To the editor:
I am writing in response to the letter written by Judy Guse-Noritake, Victoria Vergason and Danielle Romanetti, which appeared in the May 3 Alexandria Times, “A call for truth in campaigning.” I feel it is incumbent upon me to set the record straight about the business improvement district proposal.
While the idea of a BID was discussed in the community by various groups, it was clear that Vice Mayor Justin Wilson was the member pushing hard for acceptance of the BID by council. Throughout the process, he was the chief proponent of the effort to pass an ordinance to establish a BID and pass along a tax to the business community.
In fact, he was so passionate about it that it seemed weird because most good servants of government and elected officials listen to their constituency, especially one that was loudly expressing its opposition and concerns about the consequences of a BID that had not been properly vetted. Instead, Wilson’s tendency is to compare Alexandria to other jurisdictions to justify a proposal. That is a poor and irresponsible way to govern.
Those of us who questioned or opposed a concept of a BID found ourselves excluded from the process at every step. I was directly told I could not participate in the exploratory committee as an interested party – a business owner that would be subjected to the BID tax. That was troubling since that committee was set up for the sole purpose of recommending the BID to the council.
The exploratory group was not interested in listening to the opinions of others in the business community. Furthermore, it became very evident to many of us who questioned or opposed the BID that the sole purpose of the BID was to raise revenue to fund the waterfront, not to help businesses. We were not fooled by this veiled proposal disguised to help businesses.
From the very beginning of the discussion over the BID proposal, Mayor Allison Silberberg stood alone on the dais and expressed strong concerns about the burden this additional tax would place on small business owners. She asked that the business community weigh in and share their thoughts and concerns about the BID. Silberberg was responsive when we reached out to her, especially since we had no seat at the table on the exploratory committee.
She understood our opposition and showed leadership in reaching out to all voices on the issue. The words used in the letter of May 3 were offensive to those of us who lived through the BID process. Business owners witnessed that Wilson was the major proponent for the BID on council. To characterize the effort to defeat the BID as led “entirely by a small cadre of local business owners and residents” is a ridiculous distortion of the facts.
In fact, after the majority of Old Town business owners voiced their opposition to the BID and it was clear that a vote by business owners would defeat the BID, City Manager Mark Jinks pulled the proposal back and it did not come before council for a vote. Silberberg did not abstain from voting, as was alleged incorrectly – it never came to a final vote because of the clear, strong opposition.
There is no need to distort the facts when all council meetings are videotaped. Silberberg was accurate in her description of her role and Wilson’s role regarding the BID proposal. It’s important to get the facts straight when so many of us witnessed the process. Further, perverting someone’s record and name calling is inappropriate in any debate over an issue. We all share the same goal of making Alexandria a great place to do business and call home.
Kudos to Silberberg and others for listening to the concerns of the business community and the residents on an issue that had major implications, rather than big rewards.
-Kim Putens, Alexandria