Thursday, May 5, 2011

Thoughts on the May Supervisors' meeting

The May 3 meeting of the Goochland Board of Supervisors was the calm after the budget storm ended in April. Indeed, the session began with a plethora of recognitions of worthy causes and retiring planning commissioners Bob Rich and Bill Neal.

Members of the county staff, including Wanda Tormey, Myrtis Quarles, Faye Mann, Bill Cleveland and Jennifer Brown were recognized by County Administrator Rebecca Dickson for their extraordinary contribution to serve the citizens of the county following the crisis in the Treasurer’s office. These folks rolled up their sleeves and got the job done without complaint. Now that most of the bad apples have been removed from the county fruit bowl we can really appreciate the gems on staff that held things together through thick and thin.

Herb Griffith chair of the Goochland Electoral Board used the citizen comment period of the afternoon session to take Board chair William Quarles, Jr., District 2, to task for insinuating that a voting machine at the Three Square precinct in District 2 malfunctioned during the November 7, 2010 election. Quarles' comments were made during the April 11 public hearing on redistricting. Griffith explained the procedures, as decreed by state law, that election officials are required to use during such an event. He said that a careful investigation of Quarles’ allegations, including a thorough review of all election reports concerning the 2010 election, revealed absolutely no indication of voting machine malfunction nor any sort of problem during the day’s voting.

The election at all county precincts was certified without exception, said Griffith.

“Any individual or group of individuals that wish to make mischief or degrade voter confidence in the electoral process could seize on this seeming conflict in voting machine performance to disrupt this or any future election. We will not permit that possibility to exist if we could possible prevent it.”

Griffith further explained that there were two voting machines at the Three Square precinct and the statement of results indicates no discrepancies and was signed by all four precinct officials. There were no reports of voting machine failure. He said that the electoral Board was unable to find any evidence of Quarles’ allegations and asked that a withdrawal of the comment is appropriate.

After closing the public comment period, Quarles sort of said that he had made a mistake and failed to personally check out a complaint made to him by a constituent. Next time, Quarles promised, he will check with the registrar. He said there was never an intent to defraud to bring embarrassment upon the electoral Board and contended that his comments were not made in that vein. (Recordings of both April 11 and the May 3 Board meeting are available on the county website please listen for yourself.)

Dr. Gary Rhodes, president of J. Sargent Reynolds Community College wants to designate the current western campus as the Goochland Campus and the supervisors gave this change their blessing.

The June Board meeting will be held on Monday, June 13.

The supervisors voted 3-2 to renew the county’s franchise agreement with Comcast. Rudy Butler, District 4 and Ned Creasey District 3 voted against the measure. Butler took Ken Dye, Comcast area general manager to task for the company’s failure to work with area subdivisions to provide high speed internet service.

Dye said that the company has a rule of thumb that densities of fewer than 30 homes per road mile are not economically feasible for the company to wire them. He said that Comcast would continue to explore partnering with subdivisions in the future. He gave no explanation why areas like Cedar Plains Road and Millers Lane, which are served by Comcast and have density lower than 30 homes per mile are served by Comcast.

Dye contended that lowering the density threshold “is not a sustainable business model. The folks who hold the capital purse strings make the decisions to protect the long term interest of the company.” Butler took Comcast to task for “cherry picking.” It sure seems like Comcast has all the benefits of being a public utility without any of the headaches. (Didn’t President Obama promise that the entire country would have access to high speed internet during the 2008 campaign?)

Most of the county has little access to high speed internet. Air cards and satellite internet are better than dial up but do not work for all properties. In the meantime, Goochland has less internet access than some third world countries. There was some indication that the agreement with Comcast is not exclusive. The agreement also provides for Comcast to broadcast supervisors’ meetings, but only to those with Comcast service.

County assessor Glenn Branham reported that property values may drop slightly in 2011.

The supervisors voted 4-1 (James Eads District 5 in dissent) to permit staff to perform due diligence on a six acre piece of property in Courthouse Village roughly across the Road from Southern States. The current price is $70,000, down from $90,000 when the matter was first brought before the Board late last year.

While this parcel would provide access to Sandy Hook Road from the school property, we really don’t know why the county is interested in buying this land. With money as tight as it is, there should be a compelling reason for the purchase.

During public hearings, the supervisors approved an ordinance amendment to requires precious metals dealers to photograph people selling precious metals in addition to obtaining a great deal of personal information. While the purpose of this is to make it harder to fence stolen goods, Mark Fisher, owner of The Gold Spot in Oilville contended that stolen precious metals is sold locally at “gold parties” that are totally unregulated.

An ordinance amendment to permit that rifles of a caliber larger than 0.22 may be used to hunt from a stand elevated at least ten feet from the ground was unanimously approved following thoughtful and detailed comments from local hunters supporting the change.

Rifle hunting from an elevated stand, hunters contended, is safer and more humane than shotgun hunting at grade. The use of rifles from a stand requires less ammunition, one bullet per shot from a rifle essentially aimed at the ground versus shotgun shells filled with pellets aimed outward. Rifles kill targets cleanly and more humanely. Many of these hunters also said that they prefer to hunt with rifles and are now forced to hunt outside of Goochland. Hopefully, this change will keep skilled and conscientious hunters closer to home and reduce our deer population.

The Board sent a proposed amendment to the M-2 zoning classification regarding outside storage to the showers contending that creation of a M-3 classification would be more appropriate. The change seems to have been proposed in response to complaints about mulch vendors.

Adult day care centers were added as a permitted use in B-1 and B-2 zoning districts.

Goochland County’s proposed redistricting plan was unanimously approved by the supervisors and will now go the United States Department of Justice for approval. The Goochland electoral Board; county attorney Norman Sales and GIS coordinator and many others on county staff, are to be commended for their hard work in this difficult process, which is not yet complete.

The final plan moves only 606 voters. There will be new voting precincts in Districts 5 and 3. The change in District 3 was caused by the split in representation in the Virginia House of Delegates. Both polling places, however, will remain at the Company 5 fire-rescue station on Fairground Road. In District 5, a new precinct was created to relieve overcrowding at Dover Church. Those delegated to the new precinct will cast ballots at the Collegiate Athletic Facility on Blair Road.

The Crozier precinct was eliminated in District 4 because henceforth all of Goochland will be in the new 22nd district for the Virginia Senate. All District 4 voters will cast their ballots at St. Matthews Church in Centerville. The electoral Board deemed that the widening of Broad Street Road would make the existing polling place, Company 3, too dangerous.

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