© 2019 Thad Williamson. Authorized and Paid For By Thad Williamson For Richmond City Council.

  • Thad Williamson

Doing the Work of City Council, 1/4: Responsiveness to Residents

When I announced I was considering running for Richmond City Council in early May, I pledged I would listen to 5th District constituents closely concerning what kind of Council member they wish to see serve them. In this series of posts, I lay out both how I plan to do the job of serving on City Council and why I am uniquely qualified to be effective in each aspect of the role from day one.

The job of serving on City Council involves four main areas:

· Responsiveness to Residents

· Policy Making and the Budget Process

· Holding the City Administration Accountable

· Being Present and Accessible in the Community

All are important to 5th District residents and the City as a whole, and I am prepared and willing to do the work necessary to be successful in each part of the job.

In this post we’ll focus on the most fundamental part of the job: being responsive to constituents and the community.

Responsiveness to Residents and the Community

Residents look to their City Council representative to be their liaison with city government. This means helping explain what’s going on, it means listening to complaints, it means finding out answers, and it means thinking through how to get a problem solved when nothing else has worked.

Here’s how I will go about this aspect of the job.

First, I will be accessible: by email, by telephone (I’ll make my cell number public the first day in office), by Facebook messaging, and in person via walk-in community office hours and appointment. 5th District residents will know how to reach me.

Second, I will work proactively to help residents understand what’s going on at City Hall—both the day-to-day and the big picture.

I think it’s important that residents understand what their City agencies do and how they do it, and I think it’s important that the agencies interact with citizens on a regular basis.

That’s why, in addition to holding regular District-wide meetings and community office hours, I also will work with the administration and other Council members to create a “Citizens Academy”: an opportunity for citizens to take a deeper dive into the work of City Hall, in regular gatherings over the course of the year.

At each session, I will invite one or more agency directors to visit the 5th District and share what they are doing with citizens. Over the course of each year, we’ll make sure that the key jobs of our City Government—Human Services, Public Safety, Economic Development and Planning, Community Wealth Building, Operations (including Public Works), and Finance & Administration are represented in these discussions with citizens.

I don’t want the Citizens Academy to be “dog & pony shows” with canned information. Instead, I want them to be real dialogue that goes deep into the work our city agencies do while getting real feedback from citizens on that work. We’ll also be sure to invite representatives from key partner agencies of the City such as RPS, RRHA and GRTC on at least an annual basis.

Third, I will share information about what’s going at City Hall proactively with citizens: through the District Newsletter, through social media, through announcements during Council meetings, through District-wide meetings, and through visiting neighborhood association meetings.

Fourth, I will work with my Council Liaison to respond to questions and complaints as quickly as possible, in a professional and helpful manner. We will acknowledge every communication in a reasonable time frame, and if we can’t provide an immediate response to your question we’ll let you know and then follow up when we have the needed information.

We’ll work to help residents navigate the systems to get needs addressed in a timely way. We will encourage residents to use the established reporting systems for routine problems, but when that doesn’t work we’ll take the issue to the administration directly. I also will push the administration to address issues and shortcomings in the 311 system, and I will prioritize funding and staffing for this critical function at budget time.

Finally, speaking of liaisons, the 5th District has been exceptionally well-served by Council Liaison Amy Robins, who is deeply knowledgeable about the district’s needs as well as the workings of city government. If elected, my first call the morning after the election will be to Ms. Robins to ask her to continue in the position and work with me to serve the 5th District.

Coming Next: Policy Making and the Budget Process