On Monday night, the city’s budget advisory committee, a group of citizen volunteers, presented its annual report to City Council. The 25-page report offered many long-term suggestions to the city’s elected leaders about how City Hall could operate more efficiently.
But something was missing.
As the recommendations were being presented to City Council, the chairman of the committee sat quietly in the second row of the council chambers. Because he is a Democratic candidate for office, he said that he decided it would be best to let others take the spotlight during the official presentation.
“It would just seem awkward if I were up there giving the presentation,” said Timothy Lovain, who is chairman of the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee and a Democratic candidate for City Council. “I haven’t stepped down. I just stepped aside.”
Recommendations included a wide variety of measures: conducting performance benchmark studies to evaluate departments; creating a pay-for-performance salary system for city employees; consolidating health-insurance programs between the city and the schools; implementing user fees to pay for sewer improvements; moving the school administration to a city-owned building; and “sunsetting” programs that set aside a percentage of the tax rate for open space and affordable housing.
“I kind of feel like a professor on sabbatical,” Lovain said after Monday’s presentation.
A standard line in Republican candidate Craig Miller’s stump speech accuses the City Council of one-dimensional thinking. He says that the City Council needs some diversity of opinion — preferably Republican opinion. The current batch of elected leaders contains six Democrats, and Miller says that City Hall needs some variety.
“We’ve had one flavor — vanilla — for too long,” Miller said at one debate last week.
Without missing a beat Councilman Ludwig Gaines, a Democrat running for reelection, chimed in.
“I’m chocolate,” said Gaines, the only African-American candidate for City Council.
The audience in the Patrick Henry Elementary School audience erupted into laughter, but Miller quickly tried to regain his momentum.
“Chocolate or vanilla, the City Council has been dominated by one party for too long,” he shot back.
A Modified Stump Speech
Republican candidate Townsend Van Fleet never misses an opportunity to tell voters that he is a direct descendant of George Mason — the 18th-century Virginian who helped draft the Constitution, which he refused to sign because it lacked a declaration of rights. But with the recent success of George Mason University’s basketball team, Van Fleet made a slight modification that was sure to bring applause.
“I am a direct descendant of George Mason — who brought you the Patriots,” he said at a recent candidates’ forum. The audience went wild, cheering for the regional favorite. When the applause died down, Van Fleet quickly returned to his standard line.
“Mason also brought you the Bill of Rights,” Van Fleet continued. “And I want to bring you a taxpayers’ bill of rights.”