Friday, December 11, 2009

The Fix Was In

No wonder students and College of William & Mary officials never negotiated in good faith during this year’s deliberations of the Focus Group on the 3-person rule.

They knew they didn’t have to.

The fix was in.

With the exception of a few footnotes and codicils, the ordinance to expand the city’s 3-person limit on the number of unrelated persons to four wasn’t much different than the deal secretly negotiated by city staff, Mayor Jeanne Zeidler, Vice Mayor Clyde Haulman and leaders of the Student Assembly in November 2008.

The three months of work by the focus group? The multiple public hearings in front of the Planning Commission, which unanimously rejected the idea of expanding the 3-person rule in single-family homes near the college? Those were just for show. They were designed to give the appearance that council was listening to the public and to provide political cover for council and city staff to do what they’d already decided to do anyway.

In short, they were a charade.

Personally, I’d like to thank council for wasting my time for a year.

One of the focus group’s student representatives , at the time that group failed to reach consensus -- because of the unwillingness of the college or the students to actually negotiate -- that it didn’t’ matter because “city council wants to increase the limit.”

I thought council would have better political sense because of the near-unanimous opposition of residents near the college who are, unlike the students, year-round residents and taxpayers of the city.

The student was right. I was wrong.

Council didn’t listen to anyone but the students, who have finally won a round in their repeated attempts to flex their newfound political muscle in town.

In the process the students revealed a sense of what one resident rightfully labeled “entitlement,” but which might also be properly called “arrogance.”

Students, who freely admit that they are breaking the law by putting more than three people in a rental house, had the nerve to act like they were the victims in the situation.

They complained that they were being “spied on” and their “privacy violated” because neighbors turned them in.

Kids, when a neighbor reports you for breaking the law, that’s good citizenship on their part. You don’t have an expectation of privacy when breaking the law.

One member of the student body’s lily-white delegation to Thursday’s public hearing actually had the unmitigated gall to try to equate the situation of the students to African-Americans struggling against segregation in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Bobby Braxton, the lone African-American on council, winced about that when I spoke with him later.

“I’ve heard that before. I’ve told them (the students) that they should stop that, that it doesn’t help their case,” said Braxton, who voted against the change.

Haulman and Zeidler were the main architects of the new ordinance, assisted by Paul Freiling, who joined them to pass it.

Although council claimed they listened to everyone, they certainly didn’t listen to any of the speakers at Thursday’s hearing.

Haulman arrived with a pre-printed revision of the ordinance and only enough copies for council. So council voted on something that no one else in the room had ever seen. And Zeidler was quick to silence objections to that fact from the crowd.

That’s the kind of behavior that makes people mistrust their government and believe that it’s acting in bad faith.

Haulman said it was important to act on the measure because the issue was “dividing this community.”

If he thinks Thursday’s action by council healed that division, he’s dead wrong.

Zeidler said the issue had been debated in the community for years.

If she thinks Thursday’s vote settled the issue, she’s also wrong.

In fact, her actions Thursday make me think it’s unlikely that she plans to run for re-election next year. If she does, she’d better hope the students can turn our their newly registered vote the way they did in the 2008 presidential election. Because she’ll need them.

Because some people who have supported her and voted for her over the last 15 years said Thursday she’d lost their support.

I can’t really say I blame them.

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