David Reynolds: A wild dream?

Virginia created the problem. Isn’t it time the commonwealth solved it? No other state has small independent cities barely able to survive, but too proud to die. So they struggle with high taxes, marginal services and a check from Richmond to run the schools. Put it this way: Virginia’s independent cities with fewer than 25,000 population are too small to possess economies of scale.

What should these small cities do, assuming town status (merging with the surrounding county) is too sensible a solution and therefore off the table?

The first step is to take a page out of Mr. Jefferson’s playbook: put the government in the hands of the people. Allow the citizens to directly manage their small independent city. And in the process abolish representative government! Don’t touch that mouse. Allow me to explain.

Over the years our fair cities have had many problems. However, the overriding one is that local government has failed the people’s needs and wishes. Representative democracy has not worked. And the feds and the state, with good intentions, have left them with a welfare mentality. School systems where localities pay only half or less of operating costs will do that.

It is no time for timidity. Local voter turnout has been a disgrace. With pure democracy this will change. There will be referendums on just about everything, more than on any California ballot. And the fire house can put away the bingo cards. There’s more to do between fires. How about town meetings? For stay-at-homes, one keystroke, one vote should do it. PC’s can do more than drive game apps and send bad jokes into space.

Yes, my friends, don’t just dream of New England town meetings. Just do it. In Virginia! How else are we going to address the growing weakness in American government? It is not that government is necessarily too big — it is too distant. So let’s bring back federalism!

Step two: couple pure democracy with new city charters. If charter schools are the answer to failing public schools, charter cities are the way to inject new life into tired old towns.

Isn’t it time we buried John Forrest Dillion? After all, he wasn’t even a Virginian and he died in 1914! But his silly 1868 rule that states have preeminence over local governments should have been abolished with the Soviet Union. By getting rid of the Dillion Rule we can “Set _________ (fill in your favorite dying independent city) free!” How’s that for a bumper sticker?

Yes, we can do it! That is, with the help of block grants from Richmond — not through higher city taxes. Remember, residents can always vote with their feet. Lower taxes are often just on the other side of those city limits signs.

Just a couple of ideas from a crazy scribe. Or not so wild a dream?

Column by David Reynolds


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