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Could a true merger work?


BFG

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Would the metro government have one mayor, or would each city (borough?) keep its mayor? In NYC, you have Mayor Di Blasio, and I think each borough has a president. I could see the mayoral roles here being replaced there, and either  one mayor oversees the region, or each city's mayor makes up a council, with current council members still representing and providing input.

A larger council of seven members would at least prevent ties on votes, with an odd number.

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With regards to the idea of a metro council, I think it’s a good idea, but this very thing was in essence the outcome of Future of Hampton Roads Inc’s Regional Structure Project.
http://fhrinc.org/Sections/Publications/RegionalStructureProject/index.html

Their Report 3- Recommendations of the Regional Structure Project is well worth a read. Their main take away is that the region needs a legitimate, elected, empowered regional body to cover regional issues.

However, if this group of some 200 influential business, government, and community leaders couldn’t move the needle, I’m not sure who can. Eventually they petered out. In 2013 FHR voted to downsize into just a group of CEOs with more focus on business growth. I think they just got tired of fighting for a region that didn’t want to fight for itself.
https://pilotonline.com/inside-business/news/article_63ad0d3a-e0d7-54b7-a17f-de3da77f9d6e.html


At the same time the Regional Structure Project was at work Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim said “the surest way to kill an idea was to wrap it into a plan for regional government.”

However, here’s the really infuriating part. Later in the same interview he said “We have a truly regional economy, a regional work force, but inside of that region, we have real winners and losers depending on where certain tax producers are located, and where the lines are drawn... How do you form a strategic agenda for a region that is broken down into 16 different localities? Where are we going, and who is going to take us there. You not only have a number of local governments, but they are completely independent... As unpleasant as it seems, consolidation might be the easiest route.”
(https://www.alexmarshall.org/2007/09/24/greater-norfolk-why-not/)

So he basically says, consolidation/regional govt is probably the worst thing you can talk about around here, but also it might be the best thing available to fix our problems.

I’ll leave you with one more thought on why this won’t happen right away. David Temple’s 1972 book Merger Politics: Local Government Consolidation in Tidewater Virginia is the best study of our region’s mergers to date (except for Suffolk which was in ‘74). He wrote the conditions needed for such mergers. Here they are. Sorry for the low quality. FYI is book is at most local libraries.
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I think the key think from his list that we lack is a crisis. What prompted consolidations in a lot of places, like Jacksonville for instance, were scandals or crises. Often these only serve as the catalyst for something that already was simmering under the surface, but it finds life after a crisis. In Jacksonville, a corruption scandal that ensnared almost the entire city council precipitated a meeting of local businessmen who decided the time was right to consolidate and reform their govt. You should read about their system of organization. It is impressive. For instance they have an independent judiciary of sorts within their municipal structure that issues authoritative decisions on legal interpretation disputes, streamlining the time to resolve them vs going to court. Back to my point, no crisis here. Just slow decline or a failure to grow as fast as peers. Things aren’t great and even a crisis might only be relegated to a single city so it wouldn’t galvanize people.

The other problem I see is rampant cynicism. I think that’s what I see more than anything else. When I bring up consolidation to people, they say “the politicians will never allow it” or “it’ll never work.” Which I find fascinating given that this area saw four such mergers between 1956 and 1974. But our history of squabbling gives them lots of reasons not to expect much on this front, despite the logic of it. It’s hard to cut through cynicism.

I do think, however, there is a latent support for the idea though. For instance, in 2006 an online survey found that 72% of people supported merging the seven cities.
(https://www.dailypress.com/news/dp-xpm-20010814-2001-08-14-0108140024-story.html)

Similarly, in 2000, ODU’s state of the region report (in Part 1: the state of public opinion) noted that in their recent survey that 50.5% of respondents supported consolidation of Hampton Roads localities - and the question was if they thought all 15 cities and counties should merge! I dare say it would’ve been more if the question had been asked about merging a more practical collection of localities like the core 7 cities. (https://digitalcommons.odu.edu/sor_reports/index.2.html#year_2000)

So as I said, I think most of the public supports this or would be open to discussion about it. The problem is that they are apathetic because there isn’t a crisis to galvanize support.




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There's definitely been a little buzz on social media, even though it's mostly speculation and ideas on Instagram and Twitter. I'd love to see a serious movement happen, with pressure being placed on the local leaders and the General Assembly. Hey, it helped get a grocery store downtown, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Ikea FB page didn't help Norfolk land that particular store.

Hopefully, a movement can start that will create a truly unified region. I think people clamoring for this outside of unofficial surveys will be what it takes.

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Hey everyone, something a little different for you here. Attached are 3 screenshots of a poem I wrote last week about the unification/consolidation of Hampton Roads.

I thought that this might be a way to get people to think about this issue, while also (hopefully) being entertained. What I’ve attached is a draft so it may get a few minor changes still, but I think it’s about as it will look in its final form. Although I recognize it does need to be shorter.

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Ultimately, this will likely become a submission for WHRO’s “Writer’s Block”, a local radio program that showcases musicians, storytellers, poets, and spoken word artists from Hampton Roads (via public performances that are recorded, edited, and played at a later date). I’ve read some work for them before and hopefully this will make the cut as well.

I got the idea to do this after remembering an 1887 poem called “One Civic System” by George Nowitsky. (If anyone wants to read it, let me know and I’ll send it to you) Anyway, I hope you enjoy. If you have any feedback, I’m happy to hear it.

And if you want it read by someone famous, like Morgan Freeman or Michael Caine, look at a picture of them first, then read it. You’ll hear it in their voice in your head. So that’s fun.



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  • 4 weeks later...

I doupt we will ever see any city in hampton roads merge in our lifetime, and thats considering that some people using this forum are pretty young. It would be like asking people who dont see eye to eye, to undergo an opperation to become conjoined. The big barrier to regionalism in HR is the fact that cities came into existence in what can best be described as farmland simply to avoid becoming part of Norfolk. If you drive to sandbridge(VB), or hickory(Chesipeake); they dont even feel like part of there respective cities. With that being said, we should still do as much as we can to unify the seven cities, as there's great rewards to reap, that far outweigh any disadvantages. One weird thing about Virginia that sets it apart from other states is that many of the large cities opperate as there own counties. In other states, you have both a city goverment, and a county government. The best thing to do in the case of Hampton roads is to establish a large county that covers multiple cities. The county can take care of regional issues like police, emergency services, utilities, schools, public transit, and highways, etc. While city goverments can still operate, and may choose to eliminate redundant services to save money. This may never happen, but its the most relistic scenario I can think of. Maby some day generations in the future; politicians, and voters will have a differant mindset, and we may see some cities merge, but I just dont see it happening anytime soon. 

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  • 1 month later...

More real world proof of the benefits of consolidation.

Daily Press: While mired in investigations and death, Hampton Roads Regional Jail's board fought against change
https://www.dailypress.com/news/southside/dp-nws-regional-jail-investigation-0411-story.html

Quotation about the regional jail:
“With responsibility dissipated through the multi-member board, there is no one elected official accountable for what happens there.
‘If everyone is in charge, then no one is in charge,’ said Michelle Deitch, a jail oversight expert and senior lecturer at the LBJ School and the School of Law at The University of Texas at Austin.”

Contrast it with this statement about the consolidated city of Jacksonville:

Tale of two mergers: Jacksonville - The Gainesville Sun
https://www.gainesville.com/news/20080512/tale-of-two-mergers-jacksonville

Excerpt from the article:
“Mullaney said much of Jacksonville’s success in consolidating lies in its decision to create a strong-mayor form of government in which the mayor is essentially the executive director of the whole county.
Rinaman said the accountability that form of government created has been the most important benefit of consolidation.
‘Not having responsibility spread all over the countryside is probably the key achievement,’ Rinaman said. ‘The mayor is responsible for just about everything, and is therefore more responsive. If something goes right or wrong, there’s no question about which governmental body is to blame.’”


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I think our biggest hurdle would be merging two or more cities, and their individual governments. If VB were still Princess Anne County, it would be another story, but Norfolk deserves blame as well for getting greedy with the land grabs in the 50s. A consolidation with PA or Norfolk County still would've worked in the region's favor.

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Thanks. That’s very kind.

I agree that it’s fun to sort of wonder what we’d look like if Norfolk had continued to grow south and east while Portsmouth grew south and west. I think we’d have like a Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex happening, at least on the southside.

I think it’s interesting that even the City Manager of VB in 1969, the city that only 7 yrs prior to this had consolidated w/PA county to stop Norfolk’s growth, predicted that we’d be a single consolidated city by now.

From his letter that was put in a time capsule:
“I believe that the Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach cities will be merged into one city called “Tidewater” with a population of more than four million people.”

https://pilotonline.com/news/local/history/article_3ac3fad4-0700-53c2-8230-59f3186d6d41.html


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Politically, I think it actually benefits Richmond to play the Hampton Roads cities against each other.  Richmond, as a city, not the state gov. can compete more easily against an individual city like Norfolk, than an entire metro area of almost 2 million.  And the two areas are so close that companies must look at both all the time. 

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  • 3 weeks later...

Until you can convince Virginia Beach that a merger with less prosperous and less economically-diversified entities (Norfolk, Portsmouth) is in that city's self-interest, nothing will ever happen.

Of the seven cities, a merger of Chesapeake and VB would be the most likely thing to occur, as they are the most "alike," but of course it won't happen because neither one truly needs the other to prosper at this point.

We all know who needs who around here.

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I think that all the merger talk is a non starter. It will never happen. What I can see happening one day is a reconstitution of the County system, where certain services will be pooled and we have an elected county board. Either that, or we could go to a borough system like New York.

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I know they're focusing on a regional nickname, but hopefully the Chamber needs to work on doing just that, finding a way to work closer. I think the borough system works easier, but with a regional government, a "super council" if you will. Elected officials including mayors stay in place, but maybe with new titles.

If we want to merge with RVA, we need to get our house in order and bring some unity to the table and not look dysfunctional.

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20 hours ago, vdogg said:

I think that all the merger talk is a non starter. It will never happen. What I can see happening one day is a reconstitution of the County system, where certain services will be pooled and we have an elected county board. Either that, or we could go to a borough system like New York.

Agreed. It's all about self interest, or more precisely stated, perceived self interest. 

On 5/7/2019 at 2:05 PM, Arctic_Tern said:

The two that need to be consolidated are Norfolk and Virginia Beach, as they are the two power players of the area. That is also why it is going to be so challenging to consolidate them, because neither is going to want to give up their power.

Norfolk is just not as "powerful" as it once was. Even when compared with fairly recently. 

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  • 4 weeks later...

The easy solution would be for the metro to create a metro government that oversees metro issues. Basically it would be Metro council members that the whole metro vote on or even city representative members where each city votes for their own metro member that would sit on the council. 

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  • 2 weeks later...
The easy solution would be for the metro to create a metro government that oversees metro issues. Basically it would be Metro council members that the whole metro vote on or even city representative members where each city votes for their own metro member that would sit on the council. 

The problem is that there is essentially no provision in VA law for this type of thing. It’s one of the state’s serious shortcomings and people have been writing about it for decades. It’s why consolidation gets brought up over and over again. Many if not most would prefer a metro approach to full consolidation but since that’s not available our options are: continue to flounder and lag other regions or consolidate.

And before anyone says “HRPDC”, I’ll just say that HRPDC is an advisory body. They have virtually no authority to compel the localities to abide by the plans they come up with. And that is by law. You can’t just “make HRPDC stronger” without a general assembly vote.

In short, our state is woefully equipped to deal with regional issues or action.


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The easy solution would be for the metro to create a metro government that oversees metro issues. Basically it would be Metro council members that the whole metro vote on or even city representative members where each city votes for their own metro member that would sit on the council. 

One other point. This is basically what I and many others mean when we talk about consolidation. The new city’s charter would just have to be written so that there is a metro council and each borough would have its own council and even mayor(NYC does it this way).

Then citizen-level services (fixing pot holes, dog catchers, building permits, etc) stay at the borough level but the big picture, strategic, long term stuff like transportation, land use planning, and big infrastructure projects, happen at the metro level.

Besides consolidating and writing a charter with this system in it, there’s really not another way to organize it this way.

It’s also worth noting that Suffolk, VB, and Chesapeake all have boroughs today for this reason: consolidation without preserving the existing communities is unpopular and seen as “wiping them out”.

I guess I’m basically saying that I agree with you.


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So revising the idea of my original post, let's go with the idea of a Hampton Roads Metro Council (HRMC). This board would be comprised of the current seven mayors, seven vice mayors, and two to four council members from each city.

14 mayors/vice mayors
VB: 4 members
Norfolk, Chesapeake, Hampton: 3 apiece
Newport News, Portsmouth, Suffolk: 2 apiece

That makes a total of 33 members. By comparison, Nashville, a market slightly smaller than ours, has 40, with five at-large seats, and 35 district. Maybe make the seven mayoral positions at-large seats, then the remaining 26 district seats. Out of the group of seven, elect one interim mayor and vice mayor.

In addition, current council members would continue to serve in a similar capacity.

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