Do You Know About The Corruption In Your Local Government?
I’m going to let you in on a little secret that many people overlook: most of the things that affect us in this country are because of state and local action, not federal action. Because of our layered system of government, most things that directly affect us come from the lower levels of government, despite the fact we tend to focus on what’s happening at the federal level.
In the past couple of years, I have begun to realize this, and have begun to take a more vested interest in issues at the state and local level. As I’ve paid attention to these issues, and a little bit less to things at the federal level, I have realized the importance of things at these lower levels.
One of my most recent lessons learned came from a city council meeting in the city of Virginia Beach where I attended to speak against a proposed taxpayer-funded plan to build a concrete pier costing $25 million. The pier would then be leased out to businesses after construction.
Normally, a proposal like this would not be something that would get people in a tizzy. However, this city council has a long history of proposing projects, keeping quiet about the details of them, and then when the public finally hears about the idea, the governing majority denies any allegations of cronyism and secret dealings, and asks us to just trust them on it.
There have been many of these kinds of projects, one of them being a light rail project, which would have extended a small rail system from our neighboring city of Norfolk, Virginia several miles to town center in Virginia Beach. It would have required hundreds of millions of dollars to finance, all from taxpayer money, of course.
The problem is that the existing light rail system next door is losing money because of a lack of ridership. Money is being diverted from schools, which are now failing their students, to subsidize this train. Yet the Virginia Beach City Council wanted to extend that failing system in our city and blatantly disregarded existing problems with it. Thankfully, it was voted down in a referendum, and is off the table … for now.
Additionally, there was a proposal to build an arena somewhere in the city that would, hypothetically, attract a professional sports team to our area. But getting details of the project was difficult at best, and there was no known demand for an arena in the city, aside from what the city council’s majority claimed.
The arena deal did not come to fruition, as the city and the developer could not reach an agreement on it. However, the developer is now bringing a $140 million lawsuit against the city for failing to live up to its end of the agreement. It may not actually reach a trial court, but it is entirely likely that the city government will simply settle out of court for somewhere near $50 million.
Yet the city council’s governing majority, right in line with historic trends, is proposing another taxpayer funded project that is not a genuine demand of the free market, but a creation of the permanent political class in this area.
Many residents spoke against this pier project, only a few in favor, and many of those speaking in favor had some sort of business interest in building the pier. But the majority of the speakers told the council to reject his proposal, and instead to address real and pressing issues (major flooding being one of them).
Despite this opposition, the proposal is likely to move forward thanks to the benefits that many on the council will likely gain with this project. Many members of the council have real estate or banking interests, and stand to profit from more development at the Oceanfront. But their gain will be built on the backs of taxpayers while many of those taxpayers continue to drown in floodwaters during rainstorms.
As time has progressed, I’ve taken more of an interest in what is happening in my home town, and I am seeing an ugly underbelly, one that is riddled with cronyism and secret dealings. This is an election year, and six of the 11 council members are up for reelection. Based on a long series of abuses, a systemic, habitual, disregard for the real needs of the city, I’ve come to realize that the time has come for serious action to oust incumbents who have demonstrated that they don't really care about the residents.
I bet that in your town or city or county, there may be similar issues, where developers or bankers with deep pockets collude with the local government to enrich themselves on the backs of taxpayers. It’s far more widespread than you may realize.
Are you willing to take a more vested interest in your local government? I sure hope so.