Sustained Outrage

In reading the Brookings report “MetroNation: How U.S. Metropolitan Areas Fuel Prosperity” and writing Wednesday’s summary of it, one question kept bugging me:

brookings3.JPGWhich comes first, metro prosperity or metro government?

Several of the metropolitan areas cited in the report have merged governments or functions. Metro government proponents in Kanawha County cite this report in support of merging governments into a metro system here.

The report clearly spells out that metropolitan areas, no matter their form of government, have urban centers whose economic fortunes are intertwined with their surrounding areas. Metro areas parlay innovation, human capital and infrastructure into more opportunities, employment and wealth.

But does that mean if you form a merged metropolitan government, prosperity will follow?

I asked the report’s author Alan Berube, senior fellow and research director at Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program, in short, if economic prosperity is the cause of metro government rather than the result? Here’s his answer:

 “I think your inclination is correct — creating a metro government in Charleston will not magically produce the collection of underlying economic assets that make large metropolitan areas such powerful players in the national and global economy — innovative firms, educated and skilled workers, modern and efficient infrastructure, high-quality sustainable places.

“Yet you shouldn’t overlook the outsized economic contribution that the Charleston region already makes in the WV context.  As the largest metropolitan area in the state (and the 147th largest in the nation), the Charleston, WV MSA contains 17% of the state’s population, 20% of the state’s jobs, and generates almost 24% of the state’s GDP.  So like most metro areas, Charleston already “punches above its weight.” (See here for stats)  Note that this represents the contribution of the whole metro area: Kanawha County plus Boone, Clay, Lincoln and Putnam counties.

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The case for nurturing metropolitan areas

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The map above is from “MetroNation: How U.S. Metropolitan Areas Fuel American Prosperity,” a2007 report by Brookings’  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.

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Metro government: Forum Q and A

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 also  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.  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.

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Metro government will draw jobs. Seriously?

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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.

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frankmullens.jpgSouth Charleston Mayor Frank Mullens is the second Kanawha County elected official to answer our question: “When you imagine metro government, what do you see?” Mullens was elected mayor in 2007. He started working for the city as a lifeguard in 1982 at age 19. He attended West Virginia State College, sold real estate for a time and worked his way up to city public works director in 1992. South Charleston was established in 1906 and incorporated in 1919. The city has about 12,000 people

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.

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Metro government: The view from Chesapeake

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.

bradshaw21.JPGThe first one is Damron Bradshaw, mayor of Chesapeake since 1991. He previously served on the town council and as town recorder. He is executive director of the Upper Kanawha Valley Enterprise Community, pastor of the Racine United Methodist Church and worked for 32 years at Dupont. Chesapeake has about 1,600 residents. It was incorporated on Nov. 1, 1948 and is named for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway.

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.  But, the big thing is, “How will the unincorporated areas perceive metro government as it relates to them?”

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Metro government: What’s the process?

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 pass  resolutions for a metro consolidation.

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Jerry Abramson, mayor of Louisville-Jefferson County, Ky., visited Charleston this week to answer questions and share his experience of abram2_i090708195111.jpgconsolidating 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. 

Charleston City Council‘s 27 members (if you count Mayor Danny Jones) gather Monday, June 15, for their bimonthly meeting.

Lots of items on the agenda. One bill coming out of the Urban Renewal Committee would allow bed and breakfast establishments in single-family residential neighborhoods, like the Proposed Carriage Trail Bed & Breakfast on Bridge Roadproposed Carriage Trail Bed & Breakfast on Bridge Road (pictured). In fact, the bill was introduced specifically for this project, although it applies to all B&Bs in R-2 and R-4 districts.

Unfortunately (for the owners), Mark and Marta Snapp failed to obtain a conditional use permit they need from the Board of Zoning Appeals on Thursday, as I wrote about, so the bill is sort of moot for now. The Snapps vow to push on, however.

Just about all of the other business before council will be weighed earlier by members of the Finance Committee, and generally any debate takes place in Finance, not City Council. So you may want to show up for this 6:15 p.m. meeting.

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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.

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