Sunday, September 23, 2007

New Civil War in Richmond

On Friday morning I drove up to northern Virginia to visit some relatives and to pray on Yom Kippur with my former congregation. I spent about a day, starting sundown on Friday, fasting, examining my sinful behavior during the last year and asking God to forgive me. I ended up feeling peaceful and refreshed. I drove back to Richmond today bringing that peaceful feeling with me. When I got home I checked two days of unread TD and…

Saturday’s headline “Chaos Erupts at City Hall.” Sunday’s headline “Uncertainty Pervades City Hall Amid Turmoil.” This maven was out of Richmond for only two days and war had erupted. What kind of insanity is going on in our beloved city?

I read the stories. Mr. Doug ordered the Richmond Public School administration to be evicted from City Hall. The police kept the public from attending a School Board meeting. Doug will require City Council member’s personal staff to submit to interviews to keep their jobs. The Circuit Court issued a temporary restraining order preventing the continued eviction of the RPS administration from City Hall.

I looked at the newspapers again. Was this Richmond or was it the capital city of some dictatorship? It all would have made sense if this were a military junta ousting the democratically elected government of some country in South America or Asia or Africa. But this is the City of Richmond, Commonwealth of Virginia, United States of America, in the Twenty First Century. The mayor of this City of Richmond is ousting the administration of this city’s public schools from its offices! The mayor of this city is threatening the jobs of City Council employees! The police department of this city kept the public from attending a meeting of their elected School Board! Hey, I thought we had defeated totalitarianism in the last century. But what is going on in Richmond is real despotism.

When we voted for an elected mayor in Richmond, and when we elected L. Douglas Wilder to be that mayor, we were not giving our approval to a prolonged civil war between Mr. Wilder and the City Council, School Board, School Superintendent, City Tax Assessor and even the City Auditor. In previous postings I have described the many instances in which Mr. Wilder, rather than seeking to bring unity to the City, has used his claimed power to insist on getting his way Each time His Excellency has acted I have wondered how he could possibly do any worse. And yet a few weeks pass and he does something else to crush opposition to his policies in Richmond. Mr. Wilder’s methods can best be described as “divide and defeat.” He makes outrageous accusations against other civil servants to try to crush any independent thinker in the city. Except for the lack of a dress, Mr. Wilder’s behavior is like our beloved J. Edgar Hoover, former tsar of the FBI. If you oppose Mayor Doug, you have to expect that he’ll never rest until he gets you.

So how did we in River City get into this mess? From nearly the day he was sworn in, Mayor Doug has been thumbing his nose at the city’s leadership and at us its citizens. He has engaged in activities of questionable legality. He has been sued by the School Board and by the City Council for trying to usurp their authority. He has threatened the jobs of city employees. He has used his “Vision Newsletter” to attack people in Richmond who are only trying to do their jobs. And during the entire time that Mr. Wilder has been waging his campaign to become the King of Richmond, hardly anybody has spoken out.

But this time, the mayor has extended his attack to the students in our public schools. He has demonstrated that he simply does not care who gets hurt as long as he can have his way. The question now is how long will the parents in this city put up with a man who is willing to risk the future of their children in his continued attempt to be the King of Richmond?

To both my Jewish and non-Jewish neighbors in Richmond I wish a healthy and prosperous year. To the City of Richmond I wish a restoration of peace and tranquility.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Where Have All The Glaciers Gone?

Just one day after instituting the maven’s “most wonderful letter of the day,” I must announce that I am not making the award today. After carefully reading all the letters in the TD this morning, I have concluded that none of them are good enough to merit this high honor. There is one letter that I do need to mention, however.

The letter “Just How Much Global Warning Are We Causing” accuses Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and others of lying when they say that climate change has caused the glaciers in Glacier National Park to melt. The letter indicates that when the author and his wife toured the park in 1998, “[t]he park ranger conducting the tour told us that there have never been any glaciers in Glacier National Park.”

Well this is surely revealing. If there were never any glaciers in the park then it surely is ludicrous to suggest that global warming has melted them.

In the words of the letter’s author, I decided to “set the record straight.” I went to the website of Glacier National Park. I clicked on a short video (, which indicated that when the park was formed in 1910 there were about 150 glaciers. When the video was made there were only 27 glaciers left and most of them were shrinking rapidly. The video showed before and after photographs, which even to my aging eyes revealed that where there were once sheets of ice there are now bare rocks or pools of water.

I am glad to report to you that Robert Kennedy, Jr., did not lie to the author of the letter. Despite what a park ranger once told the author there were in fact glaciers in Glacier National Park. Now most of them are gone.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

What This City Needs is More Gunfights

My nephew called me this evening and wanted to know whether I had stopped writing. I went on line and saw that, in deed, I hadn’t posted anything in nearly three weeks. To those of you who have been eagerly awaiting some wisdom from me, I apologize. For those of you who couldn’t care less, I assume that you aren’t reading this and to you I have nothing to say.

You people in River City are aware that every day the Times-Dispatch chooses one of its letter writers as “correspondent of the day.” I suppose the award is given to the letter that is best written or deals with the most important issues. Well, to force myself to write more, I am hereby introducing the maven’s “most wonderful letter of the day.” I will choose a letter from the TD that is of the greatest importance and discuss it. Today’s award goes to the letter “Store Manager Made the World Safer.”

Nearly two weeks ago, the Baskins-Robins ice cream store on Forest Hill Avenue was robbed by a man who seemed to be holding a semi-automatic weapon. The store manager, not wanting to be viewed as an easy mark, drew out his own weapon and started firing at the unfortunate robber. Eight shots later, the robber had been hit in the back and in the hand. He fled from the store and was found dying nearby. The weapon the robber used in the robbery turned out to be a BB gun.

Some people suggested that perhaps the store manager had used excess force. Not our winning letter. It states that “[t]he store manager has saved the taxpayers the cost of further prosecution and incarceration. . . If more idiot sociopaths who prey on decent citizens were to be shot in the act of committing crimes—by their intended victims—then perhaps others of their kind would realize that we aren’t going to be intimidated.” The letter then uses the Wild West as a model for our city. “The American frontier was cleaned up, not by courts that were more concerned with the safety and rights of criminals, but by tough-minded lawmen and citizens defending themselves.”

Now you know why I chose this letter as the most wonderful of the day. Its writer has come up with the obvious solution to Richmond’s crime problem—arm everybody. And none of this hidden weapon business. If we’re really serious about dealing with crime the way they did in Dodge or Tombstone, every person in Richmond must be required to carry a hand gun in a holster strapped to their side. There must be no room for doubt that everybody is packing.

This is a great idea for several reasons. First we can save tons of money that we now waste on our criminal justice system. We won’t need the Commonwealth Attorney’s office any more. We also can cut in half the number of judges. Police officers will no longer have to fill out those pesky crime reports. We won’t need trials any more; our criminal justice system will be self-enforcing. When the store clerk sees a teenager shoplifting at the 7 Eleven he can enforce the law with his Glock.

Second, arming everybody will put a quick end to aggressive drivers and road rage. Now, when some idiot cuts you off on I-64 and you bang your head on the sun visor because you have to slam on your brakes, there is no reason to repress that anger. Just take out your Colt and blow the sucker’s head off. You’d be doing the public a favor. A driver like that would surely cause a bad accident and kill some innocents.

Third, packing a powerful weapon would add some excitement to our boring lives. Now if some doofus insults you at the bar at O’Tooles, you can call him out to settle things on Forest Hill Avenue with your Smith & Wesson.

Most important, all these guns will give us a whole new generation of heroes for our kids. We can produce our own Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Ike Clanton and others. Or lawmen like Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Matt Dillon. Our children need to have gun-toting idols to look up to.

So, writer of our first “most wonderful letter of the day” I salute you. When your suggestion is implemented, Richmond will undoubtedly become the safest city in America.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

They're Back!

The Richmond 26 are back in the news. Since their first call for replacing Richmond’s elected school board with an appointed one met with such overwhelming approval by. . . well, I guess by Mayor Wilder, they repeated it again in a 17 page paper delivered to the City Council and the mayor. Of course, our School Board, charged by law with supervising the schools in Richmond did not receive a copy of the missive. Nor, for that matter, did this maven. Thus, on this matter, just like Will Rogers, I only know what I read in the papers.

Since nobody in Richmond took seriously their proposal to bypass the people in doing away with our elected school board, Richmond’s finest indicated that they were willing to wait for a public referendum on the issue. Of course, by making this concession, the 26 risked that the public might vote to keep the elected board. But, hell, that is the risk of democracy.

As in their first letter, our business elite opined that getting rid of the elected school board is all it would take to fix Richmond Public Schools. The division of authority between the City Council and the School Board guarantees that Richmond schools will fail, assert the 26, although they fail to explain why this same division is working fine in most other school districts in the Commonwealth. As stated in the paper, “This mishmash of accountability violates every tenet of managerial structural efficiency and accountability—and is doomed to failure.”

Of course, I am not a business mogul. I am a mere maven. But, I’m not sure what the mishmash problem is. Our School Board gets funds from federal, state and city sources. It uses this money to operate our public schools. If the board does a bad job managing the money, we, the citizens of Richmond, will hold them accountable at the next election.

Perhaps, the 26 really object to the Constitution of Virginia, which requires that school systems be run by school boards rather than by the legislative authority in each district. The “managerial structural efficiency” they desire would be best served by eliminating school boards entirely and simply having the schools run by city councils or county boards of supervisors. After all, we don’t have police department run by police boards, fire departments run by fire boards, or sanitation departments run by garbage boards. In requiring school boards, our constitution recognizes that education is the most important service provided by government and that a separate body, charged only with running the schools, is necessary. It’s sloppy, perhaps even a mishmash, but that’s the way it works throughout the Commonwealth and the country.

In their epistle, the Richmond 26 set forth ten goals for Richmond Public Schools, which, presumably, an appointed school board will be able to achieve. According to the TD, the goals are

1- a graduation rate of 77 percent by 2012;
2- a rate of 50 percent of entering ninth graders attending two or four year colleges four years from now;
3- increasing average SAT scores, and increasing participation to 60 percent by 2012;
4- improving SOL scores in reading and math, especially in middle school;
5- make Adequate Yearly Progress this year, under the No Child Left Behind law;
6- cut truancy in half by next year;
7- reduce by half the number of weapons-related incidents by 2010;
8- put 50 percent of technology resources into classrooms by 2010;
9- initiate the facilities plan portion of the mayor’s City of the Future plan; and
10- reduce noninstructional per-pupil spending by 2012.

Although these suggested goals are helpful, they don’t tell us how to get closer to fixing our school problems. Not all of them, as written, contain adequate measures of compliance. Further, the 26 have no suggestions on how these goals might be met.

As you know, this maven set forth a five step plan for fixing our schools two weeks ago. And, just this week, Paul Goldman, the man that gave us Doug Wilder, set forth a ten step proposal for improving our schools. See his blog on Channel 12’s Campaign 2008 website.,com_myblog/show,School-Board-Improvements-10-Point-Action-Plan.html/Itemid,130/

Hopefully, more citizens will come forward with their suggestions for fixing our schools. Again, my thanks to the Richmond 26 for bringing the issue of Richmond Public Schools to public debate.