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Mayor Lawson Helped Build Richmond's Future Success

12.10.10 01:55 PM – Andy McDonald
There can be no doubt that Richmond city residents were ready for a change in 2010. The electorate was angry, and Mayor-Elect Jim Barnes symbolized change after the city suffered a dismal financial year.

As the city’s chief executive, Mayor Connie Lawson took the brunt of punishment from voters. But as she prepares to leave office, I think Lawson has significant accomplishments of which she can be proud:

Paradise Cove: The mayor’s critics have long suggested that the cost of the pool is excessive. It was costly to be sure, but in the long run, I predict it will prove to be a positive investment that contributes to the community’s quality of life.

Lawson looked beyond dollars and cents to consider the needs of families, mothers and caregivers who need a place to take their children during the summer months. And in pushing to get the pool approved, the Richmond City Commission undid a longstanding racial injustice stemming back to 1960s, when the city bulldozed the pool so that local government would not have to submit to racial integration.

Supporting Paradise Cove was a bold and optimistic move that befit Lawson’s leadership style. Once good economic times return, I predict it will prove to be a worthy investment in Richmond’s youth - adding value to Richmond in ways that have yet to be calculated.

Commerce and Industry: In the tumult regarding the city’s budget woes, it was forgotten that Richmond is creating employment and retail opportunities when other cities were hemorraging jobs. That is a remarkable coup, and thanks to the mayor and outgoing Richmond city commissioners, a lot of shopping dollars will be staying in Richmond this season instead of going to Lexington.

Mayor Lawson, I believe, contributed significantly to that venture precisely because she is a successful businesswoman. People grumbled about her being our “mayor/realtor”, but Lawson had the skills to sell prospective retailers on the virtues of coming to Richmond because it has always been her business to sell the merits of Richmond and Madison County. Just recently the city announced closing a deal to have another factory open in Richmond – again, an astounding accomplishment in an economy that is being touted as a near depression.

Whatever her critics may say of Lawson, the foundation for that success, including the improvement of the industrial park and job creation, moved forward during Lawson’s tenure.

Intergovernmental Relations – In a city that has long been plagued with the turf wars of so called “Little Chicago” Connie Lawson should be remembered for working exceptionally well with other local governments and officials.

Had Lawson had her way, Richmond would have signed onto consolidated 911 much sooner, which could have saved taxpayers more than $500,000. Sadly, she was chained to a couple of commissioners who were trying to protect their own political fiefdoms. That deal alone, I think, typifies Lawson’s style. She was never a “zero sum” official who cared only about what the city of Richmond was getting out of the deal. She believed in win-win scenarios in which all three local governments – Richmond, Berea and Madison County – could mutually benefit if only they could work together.

When Lawson took office, relations between the Richmond and Berea and Madison County weren’t very good. I’ve been told that at one point some chief executives weren’t even on speaking terms. That changed under Lawson, and residents of Richmond, Madison County, and Berea are better off for it.

Accountability: The one thing for which Lawson never received adequate credit was the fact that she forfeited her own salary, then refused to comment on it in the press. It’s one thing to talk about how the buck stops at city hall. It’s quite another to take $30,000 out of your own pocket. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is.

While other officials were grappling to wring the last bit of public money out of city coffers to benefit their own families, Lawson quietly bit the bullet. It’s ironic, then, that Lawson was the most severely punished by the voters, because she was the lone Richmond City Commissioner who took that kind of personal responsibility for the budget shortfall.

As Connie Lawson prepares to leave office, she can take pride in the fact that she leaves behind a city government that is and has been working to create jobs, improve the city’s infrastructure and enhance Richmond’s quality of life.

No matter how tough the going got, Connie Lawson remained steadfastly optimistic that Richmond’s best days were yet to come. Economic times may be bad for now, but good things are on the horizon for the city of Richmond. Lawson deserves credit for building the foundation for that future success.
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