One of our community’s elected representatives recently resigned, finding it increasingly more difficult to maintain the necessary legal separation between his two passions—private development and community service. A bit later I hope to highlight how, in this instance, I believe these two are, to a great degree, one in the same. But before doing that I want to thank John Garland for his 2-plus years of service on Roanoke City Council. I want to do so by responding to a rhetorical question recently raised by him in one of our regular one-on-one meetings: What have I really been able to accomplish as a Council member?
Let’s start with a significant challenge early in John’s tenure, the transition from one city manager to another. This process can be quite disruptive and, if done poorly, can undermine previous success. That was not the case in this instance. The Council went through a very deliberative and methodical process to ensure the greatest chance at success. Selfishly, for me this process was of importance as it is what afforded me the opportunity to come to this city and lead this great organization.
The Day to Day
Most significantly and, all too often, given inadequate due is that over the past two years John, along with the rest of the Council ensured the delivery of over $500 million worth of community services. These services include education, law enforcement, fire protection, street maintenance, sanitation services, transit, economic growth, storm water management, and much more. While these services may not grab the same headlines as Deschutes Brewery, Power School, or BJ’s (and John was there for all of those as well), they are the primary reason people are sent to the municipal building by the voters. Go a few weeks without trash service or do a poor job of snow removal and one will quickly see the importance of these services and activities. These services could not be delivered if the Council didn’t provide the leadership in setting priorities and providing the funding necessary. John played an integral role in each of these.
John provided a constant voice for the neighborhoods, especially those he recognized as struggling. John always wanted to be certain his fellow Council members and city staff understood the need for a continued and, when possible, expanded emphasis on code enforcement, alley and sidewalk maintenance, and neighborhood economic opportunity. John managed to ensure that funding levels for these items were increased when revenues allowed. John always made certain these items remained a priority as the city debated where to spend its money and crafted new rules and policies.
John may be departing the Council but his commitment (and, in my opinion, his service) to the community is far from over. Here is where I address my earlier comment that I did not believe private development has to be disconnected from community service. I would argue John’s private development activities—downtown redevelopment along Campbell Avenue and Church Avenue, redevelopment in struggling village centers along Main Street and 11th Street—and his general willingness to take on projects others felt too risky or in the “wrong part of town,” all complement his service on Council as yet another part of his community service. The best part? I have no doubt John will continue to invest in parts of our city where others will not. John will continue to provide an opportunity for folks when others will not. John will continue to do his part in making Roanoke a great place.
So, to answer that question, what has John accomplished as a Council member? Quite a bit. Perhaps a better question is: What has John accomplished as a member of this community? To that I say, a great and significant deal, and he is not done yet. To John I say thank you, for what you have and will continue to do for the city, and for playing a part in providing me with the opportunity to share in all that is great about Roanoke.