Chesterfield’s Bon Air library also serves Richmonders in South Side.Photo by Isaac Harrell
For all its public bickering over big-ticket, marquee projects, the region's localities, believe it or not, do work together in many quiet ways, such as providing the Virginia Department of Transportation with an annual list of priority projects, which has ensured the region's receipt of well more than its share of state road project dollars.
"What I would like to see in the real world is a little bit more recognition ... for where regional cooperation is working," says Chesterfield County Administrator Jay Stegmaier.
Henrico County's longtime leader, County Manager Virgil Hazelett, who retires Jan. 16, says Richmond as a region works well together, regardless of public perception. "I think we're ‘Greater Metro Richmond,' " Hazelett says. "If you didn't have the economic situation that you have today, you wouldn't see as much of what I define as perceived disagreement."
It's not all about baseball and bikes, says Stegmaier, pointing to such necessities as fire, police and emergency medical services, where cooperative agreements among the regional partners mean that when residents see a county fire truck responding to a call in the city, they're unlikely to even take notice because those partnerships have been in place for so long.
His counterpart in Hanover, Rhu Harris, agrees: "We train together and we make for a very strong unit here in Central Virginia from that perspective," says Harris.
And then there's the area's libraries, many of which have cooperative arrangements allowing residents of neighboring jurisdictions to use their resources. "Bon Air [branch] library was designed to serve a large area of south Richmond," Stegmaier says. "There's intense cooperation taking place in these fundamental local government areas. It's convenient for somebody who really wants to have a Redskins park in Richmond ... to say, well, there's no regional cooperation."
Mayor Dwight C. Jones says he feels similarly. He points to frequent dinners with regional leaders — and to his own close relationship with Chesterfield Board of Supervisors Chairman Dan Gecker.
Jones and Gecker's relationship may prove key, perhaps even a model, for the region moving forward. The two meet frequently and have been collaborating on a proposal, sources say, to share resources and relieve some of Chesterfield's overcrowded elementary schools near the city line by opening space in underutilized city schools such as J.B. Fisher Elementary, which was on a list of schools considered for closure earlier this year due to low enrollment.
Such an arrangement would a major step out of the shadows of the Richmond region's Massive Resistance past. "I would love to see a regional vision on education, and I believe there are ways that we can do some cooperative things that will bring educational systems closer together," Jones says, though he indicated little hope of a consolidated district that shares resources the way things are done in Charlotte, N.C.
Too much is made of Charlotte anyway, Stegmaier suggests, pointing to the governor's schools, Maggie Walker and Appomattox high schools as "outstanding examples of regional cooperation in the area of education."