La La Land!
Candidates at a forum sponsored by the Virginia Beach Restaurant Association Monday responded to questions from the group as though they lived on different planets.
Mayor Meyera Oberndorf, Councilwomen Margaret Eure and Rosemary Wilson had the 'rose-colored you ought to be thankful you have such a wonderful government glasses' on.
Unopposed candidates Reba McClanan and Harry Diezel acknowledged that challengers had brought up significant issues, some of them true.
Mayoral candidate Al Wallace, said one attendee, reminded him of 'a disoriented Saturday Night Live comedian newscaster in trying to answer one question by asking another, such as "The Pavilion sits empty most of the time and they are building a newer bigger one, 'Will it sit empty?'"
Mayoral candidate Robert K. Dean, activated the approximately 75-100 people, by ticking off 1-by-1 the misdeeds of the city from its $11 MILLION 'field of weeds' - the unused Sportsplex - to the parking garage the city is building for the taxpayer subsidized 31st Street Hotel where each parking spot available for use by the general public will cost more than $50,847 per spot to the tax subsidized Towne Center.
Richard "RK" Kowalewitch, at large candidate running against Wilson, and Bob Dyer, running against Eure, joined Dean & Wallace in opposing any additional increases in the city's 10% meal tax.
Dean has said that he not only opposes new taxes, but will seek to reduce the meal tax to 5%. He explained that by the time diners buy a meal, pay a 10% meal tax, and then a 10-15% gratuity, up to 25% of their bill is in tax and gratuity.
It's a lie that tourists spend the most on meals. Virginia Beach citizens spend the money, Dean has said. "The tax hits our citizens the hardest. We have the 6th highest meal tax in the entire nation. And I did the study that reported this."
None of the challenged incumbents disputed any of the facts or statements of Dean, Kowalewitch, Dyer, or even McClanan
Wallace said that part of the meal tax is used to finance the Tourisism Growth Investment Fund (TGIF). He said, "We could increase other taxes to fund TGIF instead of the meal tax."
Dean, co-founder of the Axe the Tax and the successful campaign in opposition to the 22% transportation sales tax hike referendum (which failed 68-32%), said he opposes all increased taxation.
He noted that his opponent Oberndorf, who has voted for every tax hike during her 28 years on city council, had recently returned from a meeting of the Mayors and Chairs in Richmond and announced support of Gov. Warner's historic tax hike proposal.
One attendee noted that it was funny how every one of the incumbents had supported the last hike in the meal tax, but all say they won't support any additional increases.
When asked their opinions on pubic/private partnerships where the government subsidizes private enterprise to compete against other city businesses, the candidates again gave different planet answers.
Wilson said some such PPPs are OK; Kowalewitch opposed any form that would pit government against its own citizens for projects; McClanan noted they should be used as the last resort to development; Oberndorf has long been a cheerleader for all taxpayer subsidized projects in the city; Eure said she wasn't on council when the 31st Street project was done, but she supports it now; Dyer said, "it depends on how much of our (citizens) future we want to mortgage; Diezel said they are questionable, but must benefit the citizens if done; and Dean launched into a recitation of projects - all of which he said were bad for the citizens and bad for the city.
Even McClanan said that some of the current PPPs the city is engaged in 'has some future surprises coming."
Dean said there are reports of significant cost overruns on the 31st Street and Towne Center deal. In addition, he said the contractor on the $220 MILLION convention center was working without a signed contract until just recently. Dean said the cost overrun on that project will be so great that it will not be paid off in 100 years.
Eure said that because of state budget problems, PPPs are sometimes the only way to fund development projects the city needs.
To which Dean retorted, "There is no state budget deficit."
The city isn't using tax monies for which they are appropriated. He said the most recent cigarette tax hike was supposed to fund new radios for the fire department. He said he learned last week that the radios were bought out of the general fund. When the department asked for distribution of the tax monies, they were told it was being used for something else. "You," Dean said, addressing the association, "were duped."
Tax dollars, he said, were used in a PPP to build the parking garage @ Lynnhaven Mall. The mall, he said, was owned by Simon Corp., owners of the biggest malls in the United States. "Don't you think that if they wanted a parking garage, they wouldn't need tax dollars to build it?"
Virginia Beach put up $22 MILLION tax dollars to build the Amphitheater while in northern Virginia the same company, Cellar Door Productions, built a like facility without tax dollars.
And the city has more than 20 lawyers on staff and yet it hires outside lawyers to do city work for $250/hour.
"Right now," Dean said, "the city has $1.1 BILLION of capital projects underway" in criticizing again the fact the council circumvented the City Charter and the citizens by getting the Economic Development Authority to sell $327 MILLION in bonds for city projects. "In it was Enron type maneuver by the city," Dean said. The charter limits the sale of bonds to $10 million unless approved by a citizen referendum. Wilson had said at a previous meeting the city did it that way because it needed the money and the public probably wouldn't approve a referendum.
The whole sordid operation of the city, Dean and Kowalewitch said, has left the public not trusting its government. And the whole campaign, Dean said, is about "TAXES, TAXES, TAXES."
He and Kowalewitch both charged that City Mis-Manager Jim Spore is acting as the de facto mayor out promoting his budget to the public and assuming powers and authority he isn't supposed to have. "The staff has taken over setting policy instead of council and 'all this nonsense, when I'm elected mayor, will come to a screeching halt," Dean said.
Wilson agreed Spore had made mistakes and taken charge, but was easily reined back in by the council. McClanan, however, admitted Spore is still acting as the 12th member of council.
Kowalewitch said Spore was involving himself in rogue deals and "I've seen the check" referring to an ocean front deal Spore unsuccessfully tried to ram through the council.