David Reynolds | The Community’s State
I suppose I could have waited until later in the month and headed for Washington or Richmond. Or just turned on the tube to find out what our new president had to say about the State of the Union, or our governor about the State of the Commonwealth. Instead, as a Jeffersonian who loves Real Virginia and its small communities, I again opted out for the State of the Community, the annual Chamber of Commerce breakfast down the street.
Sticking close to home was smart. And healthy. Elsewhere they have not figured out that bacon, eggs and hot coffee go a long way to help one digest political oratory, especially at seven in the morning.
OK, Dave, you enjoyed your breakfast. But what did you learn? Anything new worth reporting?
To be honest — no! However, please don’t jump to the wrong conclusion. I am not at all thrilled with change. That is why I live here.
Nonetheless, at these affairs I do pick up a few new details about the Rockbridge community. Details are important because we know that’s where the devil is. And playing around with the devil is what journalists do best.
At these Chamber’s breakfasts three things always bother me. First, none of the speakers have one hand. If they did, I would not have to hear “on the other hand” so often. I suspect that they are auditioning for jobs as local college professors. Secondly, everyone tries very hard to be positive. For example, we were told that the economy may be bad, but that is elsewhere, not here in paradise. And there is the usual lip service paid to how well our local governments cooperate. Of course, if that were true we could eliminate half of all local news stories.
Del. Ben Cline, a Republican who never met a tax he liked, was up first. That was because Ben had a 9 a.m. appointment with a judge. Del. Cline is also Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Cline down the valley in Rockingham County. This allows our man in the General Assembly to avoid living solely on a delegate’s salary of $17,640. Ben said that he wanted to talk about the “challenges facing us.” But his focus was on how “the governor” plans to close a $3 billion projected budget shortfall. (Cline never was able to mention Virginia’s governor by name. It is Tim Kaine, Ben.) The young delegate then told us how well managed is Virginia. I don’t think this included VDOT. Or maybe he was talking about micromanaging. There is a proposal to cut state spending based on whether a school has at least a 4:1 ratio in favor of teachers to staff.
Let’s see if I got this right. The U.S. Congress will run what is left of Detroit’s auto industry. And Virginia’s General Assembly will be managing our public schools.
In closing Del. Cline asked for citizen input, saying, “We are in a bubble when we get to Richmond.” I assume Ben wasn’t thinking of housing or bank bubbles in referring to the Richmond Bubble. On the other hand (using my professorial lingo), if the bubble downstream on the James does burst, that might not be a bad thing for those of us wishing to be left alone upstream.
Carroll Comstock, the best speaker of the morning and current chair of the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors, was up next. As usual, Carroll was very positive in citing accomplishments in ’08. He covered the new courthouse, the land use plan, a joint services agreement, a transfer station and much more – all in 12 minutes. Quality education and the state’s rainy day fund were highlighted. Supervisor Comstock favors using the former to help fund the latter. A likely $2 million shortfall in the county’s budget was mentioned. But not much was said on the subject. Remember my second beef, we like to keep everything positive to go along with our bacon and eggs.
Mike Clements, the mayor of Buena Vista, batted next. He read his remarks. He, too, kept it positive by mentioning the city’s six new police cars, plus saying a nice word about the Rockbridge Partnership, which is no easy task. As for business in BV, Clements said that there were 17 new ones last year, but nine went out of business. I guess a plus eight is progress. Mike closed by saying that we need to “look forward.” Politicians don’t care much for history. I must also note that not a word was spoken about golf and the city’s course. Maybe it was because of the morning rain. Or maybe not. Four years earlier a previous mayor said, “The golf course is a business.” And this business is not making any money.
Tim Golden, former vice mayor of Lexington, was the next speaker. Tim was standing in for Mayor Elrod who had a “longstanding commitment.” She was out of the country. Tim’s theme: Anticipation and Anxiety. He told the audience that, “We need to keep an open mind on school consolidation.” I’m not sure if anyone heard him. Tim also said, “We do cooperate with the county. And we do all get along together.” Again, no one saluted.
The list of no-shows continued with senators Hanger and Deeds. No reasons were given. Deeds had a stand-in in the person of Davis Walsh, a Charlottesville lawyer. I have two guesses for Sen. Deeds’ absence. He was either out raising money for his run for governor, or he was still celebrating his 51st birthday of 48 hours earlier.
Debbie Garrett was the last pinch hitter of the morning. Debbie was standing in for her boss, Congressman Bob Goodlatte, who had a very good reason to be away – it was the start of the 111th Congress. Debbie read a letter that was written by or prepared for the Sixth District congressman. It defended his two negative votes against the $700 billion assistance package to provide credit to consumers, or TARP, the Troubled Assets Recovery Program. Goodlatte cited a “complete lack of oversight” for his negative votes. I guess the congressman just wanted to get into the micromanaging business along with everyone else.
At the end there was time reserved for questions. For the first time in 11 years there was too much time. Maybe folks prefer to have principals address their concerns. And maybe it will snow next year.
– Column by David Reynolds