City, County Leaders Not Really Talking About Reversion

Yesterday, Graham Moomaw wrote in the Progress that brand-new city councilor Kathy Galvin had suggested the city look at becoming a town in an e-mail to other members of Council and several city staffers the day before. Galvin thought that might be a solution to the problem of funding education if Del. Rob Bell’s proposed budget amendment becomes law, since it would cut $2.6M from city schools’ $68M budget and give that money to county schools. Interviewed recipients of the e-mail said that they didn’t entirely understand what she was proposing. Then, today, the paper’s Aaron Richardson talked to members of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors, who agree that reversion to town status would be a difficult, drawn-out process that probably isn’t going to happen.

What makes this storyline awkward is that there’s not actually a proposal on the table for reversion. Instead, the nascent idea of a single councilor, presented in the form of an e-mail to a small group of colleagues, is being exposed to wider criticism long before it’s reached the point of thoughtfulness that would allow it to withstand that criticism, or even have a useful discussion about it. I think there are a couple of possibilities as to what this is about. The first is the simplest explanation—Galvin sent an e-mail, the Progress got lucky and got a copy, and they’re turning it into rather a larger story than the facts justify. The second is perhaps more fun. Note that the Progress says only that they “obtained” the e-mail. Normally if they get something via a FOIA request, they specifically point that out, so that omission is noteworthy. If Council is looking for a cudgel to use against the county on the school funding issue, leaking an e-mail about reversion is one method of accomplishing that. It remains to be seen which is the case.

13 Responses to “City, County Leaders Not Really Talking About Reversion”

  • your real name says:

    maybe council should hire a staff historian

  • Sean McCord says:

    Perhaps someone could exain this to me: if Charlottesville reverted to town status, would we even have a City Council?

  • Bill says:

    My understanding: city council would be abolished (though a “town council” would likely be set up, which I think is the case in Scottsville). Also all city staff/police/teachers fired though many probably rehired for now-larger school system, police force, County office staff.

  • Perlogik says:

    Sean, I believe Charlottesville would probably have a town council like Scottsville does now- it would have some powers and would have taxing ability over the County stated rate. The town would lose direct control over the school system, fire, and police.

  • Just Bob says:

    My favorite part of that article is this:

    Smith said councilors haven’t had an opportunity to discuss the topic further, and avoided replying directly to Galvin’s email due to issues of transparency.

    “We really try to avoid having email discussions. You really shouldn’t,” Smith said. “At the point that you start having a joint back and forth, it’s really taboo to do that.”

    Lets *Not* have discussions that create a paper trail.

  • Former Teacher says:

    Just Bob, it is a violation of open meeting laws, which Councilor Smith learned the intricate details of while chair of the school board.

  • Tom Snyder says:

    I don’t really understand, either. I could go look into the open meeting laws, but that’s what I have you good people for. :)

    So councilors can’t exchange ideas via email? Can they talk to each other on the phone? In an office? Or can they only interact in the council chambers in a public forum? If I was on city council I’d be trying to talk to my fellow councilors constantly, and email can be a great way to do that both in terms of efficiency and leaving the “paper trail”.

    They can’t do that?

  • Former Teacher says:

    Tom, I don’t have the citation of the law in front of me, but I think the restriction on email and phone calls is if the communication involved more than 2 members of the body. conference calls and group email are considered inappropriate because they serve to limit the public discussion of matters of public concern since it quickly becomes obvious that the decision has already been made and the vote is simply a formality.

    Similarly, if a citizens group (like a PTO or what-have-you) invites more than 2 members of the school board or city council to a meeting, they have to advertise the meeting to the media and the public and allow anyone to attend who wants to. Since I am a former teacher, I understand the dynamics of school board members better than any other body. For example, if the school board wanted to attend faculty meetings at each school to discuss redistricting (or any other topic), only two members of the board could attend the meeting unless they went through the process of advertising and posting the meeting.

  • Tom Snyder says:

    Thanks for the explanation Former Teacher. It all just seems awfully restrictive to me. I can see what the intent is, but I for one tend to do a lot of “thinking out loud” with groups. If I imagine myself as a city councilor, I see me sending emails and talking in small groups often. Guess I’d get into a lot of trouble.

    I’ll be cynical for a moment and say “no wonder nothing gets done in government!”

  • just saying... says:

    I wonder if this email leak was meant to discredit Kathy Galvin in particular? It may not be that the Progress got lucky, but rather that *someone* gave the email to them.

    Reading the article, it’s interesting to note that the first councilor to be attributed for publication is Dede Smith. That could be a big clue about from where the leak sprung.

    It’s not much of a secret that Smith and Galvin are not the friendliest of colleagues. Also, it should be noted that at Smith’s first council meeting she attempted 14 different motions when the water plan came up. Clearly she is not the most subtle of politicians.

    I wonder the cudgel employed was by Smith and against Galvin? Whatever the effectiveness, it may be that Smith is sending the message, “Whatever you try to do, I will try to stop or, at least, make as messy as possible.”

  • Cville Eye says:

    @just sayin.., malicious gossip?
    “Instead, the nascent idea of a single councilor, presented in the form of an e-mail to a small group of colleagues, is being exposed to wider criticism long before it’s reached the point of thoughtfulness that would allow it to withstand that criticism, or even have a useful discussion about it.” I am glad that it has been exposed “it’s reached the point of thoughtfulness.” By the that time Council would have made up its mind and public input will be merely a waste of time. The powerful heads of the City Dems will never relinquish their power to a county Board of Supervisors even if the city is offered two or three seats. The teachers and city employees have enough friends in the city that would never support their being put on the county’s pay scale with county benefits. The county will levy its taxes on the city and the city will have to increase its tax rates on top of the county’s in order to fund its own police and fire service because many of the current police and firemen will be assigned in both the city and county and the will not have the same service it has now. Many of the prolific non-profits sucking at the city’s troughs will not be funded by the county and city taxes will have to be raised to fund their friends. The city will also lose its seat on CATEC, PVCC, RWSA, RSWA, Jail Authority, and Airport Authority. CIDA will probably be dissolved. The city will also lose federal grants that are only given to cities such as fire. The city will also lose its revenue sharing of $18M. Park ownership and responsibility may come into question. Also the city will lose its seat on the MPO.
    I do not recall that the study conducted in the nineties was ever made available to the public although Galvin on the Schilling Show that she had read it.
    I agree with those on other blogs that believe she should have brought up this issue when she was running for Council but then, again, I don’t remember many issues being brought but water supply.

  • Former Teacher says:

    Teachers in the county and city are paid basically equivalent salaries. Last I checked, the city paid a little more at each step, but the county made employees contribute less toward health insurance for dependents. The salary and benefits for employees would not be the issue in merging the two school systems.

  • Just saying..... says:

    I didn’t think that was malicious gossip, but rather idle speculation. There certainly wasn’t anything malicious about the intent of this speculation, but rather I was attempting to surmise who could have been behind the leak to the progress and what the motivation could have been.

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