YOUR VIEWS | Neighborhood Representation is Needed in Alexandria

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To the editor,

Is a city a set of legal boundaries, a collection of buildings and roads, or government services? No. The people are the city. Without the people there are no taxes to collect, no services to provide, and no culture or vibrancy.

How do the people organize in order to express their needs, preferences, and views? Well, in the 21st century, a single person going down to city hall is not going to do any good. Citizens have learned that to protect the quality of life for themselves, they need to band together into neighborhood civic groups. Having been a neighborhood president, I understand that it is truly these groups where the city grows, has identity and the greatness of the city is protected from exploitation and expropriation.

It is my belief, then, that city decisions, ordinances, and spending priorities should come from the neighborhoods. In Alexandria, however, all seats are elected at-large, which means that when no candidates are elected from a specific neighborhood, the viewpoint of that neighborhood is silenced.
How can we reconcile this? Well, I propose two methods to repair this: one in the short term and one as the long-term solution.

Short term: When the city is going to take action on zoning, spending or services, an impact assessment needs to take into account those neighborhoods which will be affected by such things as traffic, construction, or land use. Those affected neighborhoods need to be given an active role in crafting the action, not just advisory. The neighborhoods affected need to be given a real seat at the table, to assert their property and business owners viewpoints, and to consider this the new way of doing business.
In the long term, the city needs to overhaul the way its council members are elected. We need a ward system, where each neighborhood has a specific voice and a specific person who will address constituent services.

The at-large system was scrapped in most cities in the 60s when it was shown that decisions in cities where groups or portions of cities with more population or clout would attempt to speak for all. Thats not representation, thats removal of voter and property rights.
The city is a rich mixture of neighborhoods and it is the neighborhood where power should be returned. When elected to City Council I will make representing neighborhoods my paramount concern.

Rich Williamson
Independent Candidate for Alexandria City Council

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