Build collaboration, not a regional government, Trani says

Richmond Times-Dispatch Published: December 3, 2015

One conclusion reached by the think tank studying the Richmond region’s future is this: A regional government akin to what cities such as Charlotte, N.C., have established is not the solution here.

“That’s not going to happen,” said Eugene P. Trani, the president emeritus of Virginia Commonwealth University who founded the think tank called Richmond’s Future five years ago.

But the greater region — and that includes 13 counties and four cities — should build on its successes with collaborative projects, he said. He cites as successes the convention center and biotech research park, which helped revitalize downtown, and the more recent world cycling championships, which helped shape Richmond into a top travel destination.

The group’s preliminary report will be presented tonight by Robert D. Holsworth, a political scientist who directed research for Richmond’s Future, during a Public Square at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The session, from 6 to 8 p.m. at 300 E. Franklin St., also will feature a presentation on national trends by John W. Martin, president and CEO of the Southeastern Institute of Research Inc., and a panel discussion led by Gary Rhodes, president of Reynolds Community College.

The event then will be opened to public comments that will help inform the final report, Trani said.

“We are suggesting that while there will not be a uni-government — not going to happen because of the laws of Virginia and independent cities — the community needs to take on individual projects and see where those individual projects can go,” Trani said.

“We feel that is a more viable strategy for big projects to get done,” he said. “Pick a big project and see who can unite behind it and move on.”

The report has identified issues as well as a methodology for how collaboration can take place, he said.

“Hopefully these are going to be living recommendations,” Trani said.

In March, he plans a regional meeting of government officials and business leaders representing the broader Richmond metropolitan area to discuss the report.

That region includes Goochland, Caroline, New Kent and Charles City, in addition to counties in Southside Virginia and areas such as Fort Lee that are part of a growing logistic hub.

“It isn’t just Richmond, Chesterfield, Henrico and Hanover,” he said.

Trani said he hopes the March meeting will become an annual event to assess collaborative projects. But after the initial meeting, Trani said, it will be time for him to move on.

“The last five years have been exhilarating for me,” he said. “But I think it’s time for others to pick up on the issue of the future and also on the projects.”

Trani, 76, stepped down as VCU president in 2009, and since then he has had three books published and is at work on two others. He also teaches an honors course in leadership at VCU, and with his wife, Lois, works to support All Saints Catholic School in Ginter Park.

“I love VCU and I love the Richmond metro area,” he said.

“It’s a delicate balance,” he said. “I’m president emeritus, not president, but at the same time I am interested in a lot of issues, and very bluntly have opinions on certain issues.”

So he plans to stay involved as “an interested citizen” and hopes his new report on Richmond’s Future will encourage others to speak up, too.

“I hope as a result local people are not going to be bashful about stating their views about what the future of Richmond ought to be,” he said.

That includes residents whose expertise on different issues is appreciated “all over world, but their voices are not heard” locally, he said.

This new initiative, he said, “will make it clear that there is an obligation and opportunity to use their expertise locally.”