Charlottesville City Councilor Rob Schilling announced his bid for re-election today from the steps of Clark Elementary School. Despite fears of snow and chilly temperatures, the weather cooperated nicely with bright blue, sunny skies and only some gusty breezes to remind the crowd that it is, indeed, midwinter.
Schilling was joined at the podium by his wife, Joan, and their 2-year-old son, Gabriel, who punctuated his father's remarks with calls for "Daddy, Daddy!" almost as enthusiastically as the three dozen or so Schilling supporters did with their applause and cheers.
Councilor Schilling's re-election web site is now up and running at www.schillingforcouncil.com. The web site makes it easier for supporters to contribute money to the campaign, volunteer to help, and to request yard signs.
Here are the remarks delivered by Rob Schilling this morning at Clark Elementary School:
Good morning and welcome, friends and supporters.
I’d like to thank all of you for attending this event. I’d especially like to thank my wife, Joan for her ongoing encouragement and support during the ups and downs of public service.
Let me get right to the point: Today, I am announcing my candidacy for re-election to the Charlottesville City Council.
For the past four years, it has been my honor and my privilege to serve this community. In service, I have striven to be a voice of reason, a voice of common sense, an open ear and an open mind – a councilor with a willingness to respectfully hear all points of view.
First, I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss things that have transpired over the past four years of my service to you.
Elected school board
Four years ago, I championed your right to have greater input and accountability in educational policy—I advocated for an elected school board. Together with Jeffrey Rossman and a large bipartisan group of community supporters, we accomplished what many said was impossible to do in Charlottesville. Working cooperatively, like-minded Democrats, Independents, and Republicans successfully removed the power of appointment from the powerful few and entrusted School Board representation decisions to you. While 80% of city council opposed an elected school board, nearly 75% of you, the public, supported the change. I congratulate you on your opportunity to vote for your first elected school board members on May 2.
Four years ago, I promised you that I would work hard to bring fiscal responsibility to city government. It has been an uphill battle, but I’ve made inroads into the “spend every cent you get” mentality that has been running rampant in city hall for too long. By speaking forcefully against “business as usual” budgeting, a city council, which had shown no inclination otherwise, has been pressed into reducing the property tax rate by a cumulative 8 cents during my first term on council. That amount of property tax rate reductions had not been seen in the previous twenty years, and is no coincidence to my 2002 election. A lone yet strong voice, with a little help from his friends, can really make a difference in city hall.
Four years ago, I pledged that in my service to you, I would maintain an open door, open mind and open ear policy when dealing with citizen concerns. Unfortunately, too many people in this community, have felt that the doors to city hall have been “closed,”—or at least have not been open in a welcoming manner to citizens’ needs and concerns.
Sadly, this situation had caused many people across this community to simply give up hope of having a voice in their own government. Such a situation was and is intolerable. Whenever possible, I’ve spent the past four years befriending and assisting people of all political affiliations in resolving their issues with city government. I’m grateful for the countless messages of appreciation regarding the ways that I’ve been of help to help residents. The citizens of Charlottesville know that they can trust me to be respectful of them and responsive to their concerns. They know that I’ve stood with them, rather than blindly defending city hall or city staff decisions. I’m humbled that so many of you have trusted me to be your troubleshooter and “voice” inside city hall.
Many of you are personally aware that portions of our city infrastructure are literally falling apart. From sidewalks to streets, from buildings to bricks, the problems we face, and the expenses we’ll incur to repair and maintain our infrastructure investments, are enormous.
For some time now, city officials have pursued a policy of “buying new things and worrying about the old things later.” The massive, $10 million dollar transit center (that already is $4 million dollars over budget) is a good example of wasteful spending on what could have been a well-implemented and far less expensive structure. The $3 million dollar “investment” of your tax dollars into the downtown amphitheater, without proactive and appropriate planning for noise and traffic issues is another example of mis-prioritized spending. During my four years on council I’ve repeatedly called upon the city to reprogram dollars away from potentially nice but strictly unnecessary projects and toward those areas of the city requiring immediate attention. While we’ve had some successes here, there is no excuse other than overall poor planning to justify the current condition of our valuable infrastructure.
While together, we’ve accomplished so many of the things we envisioned four years ago, there still is much left to do.
This community is in the process of transitioning to an elected school board—it is critical when making any change in a system that there be advocates within, who fully support the changes to be made. I am the only candidate (and only city councilor) who publicly supported making the change to an elected school board. My continued presence on city council provides genuine support and trusted guidance throughout the transition.
City council has the power to decide how school board members will be elected. It is imperative that school board members are elected in a manner that encourages full citizen participation—and in a way that provides the type of broad representation that the citizens of this community deserve. As your city councilor for the next four years, I won’t give up until we have achieved a system of school board elections that benefits all members of the public, and not just the interests of a powerful few.
Cost of Living
Affordable housing is a topic on everyone’s lips; however, more than just the initial cost of housing is a problem. It has become a challenge, particularly for low- and moderate-ncome families and, those on fixed incomes, to live affordably in Charlottesville. Even if a person has managed to purchase a home here, there are constant, debilitating tax and fee increases, year after year.
Escalating property assessments, and accompanying taxes, are burdens shared by homeowners and renters alike. I continue to receive messages from many who are distressed by the latest real estate assessments. This year, citywide assessment increases are around 18%. This is on top of the roughly 15% annual assessment increases levied over each of the past several years.
Many residents are fearful that they’ll be forced out of their homes by high tax bills and, rents continue to rise in response to increased assessments. Some wonder how they’ll continue to make ends meet. And there are many, many others who just don’t know what to do, short of leaving their homes and moving out of the city.
Something can, and must be done about residents’ double-digit annual tax increases, and council has the power to reduce the property tax rate to compensate for soaring assessments.
For years, city council has ridden the comfortable cushion of rising assessments, placing the blame on state and federal governments for our own lack of fiscal discipline.
Each time the issue of fiscal discipline is raised, there is a threat of “service cuts”—however, the threat of cuts rings hollow when your taxes have skyrocketed each year, yet your city services still have been cut or diminished each year.
And, perhaps you didn’t know about the city’s best kept secret: Charlottesville finished last year with a $3.2 million dollar budget surplus. Unfortunately, it already has been spent.
City government must approach its budget in a way that encourages affordable living for ALL residents. I’ve worked for property tax rate cuts and budget reform each year of my council tenure, and we’ve achieved a cumulative 8-cent reduction, but that is not enough. I am the only voice on city council who you can reliably trust to stand up and demand accountability for government spending and to fight for equitable property tax rate reductions. As your city councilor I will continue to work to implement fiscally responsible and disciplined budgeting processes for the next four years.
There are so many other problems and issues that face our community, and together, we will continue to work on them.
While some students receive a world-class education in our city schools, unfortunately many students currently are not realizing their full potential. As your city councilor I will continue to support measures designed to increase the achievement of ALL children. Specifically, I’m calling for a greater collaboration with the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, to help us implement, proven, research-based initiatives to eliminate the long-standing achievement gap. We have expertise in our own backyard, which we have not fully utilized.
As a former classroom teacher, I know the value of a well-trained and well-supported educator in every classroom. During the next four years I’ll continue to look for ways to work with the school board to ensure that more resources find their way into our classrooms rather than into Central Office administration.
Overall, for the nearly $13,000 we spend on each student annually, we can and must do better.
No city can be called “number 1 or “orld-class” unless its citizens are safe within its boundaries. While we face many challenges in this community, our fine public safety agencies are working hard, night and day, to ensure our collective wellbeing. However, we do have issues with recruitment and retention, especially in our Police Department. The city council needs to realize that a safe community is a top priority and prioritize its budget accordingly. As your city councilor I will continue to support the efforts of our public safety personnel.
One of my colleagues recently lamented my tenure on council and made specific reference to “the politics of ‘no.’” Well, as we’ve all seen, some things are such a bad idea that the only correct answer IS no. But there have been a lot of “yeses” on my part – for the right things and for the right reasons, as I saw them.
I want to thank all of you who entrusted me with your vote in 2002. Those in this community, who are challenged by my presence, by my questions, and by my loyalties to the public over the power structure, have targeted me for removal, but I’m confident, that together, we will prevail.
I welcome the support of all of you in my re-election —Democrats, Independents, and Republicans—who have trusted me and relied upon me these last four years to be your eyes, ears, and voice inside city hall. I know that with your help, and your vote, we will again secure a victory for the people of Charlottesville on May 2.
I look forward to another four years of service to this community. Thank You.