OPINION: Better to dismantle | Back | Style Weekly

Elections have consequences: Americans have learned this lesson the hard way over the past few years.

Richmond voters overwhelmingly backed Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s successful November White House bid – and now the city is poised to take advantage of new leadership in Washington.

The Biden Harris triumph, combined with Democratic victories in the Georgia Senate runoff elections and continued scrutiny of the House of Representatives, enabled the passage of a massive $ 1.9 trillion relief bill. This bill, which is expected to be signed this week, includes $ 350 billion to aid states and communities.

The House Oversight Committee estimates that Richmond will receive direct relief of $ 159 million, and it is possible that additional funding and resources will also be provided by the Commonwealth of Virginia, which is another $ 3.8 billion in aid should receive.

This is real money and a real opportunity for Richmond to rebuild itself as a fairer, economically inclusive city that is taking the steps necessary to meet the urgent community needs for health, housing, employment, education and transportation. Now is the time for bold action to eradicate the city’s longstanding racial and economic inequalities.

The budget proposal published on Friday and Mayor Levar Stoney’s message to the city council were cautious about developments in Washington. He noted the potential availability of significant new federal funding, but also noted that the money is not yet in hand and it is not known what strings can be attached.

Fair enough, but it’s not too early to start planning. The new civic organization of which we are a part, Richmond Together, recently released a $ 65.5 million two-year plan to boost equity investments.

Our plan is to set up a new Community Health Special Fund to help the Health District continue to fight the pandemic while addressing deeper health-related inequalities. The plan also provides for increased support for households with immediate financial needs as well as for combating homelessness, greater investment in workforce development and youth training through the Community Wealth Office, more investment in housing and education as well as free public transport and internet access to all city dwellers.

The mayor’s budget proposal is fully in line with the Richmond Public Schools budget proposal, and his budget message announced a commitment to work with GRTC to pursue a zero-tariff policy on an ongoing basis, likely using federal funds. This move would be a huge victory for the city’s working people, many of whom have to spend a significant portion of their income on transit. The mayor’s proposal also affirms the intention to increase funding of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund if federal funding becomes available.

These are good first steps. However, we urge the administration and the city council to go further. Rather than waiting for federal funds to become available to seriously discuss how to use them, our elected leaders should now commit to using a significant portion of those funds to make the necessary equity investments to meet the needs of our community make.

Aside from school-related inquiries already included in the current budget, the Richmond Together proposal calls for about 30% of the expected federal funding to be dedicated to deliberate investments to help our community recover from the pandemic and residents’ efforts to help find good jobs and secure housing. The remainder of the funds would be used to support other city services and commitments.

Given that every elected officer in Richmond walked and won on platforms devoted to justice and the urgent needs of our community, we consider this a humble request. We cannot miss this opportunity to invest in needs that have been known for years but not yet adequately addressed.

The city council should take a two-pronged approach this budget season. First of all, of course, the mayor’s budget proposal must be reviewed and revised. Given that the administration has found ways to meet schools’ needs, sustain the city’s workforce, and allow many employees to increase – without collecting taxes – we don’t see much drama, at least compared to previous years in relation to this budget.

The real community talk that needs to take place is the strategic use of the upcoming federal funds. As a second step, the Council should immediately reinforce and set out its priorities – we hope that they meet or exceed the equity priorities set out in the Richmond Together proposal. Likewise, the administration should take the opportunity to expand its recently published equity agenda by aligning its political commitments with specific financial commitments.

Of course, federal money cannot solve every problem in the town hall. The administration has to focus again on internal organizational improvements, especially from the point of view of position and performance management. The decision to freeze non-essential positions is an appropriate opportunity to reconsider numerous positions and identify potential savings. Likewise, the administration and the council cannot stop thinking creatively about future income opportunities that can meet the needs of the city in the long term.

These are not trivial tasks. How well they are done can make the difference between whether or not the city receives a scholarship, whether a life-saving program is funded, or whether a needy family is supported or frustrated. This is why constructive community engagement is so important in making local government work – both to provide ideas and input, and to keep track of accountability and follow-up.

We’ve all had a terrible year. With the adoption of Biden’s US bailout plan, we now have a rare opportunity to make equity investments on a scale that will meet the challenges of our community – a once in a lifetime opportunity that we simply cannot miss.

Teresa Caviness is a business and communications strategist working with industry leading organizations across the country. Garrett Sawyer is Vice President Human Resources at WayForth and the owner of Sawyer HR Consulting LLC. Thad Williamson is an Associate Professor of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond. They are all members of the Richmond Together Citizens Group. Visit richmondtogether.org.

The opinions on the back are those of the authors and not necessarily Style Weekly’s.

Comments are closed.