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The map above is from “MetroNation: How U.S. Metropolitan Areas Fuel American Prosperity,” a2007 report by Brookings’Â Metropolitan Policy Program. It shows the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas by employment in 2005. Note the conspicuous lack of dots anywhere in West Virginia.
State Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, cites this report support of forming a metro government for Charleston and Kanawha County, something he has been talking about for years.
At a July 8 forum on metro government featuring Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, Kanawha residents submitted questions to be answered later. Below are answers provided by Kanawha County Commission staff. The county has alsoÂ posted them on the county’s web site.
Metro Government Forum Questions
1. Will each council representative have equal voice – one vote per representative? Or would it be based on population?
The council representatives will be elected in districts that would be established based on equal populations. Thus, each vote will represent about the same number of people.Â The size of the district will be decided via the Charter Review Committee that will be appointed once a resolution is passed by the Commission and City of Charleston or a petition is signed by 25% of the voters of Kanawha County and 25% of the voters of the City of Charleston requesting that Metro Government be evaluated.
Metro government supporters routinely say that a new consolidated government would make Kanawha County more attractive to corporations looking for new locations. Skeptics shake their heads. Kanawha has about 190,000 people, including 50,000 in Charleston. Redrawing lines on a map or redesigning local government won’t suddenly add thousands of irresistible skilled workers or fix any other problems that turn business off.
True, says Matt Ballard, president and CEO of Charleston Area Alliance. But he believes metro government really could make Kanawha County more attractive to corporations.
“Large businesses do hire site consultants,” Ballard said. “They come back with a short list of sites that meet certain criteria.” Companies are usually looking for two main things — infrastructure and population of a certain size, enough to provide a good workforce.
So, for example, if that consultant makes a list of all the metropolitan statistical areas of 250,000 anchored by a principal city, no place in West Virginia makes the cut.
A vision of metro government
By Frank Mullens
Mayor of South Charleston
Vision on Metro Government. I guess it is simply that a principle City (Charleston) would be the major identity of the County and the major decision maker. Even though the supporters say there would be no change in how smaller Cities function, I don’t believe that would be the case and certainly not in the long run.
The argument that every City would have representation which gives them a voice just doesn’t hold water. The voice would be small and ineffective. The people serving now will not be the people serving 10 or 20 years from now, so who’s to say where the power structure would go? Here in South Charleston, I believe we have an efficient and effective government, the best services in the State, and the City is financially strong. Why would we change? Our services are very personalized, and I believe if we merge services it would take away that special personalized touch.
There are many questions that need to be answered and some comments that just do not make sense. The discussions have been very generic. Comments such as more efficient and effective government lack detail. A great question would be “What service that the City of South Charleston provides now would a Metro Government provide better and how?” There have been many comments made that a Metro Government would be more cost effective by sharing resources or services. While there may be some, which needs to be explained in more detail, many of these things I would contend could be done now without the formalization of a Metro Government ( 911, Metro Drug Unit). There is also evidence that sharing cost for bulk buying does not always save money.
Some time ago, while listening to an argument about metro government, it occurred to me that no two people I ever met seemed to mean the exact same thing when they used the term. So, we asked several Kanawha County elected officials to write down for us in their own words precisely what they see when they imagine some future metro government in the county.
How do I see metro government?
By Damron Bradshaw
Mayor of Chesapeake
My vision of metro government in the sense of Charleston-Kanawha County is truly akin to what I saw when I twice visited Louisville, Ky. Being mayor of one of the small towns in the Upper Kanawha Valley, I see a metro government that does not take away the autonomy of the towns. The towns do not change their structured form of government, but besides that have a representative to the new metro government.
If the 190,000 inhabitants of Kanawha Valley are evenly divided by population and each “new district” has representation to the metro government, then I think that there is equal representation. I see a diversity of representatives by race, age and gender coming together for the good of all.Â But, the big thing is, “How will the unincorporated areas perceive metro government as it relates to them?”
At Kanawha County’s request, the Legislature this year changed the state code so that Kanawha County needs only a simple majority of affected voters (anything over 50 percent) to consolidate governments.
The law lists three possible versions of consolidated government. One is the consolidation of two or more counties. Another is the consolidation of two or more cities or towns. The third variety, the one most talked about in Kanawha County right now, is called a metro consolidation in state law and is the consolidation of one or more counties with a principal city.
So, how do you actually go about creating a new government? You can read Chapter 7A of state for yourself. Here are the steps for a metro consolidation (the details vary somewhat for the other two kinds) listed in the law:
Step 1 — To get the process started, at least 25 percent of the registered voters of each affected principal city and county (excluding the principal city) sign a petition in support of a metro consolidation, or the affected principal city and county passÂ resolutions for a metro consolidation.
Jerry Abramson, mayor of Louisville-Jefferson County, Ky., visited Charleston this week to answer questions and share his experience of consolidating government in 2000 (after 40 years of debate). Abramson was mayor of the old city of Louisville and was then re-elected countywide after the merger.
Staff writer Rusty Marks covered Wednesday’s public meeting at the University of Charleston.
Abramson also sat down with us at the Gazette for about 45 minutes and talked about savings under the metro government, preserving the county’s 80 suburban towns, representation, interacting with new business, working with the county school system, volunteer and paid fire departments and more. You can listen to Abramson’s comments here.Â
Charleston City Council meets Monday evening, June 1, to consider another two weeks’ worth of city business.
But for a better glimpse behind the scenes, come to the meeting of council’s Finance Committee immediately beforehand. Most of the items on the agenda for City Council are money-related, and will be taken up first by Finance. Typically, any debate on these issues will take place at the Finance meeting, not City Council.