Five Questions for the Council: Ryan Wallace, Ward 3 Ryan Wallace April 19, 2017 With Morgantown’s City Council Elections approaching on Tuesday April 25, the staff at Zackquill contacted all 14 City Council Candidates and offered them each the opportunity to introduce themselves to our readers. All candidates were asked the same set of questions, and each response will be posted in the order that Zackquill receives them. Today’s response comes from Ryan Wallace, Candidate in Ward 3. 1. Why are you running for Morgantown City Council? Why should our readers vote for you in the upcoming election? I’m running for City Council for several reasons: I am motivated to see Morgantown flourish, and I want to help make this city the best it can be; I have the experience, education, and skills needed on City Council; I have a long history of being involved in my community; and I believe Morgantown needs a collaborative, respectful Councilor for Third Ward. Morgantown is a growing city that is currently hampered by several lingering issues. I truly believe that if we can address these issues, we can steadily increase quality of life for Morgantown’s residents. We can also make local governance more responsive to residents, increase transparency, and become more efficient. With the right leadership, Morgantown can continue to offer West Virginians incredible opportunities in education, business and economics, and peaceful, productive living in a beautiful environment. I believe I’m the right person to serve on City Council because I’m a trained community development specialist with previous experience on another city council and planning commission. I’ve successfully written community grants for thousands of dollars. I’m actively engaged in numerous community organizations. My legal studies at WVU’s College of Law have given me a great understanding of West Virginia laws and government. In short, I have a lot to offer and I’m ready to serve this city. On a personal level, I’m the right person for the job because I bring mediation skills to the table. Unfortunately, City Council has been afflicted by contentious lawsuits and in-fighting in recent years, and it’s time to replace that attitude with a respectful, collaborative approach. I have publicly pledged not to sue my fellow council members or waste time on political power struggles because I believe that whenever that happens, the residents of Morgantown suffer. I’m not supported by any special-interest group, as my campaign funding reports clearly show, and I will not favor a group of landlords over the rest of Morgantown’s residents. I’m an independent thinker with no political party affiliation, and I’m here to make common-sense improvements to City Council. People should vote for me if they want someone who will serve as a community advocate. I will represent the interests of all Morgantown residents, plan for smart development that doesn’t favor specific groups, make sure that everyone is contributing to expenses, clamp down on slack code enforcement to protect our neighborhoods, and build relationships with WVU and the county. 2. Improving Morgantown’s transportation infrastructure is a complicated issue, involving partnerships with many state, county, and local entities. What role do you see Morgantown’s City Council taking to address these city-wide, and region-wide, frustrations? Part of Morgantown’s problem here is a lack of funding. The user fee that we now pay is helping us address things like repaving, and we’ve already seen some progress here. However, there is a lot more that needs to be done. We need to continue the user fee in the short-term, and look at other ways to fund continued infrastructure building and maintenance in the future. The county is currently considering a 1% sales tax for the sole purpose of paying for much-needed infrastructure improvements, and I support this idea. Everyone who drives on the roads should help contribute to the cost of those roads. It’s not fair to make Morgantown city residents bear the financial burden created by out-of-town users, WVU students, business and industry in the area, and inter-state commerce! So, City Council needs to work with the county to create a long-term solution to the funding problem. Advertisement Another issue is the designation of certain roads as state roads, city roads, county roads, and WVU roads. It is not apparent at first glance exactly who is responsible for what! We need to work with the county, the state, and WVU to set up a common-sense plan for road maintenance. Specifically, I believe Morgantown’s City Council should start negotiations with the State Division of Highways to determine who will maintain certain state routes. With the budget crisis that West Virginia is currently facing, this may be a good time to negotiate the transfer of control and responsibility for these key state routes—at least the parts the form the main throughways of the city. 3. In our interview with City Manager Paul Brake, we discussed the growth of the downtown and wharf districts to be family friendly and work-live communities. One challenge to that project is our local homeless population. How do you envision the city growing these communities while honoring the dignity of this vulnerable population? As a community development worker, I have a lot of experience in this area. I’ve planned and implemented community development programs and even humanitarian relief projects. Here in Morgantown, I’ve attended a meeting of the Coordinating Council on Homelessness (CCOH), and we shared several great ideas for meeting the needs of this population while ensuring that we protect the interests of neighborhoods and businesses. The solution is NOT to drive out the homeless people from our city. Instead, we need to do what we can to help meet their needs. We can work with the CCOH to get community organizations and churches to partner with government programs. As a community, we can set up a voucher program in which participating businesses offer food and services in exchange for a voucher. Concerned and caring citizens can then purchase and distribute these vouchers to the homeless. This helps avoid the problem of drug or alcohol abuse that sometimes afflicts the homeless, while still allowing Morgantown residents to lend them a helping hand. Some simple city benches and shelters in the appropriate places can also help keep the homeless in a safe environment. We also need to make sure that everyone gets along, that no one is threatened by their presence or object to the occasional panhandling. Safety is a key factor for everyone: homeless and residents. We need better city lighting and cleaner city streets and parks. We need to make sure that the police force is well funded so that they can proactively monitor neighborhoods instead of merely responding to crime scenes. Finally, the addition of some facilities along the rail trail by Hazel Ruby McQuain Park will help increase foot traffic in that area. The addition of a paddle-steamer boat (with dinner cruises) and some vending stalls would help create a great city park ambiance that would add character to Morgantown’s downtown district and provide an economic boost. We also need to utilize the amphitheater with frequent community events and concerts. A little investment here goes a long way, so I’d like to see that BOPARC gets the support it needs to help make our downtown and wharf districts vibrant and attractive again. 4. In our reporting on the city’s user fee, we highlighted how the fee has been used to pave some community roads and expand the city’s police force. We also noted that the fee generated an excess sum of one million dollars, which is money that could have been spent at local businesses or used to pay other bills. How would you measure the user fee’s success? The user fee has been highly successful in helping this city improve its dilapidated infrastructure. A shortage of asphalt state-wide led to an initial delay in paving, which in turn led to the surplus. However, this will not be a problem going forward. I view the surplus as a small growing pain. The real point here is that we are finally able to do something about the expensive problem of bad roads in Morgantown. In fact, a recent report on the roads in West Virginia showed that Morgantown has some of the worst roads in the state. The cost to individual car owners in repairs was over a thousand dollars per year—as a direct result of driving on poor roads! We can’t rely on private businesses to pay for our infrastructure; they will only focus on their own infrastructure needs. We also can’t rely on state entities; they have their own budget crisis to deal with. Finally, we can’t rely on the county either; their focus is not on Morgantown, but the county at large. In short, it’s up to us to tackle our own road problems, and the user fee is a great way to get started. So, briefly, I’m a supporter of the user fee and great work that we can achieve with this funding source. 5. Five years from now, what changes would you like to see in our community as a result of your tenure on Morgantown’s City Council? I’d like to look back in five years and see how we were able to achieve some major changes. There are so many things that I can’t begin to list them all, but they can probably all fall into the following general categories. First, I’d like to have much better infrastructure. Roads, sidewalks, and lighting function as the bones of a city. Morgantown is growing, and we can’t grow well without good bones. I will continue to push for better roads, and attempt to negotiate with the State Division of Highways for control and upkeep of some key state routes. My role on city council will also be to ensure that sidewalks are built in all new construction, existing sidewalks are maintained, and major walking routes are prioritized for sidewalks. I will also investigate how to upgrade our city lighting by getting rid of the old, inefficient lights owned by Mon Power and rented to us, and instead install high-efficiency LED lighting. Second, I’d like to see Morgantown residents enjoying a higher quality of life. In five years, I would like to be able to show how City Council moved to protect the peaceful nature of our beautiful neighborhoods and the charm of our historic districts. I will also strive to accentuate the natural beauty that surrounds us and improves our health by creating and maintaining clean, natural parks and environments. However, this will require a markedly more responsive, proactive, transparent, and efficient city government. In years past, and even now, many Morgantown residents feel that their city government is not able to address their problems. When complaints are registered, the response is often delayed, or feeble. Requests for information do not provide satisfactory answers. Developers can encroach upon residential neighborhoods. Noise ordinances are routinely flouted. The process of appeals for zoning, and the decisions that are rendered, are not transparent. In five years, those problems should be gone! Third, I would like to see a more vibrant economy within city limits. We need to encourage local businesses to stay in town instead of moving outside city limits. We need to keep jobs in this city. We can do that by creating a good business environment: a high-quality fire department with rapid response times and a high ISO rating to decrease insurance premiums, simplified and streamlined Business and Occupation Tax, great infrastructure and easy-access parking that draws people into downtown, and walkable neighborhoods that simultaneously increase pedestrian access and decrease traffic. I may be running for City Council, but I am first a husband and father who wants to help create a wonderful place for my family to live. Based on the current needs of the city, I’m emphasizing infrastructure, quality of life, and community growth. I’m experienced but energized, and I’m ready to work for Morgantown. City Council terms are two years long. Put me to work for you for the next two years, and let’s see how many things we can accomplish! Please vote Ryan Wallace for Third Ward.