With signatures approved, Kids First Initiative gets closer to the 2018 ballot

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On Tuesday, City Council verified the signatures for putting the Richmond Kids First Initiative on the 2018 ballot. The embattled initiative, which supporters had worked to put on the 2016 ballot, would allocate up to 3 percent of the city’s general fund over the next 10 years for a special fund for children’s and youth services.

The initiative has been a source of recent disagreement between its proponents and the City Council. Although it was initially on the agenda for the July 26 council meeting—the last meeting at which it could have been approved for the 2016 ballot—it was removed, said City Attorney Bruce Goodmiller in a letter to the Kids First legal team on August 2, because signatures for the measure hadn’t been validated by the county in time to give the council 72 hours’ notice to put it on the agenda. Two subsequent motions at the July meeting failed to add it to the agenda as an emergency item.

Initiative supporters, including youth from the RYSE Center, gathered at City Hall for Tuesday’s motion to approve the signatures, which passed without comment from the council, as a package with the rest of the consent calendar.

“It was good to see the City Council uphold the democratic process,” said Eric Aaholm of YES Nature to Neighborhoods, a member organization of the Invest in Youth Coalition, which created the Kids First Initiative.

At the July meeting, councilmember Jael Myrick voted alone in favor of adding the initiative to the agenda. Councilmembers Nat Bates and Vinay Pimplé, along with Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) members Gayle McLaughlin and Jovanka Beckles, abstained from the vote.

According to an official statement released by the RPA Steering Committee that same day, members agreed with the “general spirit of the initiative” but were concerned by “the actual language.”

In a separate statement, RPA member Mike Parker said that the initiative had two problems, in his view. First, its budget would compete with the budget for other crucial expenditures, including road repairs and senior programs. Second, because the initiative specifies that public agencies could not receive more than 20 percent of Kids First funds, services would be “outsourced” to private nonprofits and public-private partnerships.

Mayor Tom Butt also voiced objection to the initiative and its proponents back in July. “Instead of building a funding source into their initiative, they decided to figuratively scale the walls and sack the City treasury,” he wrote in his July 27 E-Forum statement.

The Invest in Youth Coalition responded to the council’s July decision with a statement accusing City Council of failing “to uphold the democratic process.”

Earlier this week, prior to Tuesday’s council meeting, the coalition sent a letter to City Council offering to work together to address points of dispute, including the clause limiting public access to Kids First funds.

“Many of the so-called private nonprofits”—referenced by Parker—“provide amazing resources and programs” for youth, said RYSE Youth Organizing Director Jamileh Ebrahimi, adding, “it’s not like we’re an evil private entity.”

The next step for the Kids First Initiative is for City Council to pass a resolution to put it on the ballot, which the Council is now obligated to do before the 2018 vote.

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