In his 21 years as manager of Henrico County, Virgil Hazelett has built a reputation as a pragmatic, can-do executive able to deftly cut through political logjams and avoid disasters. But he's never been one to support regional projects for the sake of political camaraderie with counterparts in Chesterfield County and Richmond.
So forgive us if we're a little skeptical that Hazelett, having just retired in January, is the perfect man to repair the region's growing discord as Henrico's newest appointee to the Richmond Metropolitan Authority board of directors.
The authority, which oversees The Diamond, downtown expressway system and a handful of parking lots, was expected to be reorganized by a General Assembly bill that would end Richmond's dominance on the board and give Henrico and Chesterfield counties equal representation. The bill was unexpectedly throttled by Sen. Henry L. Marsh, D-Richmond last month. Some claim Mayor Dwight Jones was behind the putsch, but Jones denies it.
Chesterfield officials reacted angrily, refusing to put up $100,000 for new lights for the beleaguered Diamond, much less participate in financing a new ballpark. With regionalism apparently falling apart, Henrico called heavy-hitter Hazelett out of retirement to help fix things. Style Weekly spoke with him last week.
Style: Did Dwight Jones kill having equal representation on the RMA board?
Hazelett: I can't answer that. I don't have the information. Those are conversations that I am sure will come up. I think we have to sit down and discuss all the issues that are there. I think a lot has occurred since the General Assembly session this year. I think some people are very, very upset and that could be in Chesterfield. I think we need to mend those fences.
What would be your vision as far as the RMA?
I think the RMA has the responsibility for a number of projects that it carries on. I think the RMA is dependent on what the localities want and what the General Assembly has in mind to assist the localities. Those are the questions we have to answer this year as we approach the General Assembly in 2014. Obviously, I think the bill will return and I think there will be efforts to provide funding, which is always a positive.
What do you say to critics who claim you have been anti-RMA in the past?
I just don't agree with that. The RMA is a vehicle to do regional projects with all three jurisdictions agreeing upon those projects. But you have to remember that these localities have responsibilities to their own citizens at home first. When you are cutting budgets it is very, very difficult to take on additional regional projects. You have to make sure you can provide service at home first or make a decision not to do that. That is a difficult but practical position administrators must take. It doesn't say that you don't have communication. It doesn't say you have cooperation. It doesn't say you can't take on projects in the future. It says that you must serve your citizens first.
Is there any place in the country like Richmond [with no regional government structure] that works as far as regionalism?
That's a conversation so many people have had. I may be biased. I think there is an awful lot of regional effort that goes on in Richmond, Va. There are difficulties, but there is a lot that is positive. Other localities may be larger and may not have had the economic situations that we have had for the last five years. I think Richmond has done very, very well — I mean the Richmond metropolitan area. S