Schilling's list: One is the loneliest number

After 18 months in office, City Council's lone Republican, Rob Schilling, continues to find himself on the losing end of the council's votes.

That didn't stop Schilling from making proposals at the January 5 meeting that he says will increase citizen participation in government.

Schilling chose the moment when City Council discussed appointing a task force to look at moving its elections from May to November, and he proposed three items to be added to the task force's mission:

* a mayor directly elected by citizens rather than by City Council;

* councilors elected by wards rather than at-large, and

* more councilors, increasing the number from five to seven.

His fellow councilors voted him down, by the now-familiar score of 4-1. Schilling fired back that the current system is elitist, where only the rich and self-employed can afford to run for office.

"It stinks," says Schilling of council's rejection of his proposal package. "I don't think it makes sense not to not look at it. We're set up to be an elite group run by the rich, and that really concerns me."

Schilling notes that even some Democrats have shown enthusiasm for at least one of his proposals. The platform of Democrats for Change, a now-defunct group active in the 2000 election, called for the direct election of the mayor, and Schilling reminds that two current members of council, Mayor Maurice Cox and Kevin Lynch, ran on the Dems for Change platform.

Actually, "Kevin Lynch was not happy with that plank," recalls D. for C. member David Repass. But Cox "very definitely supported it," he says.

"It's an extremely worthy issue for discussion," says Cox.

But he was not willing to change the direction of the task force assigned to check out moving city elections from May to November. "He brought sweeping proposals that would completely alter the political landscape in Charlottesville," says Cox. "The narrow scope of the task force was deliverable in a period of weeks because data is already collected."

Repass agrees. "I think the reasons they didn't add those items is because it simply would overload the task force."

Schilling estimates that it took him two months and $15,000 to run for office. "That's ridiculous," he says.

He thinks the ward system, which is already used by the School Board and Planning Commission, would make it easier for candidates to run. Instead of having to campaign throughout a city of 40,000 people, they'd have between 6,500 and 10,000 potential constituents.

"When was the last time we had somebody from Belmont?" asks Schilling. "That whole neighborhood is neglected."

Cox disagrees. "I believe we're a small enough population and small enough geographically to run and feel you represent all citizens," says the Mayor. "We don't run into the turf issues that many places with a ward system have."

One reason cities move to wards is to assure minority representation on council, says Cox, who claims that isn't a problem in Charlottesville. Cox is African American.

As for Schilling's charge of elitism, "How would that differ," Cox asks, "if council was elected by ward? There's no question that public service requires an exorbitant amount of time, whether you're elected at-large or by ward."

Any benefit to increasing the size of City Council from five to seven? "Absolutely not," says Cox. "It's difficult enough with five. The last thing we need are more people with a more disparate agenda."

He compares Charlottesville to Albemarle County, which has six supervisors for a population of 90,000. "It's a bit much that a population of 40,000 needs seven to represent it."

But Schilling thinks a bigger council would allow greater distribution of council responsibilities, thus encouraging more citizens to run.

Dem for Change's Kay Peaslee believes an elected mayor would help crush voter apathy. "This I felt was one of the most important things to liven up politics in the city," says Peaslee. She is less supportive of increasing the size of City Council. "The larger number of people on a cabinet, the weaker it is."

Cox, who is expected to announce whether he's running for reelection next week, is open to exploring the idea of a directly elected mayor. "I'm confident that if Rob wanted to work with me to construct a proposal on the best way to bring this to the community, I'd be willing to work with him," he says.

Cox suggests that Schilling's method of presenting his election proposals at the council meeting is why the Republican didn't garner any votes from fellow councilors. "It's kind of hard to sign on to something you've never seen," says Cox.

"I talked to Maurice about electing the mayor a year ago," replies Schilling, who says he prefers talking about issues in public and is "leery of all the behind-closed-doors discussions.

"I'm not going to shut anyone down because they didn't call me in advance," says Schilling. "If an idea is good, it doesn't matter who brought it up."

"He's made it clear in public interviews he's not here to collaborate," says Cox. "If the end goal is to get in the paper, his mission is accomplished. If the end goal is to get attention to a worthy cause, that's the wrong way to do it. He's finding himself in the role of being contrary. That's the thing with majority government. You've got to work with others, or you find your ideas fall flat."

Schilling denies that he's unwilling to collaborate, and mentions that Cox once said in an interview that City Council was better with five Democrats.

To Schilling, there's another reason his ideas are so often shot down by the Democratic majority. "They have a vested interest in not seeing me succeed," claims the lone Republican.

Rob Schilling finds himself in the minority– again.


Mayor Maurice Cox calls Schilling a contrarian.