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City Council must give the Slavery Museum due scrutiny.
True, some council members may know more than other council members and everyone else. But such knowledge shouldn't depend on social contacts or personal charm. Council member Debby Girvan, who voted Tuesday against any delay in the $30,000 waiver, suggested that the council and the museum's board share a business dinner this fall. Pheasant under glass is fine, but museum chieftains need to talk turkey to the general public. That some council members don't seem to see that is distressing; that Mayor Tom Tomzak dismissed his fellow members' request for museum transparency as "voyeurism" is beyond distressing.
The sudden rift between council members is also troubling in and of itself. This council has made good speed--on a parking deck, a swimming pool, and (let's cross our fingers, click our heels together, and wish) a downtown hotel--by steering clear of factionalism and putting progress above personality. A sure way for that to end is for some members to succumb to project fever--sufferers are prone to reel from Council Chambers down to Monroe Press to buy a gross of rubber stamps to OK whatever the project's officers desire--at the expense of public enlightenment. Let's not start down that path. It's strewn with poison and leads nowhere.
For a municipal model of how to approach big projects, our council need only study a Virginia mayor--one Doug Wilder. In Richmond, when a fundraising drive for a $93 million arts center on East Broad Street stalled, Mr. Wilder asked the fundraisers to return the city's gift of downtown land. "Where can the public have any assurance their funds are being spent wisely?" he asked. Mayor Wilder also scolded the Richmond Braves--who want to move The Diamond ballpark to trendy Shockoe Bottom--for providing insufficient detail. "There is no way city officials can possibly perform due diligence based on the materials your development team has submitted," he wrote. And Hizzoner just this month threatened to sue the redeveloper of the Miller & Rhoads building, in part because the firm was late with promised documentation and wouldn't disclose a financier's identity.
Developers typically have no binding duty to serve, inform, and protect the assets of citizens. That, however, is elected officials' supreme duty. The people are your partner, partners.