Ken Elston
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Monthly Archives: July 2014

HONORING A FOUNDING FATHER

This Sunday, many of us gathered at the Harris Pavilion in honor of former Mayor Marvin Gillum. City Hall is to be named for Dr. Gillum, and a ceremony to commemorate this civic action included speeches of remembrance, musical selections from the Manassas Chorale, and the good community spirit that accompanies such events. It was a good outpouring of Manassas residents, as the new sign and historic plaque for the building up the street were unveiled. The event got me thinking about this city and those who have given so much to see this community thrive.

I had the honor of getting to know Mayor Gillum as a fellow member of the Development Committee for the Hylton Performing Arts Center. In addition, he was, of course, of help as we formed and started the not-for-profit Footsteps in Time. Why ‘of course’? Because, to the best of my knowledge, this fine southern gentleman was always of help.

Being dedicated to advancing the community is his legacy, and it is a legacy worth emulating. His was an era of civil dialogue in civil service. Being community minded, for the likes of Marvin Gillum, meant working on behalf of all citizens to further common aims and better the City’s reputation through improved economic development and quality of life.

Some of his colleagues are still serving their community. City Councilman Steve Randolph is nearing the end of twenty-eight years on the council (he also had years prior on the School Board), and I cannot recall an important city event at which Mr. Randolph did not represent the face of a caring and connected city government. State Senator Chuck Colgan is in the last years of his remarkable service in the community and representing Manassas in Richmond. He, too, has been a consistent presence in the community, as well as a powerful advocate for all residents.

In fact, we have benefitted from a consistent flow of caring and positive representation. Some impressive individuals have been representing Manassas City over the years, and there are still those working to make our community competitive and, well, great. We want champions for this city.

Good community leaders want to continue that tradition of service and advancing the interests of our city. There is no question that I want to add my voice and presence, on behalf of my whole community, to a lasting, positive impact on my city. We all benefit when those of good intent join in valuing the past and moving us forward. Voters need to invest their faith (and votes) in those who will do that.

This is the legacy of great leaders: inspiration. Thank you, Marvin Gillum, and thanks to those whose efforts have and continue to shape Manassas.

STEPPING UP

At a meeting for Footsteps in Time and the Gray Ghost Theatre Company, I was thanking one of the women serving as one of our Board members.  She is a dedicated teacher here in our community. Although she can handle a classroom of rambunctious kids, I think she prefers the company of adults in much smaller doses. Despite those preferences, she had done a really wonderful job helping to organize our group’s most successful fundraising event to support historic preservation and history education through the arts.

When I thanked her for everything that she had done so well, she reminded me again that meetings and talking to strangers weren’t easy for her to do–that she’d rather be in her garden or with her students, but that she’d joined our not-for-profit group because of something I’d said.

As an administrator at George Mason University, as a director for stage and film, and especially as the parent of teenagers, I’m always grateful when my words have some lasting impact. Still, I couldn’t remember saying anything that might have encouraged this shy woman to do big things.

She said that years before, when we had just gotten acquainted at the Piedmont Film Festival, she had mentioned in passing that Manassas needed more great community offerings, and apparently I said, “I guess if you want that you’ll have to step up and do something about it.”

Honestly, I can’t believe I said that—to a lady and someone I’d just met!—but I trust her, so it must be true. It is the kind of thing that I would think, even if I wouldn’t usually say it out loud. It’s what I’ve found my own conscience saying to me in recent months: If there’s something you want to see happen here in Manassas, you’ll have to step up and do something about it.

When people started approaching me, asking whether I might run for Manassas City Council, it started me thinking about those things that attracted me to settle in the city twelve years ago. Being a person who loves history, I was drawn to a community that became a city out of a desire to chart its own destiny. Manassas City began because the people in this community wanted to be able to support and claim the best schools, and they had built an enviable system toward that goal.  Manassas City also started because people here wanted to have the best safety services, and the police I spoke with when I was looking for a home expressed a real satisfaction with the force and its level of support from city leaders. Of course, we also fell in love with the beautiful, historic downtown. How could you not? This was, and remains, a place with so much going for it.  However, while great schools, great public safety and a beautiful, fulfilling, connected place to live are still my priorities, they don’t always seem to be the priorities of the full council.

Our community has changed over the last twelve years, and we need to return to our priorities. Here in Manassas, our infrastructure has aged and not kept pace with population growth, and our priorities seem to have shifted away from what they need to be to make the city a first choice place for people to live and businesses to grow.  Communities need visionary leadership, grounded in common sense principles. With all due respect for those who serve and express their values in the course of their work, common sense leadership means grappling with practical issues and resolving day-to-day challenges rather than getting swept up in theoretical ideas that limit positive growth.

Reasonable governance means working together and having a willingness to serve all the people of the city.  Our City Council must shepherd change in a way that keeps us competitive with other communities and lets us enjoy all of the great things Manassas has to offer. If we are to stay true to our founding principles, we must work to support superior schools and empower those elected and appointed to manage those schools effectively. We have to support those who manage our resources, and we need to enhance the capabilities of our law enforcement, fire and rescue personnel. Keeping Manassas City a great place to live requires strategic planning and effective cooperation among those with differing viewpoints. The first priority of rational government has to be the citizens they serve.

Those are the principles of local government that I would want for any community, but especially this one that I love and call home.  Running for elected office has not been first on my list of things to do.  But, remembering my words to my friend, I guess, if I want this kind of practical, effective, visionary City Council, I have to step up and do something about it.  I’m glad to be running to serve Manassas on the City Council, and I hope you’ll get involved in the conversation, and I hope you’ll vote for me this November 4.