Tag Archives: Joe Fitzgerald

Parental Rights, My Ass

Attack the most vulnerable and say it’s for everybody. What could go wrong?

by Joe Fitzgerald

The so-called “parental rights” policies designed to force questioning teens to out themselves to their families would affect perhaps 4,000 students in Virginia, according to the Post.

Bringing it a little closer to home, that would work out statistically to about 25 students in Harrisonburg and 40 in Rockingham County.

But would it affect them all? If half the teens questioning their gender are able to talk to their families about what they’re feeling, then we’re left with a policy targeting fewer than three dozen families, county and city, affected by the coercive policy.

Trumpeting this as parental rights ignores that it is only creating those rights for a miniscule minority of parents, and that those are quite possibly, perhaps probably, the parents whose children may have the most to fear from them.
It’s hardly something the wielders of this latest wedge issue are doing for all parents. Rather it is something they are doing to a tiny and isolated group of teens who may already be feeling friendless. Continue reading

Can’t Buy Me Dirt

by Joe Fitzgerald

For a while, you couldn’t get dirt in Harrisonburg.

The developer who was helping bankroll city council candidates in 2000 told us about the dirt shortage. The city was buying up all the topsoil in town and using every city dump truck to put it somewhere near the then-proposed golf course.

Opponents of the golf course filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking how much had been spent on the project. The dirt was not included in the costs. I remember referring to the quarter-million dollars worth of dirt although I think it may have been only $240,000. But that didn’t include the cost of the trucks to load it and move it and pile it and stack it – whatever you do with dirt.

Three golf course opponents, including me, won the May city council election. We were scrounging for ways to stop the project before we took office and the lame duck council was justifying the bond commitment they were about to vote for. One of their arguments was how much had already been spent. When they listed the amounts they included the cost of the dirt. Continue reading

What If They Gave an Election, and Nobody Came?


by Joe Fitzgerald

This is the most open Harrisonburg City Council election in a generation, and nobody seems interested.

Barely 300 people turned out Saturday to choose the Democratic nominees, and the Republicans have been silent. Only one obscure independent has emerged. If nothing happens between now and June 21, the race effectively ended this weekend. There are no incumbents on the ballot for the first time since 1994.

This would be the year for strong and determined independents to take the field. There are several reasons for that.

One is that the Democratic Party in Harrisonburg suffers from the same problem as James Madison University and the city government. We grew too fast. It wasn’t that long ago that we were a chicken town with a teachers’ college and the Democratic Party still had Byrd-era holdovers. The party’s nominating processes are well run and fair, but not big enough. The party’s nominees come out of the gate with an advantage in a city that votes 60% Democratic, but 300 people is not enough to decide representation for 25,000 voters. Continue reading

Unaffordable? A Proposed Town Center Doesn’t Have to Answer the Questions It Raises.

Land across from Harrisonburg High School is the site of a proposed 1,000 unit housing development. Photo credit: Daily News-Record

by Joe Fitzgerald

On the website for a proposed 1,000-unit housing development in Harrisonburg is a description of the players in the project. Included is a history of sorts of the Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority:

“[A] local election was held on November 8, 1955 and a majority of those voting in the election approved the need for a Redevelopment and Housing Authority to be activated in the City.”

The next sentence says HRHA helps people with their rent today. You’d almost think nothing had happened in the ensuing 67 years.

Sure, there was the time HRHA destroyed the city’s Black business section to build a Safeway and a Rose’s. And the time the authority partnered with the city and county to raze a couple of city blocks downtown to build a jail. There was the theatre that had to be bailed out by the city and the community center renovation that had to be bailed out by the city. (Full disclosure, I voted for the first bailout when I was on City Council and knew the second would have to happen when I voted for the renovation.)

It’s not that HRHA has a checkered history. It just happens to be the agency the city has often used for projects that are off the city’s books, until they’re not. Continue reading

Can We Afford Affordable?

Photo credit: The Harrisonburg Citizen

Magical thinking doesn’t build schools or roads.

by Joe Fitzgerald

Harrisonburg’s taxes are going up and will continue to go up because of housing decisions.

Stated another way, because talking about taxes makes me sound like a Republican, the city will have to keep building more schools and hiring more teachers and bus drivers and principals because of a perceived housing crisis (or, if you prefer, the way the solution to the housing crisis is being perceived).

The past housing decision was the zoning change that encouraged owners of large properties to add 3,000 beds of student housing a decade or so back. Students moved out of older complexes and families with children moved in. Continue reading

When the Numbers Stopped

by Joe Fitzgerald

The Virginia Department of Health began posting daily COVID numbers on March 17, 2020, and effectively quit Thursday. A press release on the VDH website explains the changes, but doesn’t include enough real information to make it worth the trouble of linking there.

For two years, though, VDH produced daily information that made it possible to produce snapshots of information about the history, current state, and projected trajectory of the pandemic down to the zip code level.

A math degree and journalistic experience made it fairly simple for me to figure out what was relevant to the central Shenandoah Valley every day so that Deb and I could make personal decisions based on more than our reading about national and worldwide trends and about efforts on the various medical fronts. Continue reading

The Governor’s Surge

We’ll know soon if the rest of us get what the unvaxed voted for.

by Joe Fitzgerald

Virginia’s governor ran on a platform to protect children from critical race theory and expose them to COVID. The first goal was moot, since CRT wasn’t often mentioned in public schools to begin with. How well the second succeeds should be apparent by the Ides of March.

It’s been known from the outset of the pandemic that masking, social distancing, and vaccines were the primary defenses against COVID. A year after vaccines became widely available the pandemic could have been effectively over, had rightist demagogues not discovered something new to rail against. If the 1950s were like this, iron lungs would dot America’s red counties like coal-rolling pickups.

And it is in the coal-rolling counties that the Republican freedom-to-infect mandate will be tested beginning Tuesday. Statewide, red counties are less vaccinated. The nearest example is comparing the age 5-17 populations in blue Harrisonburg and red Rockingham, 60% and 34% vaccinated, respectively. Let’s be judgmental, and assume that there is some overlap between the intentionally unvaxed and those who think spewing COVID aerosols is enshrined in some amendment they haven’t read. Continue reading

Belligerence as Leadership

Image credit: MyVaccineUpdate.com

by Joe Fitzgerald

About one in 16 American adults suffer with chronic pulmonary disease. Serious health guidelines say they’re the primary ones who should not wear masks. Some of them still can, but a figure of 6% is about the maximum of adults who shouldn’t wear them.

The governor of Virginia, elected to eradicate a subject that isn’t being taught, has decided that removing masks from public schools is the hill he wants to die on.

The two possibilities are that he truly believes life-saving mask mandates in public schools threaten personal freedom, or that he wants to pick a fight early on to exhibit his strength as governor.

The latter seems more likely. And while even some people are his side of the aisle are smart enough to see what he’s doing, a lot of the people who voted for him aren’t. They elected a reality TV star as president and now a financial speculator as governor. Somehow the image of a private equity manager struck them as more John Wayne than Jacob Marley. Continue reading

This Didn’t Have to Happen

by Joe Fitzgerald

A year ago, the post-Thanksgiving surge was still raging, but there was hope in the imminent availability of vaccines. But 2021 would be the year of criminals who stormed the Capitol because they didn’t understand democracy and of their intellectual brethren who didn’t understand science or medicine.

Virginia set a record today for statewide number of new cases. That’s the third day in a row the number has been a record (12,112 Wednesday, 13,500 yesterday, 17,618 today.) Staunton-Augusta-Waynesboro have seen a total of more than 20,000 cases as of today, and Harrisonburg-Rockingham will pass that milestone over the weekend.

The largest strain is on the health-care system. Hospitals are all but closed to all but the most serious illnesses and injuries. Nurses face not only the crush of cases, but the fact that those getting most seriously ill are the most stubborn in their denial about COVID. Those people don’t know enough science to get them to the first mid-terms of nursing school, but anecdotally many of them are abusive and sometimes violent in their resistance to COVID facts. Continue reading

Let Teachers Teach

by Joe Fitzgerald

Remember when SRO was standing room only? It’s not now. That’s not truly a loss, nor is it unexpected in a language whose alphabet only offers 17,576 three-letter combinations for abbreviations.

The number goes up to almost half a million, specifically 456,976, if you go to four letters, and still there are overlaps. I found that out once when I sent a four-letter acronym to a woman a third my age suggesting sarcastically that an upcoming dull and lifeless chore we had to do would be the “highlight of my day.” She didn’t get the reference, and Google took her to the Urban Dictionary where she learned, to my chagrin if not hers, that the abbreviation I’d used also described a female-superior sexual position.

Hilarity ensued once we compared notes, but it was dicey in the interim.

SRO now stands for School Resource Officer, of course, because we don’t want to call them campus cops. I don’t know why, but we just don’t. A debate has gone on locally – that’s Harrisonburg, for my readers in Idaho – about whether SROs are necessary in the middle and high schools. Continue reading

No, Parents Should Not Tell Schools What to Teach

Terry McAuliffe was right

by Joe Fitzgerald

“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

The statement is actually one of the bedrocks of our public K-12 system. Teachers will go to college for four years to learn what to teach. Literature, history, civics, arithmetic, mathematics. They learn how these things link together, and can perhaps teach how the literature of the 1850s and the economics of slave labor influenced the road to Civil War.

They spend time as student teachers, finding out what it’s like to interact with a classroom full of students, and finding out whether the profession is what they want to pursue.

They know whether “The Fountainhead” or “A Tale of Two Cities” is a better way to teach about narrative, principle, and sacrifice. They know whether James M. McPherson understands the Civil War era better than the United Daughters of the Confederacy. They know different ways to add three-digit numbers, and different approaches to showing students how addition works. Continue reading

Last Local? Harrisonburg’s City Races Could Still Top the Ballot

by Joe Fitzgerald

I barely recognized Mark Obenshain (the Republican state senator from Harrisonburg — ed.) the last time I saw him, and had to tell him who I was. Odd, because we used to run into each other regularly at Keister Elementary, at one time our shared precinct.

That was back when all politics was still local in Harrisonburg. There could be an Obenshain barn sign stored in a shed at a city elementary school and a Democratic official – that would be me – could roll his eyes and entertain the possibility it was donated for art projects. As an election judge, formally closing the polls, I could find Mark and one other guy chatting outside on a cold Election Day and just tell them, instead of making a loud declaration.

The big change from all politics being local began when Suzanne and the now-retired registrar took various actions to prevent or slow student registration in 2008. But as late as 2010 I could still see Mark outside the polls at Keister and note that it was the last local election for 12 years.

I sort of remember thinking he was one of the few people who would get it. With local elections moved from May to November, the congressional year without a Senate or Presidential race was the only time local issues and city council candidates might dominate the ballot. Continue reading

Challenging JMU with a Slingshot

by Joe Fitzgerald

The reasons Jake Conley might win are moral and the reasons he might lose are legal.

Jake Conley is the Breeze editor suing JMU over FOIA requests the student newspaper made for the location of Covid cases on campus. Call it the Dorms to Avoid suit.

JMU declined to provide the info, citing privacy laws that allow it to withhold health information about issues involving 10 or fewer of its 21,000 students.

It’s worth noting that for 10 or fewer of the 697 cases among on-campus students last year to be in one dorm, there would have to be 70 dorms. Or the 25 dorms the school actually has would have 28 cases each, but never 10 at the same time.

Also worth noting, the Breeze isn’t suing JMU, because the paper is part of JMU and can’t sue itself. So the editor is acting as a citizen of Virginia, and is technically on his own unless someone joins the suit or decides to represent him for free. JMU on the other hand can send its staff attorney or, in a pinch, call in the state Attorney General’s office. Continue reading

Delta Dawn at JMU?

by Joe Fitzgerald

More than 1 in 9 James Madison University students was infected with Covid-19 during the school year that ended in May. To date, the university has accepted little responsibility for those illnesses or for any associated spread in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.

President Alger and members of the Senior Leadership Team have been predominantly silent about any mistakes the university may have made and what it will do to correct them this year as students return in the midst of the more virulent Delta Variant spread.

The university’s stance a week after classes began last year was “cautious optimism,” according to an email from Alger a few days before in-person classes were canceled. A few weeks later a university spokesperson, not Alger or any senior administrator, told the media, “There’s nothing at blame here except for the virus.”

Silence from the university and from Alger has continued this summer. The university has said it will require students to be vaccinated, but in effect the policy amounts to asking students to tell the university if they aren’t going to be vaccinated. Faculty and staff are explicitly not required to be vaccinated. Continue reading

Eating the Bait


by Joe Fitzgerald

Eating The Bait is the improbable story of Harrisonburg’s Golf Course, and how it came to be, told in a decidedly non-linear fashion by a non-objective observer. The whole sick, sad, silly, sorry, sordid story of the destructive, polarizing, maddeningly frustrating and ultimately hilarious battle over whether a city in the Shenandoah Valley — where little happens, nor should it — should build a golf course. Caution: the story is carefully doctored by a key player to make it more exciting and occasionally uses 4-, 11-, 12, and 7-letter words to express frustration and drama.

In April 1999 the City of Harrisonburg decided to build a golf course. “City” is capitalized here because the phrase refers to the government of the city, in all its majesty and error. The course was touted as raising the quality of life in the city, increasing city revenues, and helping make Harrisonburg a first-class city.

The only real catch, as the City Council voted 5-0 to launch the project and the city staff began making plans and spending money, was that the city didn’t want a golf course. And by “city”, non-capitalized, I mean the people who lived in the city, paid the taxes and owned the government that the council and staff only held in trust. Two polls and an election bore out the fact that a landslide of city voters and an overwhelming majority of its citizenry did not want the golf course.

The City didn’t care. The City knew better. And the city still bears the scars. Continue reading