Name: Rick Kowalewitch

Race: Virginia Beach City Council, Beach District

Biography: I owned RK’s Surf Shop for 31 years. I have been heavily involved in local politics and have exposed some of the corruption over the last 20 years. I have and am continuing to help change some of the conflict of interest laws at the local and state level. Attended ODU for 2 years. I am OSHA certified.

Website: Richard “RK” Kowalewitch for VB City Council

Why should residents elect you to City Council?

I have been a small business owner in the City of Virginia Beach for over 30 years, and as we know, over 90 percent of all businesses in Virginia Beach are small businesses. I understand their needs, and I have fought to protect them in the past. I am the only candidate over the last 16 years that has called out the corruption and done something about it.

Last year, I met with Jason Miyares to help try to change the Virginia Code 3100 Section that would make some of these conflicts harder to happen and making the penalty harsher—from a Class 1 Misdemeanor to a Class 5 Felony. In the last 4 years, I helped orchestrate the fight against light rail and won. I have been speaking against the stormwater spending since 2002. I am the only candidate that has done this.

While my opponents were silent and no where to be found, I have taken a pro-action approach to fix a serious problem. Last year I met with top city officials on stormwater maintenance and their needs. I spoke out for the firefighters and police about pay compression and fully staffing them. I spoke out for the teachers when they were looking for raises.

Council needs to work on reducing the city’s bond debt and fund the unmandated pension liabilities. The City of Virginia Beach’s bond debt is $1.2 billion, and there is an additional $1.2 billion in unfunded unmandated pension liabilities. Just to service the bond debt, it is $457,000 a day, $167 million a year. This needs to be addressed immediately. You cannot tax people out of their homes.

We need to target and eliminate the wasteful spending by the city. We need to preserve and protect for future generations the open space at the oceanfront, i.e. Rudee Loop—one of the last open spaces left at the oceanfront. The surfing area needs to be left alone! In life you have to understand what the problem is before you can fix it, and I do understand the problem.

What is the most pressing issue facing your community, and how will you address the issue?

I think the most important issue that is facing our city right now is corruption. It appears that our government has prioritized to take care of their “buddies” and their special interest groups, instead of the citizens’ needs. We need to change the City Charter to make sure that these conflicts are much harder to occur and the consequences much more severe. I have already met with my state representative on changing the state conflict of interest code section as well. We were 80 police officers short in 2002, and today we are 100 police officers short. This needs to be addressed immediately along with pay compression for police officers and firefighters. Stormwater has to be addressed NOW. We have plenty of money, and we will not have to raise our taxes and fees today to fix it. We need to cut off the special interest money and start spending it on the citizens’ needs.

What are your community’s biggest infrastructure needs, and how do you plan to fulfill them?

Our stormwater infrastructure is aging. The City of Virginia Beach has 59K manholes and basins, 1,200 miles of pipe, 564 miles of ditches, 44 miles of canals, 790 lakes and ponds, 38 dams and spillways, and 15 pump stations. When housing developments were approved and built, the city knew that these areas needed to be maintained.

The city has not done its duty to protect the residents of Virginia Beach. Hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue have been collected, while prioritizing to take care of the needs of special interest groups and the “good old boys” instead of the needs of the residents of Virginia Beach. The city needs to prioritize and fix the maintenance issues on our stormwater problems. This is Priority Number 1 to change immediately and protect the residents of Virginia Beach.

The City of Virginia Beach has never had a revenue problem; it has a spending problem. What is amazing to me is every time a core item of the city needs to be funded, there is a rush to raise the taxes. Every time the special interests or “good old boys” need something, the money is always there. Look what they have done to the debt structure of city in the last 17 years. In the year 2002, stormwater revenues were around $12M, and currently our revenues are around $40M with only $14M going to maintenance.

Most recently, the current city council reduced the maintenance budget for stormwater for the city. This is a very irresponsible decision. I will work to reverse this policy and focus our government in providing funding for our aging infrastructure problems. I have already reached out to the hierarchy of the Stormwater Maintenance Department and had a lengthy discussion on fixing the problem.

The city needs to re-evaluate whether to build in low lying areas, and if they are going to allow building, there should be strict rules on how to build—i.e. pilings or higher foundations. Some areas should not be built on at all. Water retention or drainage needs to be addressed properly before allowing any construction to take place.

Do you believe there are any policy, legislative, or community changes that should be made to prevent tragedies like the mass shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center?

The first priority is to fully staff our police department. There are indications that there is not a healthy work environment in our city. The city needs to listen to employees. We need to investigate and weed out the problems. Hopefully, the independent report will address some of these issues. Obliviously, we need to first know what the problems are, and only then can you try to fix them.