Fredericksburg's New Majority To Halt Courthouse Project
Fred Howe, who lost the mayoral race to Mary Katherine Greenlaw, remains on City Council for two more years at least. With Matt Kelly elected last night, the new majority says the courthouse will be re-examined.
Newly elected City Council member Matt Kelly had a message for city staff Tuesday night after getting the most votes of any candidate running for office in the election: don't spend another dime on the courthouse project until he takes office in July to form the new majority.
Last year, council members Brad Ellis, Fred Howe (who lost the mayoral race but retains his seat on City Council) and Bea Paolucci voted against the courthouse project, but the four-member majority approved it and $35 million in bonds were issued for the Princess Anne Street courts facility.
But with the election of Kelly, the council majority shifts, and all four are ready and willing to halt the courthouse project to re-examine its scale downtown. Kelly said he plans to meet with city staff to better understand the courthouse project and he urged them through the media Tuesday night to not spend anymore money on the project until the new majority is in place.
"The main point of my campaign were the concerns I have with the courthouse project," Kelly said Tuesday night. "I've been very upfront with saying the current plan is not good. A lot of decisions were made in closed sessions. I don't even know how we got here."
Howe, who was at Brock's Riverside Grill after the election, seemed uplifted by the fact that he's part of the new majority. He, too, made it a strong point of his campaign to re-examine the courthouse project. Although the bonds are issued, council members can still make changes to the design, scope and possibly even the location of the facilities. The city issued $38.7 million in general obligation bonds. Most of that money, approximately $35 million, is for the courts facilities. Howe said the silver lining to his loss for mayor is that Kelly was elected to form this new majority.
"The four members who make up the new majority will call on the city manager to halt the court process," Howe said. "The new majority will speak with a different voice for the direction of our city—that will be my hope and prayers for the residents of the City of Fredericksburg."
Paolucci said that the arguments from the Architectural Review Board that the mass and scaling of the courthouse complex is too large for historic downtown made sense. She said that the state is spending $240,000 for the National Center for State Courts to develop a new caseload system for the sate and to consider changing the judicial districts. The 15th judicial district, which includes Fredericksburg, has the second-highest caseloads in the state, but Paolucci said if the districts are changed, the city may not need a "mammoth" courts facility.
"Do I think we have an opportunity to revisit it? Yes," she said this morning. "There is an opportunity to make it better."
Mary Katherine Greenlaw, who won the mayoral race, thought differently. She said the people elected her to the mayoral seat, and that means they support the courthouse decision.
"I think it lays it to rest," she said.