City Candidates on Legacy

Brent Finnegan -- October 31st, 2008

This post concludes our Q&A series with city candidates. Thanks to everyone who participated.

Candidates for City Council and City Treasurer answered; What sort of legacy would you like to leave behind? First, the people running for council:

Roger Baker: To be known as being open and honest, with decisions being made in the best interest of all.
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Dave Wiens: I have many dreams for Harrisonburg, a city I have come to love. During my tenure as a city council person, I would like to see at least some of them come into being. They include:
• A livable city. A city where there are adequate occupational, recreational, and educational opportunities available for everybody.
• An attractive, well planned city.
• A city with diverse, reliable transportation opportunities where transportation by car can be minimized.
• A city that embraces its public education system and is proud of the diversity it offers while continually looking for areas where improvement is needed.
• A city with a well maintained recreation system with a special emphasis on Blacks Run Greenway.
• A walkable city with sidewalks throughout.
• A city with safe and vibrant neighborhoods.
• Finally, I would, more than anything, like to leave a legacy of justice. I would like all members of the community to feel that they have had the opportunity to equally enjoy the benefits that this city offers.
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Charlie Chenault: Legacies are in the eyes of the beholder. They are not really my cup of tea, but if you are doing your job, it will take care of itself.
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Richard Baugh: As recognized by everyone who knows me and who has heard most anything from my campaign, my passion is for growth and development issues. As a nearly five year member of the Harrisonburg Planning Commission, I have had a front row seat for how these decisions have been made. Appalling is not too strong a word to use for how I have seen a lot of these decisions turn out. The prevailing mindset is to let developers do what they want. The only reasons to turn things down are if everyone can see from 100 miles away that something is a bad idea, or sometimes if there is a room full of angry citizens. The Comprehensive Plan? It’s useful if you can find something in it to use as a sound bite for approving something questionable. Otherwise, it’s seen as irrelevant.

I totally disagree with this approach. First, we should take our Comprehensive Plan seriously. We should take the writing of the Plan seriously. We should take the implementation of the Plan seriously. If we decide upon further review that the Plan is wrong, change it. If our ordinances do not allow us to pursue goals set forth in the Plan, update the ordinances.

Second, we need to elect people who place value in standing behind the Plan. We spend too much time, too many resources and work too hard to get input from too many people just to put this on the shelf and look at it as simply the product of a bureaucratic exercise forced upon us by Richmond.

If we do this, I believe we can change the dynamic for how we review development proposals. The burden should not be on Council, Planning Commission and the community to prove what’s wrong with a proposed development that runs counter to our Plan. The burden should be on the developer to show how deviating from the Plan in a particular instance will benefit the community.

So, if I can help us get to where we use this model as a way for addressing growth and development issues, that is a legacy of which I would be most proud. It’s the 21st century. Harrisonburg needs to at least get where it reviews growth and development based on a late 20th century model, not one from the 1950’s.
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Kai Degner: Legacy sounds so presumptuous! I’ll take the question more as, “What difference do you hope to make with your time on council?” The first answer to that goes back to all my reasons for joining the race, but the second answer is probably more what you’re looking for: building trust in local government through transparency, citizen education, and open government.

There is an opportunity for this city to collaborate and involve its citizenry in a more robust and meaningful manner. This begins by city officials understanding they are never entitled to any citizen’s trust, but rather that they are responsible for continually working towards establishing and maintaining such a trust.

With all the good that Harrisonburg has going for it – and there is a long list of great accomplishments and positive momentum – there is a large contingent of people in Harrisonburg that for various reasons do not trust city officials to consistently have their best interests in mind. While I’m not such a cynic to believe this is always the case, I do understand why people feel this way. There are always going to be skeptics of even the most honorable elected body (that’s a good thing), there are actions council has taken in the past that feed an unhealthy cynicism.

A historical example is Project R4, which displaced the African-American community in the northend. More recently, the golf course decision created a feeling that even when the citizens “rise up” and elect a new cast on one issue, it won’t matter. No matter how justified or misguided anyone believes this cynicism is today, the fact is it exists – and its existence should be addressed headon.

Besides involving the cynics and the skeptics, there’s another contingent of people that are just disengaged. This can be simply because no one’s ever asked them to be involved or they just don’t know how to plug into decision-making processes.

I believe creating neighborhood-level citizen groups is a tangible way we can involve more people, provide an opportunity for trusting relationships to form, and create a more informed and constructive conversation about the decisions we face as a community. With such a structure in place, we can have faster feedback loops to and from city council, planning commission, and other decision-making bodies. With technology today, we should be able to share information, opinions, and ideas quickly.

For this to work, it’s going to require a partnership between government and the citizens. And for that to happen, citizens have to believe in it themselves and see the process can work for them. That might require being involved in the face of skepticism, and maybe even cynicism – both on the part of citizens who have little faith in government, but also government officials that have little faith in the public.

If you’re wondering what the point of all this is, it’s simple: that’s what democracy is. And I have faith in the freedom and justice a democratic society can provide.

…………………………………TREASURER CANDIDATES…………………………………..

Bill Ney: I hope my legacy would be that I changed the image of the Harrisonburg Treasurer’s Office and made it customer friendly. After 50 years of stagnation of every treasurer having been elected within, I want to be known as the first of many businessmen from outside the government to provide the service to the community and not make the Harrisonburg Treasurer’s Office a career.
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Penny Paul Imeson: Harrisonburg is no longer a small town. My goal as Treasurer is to constantly improve customer service, communication, technology and facilities to best service the citizens of Harrisonburg. I hope my legacy will be similar to my father’s – service with respect, accomplishments with modesty and avoiding the headlines.

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Jeff Shafer: When I think of my life 50 years from now, I want people to look back and have them remember me as a Godly man, a family man, and as a man who represented the office of Treasurer and the City of Harrisonburg with integrity and dignity, in that order.
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We have not yet received responses to this question from Tracy Evans, Rodney Eagle, or J.M. Snell. We will add their responses as we receive them. A total of eight candidates (including two incumbents) are running for three available seats on City Council. Three candidates are running for City Treasurer.

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9 Responses to “City Candidates on Legacy”

  1. Here’s a synopsis of the responses for those who don’t have the interest or time in reading the responses:

    CITY COUNCIL

    Roger Baker: Short, succinct, but superficial sounding.

    Dave Wiens: A very well thought out, albiet ultruistic, response. Good job.

    Charlie Chenault: A Lame cop-out. Obviously he doesn’t take the job seriously.

    Kai Degner: A real good guy, but the response is way, way, way, way, way too long. Rookie mistake. Just answer the question. 98% of the readers have moved on after the 3rd sentence.

    MY CHOICES: Dave Wiens, Kai Degner, ???

    TREASURER

    Bill Ney: Short, to the point, and I like the idea of a non-career politician/treasurer.

    Penny Paul Imeson:
    Observations about Harrisonburg not necessarily eye opening, good goals, but I have to ask, “who is Penny Paul Imeson?”

    Jeff Shafer: Your religious beliefs and what you do in private is your business. I do not want to see in public life. Those candidates who feel that they need to invoke the name of God, do so in an act of desperation. You are done.

    MY CHOICE: Bill Ney

  2. finnegan says:

    TCM, what do you mean by “A Lame cop-out. Obviously he doesn’t take the job seriously?”

    Have you taken time to read all his answers to previous questions in this series?

    Speaking from my experience dealing with City Council, sitting in Council meetings, corresponding with Council, I would have to say that out of all the people currently on City Council, Charlie takes his role most seriously. For a job that pays $12,000 a year, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Charlie’s hourly wage works out to about two dollars an hour, while the rest make around $20 an hour. (It would be great to see a chart of hours logged working on city business from all of the members of Council).

    I took his response to mean he’s more interested in doing his job than what sort of statue people will unveil in his honor when he retires.

    I have no problem with short, succinct answers, nor “long-winded” ones. The great thing about this Q&A format is that it’s up to the respondent.

  3. David Miller says:

    I’m not really in the business of summarizing for people, it’s lame. I can read and I thank every respondent for their answers, be it long or short. but……..
    My summary of your summary

    Charlie does take his job seriously, don’t be rude it makes you sound ignorant.

    Jeff’s answer may be strange to you but he’s not dumb or desperate. I believe that you have thought about this to much or to little.

  4. I forgot Richard Baugh whom I also support, sorry Richard.

  5. charlie chenault says:

    Thanks Brent and David – Brent’s interpretation of my response was right on I hope. Sorry if it became cryptic. Of all of the forums and debates I have attended, this blog has provided the best, most efficient way to get your position on the issues out, and I think I have done that. How about this, I take the job dead seriously, myself not so much.
    Thanks – Charlie

  6. Brian M says:

    TCM, your comments disappoint me. I was prepared to go into a long response, but I think that Brent and Dave did a good job of expressing how I also feel.

    One note though, I would say that as an ambassador for the City, Rodney Eagle has excelled in part by attending many many events as Mayor. I know that he has regularly attended multiple events an evening when requested by the community to come and represent the City. It’s great to know that there is a friendly face representing the City Gov’t. So I am sure that he puts in a great deal of time and takes his position seriously.

  7. I did not mean to suggest that Mr. Chenault did not respect the JOB (even though I typed that), what I meant to say was that due to the brief, almost dismissive response, I did not think that Mr. Chenault respected the QUESTION. I do not know Mr. Chenault personally, but I do respect the opinions of Finnegan, David and Brian M. Therefore my apologies to Mr. Chenault.

  8. Lisa says:

    TCM, thanks for offering your apologies to Charlie. I do think you misread the intention of his response. Without a doubt, he is the most caring, hard working person currently on City Council, and he does it while being both genuine and humble. If his answer sounded dismissive, my guess is it’s due to his high level of humility and a desire to unassumingly serve the people of Harrisonburg – not make a big name or “legacy” for himself. He has my vote (even if my 3-year-old nephew keeps confusing him with our uncle Bob from Shen-Valley Masonry)!

  9. BANDIT says:

    I asked this earlier…are local political parties, Republican and Democrats, gonna get involved with the local elections this year? Shouldn’t you be getting someone to run for City Treasurer and Commission of Revenue? June has said in the past, that she wasn’t running again.

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