Bernie Sanders Comes to Morgantown?

Mark Brazaitis leading many tours through Haymaker Forest, and leading Morgantown City Council to move Haymaker Forest from private hands to public hands for continued and expanded public use, to hook Haymaker Forest (the size of Marilla Park) into the existing Morgantown area park and trail system – what kind of leadership is that? What other political leader might that remind anyone of? How about Bernie Sanders as Mayor of Burlington, Vermont. Morgantown City Councilor, Deputy Mayor, Mark Brazaitis leading Morgantown City Council – especially on this issue, and as one of very many transplant residents in this area, and in a greener age here today – is a lot like transplant Bernie Sanders leading Burlington Vermont City Council decades ago: https://www.thenation.com/article/bernies-burlington-city-sustainable-future/ 

Things were contentious then and there too in local politics. It’s basically unavoidable. You do the best you can and move on from discussion to discussion, issue to issue. Change can be unsettling for everyone. There can be growing pains all around, caused by changes that people are not used to. It takes time to work through. The fact that more people have finally sat up and taken notice of City Council is a sign that substantial change is in the works, a real move forward toward finally addressing the many concerns of the public that have been so long neglected, overlooked, ignored, or underfunded. Badly underfunded. Substantial progress for the city of Morgantown and larger area, for the public, is coming along, at last. The public, like the area infrastructure and services, is experiencing growing pains. It can never be entirely harmonious. The Council is doing what it can and is learning as it goes. So should we all.

One of the first achievements of the new City Council this past year was to raise the minimum wage for city employees to $15 per hour. The entire greater Morgantown area has a huge wage problem. There is relatively low unemployment in the Morgantown area, quite a few jobs, but wages are far too low. The City Council did what it could toward this end. In my view, the national minimum wage should be $20 per hour (the City could and I think should bump up the wage on its own), subsidized by the federal government as necessary, and that may come with Bernie Sanders’ push for a federal job guarantee with a living wage. In the meantime, the Morgantown City Council has at least moved in the appropriate direction to raise the wages of its lowest paid employees.

And now it is moving forward on other fronts, attempting to preserve green space in a city area where field and forest is rapidly being destroyed for all time. The victorious City Council members ran on other progressive policy planks as well: improving public funding, infrastructure, and services for the library system, for BOPARC, for a community health and wellness center, for neighborhood concerns large and small, and annexation: extending the city borders. For decades the Monongalia County Commission has been openly hostile to annexation. As a consequence, over the past decades, literally hundreds of millions of dollars of B&O and property taxes have been blocked from going to the City of Morgantown (also Westover) that would otherwise be funding many additional public services and infrastructure. Instead, Morgantown was forced to raise the fire fee, and also put in place a user fee to fund police, staff, and road work, and now is forced to consider levies by referendum to purchase park and trail land, and fund other public infrastructure and public services. Annexation could have eliminated the need for those tax increases. Thus Morgantown’s necessary push for annexation. The County Commission should stop choking Morgantown, should approve annexation, and in this way help the public fund its many pressing needs.

Toward this end, Morgantown requires progressive leadership. Like Bernie Sanders in Burlington, Vermont decades ago – Bernie Sanders who won every single county in West Virginia in the Democratic Primary against Hillary Clinton – Deputy Mayor Mark Brazaitis is leading Morgantown forward, through the Haymaker Forest, to an increasingly more green, healthy, and prosperous future. As in Burlington, Vermont, the path ahead won’t always be smooth and easy to venture forward on. The trail will wind and rise and dip and loop around and be sometimes more clear and sometimes more confusing, but at least there is a path forward if there is a strong enough City Council and a forward looking County Commission and an active and engaged public willing to help get it done. And then get it done again. And again through time. It’s time to move forward. It’s time to get it done. No one, no neighborhoods, no city, no urban or rural county pocket or expanse must be left behind. The public well-being depends on it, from the local to the national level.

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