Despite passing many bills, councilman says city council is inefficient

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Since January of this year, Richmond City Council has passed 84 percent of the 290 ordinances and resolutions it has proposed, according to its website. A member of Richmond City Council, when asked about the Council’s recent statistical efficiency, said that numbers can be deceiving.

City Councilor Parker C. Agelasto from Richmond’s Central 5th Voter District said that City Council’s efficiency should be measured more by the types of policies they create, than by the number they adopt.

“I think it’s important to look at what we are approving,” Agelasto said. “A lot of the paperwork that comes to City Council deals with dollars that are coming to us from Federal, state and other branching agencies. So anytime we receive more than $25,000, city council has to vote on that. And I would say that of those papers, that that’s a pretty large majority of them.”

Agelasto said that while he considers City Council to be effective, in his opinion, it is not as efficient as it may seem based on information gathered from their website.

He gave an example.

In 2013 Agelasto introduced an ordinance which, if passed, would have streamlined and increased funding for public education in the city. At the time the ordinance failed by a vote of 3-6. Earlier this year, a very similar bill was voted on again and passed unanimously.

“Sometimes things will fail the first go at it, but after some time, and more work building consensus, it will pass,” Agelasto said. “So, while that sounds effective, it certainly is not efficient; because if it was a good program originally, it should have been more broadly supported,” he said.

“I think it’s important to look at what we are approving,” Agelasto said. “A lot of the paperwork that comes to City Council deals with dollars that are coming to us from Federal, state and other branching agencies.” — Parker Agelasto

Agelasto attributed the inefficiency to the diversity of needs from district to district across the city.

“When you start comparing across districts, they are too diverse to reach much of a consensus,” he said. “And so the needs and demands from those … constituent bases could be very different. So you’ve got to represent your district’s interests, but then you also have to find a way of becoming someone who understands the needs of all of the districts.”

When asked about Richmond City Council’s effectiveness, Agelasto gave himself and his peers a B minus grade.

“I think some of it is inherent in how we are structured as a government. We don’t have any council people who are elected at large, so everybody represents a different constituency base. Nobody has been voted in by the entire city.”

Councilwoman Kathy Graziano, in a recent interview, disagreed with Agelasto’s comments about inefficiency.

graziano

“We do a lot in City Council. We approve the budget, various projects, zoning … we do all these things, and using committees makes us very efficient,” Graziano said.

Graziano said that the reason Council has passed 244 out of the 290 resolutions and ordinances proposed this year – counting the 36 proposed laws that are still pending – is that the council now works in committees to assign legislation, allowing council members more time to focus on the bills that matter most to them.

“We didn’t have committees previously. With committees, we can drill down on paper and determine whether to go forward with legislation,” she said. “And recently just about everything went forward, and it’s because the committee did the research ahead of time. Very rarely do we go against a council decision. We let one person, or a group, work on the information and let the rest of us know about it. It makes things more efficient.

“Very rarely do we go against a council decision. We let one person, or a group, work on the information and let the rest of us know about it. It makes things more efficient.” — Kathy Graziano

While neither Agelasto or Graziano agree on whether the city’s legislative body is efficient, both said that they believe the council is effective.

The former mayor, and once governor of Virginia, L. Douglas Wilder, recently took to Twitter to express his disagreement with their assessment.

In a series of tweets, Wilder picked apart many of the problems he sees with how City Council and Mayor Dwight Jones run Richmond, citing visibility issues and the recent funding crisis with Richmond Public Schools.

He also expressed his doubt in the abilities of those currently running for City Council and mayor.

While according to Wilder, much must be done to change things in city government in Richmond, Agelasto thinks the problem has less to do with ineptitude and more to do with a philosophical disagreement.

Agelasto said the biggest conflict had to do with where to invest the city’s limited funds, whether it be by giving incentives to small businesses or in funding schools.

“The reality is, I think some of our incentives might be too generous … I want to make sure that we’re forecasting and not just responding to today’s immediate needs.” — Parker Agelasto

“The reality is, I think some of our incentives might be too generous and are spurring a lot more economic development than might be healthy for the city right now … We have to be a little more mindful of that,” he said. “I want to make sure that we’re forecasting and not just responding to today’s immediate needs.”

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