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Monday, April 1, 2013
From time to time, a child is born who is genetically destined to become an outstanding adult. Just such a child was my friend, the late Col. Robert Russ Craig.
The colonel and I met around 2002 to 2004. I was market manager of the Historic Roanoke City Market and was chatting with a vendor when he walked up and demanded a copy of the contract between Downtown Roanoke Inc. and the city of Roanoke. Any Marine can remember the starch in a full, bull colonel in the United States Marine Corps.
Unfortunately for the colonel, I was a lowly USAF Airman Second Class in the military. I paused briefly in my conversation and told him where to go. Lest you misunderstand, I told him where to find David Diaz, then the executive director of DRI.
From that came a decade of friendship and attempted education. That is to say, the colonel did his best to educate me, but his vast knowledge and experience fell on me much as a fog falls in the valley.
While I don't believe I am particularly dumb, the colonel tried his best to teach me something about economics, and I tried my best to learn but, alas, I was not genetically inclined in that field.
We remained friends until his death in 2012. I kept copies of many of his commentaries and re-read them from time to time.
The colonel had what could only be called a pet peeve. He insisted local governments should obtain maximum utility from taxpayers' money, which he found to be misunderstood by some elected officials.
One of his commentaries was published on Dec. 7, 2009 ("Make storm water fees election issue"). It is somewhat ironic that an issue begun four years ago should enjoy a rebirth in the Roanoke City Council. The issue is storm water fees.
That commentary should be compulsory reading for everyone in city government, elected and appointed.
If Roanoke rejected the concept of fees (read that as an additional property tax) four years ago, I'm sure the colonel would wonder what has happened to bring the fees up at this time.
In his commentary, he acknowledged one published the month before headlined "A $60 million problem demands attention" by Councilmen Dave Trinkle and Rupert Cutler. I suppose it is possible that Roanoke still has the problem but still doesn't have the $60 million.
Perhaps the city manager could benefit from the recommendations of the colonel.
Of course, there would be no reason to consider the validity of his advice if members of council also had served as a comptroller for several Marine Corps bases or as a comptroller for the Internal Revenue Service or had taught at several universities in undergraduate and graduate management and financial courses.
The colonel was opposed to the fee system because it sets a bad precedent (in his words). He felt that it was the city's responsibility to maintain storm drains, just as it was the city's responsibility to pave the streets.
The colonel went further by asking, what might be next? Picking up trash, or a 911 response when someone breaks into a home. He felt a fee of $3 might be modest but that fees have a way of rapidly increasing by fiat.
The colonel was my friend, and I miss him. I miss his wisdom, his wit and his great concern for the people. He wanted to become a council member and ran for election with his wife's blessing, and most of his campaign contributions coming out of his savings. He was not elected.
He used to repeat, from time to time, that he was not born and raised in Roanoke, but that he and Ginny chose to live in Roanoke. That choice, I suspect, was the basis for his continuing concern about the business of running the government of Roanoke.
I do not live in the city but in Roanoke County. I, therefore, cannot vote for members of council. The colonel passed away on April 1, 2012, and his voice and advice are regrettably silenced.
I can think of no way in which the colonel's great concern for the people can be better expressed than the headline of his Dec. 7, 2009, commentary, "Make storm water fees election issue."
Let your opinion be reflected before you cast your ballot, when you cast your ballot, and cast your ballot in every election.
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