Name: Thad Williamson
Bio: Thad Williamson is Associate Professor of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond where has taught since 2005. He is a resident of Byrd Park with a daughter in Richmond Public Schools. He is author of six books including two books on urban policy and community economic development. He has served in Richmond city government as the first Director of the Office of Community Wealth Building and a senior policy advisor in the Mayor's Office addressing issues of education and effective government. That work has impacted thousands of Richmonders by expanding access to workforce development programming, after-school programming for youth, college and career guidance for high school students, early reading programs, and more. He also was lead author of the Mayor's Anti-Poverty Commission Report.
What do you see as the biggest issue facing residents of the 5th District and how do you plan to address it, if elected?
Residents in the 5th District wish to see a better performing city government, a better performing school system, and more economic and educational opportunities for youth and adults in the 5th District. These problems are intertwined and require an integrated strategic approach. I wish to increase investments and expand programming in the 5th District in strategies with potential to break the cycle of poverty such as robust youth development programs and workforce development programs that connect residents to quality job opportunities.
My first year priorities will include obtaining funding to build a new George Wythe High School as a model community school, expanding the workforce development programs of the Office of Community Wealth Building into the 5th District, supporting increased funding of youth programs, and supporting implementation of the James River Park Master Plan. I also will support the increased investment in RPS called for by its strategic plan, and I will hold the City administration accountable for following through on efforts to improve performance management, responsiveness, and general efficiency in City Hall.
Where do you stand on the public financing of a new downtown arena/coliseum and related developments?
I have stated clear principles of economic development which I will apply to Navy Hill and any other large economic development project, regardless of who is championing it. Any such project must produce quality jobs to employ currently under-employed Richmond residents, must expand the supply of affordable housing, must have robust minority contract provisions, must be transparent as to taxpayer risk, and must earn support from a broad cross-section of the community (support that is lacking as of this writing).
Many legitimate questions about the proposal have been raised, and they must be satisfactorily answered with solid information and evidence before an informed final judgment can be made.
For instance, the developers claim that this project will generate a large surplus for the City. The two key numbers behind that claim must be carefully scrutinized: the total revenue projected, and the estimated revenue that would take place in the incremental financing area even without the project over the next 30 years. We also need to examine who benefits from the project in the long run and explore whether it can be modified so as to broaden business ownership, support social enterprise, and otherwise build genuine community wealth beyond just employment and contracting opportunities.
I continue to actively scrutinize this project and listen closely to the voices of 5th District residents and residents citywide. I will not support any proposal that does not demonstrably benefit the community and use the bargaining power of city government to its fullest extent to assured broad benefits. I have committed to making clear to voters by October 20 whether or not I believe this proposal is viable, and the reasons why or why not.
In 2017, the City of Richmond published its Vision Zero Action Plan with the goal of eliminating all traffic fatalities. Despite those efforts, there’s been more than 100 crashes involving pedestrians in the first seven months of 2019. That resulted in three fatalities and 113 injuries. What will you do, if anything, to work toward the goals of Vision Zero and create safe streets for pedestrians?
I am prepared and eager to champion the Vision Zero vision as aggressively as possible if elected to represent the 5th District, in cooperation with Council colleagues. I will support concrete steps such as allocating more resources to enforce speed limits, adopting anti-distraction legislation, adding more crosswalks and where needed more traffic lights, identifying and mitigating dangerous intersections, assuring construction projects don’t create dangerous situations, aggressive public service announcements and signage to promote traffic safety, and more.
I also will champion and work with any neighborhood that wishes to become an enhanced penalty speed zone or to establish speed tables or other mechanisms to create safer streets—and assure that approved speed tables are fully funded. We need to pay special attention to streets around our schools, especially those (like Patrick Henry) on or near high traffic volume streets, to be sure that all kids and families can get where they need to go safely at all times.
Property values in the 5th District are increasing rapidly: recent assessments showed a 25% year-over-year increase in Swansboro and about a 10% increase in Randolph. Rents in Richmond have also increased by about 25% since 2012, according to the RTD. How do you plan to address the need for affordable housing, both for moderate and low-income residents?
The City administration must develop and deliver a comprehensive housing plan fit for a growing city, encompassing market-rate, affordable, and low-income housing. That housing plan should make aggressive use of policy tools designed to offset gentrification: dramatically expanding the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to accelerate development of new affordable units; dramatically expanding the Maggie L. Walker Community Land Trust to keep units permanently affordable; and dramatically expanding action on the thousands of tax-delinquent properties in the City to move them back on the market and into development.
The City must also more aggressively advertise and encourage use by eligible seniors of tax rebates designed to offset rising property values generated by gentrification. Finally, the City must move to a new model of low-income housing based on improving the quality of low-income housing units while providing tangible support to residents to provide access to education and employment opportunities.
Where do you stand on efforts to remove or relocate Confederate monuments in Richmond?
As I stated in a 4th of July editorial, I strongly support relocating the Confederate monuments off of Monument Avenue to a location where they can be viewed as historical artifacts.
Here’s why: We are in a battle for the soul and for the future of our nation and the democratic project. What we choose to do in Richmond matters—both for ourselves and for the nation.
Here’s what I believe: We cannot become the City of Richmond we need to become, a city in which every child has the opportunity to reach her full potential if we do not write a new script, a new narrative for our City.
And after numerous years of working to fight poverty, to establish the Office of Community Wealth Building, to enhance support for our children, I have concluded that we can’t have it both ways. We can’t claim to be a bold progressive city and tolerate monuments to racism in the midst of our most prominent thoroughfare.
We must bring the Confederate monuments down, at the same time we work tirelessly to confront our deep legacy of racism and its impact on our schools, our housing, our economy.
The 5th District encompasses much of Richmond’s green space including Maymont and Byrd Parks, as well as parts of the James River Park System. What will you do to ensure future access and protection of Richmond’s natural resources?
I strongly support greater investment in our park system, on both the operating and the capital side of the budget. The James River Park System is currently under-staffed, and significant capital dollars will also be needed to implement the James River Park System Master Plan expected to be finalized by City Council this fall. We need to treat the James River and our parks as the crown jewels they are, not as an afterthought.
We also must become much more intentional about promoting access to these parks—not just physical access (though this is crucial!) but access across socio-economic and racial groups. Every Richmond Public Schools student should spend at least one day visiting the James River every school year beginning in 4th grade, and we must expand park-based summertime and after-school time offerings available (at no cost) to our youth. I will support measures to be sure all citizens, especially students and youth, are utilizing our amazing river and amazing park system.
A common complaint among Richmond residents is the perceived inefficiency of city services. How will you hold the city administration accountable to getting the basics right (i.e. filling potholes, promptly responding to service requests, permitting, etc.)?
As a former agency director, I have seen the dysfunction of City Hall from the inside. I also, however, led the development of comprehensive organizational improvement plan that has led to numerous improvements in city government in the last few years, including creation of a Performance Management Office.
A huge amount of work remains to be done and encouraging and monitoring this work will be one of my major focal points as a City Council member. We need to prioritize work on four agencies in particular: Human Resources and Procurement Services, whose work impacts the effectiveness of every City agency, the permitting division within Planning and Development Review and the 311 Call Center (and associated platform), both of which are outward-facing. Part of the solution involves full funding for chronically under-staffed agencies, but we also must see clear plans established with public accountability goals.
I will also push the administration to publish the strategic plans of each agency on an annual basis, and I will create "Citizen Academy" sessions in which 5th district residents can dialogue with City officials so as to promote better understanding of the work and challenges of our city government, as well as make sure the needs of the 5th District are heard.
Richmond Public Schools has hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance and construction needs. Would you support raising taxes to fund facilities? If so, which taxes? If not, how would you address those needs?
I support continuing and accelerating implementation of RPS’s facilities plan. It is encouraging that three schools are currently being built and that the current year (FY 2020) budget adequately funds schools’ maintenance needs for the first time in years.
A new George Wythe High School is urgently needed and I will prioritize finding revenue to move that project forward as quickly as possible, ideally in FY 2021. I will propose earmarking a dedicated portion of revenues projected to be generated by a license tax on horse race betting at Rosie’s in FY 2021 for supporting school construction and facility needs.