Friday, August 17, 2007

Wilder means well ... because he's good at it

In 1994 Richmond’s voters said plainly in a citywide referendum that they wanted a change in the way school board members got their jobs. Rather than continue to be appointed by city council members, the voters -- about 80 percent of them -- said they wanted school board members to be elected by the people.

It was hailed as a step toward more democracy when the change was implemented.

Ten years later, about 80 percent of the votes cast in a citywide plebiscite selected Richmond’s first mayor by a direct vote of the people since the late-1940s. Mayor Doug Wilder had led the fight to change the city charter to allow for that direct vote ... later he surprised few observers when he decided to become a candidate for the job he had done more than anyone else to create.

Given the chance to register their sentiments, it seems that four out of five Richmonders prefer their democracy poured straight, rather than watered down by the appointment process.

Now, three years later, it seems the mercurial Mayor Wilder has lost his faith in the will of the people. Now, in 2007, we see the third prong of Wilder’s battle plan to punish and control a recalcitrant Richmond School Board -- in a recent letter some of his wealthiest and most influential allies from the business community called for school boards to go back to being appointed, rather than elected.

Now, given Wilder’s history of being obsessed with payback and changing his mind at the drop of a hat, we can see that even in his golden years his vindictiveness is trumping all else.

Wilder, probably the most talented Richmond politician of the last half-century, is good at identifying malfeasance and boondoggles. He came down on the ballpark in Shockoe Bottom bad idea like a tons of bricks. But then he turned around and wanted to put the thing in a worse location, to bolster a development on the river he favors. To date, the issues of building a better baseball stadium and keeping the Braves in Richmond remain up in the air.

Wilder also put the kibosh on the Virginia Performing Arts Center’s terrible execution of a terrible plan. Then, after a lot of bluster, he turned around and approved of a plan that looks a lot like a watered down version of the original one.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m not defending the Richmond School Board’s record. However, not all of Richmond’s schools are underachieving. Some are and that needs fixing. But is evicting the School Board from City Hall a way to make those schools any better?

Or, big smiles aside, is it just more meanness from a guy who is damn good at being mean?

When will Mayor Wilder solve some problems, instead of merely pointing out blame? When will he use his considerable powers of persuasion to calm things down, foster cooperation and bring real progress to the City of Richmond?
Photo: SLANT


Anonymous said...

I expected Wider to put the City's priorities in better order. As long as he did that, I was willing to look past some of his wheelin' and dealin'.

But this art center deal is unacceptable and an insult to the citizens who elected him.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that having an appointed school board would be in the best interest of Richmond. The real problem with the schools is the poverty in the city and the fact that many parents send their children to private schools. If all parents sent their kids to their local schools and got involved with that school, I believe the schools system could be turned around. Until the issue of poverty is solved we will continue to have sub par schools in the city.

- Citizen Tom

Katey said...

I grew up in the RPS system in the 70's and 80's when the school board was appointed rather than elected. Today I'm a parent of two kids who are in the RPS system. All issues of democracy aside, looking back on my experience I can't think of a single reason to return to appointed school boards. What was better about a system with less oversight from the community and less accountability?
Furthermore, these rich people who are pushing to eliminate the voters' voices from public many of them actually have a kid in the city schools? How many have an educational or professional background in education? How many even live within the city limits?

Beth said...

Thank you for pointing out that not all the schools are poor performers. My children go to Belleview, which is an excellent school. I prefer it over the private school we used to attend. And, it is one of the schools he wants to shut down - although it has a full enrollment and high marks academically.

Anonymous said...

I did not mean to leave the impression that all RPS were poor performers. Both of my children attended RPS. In addition to the real problems the schools have, there is a HUGE misconception that all the schools are bad, which is indeed not the case. I continually see couples with children ready to enter kindergarten move out to the "county" without even setting foot in a RPS. This behavior perpetuates the myth of bad schools and does nothing to improve them.

I see this issue as Richmond's biggest stumbling block for the future and having an appointed school board will do nothing to help.

- Citizen Tom