With early voting now a big thing in Virginia, it increasingly seems daft to wait until this late to bother with political endorsements. More than forty percent of Danville’s voters have already cast ballots before the first poll opens. It’s a bit like campaigning for the barn door to be locked after the horse has escaped.
But I will forge ahead with an endorsement in a Special Danville City Council election. This is for the remaining two years of former Councilman Adam Tomer’s term. He moved from the area this summer.
There are three candidates for the seat. Former Councilman Fred Shanks and political newcomers Bryant Hood and Petrina Carter.
***CAVEAT*** My media company, CVip Media Solutions, has done extensive work for the Shanks campaign. Use that to produced whatever-sized grain of salt you like.
I can say with 100% certainty that my endorsement would not change even if this were NOT the case. As a reporter and a more-than-interested observer, I have been following Danville City Council closely since the late 1980s. I cannot think of a period where Council is more in need of an internal watchdog.
For years, the venerable Stokes Daniels served that purpose. He meant quite a few 8-1 votes. But even in losing some votes he was always successful in getting his point across. He reminded Council constantly that they were not spending THEIR money. It was THE PEOPLE’S money. This seems like an elementary thing, but it is not. I’ve seen it happen to MANY fiscal conservatives who get elected to Council. Making the numbers add up is a constant struggle. And if you keep your nose in the books long enough, it is tempting to begin attaching a personal connection to the numbers, forgetting that it’s not yours. Daniel was a constant reminder of that. As a result, Danville developed a reputation for writing and passing mostly lean budgets.
When Daniels retired, we were blessed to get another watchdog to fill his role. Fred Shanks brought the wisdom and experience gained from running a small business, but he also brought Daniels’ budgetary ferocity.
Yes, most of Danville was pleased when we were able to spend money on significant projects, like a new Fire Headquarters. But it was Shanks who constantly insisted that we could get the job done without building (in his words) a “Taj Mahal.” There is no doubt that the new fire headquarters looks VERY nice. Because people see that, they denigrate the person who did NOT support it. Shanks’ opposition was over the finances, not the idea. Shanks knew this stance would make him unpopular. He didn’t care. After all, it is the PEOPLE’S money.
Shanks brought one of the more unique perspectives that Council had seen in some time. In addition to his business experience, the *nature* of his business gave him keen insight into zoning laws and regulations. It was a natural for someone who had also spent a dozen years on the Planning Commission. It was VERY nice to have that expertise on Council.
Shanks knew that making hard budget calls and having to say “no” on more than one occasion could cost him support…both at the polls and in Council Chambers. Some members bristled at his constant barrage of questions, and his unwillingness to instantly accept that their proposal was the greatest idea a human being had ever developed. He didn’t care. After all, it is the PEOPLE’s Council.
Since Shanks lost his re-election bid in May, we have gotten a sneak peek at how Council operates without sufficient internal controls. It is not pretty. Shanks had been off of Council for less than a day when they began. After the Mayor assured the public that there would be an open and transparent process for selecting an interim Council member, Council suddenly announced in open session that they had found their guy. No public hearings—no nominations—not even a WORD of input was allowed from the people. They immediately began secret meetings and settled on a choice. That was a slap in the face to the people of Danville. That is a government body behaving in a contemptuous way towards those they serve.
We saw further evidence last month when Council approved an agreement to build a new police headquarters at the former Dan River Executive Building campus on West Main. Despite this being a crucial decision about a significant use of public dollars and resources, there was no formal public input taken. Just a couple of hastily-made speeches before Council took the final vote. Again, they are supposed to serve US. Their recent actions suggest they see the relationship in a completey opposite manner.
This is one of the potential pratfalls of a government entity that forgets it’s purpose. That is when the members themselves need to step up and self-police, to make sure the body does not continue acting in a cavalier manner. Right now, there is only one member I have any confidence of doing such a thing. But Madison Whittle is just one person. The rest of the Council is populated by people who see municipal government as a great tool with which to do things. That doesn’t make them bad people, but people like that who operate without sufficient internal checks are almost always going to behave the way Council has the past few months. They are going to do big things and make big decisions withOUT going through the laborsome process of listening to too many people.
I have met Bryant Hood and respect him. I have not met Petrina Carter, but people I respect say VERY good things about her. I have no doubt either could serve well on Danville City Council. But right now, I think we need something else. Something more.
We need a Councilman who is going to remind this panel (again) who they work for and why. A Councilman who is going to demand open sessions and public input at every opportunity. A Councilman who is, on occasion, going to say “no.” A Councilman who has an unrivaled love of this city and its people. A Councilman who brings one of the most impressive municipal resumes you will ever see. A Councilman who has met a payroll, laid out a zoning plot, negotiated utility rates, recruited industry and made hard budget choices without worrying about popularity.
We need Fred Shanks on Danville City Council. And we need him NOW.