JOE MORRISSEY

Joe MorrisseyCandidates for Richmond mayor received questionnaires from local nonprofit organizations James River Association, Richmond Forward, RVA Rapid Transit, Sports Backers, and Storefront for Community Design. Their responses — regarding public education, transportation, urban planning and the riverfront — will guide the Mayorathon, a candidate forum scheduled for Sept. 29.

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Candidate Joe Morrissey’s responses to the questionnaires appear below.


Responses have been published as received; no content has been edited beyond being formatted for the web.

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EDUCATIONNEIGHBORHOODS | RIVER | TRANSIT

Biking / Walking

QUESTION 1 - TRANSPORTATION EQUITY

Biking and walking not only improves public health, but it is a prevalent form of transportation for people who can’t afford a car and/or gas, are too young to drive, or are not mentally or physically able to drive. According to Census data, nearly 22 percent of Richmond households do not own or otherwise have access to a car. The challenge for Richmond is to increase access to safe biking and walking for opportunities for all citizens. 

What measures can we expect your administration to take to expand access to safe walking and biking infrastructure for all Richmond residents?

JOE MORRISSEY: I will challenge both the public and the private sectors to develop a series of “Richmond Moves” walking- and biking-designated routes of varying lengths and difficulty around all areas of the city. For example, Heart Break Hill, would be a short but difficult hike up Broad Street from 17th Street to 12th Street.  A Fine Arts Stroll, would be a long but easy walk or ride down the Boulevard from Broad Street to Byrd Park. Patriot’s Passage, a long and strenuous path, would take you from Tobacco Row, up 25th Street to Patrick Henry’s St. Johns Church, and back down again to the Flood Wall. The Veterans Salute would be a long but manageable two circuits of the McGuire VA Hospital campus. 

I engage in vigorous exercise at least five times a week. The positive physical, emotional, and spiritual health effects of walking and biking are well established.  I personally would challenge each member of City Council and the School Board to lead efforts in their neighborhoods to establish and lead walking or biking groups. Leading by example is a very effective way to encourage behavior change.

QUESTION 2 - COMPLETE STREETS

In October of 2014, Richmond City Council passed a Complete Streets Resolution (No. 2014-R172-170) that states the City will – within one year – modify street design and construction manuals, codes, ordinances, and standards to reflect that “all transportation improvement projects in the city be planned for, designed, and constructed to provide appropriate accommodation for persons of all ages and abilities, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit passengers, and motorists, while promoting safe operations for all users.” Nearly two years later, these changes have not been adopted.

If elected Mayor, how would you work to implement the City’s Complete Streets Policy?

MORRISSEY: As so often is the case, City Council recognizes what needs to be done to improve city services and amenities but lacks the political and financial courage to make those changes.  If an initiative or Resolution measurably increases the quality of the public health and welfare I will find the money to make it happen – quite possibly by reallocating funds from boondoggles such as the Redskin Camp.

QUESTION 3 - VISION ZERO

Vision Zero is a strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries, while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all. On March 7, 2016, Richmond City Council passed a Vision Zero Resolution (No. 2016-R011) that “supports the development of a Vision Zero program for the City of Richmond with the goal of reducing traffic fatalities and serious injuries in road traffic to zero by the year 2030.”

As Mayor, what policy steps would you take to improve education, engineering, enforcement, and emergency response with the purpose of achieving zero traffic-related deaths and serious injuries by 2030?

MORRISSEY: As mayor I will call on faculty and staff of the VCU Health System to produce a proposal for Richmond’s Vision Zero program.  VCU Health System is one of the world’s premier trauma system providers, researchers, and educators.  I would challenge them to develop a Framingham Study-like research and intervention program for Richmond (the Framingham Study, started in the early 1050s, identified the causes and best practices for preventing and treating heart disease.) I would particularly depend on the contributions of Dr. Joe Ornato, Director of VCU Health Systems Emergency Services, and founder and Medical Director of the Richmond Ambulance Service.

QUESTION 4 - INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS

In May of 2015, the City of Richmond finished work on the city’s first Bicycle Master Plan, which calls for implementation of 135 miles of new bikeways by 2025. By the end of 2016, the city will have 25 miles of bikeways on the ground, all of which have been “low hanging fruit”. However, few if any of our new bikeways connect to each other or major destinations.

As Mayor, how would you grow the mileage of bikeways in Richmond to fill in the gaps and form a connected network?

MORRISSEY: One of the main responsibilities of a mayor is to inspire residents and corporate citizens to  work together for their own best interests.  I would call on each member of Richmond’s healthcare community (VCU Health System, HCA, Bon Secours, etc.) to each adopt approximately 9.5 miles of bikeway connecters.  Their task would be to provide the infrastructure and to make creative use of their connecter for health teaching purposes – I’m thinking of a variation of “Burma Shave” signs.  They could also present inspirational quotes and topics suitable for meditation.  Each adopter would be responsible for the creation of their connecter and periodic upgrades of their sites. The city would be responsible for day-to-day maintenance of the connecters.

QUESTION 5 - FUNDING

Establishing safe and accessible places for people to bike and walk for transportation will require additional funding for capital projects, either in the form of Federal grants, State revenue-sharing, or the City’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP). In May of 2016, Mayor Jones proposed $500,000 in the FY2017 CIP budget for bicycle infrastructure – more than any previous fiscal year – in addition to funding for sidewalks, crosswalks, and traffic calming. Furthermore, City Council added $300,000 to fully fund the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge, a walking and biking bridge from Brown’s Island to Manchester.

Do you support pursuing additional funding (in the CIP or other sources) for biking and walking infrastructure? If yes, how much?

MORRISSEY: See answer to question 4.  I would find it impractical to advocate increased public funding for these efforts when so many basic city service needs are going unmet. This is an opportunity for Richmond’s mayor to use their persuasive “bully pulpit” skills.

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Education

QUESTION 1 - INTER-GOVERNMENT REFORMS/INTENTIONALITY

Richmonders are long tired of stories of inter-government dysfunction and miscommunication between the Mayor, City Council, and School Board when it comes to education. Prime examples include the annual contentious budget season and the discoordination in school construction and operation that led to the failed opportunity with a new MLK Middle School.

What will you do to ensure that your office bolsters inter-governmental efforts to support a world-class education system?

MORRISSEY: As Mayor of Richmond I will have four priorities:

  • Developing a world class education system,
  • Professionalizing the city’s public administration,
  • Improving the delivery of city services, and
  • Addressing Richmond’s persistent racial and economic inequities.

The first and fourth priorities are intertwined, as are the second and third. The antidote to dysfunction is clear communication between the Mayor, City Council, and the School Board.  Each leadership group has unique and overlapping responsibilities and perspectives.  As Mayor, I pledge to negotiate those differences and similarities with the single goal of transforming our very broken school system into a model for the state and the nation.

QUESTION 2 - SUSTAINABLE FUNDING

An increased and sustainable stream of education funding will be needed overcome the backlog of facilities needs caused by systemic disinvestment, and to meet the needs of educating students from highly-concentrated poverty. With Richmond’s limited bond capacity, revenue streams, and disadvantage from state funding policies, this will not be an effort that Richmond’s residents can bear alone.

What is your plan to identify the necessary combination of state, private, and local revenues to provide sustainable funding for an education overhaul?

MORRISSEY: The Office of Community Wealth Building has already started the work necessary to identify the various funding streams available to pay for our education overhaul.  We will need to be smart and creative as we look for ways to do more with less.  I am exploring non-traditional methods, pioneered elsewhere, that allow for the leasing of school buildings, year-round education, and multi-purpose use for facilities.  As Mayor, it will be my responsibility to explain and justify potential increases in taxes to our citizenry.

QUESTION 3 - TRANSFORMATIVE COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

Recent events have shown the immense goodwill of our community for city schools: citizens came out in droves to support funding for Richmond Public Schools. Likewise, Richmond's business community contributes amply to education initiatives every year. With all this good intention, we still lack transformational partnerships between the schools and business, neighborhood, or philanthropic service providers.

What will you do to maximize community support for public education by establishing transformative partnerships which empower individuals towards sustainable change?

MORRISSEY: It is my opinion that support for change in Richmond’s system of public education is a proxy for the transformative change a majority of Richmonders’ want for race relations and economic opportunity in the city.

If we can improve public education, then we will be that much closer to addressing the root issues – Richmond’s massive racial and economic disparities.

For transformative partnerships to develop and grow stakeholders need to trust that they have roughly equalivent influence and power at the engagement table.  The Richmond Times Dispatch recognized that I am the only candidate for Mayor who has the trust of black community. What I can do to maximize community support for public education is provide a voice and advocacy for those who think the table is rigged and the House always wins.

QUESTION 4 - STRATEGIC ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

A combination of tax abatements and incentives used to attract businesses, develop historic properties, and boost tourism have nonetheless diminished the taxable property base in Richmond. Private market trends have shifted considerably in recent years, but our tax policies and economic understanding continue to leave Richmond Public Schools’ funding – which many voters claim is a top investment priority – short.

What is your economic development strategy to provide incentives or negotiate benefits, which recognizes education as a priority?

MORRISSEY: The most concrete economic development strategy I will use to support education will be to avoid making deals with private sector groups such as the Washington Redskins and Stone Brewery. Every tax dollar given away to for-profit concerns is a dollar taken from our children’s education. Any proposed economic development deal with a for-profit concern must provide at least a 2-to-1 return on investment to the city (a common business ratio of benefits to costs) to be considered viable.

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Neighborhoods

QUESTION 1

The City of Richmond has undertaken some successful planning processes in the past decade like the Downtown Master Plan and the Richmond Riverfront Plan. Each of these processes valued civic engagement and put forth results that have been embraced by the public.

As the City’s Master Plan is updated in the coming years, how will you as Mayor ensure that the city has a robust and inclusive civic engagement process?

MORRISSEY: As Mayor of Richmond, I would call for a civic engagement process populated by a mix of especially elected resident stakeholders, subject-matter experts, and members appointed by the Mayor and City Council. Often such groups are all appointees.  Having popularly elected city residents as part of the civic engagement process will help assure that their deliberations are inclusive and robust. All Master Plan activities will be fully transparent and comply with regulations as described in the Virginia Administrative Process Act.

QUESTION 2

As the population continues to increase in the City of Richmond, conversations about displacement, housing affordability, and neighborhood change are top of mind for Richmonders. One effort to tackle these challenges was seen through the establishment of the first Office of Community Wealth Building in the nation.

Building on this framework, what tools do you think the City could use to promote more equitable development?

MORRISSEY: The Office of Community Wealth Building is an excellent start at promoting what is, and is perceived to be, equitable development for the city of Richmond. The Office collects and distributes measurable data on well researched key indicators of community need and achievement.  Before proposing additional tools or groups I want to see another two years of information from the Office of Community Wealth Building.

QUESTION 3

The great neighborhoods that make up the City of Richmond each have different stories, legacies, histories, and tomorrows. People, your constituents, continue to work for a better quality of life for themselves, their families, and their friends.

How will you engage with Richmond neighborhoods to keep your finger on the pulse of our city? What will you ask of the community to help you with your job?

MORRISSEY: I will ask for their prayers and good will.

QUESTION 4

You’ve read the many superlatives given to Richmond over the past few years, for our great food and dining communities, our hospitality industry, our river, and our entrepreneurial culture just to name a few. These come from specific neighborhoods and cover the community at large.

What superlative would you like to see for our as a headline? What role did the community play in its own transformation?

MORRISSEY: [No response provided]

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River

QUESTION 1

The James River Park System saw more than 1.3 million visitors in 2015, making it the most-visited attraction in the region. Many believe the park system is underfunded and understaffed.

What is your plan for supporting the James River Park System?

MORRISSEY: The James River Park System is one of Richmond's treasures.  The most effective way I can support it is for me to have a clear understanding of those things that only city government can provide: infrastructure, public access, code enforcement pertaining to water quality, and legislative advocacy.  

QUESTION 2

Richmond's riverfront is experiencing a transformation catalyzed by public and private investment. The City's ability to fund capital projects may be limited in the coming years.

How will you continue implementation the Richmond Riverfront Plan? Which projects are priorities?

MORRISSEY: I will continue to work the Richmond Riverfront plan.  My priorities are those activities that build the ongoing framework of public infrastructure needed to assure public access and spur private investment. 

QUESTION 3

Water quality in the James River is improving thanks to the City's Long Term Control Plan and the Stormwater Utility.

How will you address the City's Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) system and ensure water quality improvement continues?

MORRISSEY: I will continue to support the City's CSO system.

QUESTION 4

Tributaries of the James River (Reedy Creek, Upham Brook, Gillies Creek) are experiencing water quality improvement thanks to the efforts of City staff in recent years, but these projects do not come without controversy.

How will you ensure neighborhood-scale water quality improvements continue and address community concerns?

MORRISSEY: The Mayor is responsible for the executive leadership of the entire city while individual districts, precincts, and neighborhoods have their elected City Council members to assure their concerns are heard and addressed. Water quality issues, however, are not confined by political boundaries. As Mayor, I will work with City Council members to continue improvements in water quality, balancing neighborhood and city-wide considerations.

QUESTION 5

The James River Association is a part of the No Child Left Inside Coalition, working to increase every child's access to environmental education and meaningful outdoor experiences.

What is the Mayor's role in ensuring every child has access to outdoor education experiences?

MORRISSEY: Kennedy, my 4-year-old, says James River Park is her "favorite magic place - just like where Snow White lives."  My responsibility as a father is to expose my children to the wonders and learning opportunities of outdoor education experiences.  My role as Mayor is to assure that every child in Richmond has public access to those same outdoor experiences. City government should fulfill those roles only they can provide - infrastructure, legislative advocacy, and access.

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Transit

QUESTION 1

State and federal plans are in the works to make Richmond a stop on a proposed higher speed rail route along the eastern seaboard.

Do you support a higher speed rail connection between Richmond and the Northeast Corridor?

MORRISSEY: I definitely support the high speed rail connection between Richmond and the Northeast Corridor.

QUESTION 2

The station options being proposed for a higher speed rail connection in Richmond are Main Street Station, a Broad Street Station, and a Boulevard Station.

Which Richmond station option do you think offers the greatest opportunity for economic development and connectivity?

MORRISSEY: I support the Boulevard Station as proposed by Dr. Eugene Trani, President Emeritus, Virginia Commonwealth University.

QUESTION 3

The Richmond Regional Transit Vision Plan will be complete in the fall of 2016. This project, which is being undertaken by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation in partnership with the jurisdictions of Metro Richmond, will offer the layout of a regional public transit network, but one premised on regional cooperation.

What are the barriers to regional cooperation from your perspective, and how do you intend to foster more collaboration in order to bring this much-needed plan to fruition?

MORRISSEY: In my opinion, the biggest barrier to regional cooperation is that the surrounding municipalities do not trust the City of Richmond’s management of its finances.  Their lack of trust is not unfounded, given the city’s failure to meet financial reporting deadlines for the past 2 years, and its poor budgeting history. That trust will not be extended until and unless Richmond shows sustained evidence of having mastered its financial management functions. 

QUESTION 4

The Broad Street BRT route will be a first of its kind in our region.

What do you think is the next key corridor to focus on expanding our BRT system? Why?

MORRISSEY: I think the next key corridor should be Staples Mill Road West from Willow Lawn into Henrico County.  Other possible corridors are in South Richmond along the Jeff Davis Highway and/or Hull Street, Midlothian Turnpike, and Broad Rock Road – all in Chesterfield County.

QUESTION 5

The most successful transit networks in the country have a dedicated revenue stream, and our lack of dedicated funding for public transportation has been cited as the number one challenge to providing transit for the region.

Do you support a dedicated source of funding for transit? If so, what funding source would you prefer? If not, why not?

MORRISSEY: In general, my preference is 1/3 federal, 1/3 state, and 1/3 local contributions for funding transit needs.  The biggest barrier to having a dedicated funding stream is the constitutional requirement that the state and the city have balanced budgets.  Localities have traditionally used their bonding capacity to fund transportation infrastructure but, as is well documented, Richmond’s bonding capacity, at current revenue levels, is almost tapped out.

QUESTION 6

The Richmond Transit Network Plan (RTNP), which will be complete in January 2017 and is being undertaken by the City in consultation with Jarrett Walker + Associates, is an incredibly unique opportunity to enhance the bus lines for which the City pays, particularly in coordination with the BRT.

How will you personally play a role in the creation and implementation of this plan, regardless of the outcome of this election?

MORRISSEY: Either as the Mayor, or as a private citizen, I will advocate for adoption of this plan as long as it is in the best interests of the residents of Richmond.

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