A dastardly action of this year’s General Assembly session soon will metastasize into a cultural and political abyss for Richmond. It takes the form of legislation introduced by Republican Delegate G. Manoli Loupassi, who lives in Richmond and is a former City Council president, to give Chesterfield and Henrico counties equal representation on the board of directors of the Richmond Metropolitan Authority.
Yes, Loupassi pulled back his bill last week — a move he hopes will encourage regional cooperation and discussion — but make no mistake: It will be back in 2013, and it will almost certainly pass the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
Given the heavy price in blood, sweat and tears paid by the people of Richmond in establishing the toll road, Loupassi’s position is dishonorable and traitorous.
Richmond appoints a majority of the authority’s board — six of the 11 members — because the entirety of the toll road — the Downtown Expressway and Powhite Parkway — is in the city. When the toll road was constructed in the early 1970s, Richmond put up the land, allowing the bulldozers to tear through its heart, displacing hundreds of residents and businesses. Chesterfield sacrificed nothing. In essence, equalizing the board would strip the city of control over its rightful property, an enormously valuable toll road that generates millions of dollars every year.
This, of course, presages a disaster of unparalleled consequence for the city’s future. Loupassi’s action represents a potent mixture of disloyalty and racism; his besotted position will eventually deprive Richmond, a majority-black city, of a unique infrastructure for the benefit of white-majority Chesterfield County. It’s worth noting that Henrico County’s position on the issue of equalization is one of inanity.
A dearth of common sense pervades Loupassi’s rationale for his deferential attitude toward the residents of Chesterfield — that they’re “tired” of paying tolls. He is reminded, among other things, that use of the toll road is voluntary — one pays only if one chooses to use it. And make no mistake: Loupassi and Chesterfield’s leaders are fully aware that the tolls aren’t going anywhere. This is a play for control over an asset that collects between $34 million and $36 million in gross revenue each year.
Mayor Dwight Jones is a willing partner in this debacle. Plagued by arrogant incuriosity, Jones’ action in agreeing to the sellout of the city’s birthright was abominable, inaccurate and incredible. His misguided process obliterated substance. In essence, by accepting the repayment of old debt owed to the city by the authority, or about $62 million, Jones forfeited a much better deal: In nine years, the city was scheduled to gain ownership of the expressway system, which is far more valuable. But accepting the payment essentially authorized the authority to float more bonds, postponing the city’s reversion right to the toll road.
In the original legislation authorizing the toll road in the 1960s, the state mandated that once the bonds are retired, or paid off, the city assumes ownership of the road. Before the city accepted the $62 million, the reversion was scheduled to occur in 2021. Now, with the additional debt, it’s 2041.
At the center of Mayor Jones’ flawed action is his stupefying arrogance in asserting that improved regional cooperation with Chesterfield would be the result of his shortsightedness. His action advances incoherence only to expose the indefensible — Chesterfield’s traditional aversion to meaningful regional cooperation. Suffice two examples: Chesterfield’s refusal to fund public transportation into the county, displaying callousness toward the needs of Richmonders who could benefit from employment opportunities in the county.
And add the proposal by state Sen. Stephen H. Martin, a Republican from Chesterfield, who sponsored a baseless voter-identification bill, which has the potential to disenfranchise thousands of voters in Virginia, a disproportionate number of them being black. Martin’s proposal is reminiscent of the state’s ugly history of denying blacks their constitutional right to vote. At first blush Martin’s proposal may appear irrelevant to the RMA discussion; it nevertheless is clear indication of the racist mind-set prevailing in Chesterfield. The mayor’s self-imposed oblivion to this fact is a disservice to Richmond, for it portrays a portrait of contemptible naiveté. His nascent image is exceeded only by his gullibility.
Malleability rules supreme in the mayor’s lack of understanding a core constancy: protecting the city’s legacy. Instead of believability, his unquenchable vanity has produced empty bravado with the potential corollary of misfeasance.
Two tenets of leadership have escaped the mayor’s misdirection. One, a leader must know the last step before taking the first one. As well, leadership that doesn’t take into account views of others is a prescription for misadventure and ultimate failure. In keeping the City Council “out of the loop,” Mayor Jones’ seduction by power was complete. Despite his unilateral action, kudos is in order for those members of council who had the backbone to protest his misguided action. This contrasted shamefully with those who became minnows of the mayor.
The mayor has a long love affair with being seduced by power. As a former member of the School Board he was a lead fomenter of tyrannical policies that almost destroyed secondary education. During his time on the board, thousands of dollars were wasted; a brain drain occurred in the early exit of highly qualified career educators through premature retirements; and more importantly, students graduated without the time-honored pride of school loyalty and identity. The specifics of his scurrilous actions would make a bestseller, with the potential title, “How to Destroy Public Education with Confidence.”
It goes without saying that the city is in bad hands with Jones. The new form of government was designed to project an image of comprehensive and visionary leadership. Instead of a visionary, however, we have a mayor in blinders.
Roy A. West is a former Richmond mayor and a member of the Richmond Metropolitan Authority’s board of directors.
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