen house.“
So we see lined up against a citizens referendum the Power Centers ready to exercise their political power to keep citizens out of the decision-making loop: HRT that will profit from the significantly expanded operations; the developers who will build the transit system, the stations, and the apartments and condominiums that will grow like magic around stations; both commercial and residential real estate companies will benefit; and businesses generally will benefit.
Citizens will be taxed to pay for all construction of the light rail system, all the new light rail cars and the new buses to feed the rail system and of course pay to subsidize the operation and maintenance of the system.
There is much to be discussed in in terms of the applicability of light rail in Virginia Beach. And citizens need to be well-informed of each and every argument for and against light rail. Unfortunately, the Power Centers are ready to exercise their considerable political power to cut citizens completely out of the decision-making process.
There is lots of money to be made. Power Center Politics (PCP) is in play. You can almost hear the Power Centers saying, “Don’t let the local yokels screw it up.”
Our Virginia Beach City Council has engendered a tiff between two citizens groups in an apparent effort to disparage one citizen group. A tiff, according to the dictionary is “a slight or a petty quarrel.”
However, the value of the Town Center TIF is not a slight or petty issue. But pitting one citizen group against another group is decidedly petty and should be beneath our city council. If council has any questions, any concerns about the data used by city staff to compute the amount of money transferred to the general fund by the Town Center TIF, council should request a revised report from staff.
City staff has already indicated the level of difficultly in identifying all of the relevant data. Council’s response to the Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance request for the data seems to suggest that the report as written, without all of the data, is OK.
Another issue concerns council’s stated purpose prior to the development of the Town Center. Council emphasized that the Town Center would draw businesses from outside the Hampton Roads area that would move into town Center. That is, Town Center would draw new businesses and therefore additional taxes.
In addition to the correct data to evaluate the economics of Town Center, council should identify all of the new businesses that have moved to town Center from outside Hampton Roads area. The same report should show those businesses that have moved from elsewhere in the city of Virginia Beach to Town Center.
Taxpayers have a right to know the answers to these issues before council embarks on additional TIF districts.
A few months ago, Virginia Beach City Council reported that the Virginia Beach Town Center Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district was profitable and contributed over $5 million to the city’s general fund. (Or how city council plays a shell game by using your tax dollars to subsidize their developer friends and calls it profitable?)
After studying the report, the Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) challenged the claim of $5 million. VBTA asked council several questions regarding the inclusion or absence of several items of data regarding properties and assessments in the so-called non-core area of the Town Center. VBTA requested a list of businesses and residential properties, total assessments for each of the properties, the amount of tax revenue collected and the itemization of city costs for the non-core area essential services.
The city of Virginia Beach has initiated an Alternative Energy Task Force. The purpose of the task force: develop a strategy to make sure that Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads will be a leader in energy independence.
The task force, comprised of local citizens, has conducted two meetings so far: on June 3 and June 29, 2009 in the Virginia Beach convention center and will meet several more times. The next scheduled meeting is July 27th again at the convention center starting at 6:00 pm and ending promptly at 7:30.
Before discussing power center political impact on tourism major projects and light rail, this is an update to the first power center politics article.
VNS readers remember that in the first article no one, no organization stands accused, yet, of attempting to influence city Council decisions. However, and this is a large “IF“ -“If the influence of Power Centers results in decisions that favor the few individuals in the Power Centers rather than benefit all citizens, than we have become corrupted.”
In the Virginian-Pilot on Tuesday, July 7 an article referenced financial contributions from the Virginia Beach Towne Bank board of directors. It stated, “Thirty-two directors combined to give Sessoms $70,000 of the record $620,000 he raised.” As a reminder, Will Sessoms was elected and is the mayor of Virginia Beach and continues as President of Virginia Beach Towne Bank. So, during the campaign, thirty-two directors of the bank gave their president $70,000 for his campaign.
Power Center Politics: Power Centers control decision making and guide the process to the desired goal. The Power Centers are those oriented to and driven to accomplish specific self-serving goals. In our political system, power over the decision making process of elected officials by several centralized groups continues to grow.
In Virginia Beach, Power Centers are organized around developers, real estate companies and tourism related businesses. Does Power Center control corrupt or eventually lead to corrupted officials? If the influence of Power Centers results in decisions that favor the few individuals in the Power Centers rather than benefit all citizens, than we have become corrupted.
Is it reasonable to discuss the City Council of Virginia Beach in terms of corruption or at least the possibility of corruption? Of course it is. We should discuss any and all elected bodies in terms of corruption or at the very least the possibility that the elected body could become corrupted over time.