All those reading this column soon will learn they have the power — by merely signing their names — to make Richmond No. 1 in America when it comes to the health, work ethic and scholarship potential of our school-aged children. That's right: If you're willing to sign a petition with the straightforward, commonsense language discussed below, I guarantee it. Richmond will be ahead of every community in the nation.
Moreover, it won't require any new or increased taxes. It won't require any new or increased fees. The truth is you're already paying for it. But your children and grandchildren, along with their nephews and nieces, aren't receiving all these life-enhancing opportunities.
The program I envision will cost $5 million annually. In 2005, in putting together my City of the Future program — which was supported by the mayor, City Council and the School Board — I found $7 million annually in unnecessary and wasteful city expenditures. The state auditor found at least $10 million a year. The city auditor suggests even greater efficiencies.
The guarantee isn't an idle boast. Last month U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan came to Richmond to praise a unique Fit for Life initiative I started with the Richmond Public Schools administration. It achieved far more voluntary participation than government studies predicted. Mayor Dwight Jones and other key city leaders were there to bask in the praise.
The secretary of education's staff saw the possibilities of this type of first-in-the-nation sound-mind, sound-body initiative. Richmond's school children are in the worst, or nearly so, health of any similarly sized community. Good health is vital to educational success. President Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney don't agree on much, but they do agree on that.
In the movie "Taken," actor Liam Neeson plays an ordinary guy with a particular set of skills. He'd been a CIA hit-man.
My particular set of skills is different, as first discussed in the book "When Hell Froze Over" about Doug Wilder's historic political campaign. The Richmond Times-Dispatch called me an idea man in part for having been able to develop forward-thinking approaches to difficult public problems through the years. Here in Richmond, I played a key role in developing a new form of government. I also mandated library renovations, sidewalk repairs and school renovations among other items in the City of the Future plan I wrote, which City Council passed.
Based on a recent federal government study, 80 percent of school-aged, underprivileged children in the South aren't getting adequate health care as defined by the American Pediatric Association. Richmond is no exception. What's the point of changing our form of government — from a mayor selected from within City Council ranks to one elected at large — to see it fail our children?
Richmond's city charter is unique in giving residents the option of acting to direct city officials to do the right thing. It requires collecting a huge number of signatures on a court-approved petition detailing the precise charter-change language. The hurdle is high: The total number of valid signatures needed is roughly 40 times the number to get on the ballot for governor next year.
In 2003 I did the grunt work to get the elected mayor referendum on the ballot. I am prepared to do it again if others will step forward and volunteer their time.
Knowing politics as I do, the mayor and City Council are likely to act once they realize the public is behind the petition drive. They opposed me in 2003. I don't believe they will want a second loss.
We've already paid for the health care, the jobs and the scholarships. With your signatures, Richmond can lead America into the 21st century.
Proposed Charter Change Language
Chapter 20. Miscellaneous Provisions
Notwithstanding any other provision of this charter, it is hereby the expressed will of the people of Richmond that:
(1) Within 60 days of the effective date of this provision, the mayor shall present to the City Council a proposal to achieve the following objectives by September 2014:
(a) Every child in the Richmond Public School system shall receive an annual physical-medical examination including all required vaccinations and follow-up medical care.
(b) A program to provide part-time summer jobs for all rising seniors in Richmond public high schools will be developed and administered by a private company selected through a competitive bid process.
(c) Every resident graduating from high school shall be eligible to compete for a merit-based city tuition scholarship to a post-secondary school in Virginia participating in the program.
(2) The funds to achieve (a) - (c) shall come from a combination of private and public sources. No new or increased taxes or fees are necessary to fund these objectives.
(3) Starting on Jan. 1, 2015, and every 90 days thereafter, the mayor of Richmond shall report to the City Council on the progress being made in achieving the objects herein. This provision shall expire five years from the date first effective, unless extended by city ordinance. S
Paul Goldman is a longtime Democratic strategist and was senior policy adviser to former Mayor L. Douglas Wilder.
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