Thad Williamson is a professor, writer and civic activist teaching at the University of Richmond. His work focuses on the connection between theories of democracy and social justice and the practice of public policy and public administration.

A Track Record of Getting Things Done

A Track Record of Getting Things Done

The City of Richmond is diverse and complex. No district exemplifies this more than the Fifth District. The 5th is the city’s most diverse district demographically, and each of its neighborhoods have a unique character as well as specific, legitimate concerns.

Likewise, governance in Richmond is complex—and necessarily, a team sport. There are agencies that report to the Mayor, agencies that report to City Council, agencies that report to Council-appointed boards, and one really big agency that reports to an elected board—in addition to a multitude of community organizations that receive support from or otherwise partner with city government.

Knitting together coalitions and teams to get important things done across agency lines as well as lines of race, gender, generation, and geography is not just something I have talked about or promised to do. It’s something I have been doing over the past decade, leading to significant positive impact in multiple policy areas here in Richmond.

I took the lead role in shaping the many ideas generated by the Mayor’s Anti-Poverty Commission into a coherent set of recommendations, published in 2013, that could be the basis for an integrated policy approach, working with community experts in housing, education, transportation, and economic development.

I then partnered with Councilwoman Ellen Robertson to identify specific action steps in each of those areas that city government could undertake and make meaningful progress on, even with limited resources. We not only pulled together community leaders and city staff members, we established an advisory board of the real experts—the Maggie L. Walker Citizens Advisory Board, consisting of persons directly impacted by poverty and inequity. That board reviewed every proposal before it was sent to the Mayor and ultimately City Council for approval.  

That work was time consuming—dozens of meetings of some eight different committees, which I organized and coordinated on a volunteer basis—but it laid the groundwork for the successful launch of the Office of Community Wealth Building (OCWB) in 2014 and a series of new initiatives.

Once in City Hall, as director of OCWB, I led similar processes time and again. We created a partnership between Economic and Community Development, Social Services, and RRHA which led to the successful BLISS program providing wrap-around support services to families based in public housing. We partnered with the Richmond City Health District and RRHA to create a new community navigators program, and later we partnered with this same organizations plus the nonprofit Richmond Opportunities, Inc. to create a family transition coach program that has been working with families in Creighton Court over the last three years.

We partnered with Richmond Public Library and Richmond Public Schools to create the popular RVA Reads program in the city’s pre-K centers, which now distributes over ten thousand books a year to our youngest readers. We partnered with Richmond Public School and the Richmond Public Schools Education Foundation to create the RVA Future program, which just completed its fourth year of operation in all five comprehensive high schools, helping hundreds of high school seniors navigate the college application and financial aid process and develop solid post-graduation plans.

We also aggressively sought grant funding from private and governmental sources. Our collaborative work on early childhood earned a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in 2015, and our work with the advocacy group Virginia First Cities eventually led to the establishment of a statewide grant program benefiting cities investing in workforce development and community wealth building strategies—with the City of Richmond drawing roughly $2 million of funding per year since 2017. That funding has allowed the Office of Community Wealth Building to expand in the last two years from one career advising station citywide to four centers serving hundreds of residents.

On an even larger scale, I led and managed the process that created the RVA Education Compact, ultimately adopted on unanimous votes by both City Council and School Board—a historic framework for collaboration between the Mayor, City Council and School Board. I led over a dozen public meetings concerning the Compact as well as countless private discussions and negotiations with elected officials and concerned advocates. I believe the Compact has much more work to do (more on that in a future post), but it has helped change the conversation and pave the way for the significant funding increases RPS has received in the past two years.

There’s more: I also directed the 41-member mayoral transition team, and then worked within City Hall to develop a performance management strategy involving every city agency.

In short, I have put my ideas to the test of public scrutiny repeatedly over the last ten years, and I have worked with others to build consensus for action—action that has produced tangible results.

That’s the kind of leadership experience the 5th District needs and deserves: leadership that is equally comfortable and effective in settings from living rooms to board rooms, from community centers to City Hall, and leadership that is committed to finding the common ground needed to move forward on our most difficult problems.  

My goal in running for City Council is to leverage that experience and knowledge—of the community, of policy, and of the agencies—to benefit the 5th District and the city as a whole.

Authorized by Thad Williamson for Richmond City Council

 

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