Why I am running for First District City Council

Twelve years ago when I came to Richmond, I found an old city growing a new identity. With nothing but a fresh political-science degree from Virginia Tech in my pocket, I was passionate to use what I learned to help this place reach its full potential. When City Hall hired me 8 years ago, I thought I finally had my chance. Since then, I have grown a routine job into the role of Civic Innovator — taking the things that work in City Hall and putting them in your hands.

Stated simply, the things that work in City Hall are things I have brought to Richmond.

Reporting neighborhood issues to City Hall used to take several phone calls and there was a lack of accountability in getting them fixed. Across the country, cities were utilizing the power of their citizens to be the community sensors communicating needs and problems directly to City Hall. Learning from peer cities across the country, I implemented the SeeClickFix application to empower us to get directly to the people at City Hall who can fix your potholes, streetlights, trash, and overgrown lots without you having to sit on a phone forever or have to track down the right person to call in a favor. Not only did I create the interface system you see online or on your phone, I worked throughout the organization to align the resources and information needed to get the job done. I supported leadership in learning how to manage this new platform to improve the quality of life for our residents.

Richmond is an old city, and we have many areas of our city that were once vibrant active communities that are now blighted and empty. I led an internationally competitive partnership that made Richmond an IBM Smarter Cities partner to focus on improving the economic revitalization of these neighborhoods across our city. Thousands of cities applied, but it was Richmond that was one of only 100 cities around the world to partner with top IBM consultants to tackle our challenge. From start to finish, from application to managing the project, I made that happen. This project brought together every city department, over 30 businesses and non-profit organizations, and many other community leaders to share their vision and needs to improve the revitalization of our city.

Transparency, openness, and accountability are key phrases we expect our government to embody. We have seen countless examples of the opposite from City Hall. Over the past three years, I worked tirelessly to make “transparency” more than just a buzzword here in Richmond. Just last year, I led the launch of Richmond’s Open Data Portal, the first in Virginia. Now, open data may sound like a techie project (*because it is!), but I learned from cities across the nation that Open Data is the foundation for building a transparent and accountable government. For three years I navigated bureaucracy and overcame many organizational hurdles to build the momentum needed to get this project done. What Open Data gives us Richmond residents, is a place for City Hall to publish online, public information.

Have you ever seen the City’s Budget book? Even online it’s over 300 pages of a sleep inducing information. But with the open data portal, we can make available the raw data that created those pages. What that means for us, is now we can make graphs, charts, visualizations, and pictures that show us what those numbers actually mean. We can now become more informed and educated about the ways of government, seeing where our money is actually going. You can go online right now and see all the payments made by the City of Richmond to vendors. Month-by-month. It might not seem like much, but this opens the door to the public to see how City Hall works, making it accountable for your tax dollars. I had the vision, passion, and experience to get this done.

Have you ever wanted to find a good repair man, electrician, roofer, or babysitter? Our communities each have needs and have neighbors that can help and support each other. I had seen the valuable NextDoor platform at work across the country, connecting neighbors to each other to build and strengthen their community. I worked with community leaders and Richmond Police to bring this incredible resource to our community. NextDoor was eager to partner with Richmond to bring together our communities to share in our needs, answer our questions, and to improve public safety, together. Just last year, Richmond was one of the fastest growing communities in the nation. One of Richmond’s strength’s as a city, is our commitment to each other, to share in our experiences, and support each other. Bringing NextDoor as a resource to further deepen and strengthen this amazing characteristic was a fun and exciting project. If you haven’t used NextDoor, I highly recommend you go online, find your neighborhood, and create an account.

What I have come to realize, though, is that my successful projects have hit a ceiling. When the services you have been telling City Hall to fix get fixed, it’s in part because they got done through my vision and hard work. When they don’t get fixed, it’s because of exhausted resources and poor budgeting. There’s only so much that I can do as a Civic Innovator sitting where I sit now. We need someone in City Council to raise the ceiling, to build the kind of coalition that will drive more transparency and accountability, and to fix the potholes, too.

It’s time to make City Hall work “for the people, by the people, and in the 21st century.”

That is why I am running for First District City Council — to make every project in City Hall work as I have fought to make mine work.

We are tired of seeing Richmond’s great accolades and accomplishments of being a leading city in food, culture, and history, being overshadowed by headlines of our government’s dysfunction, waste, and disorder. We are an amazing city in spite of City Hall. We have the highest tax rate in the region, and its time for our city services to have the quality and value to match our costs. It’s time for a change, a new direction, a new voice of leadership. I am that voice.

The First District needs our roads to be paved, potholes filled, and sidewalks smooth. We deserve to have our trash and recycling collected on time and to have our streets clean. We need our neighborhoods to feel safe and be walkable. Our public schools need to be supported to grow into being an example across the Commonwealth for high quality education. I commit to make City Hall work as I have made it work, to improve the quality and value of our services for the First District and all Richmonders.

We need to restore our trust in City Hall. As your representative on City Council, I will continue to build upon my experience in City Hall to make government for “the people, by the people.”

Recovering bureaucrat. Pioneered as Civic Innovator. Now serving a second term on City Council in Richmond, VA. Words are my own.

Recovering bureaucrat. Pioneered as Civic Innovator. Now serving a second term on City Council in Richmond, VA. Words are my own.