GOLDMAN: Citizen group asks lawyer to draft ballpark, bond referendum

Posted at 9:27 AM, Mar 10, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. - What started small soon grew 300 percent bigger than the group organizer expected.

They were concerned citizens, no fancy titles, no big jobs with big perks, they don’t get to meet the Mayor or City Council in private meetings to discuss quid-pro-quos.

They are basically like you, your neighbors and your friends around the city. None had worked together before. They came from around the city.

They had only one interest -- what’s best for the City of Richmond.

They had only one goal -- to make sure citizens get their rights as intended by the City Charter on issues of ballparks, spending over $100 million if not much, much more of public dollars without the proper checks and balances intended by federal, state and local law.

Since I am writing a book on presidential elections, they compare to the citizen groups from the “progressive era” in national politics out West in the 1890-1910 period.

Those citizens, lost to history for the most part, met in small groups determined to get African-Americans, women and other minorities the right to vote, to protect the public’s money from politicians and special interests.

These citizens, backed eventually by Teddy Roosevelt, Alice Paul, later Franklin D. Roosevelt, ultimately Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lit the political fire that changed the very concept of the “vote.”

Without them, Mayor Jones doesn’t have a job, the Richmond City Council as we know it doesn’t exist, the protections for the citizens built into the City Charter and state law aren’t there either.

These ordinary citizens – no special wealth, privilege or connections – thought all this to be wrong. They believed in the Declaration of Independence.

They viewed their efforts as a “we” thing, not a “me” thing.

They got direct election of Senators through the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

They next got all women the right to vote through the 19th Amendment.

Dr. King and his brave marchers suffered bull dogs, bullies and bombings to get the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, 1965 and Poll Tax outlawed. That’s the 24th Amendment.

SO THIS PAST SATURDAY, concerned citizens all, direct descendants from those in the South and elsewhere who likewise fought for these voting rights, met in the Richmond Public Library.

These citizens all wanted to know whether they had the right to put a referendum on the ballot this November. They were told, "yes you do."

They wanted to know if there were special legalities as to ballot language. They were told, "yes there are."

They wanted to know if there is a special process to get the referendum on the ballot. They were told, "yes there is."

The biggest hurdle, to get a referendum on the ballot here in Richmond, it takes roughly 9,800 signatures from Richmonders only.

The Richmond Library group discussed for two hours all these ins and outs, they went around the room, everyone getting an equal say.

The bottom line issue was the people’s right to vote, not any particular position on any particular matter.

They were there for a positive reason, not a negative one. They were prepared to abide by the decision of the people on the stadium, on the $100 million in public money to be spent, on basic decisions greatly affecting the future of Richmond.

The people assembled around the table impressed me greatly for their knowledge, their concern and their basic civil mindedness.

They believe the people have earned their right to exercise their direct vote on these matters as intended by the City Charter.

At the next meeting, they will decide the language of the referendum for the ballot.

After that, they have to decide an even bigger question, do they try to get the huge number of signatures required to get that referendum language on the November ballot?

If you want to learn more, click here to email me.

Paul Goldman is in no way affiliated with WTVR. His comments are his own, and do not reflect the views of WTVR or any related entity. Neither WTVR nor any of its employees or agents participated in any way with the preparation of Mr. Goldman’s comments.