Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Earning it

Bryan Rhode of Crozier, resplendent in his Marine Captain’s uniform, addressed the Memorial Day observance sponsored by Goochland American Legion Post 215 yesterday morning on the Courthouse Green.

(Thanks to Doug Kinney for recording and posting the event on YouTube http://youtu.be/JAlgyGiecns. This needs to go viral.)

On the day set aside to honor America’s war dead, Rhode spoke of two particular fallen troopers. One a female helicopter pilot who was killed in Fallujah, Iraq, the other an artillery officer who died in Afghanistan last December.

They are part of a long line of heroes who died in America’s service protecting the freedoms that we all take for granted. Many of today’s troopers come home with terrible injuries that have changed their lives forever.

Rhode then alluded to the film “Saving Private Ryan.” This is the story of a platoon of soldiers assigned to find Ryan in the chaotic aftermath of the 1944 Normandy invasion. The War Department decided to send Ryan home because he was the sole survivor of his parents’ four sons in uniform.

As one of the soldiers sent to find Ryan is dying, he asks the private “to earn it,” meaning that much had been sacrificed for him to survive the war and go home.

Rhode then exhorted the audience to “earn it” too.

What a powerful message for Memorial Day. His remarks followed recognition of veterans who served in World War II and the Koran conflict. It was fitting to honor members of the Greatest Generation who are slipping into history at an alarming pace. We must say thank you to them while we can. They earned it.

But what about the rest of us?

Sure, these are not the best of times for many folks. Families and businesses are struggling to survive and get a little traction to move forward.

Rhode encouraged his audience to give something back as part of “earning it.”

A healthy, supportive and productive society is the result of people across the socio-economic spectrum doing what they can to make their little corner of the world a better place.

We’ve gotten away from the notion of everyone doing their part to keeps things on course and let the other guy, whoever that may be, carry the burden.

The American spirit will endure only if each of us does our bit. We owe the fallen more than ceremonial homage on national holidays. We need to earn their sacrifice that secured our freedoms by the way that we live our lives every day.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A new day in the neighborhood

With luck, the soap opera that was Goochland is history.

The drama is over and everyone is working together to fix the myriad of problems that prevented the county from functioning well.

Signs that a new attitude is in place are all over.

In the past few weeks, County Attorney Norman Sales and his assistant Kelly Kemp guided both the Planning Commission and newly created Broadband Committee through the rules and regulations that govern them. This included Freedom of Information Act requirements for posting public notice of meetings; conflict of interest; what constitutes a meeting (using the “reply all” feature of email to discuss public business is not permitted) and keeping copies of all correspondence, including emails.
Sales explained to the planning commission that closed sessions are permitted only to discuss personnel matters; sensitive financial transactions or receive advice of counsel regarding litigation.

As the planning commission has no employees, does not engage in financial transactions and, so far, has not been sued, it has no grounds for closed session. Sales also made it quite clear that he will ensure that no county boards and commissions operating while he is county attorney disregard closed meeting rules. This is another nice change from past practices.

On May 9, the Broadband Committee held its inaugural meeting. Comprised of citizens with professional experience in information technology and telecommunications, this group will investigate existing high speed internet resources and seek ways to extend broadband access to the entire county.

Peter Martin, the technical director for Goochland Schools is also on the committee. He pointed out that the “digital divide” can be illustrated by drawing a line through the center of the county. Nonexistent internet access for many county students hampers their ability to keep up with assignments.

The lack of high speed internet access in the western part of Goochland is a serious deficit. There is no money to fund broadband infrastructure so any actions taken by the county are likely to fall into creating an environment to attract private investment.

In some areas, a dearth of cell towers makes use of wireless internet devices unreliable at best.
This committee is scheduled to be in existence for about six months and make recommendations on the subject to the Board of Supervisors in October.

The group elected District 2 supervisor Manuel Alvarez, Jr. chair and Marshall Bowden who lives in District 5 as vice chair.
Alvarez explained that his successful efforts to bring high speed internet brought to his Mill Forest home (he is one of two homes in that neighborhood served by Comcast) sparked an interest in and dissatisfaction with local government that led him to seek public office.

Kudos to Alvarez for putting the committee together and thanks to all of its members for donating their talents and time to the community.

The county has done little on the broadband issue since a 2008 study, which cost about $50,000. Bowden suggested its information be used as the jumping off point for the committee’s work. He suggested that an assessment be made of what’s in place because some towers that had been approved were never built due to the economic downturn.
County staff will provide the initial background data.

Once the preliminaries were dealt with, the discussion began in earnest and the intellectual synergy among the participants blossomed. This will only get better going forward.

One pointed out that bandwidth should be considered because satellite systems do not provide sufficient bandwidth to stream movies, or meetings of the committee. This is ironic because those most interested in improving broadband access are probably unable to access the meetings this way.

Others said that reasonable cost is important without quite defining “reasonable.”

Kevin Hazzard, who is also the District 2 school board member, suggested basic criteria of high speed, low latency and reasonable cost. Latency is the maddening delay that occurs between the time that a URL is entered and a page begins to load.
Alvarez said that a diverse set of solutions may be the answer as Goochland is not a “one size fits all” kind of place. This could include requiring new subdivisions to install cable or fiber to entice providers and identifying prime sites for additional tower wireless applications.

The new, improved planning commission has met twice and is focusing on the business of sound land use practices. Recently appointed members come to meetings prepared and offer thoughtful, informed comments on agenda matters.
In addition to organizational information provided by Sales, principal planner Tom Coleman walked the planning commission through an overview of land use in Goochland at its May 17 meeting.

At its June meeting, the planning commission will hold a workshop on “dark sky” lighting regulations and electronic signs. Both subjects have been overlooked for too long.

As the planning commission grapples with the intrusive nature of light and high tech signs, perhaps it will also attempt to define “rural.”

To protect the “rural character” everyone loves, it must be clearly defined to craft protective measures.
Goochland’s problems have not changed, but the new perspective and energy directed to finding solutions instead of moaning about our troubles is cause for optimism.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Team players

Crafting more effective government

The imminent departure of Goochland Superintendent of Schools Dr. Linda Underwood is the latest of many in the school system and county government in the past three years.

Even before last November’s election, which replaced the entire school board and 80 percent of the board of supervisors, new faces had become the norm rather than the exception.

These new folks are dramatically, and for the better, bringing new attitudes and expectations to Goochland. This is a good thing. However, all of that new blood makes citizen collaboration with public servants more important than ever.
Now that the budget is done, our new supervisors, who campaigned on promises of more effective yet responsive government, have turned their attention to appointed internal boards and commissions.

At their last meeting, the supervisors learned about these ancillary bodies from County Attorney Norman Sales. Once again, the new supervisors were well prepared for the discussion and asked pertinent questions. The cordial demeanor among the supervisors was a nice change from the past.

Board vice chair Ken Peterson District 5 pointed out that there are around 100 positions on the ancillary boards and commissions and wanted to ensure that they all currently have enough members to conduct ongoing business. County administrator Rebecca Dickson stated that this is not an issue.

(A list of these boards and commissions is part of the May 1 board packet, which is available in its entirety on the county website www.goochland.va.us on the supervisors’ page.)

Some of these groups, like the planning commission, are mandated by the state. The Board of Equalization and Board of Zoning Appeals are appointed by the Circuit Court, while other groups are appointed by the supervisors.

The matrix used by Sales includes the duties of each group and skill sets needed to ensure that its goals can be achieved.
Basic qualifications, county residency, for instance, and desired skills are listed for each body. Some require professional qualifications, others an interest and willingness to serve. Some of these groups provide specific training for their members.
Many citizen appointees have given countless and extremely productive hours serving the county in a wide range of functions from the Social Services Board to the Recreation Advisory Commission.

Goochland is blessed with a gracious plenty of talented, skilled and generous people willing and able to contribute their abilities to the public good. Too bad in the past, few of them were recruited to these boards and commissions.
Recent appointments to the planning commission and a temporary committee formed to study the broadband issue have tapped some of this talent. This bodes well for the future.

Some, like the Design Review Committee, charged with ensuring adherence to standards in the county’s overlay districts and the Tuckahoe Creek Service District Advisory Committee (TCSDAC) have generated controversy.

For much of its existence, most of the five members of the DRC have been concurrently planning commissioners. While this gives them greater understanding of the details of an application, some contend that planning commission attitudes spill over on the DRC.

Property owners believe, with some justification that the DRC exists to increase costs and slow completion of any project. It rules on matters from signage to colors, materials, architectural design, landscaping and setbacks.
Others feel that the DRC simply rubber stamps whatever comes along.

Some folks believe that the DRC should be eliminated and its function folded into the plan of development review and the building permit process, which is done at the staff level by county employees.

Everyone seems to agree that the requirement to obtain a certificate of appropriateness impedes development in overlay districts. Developers also contend that it makes doing business in Goochland cumbersome and expensive and take their business elsewhere.

But what about input from the citizens who must live with the result? That needs to be a part of the process.

The TCSDAC, which is comprised of major TCSD landowners, has also drawn flak. The old regime treated the TCSDAC like mushrooms —kept in the dark and fed manure. Most of the previous board believed that the TCSD had outlived its usefulness once the TCSD was completed and refused to even discuss filling vacancies.

That lack of trust and communication served no one, except those trying to hide their incompetence.

It makes sense to add representatives from the TCSDAC to the Economic Development Authority because both groups are focused on attracting growth to eastern Goochland. Adding TCSD homeowner representatives to this group would add input from those who will live with the consequences of development there.

The question here is how much regulation and citizen input is too much? We’re still dealing with the results of a dearth of professional detachment in county government. However, leaving everything to the hired hands that live elsewhere may be going too far in the other direction.

The supervisors will need to make that call. They’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Also, if you are interested in serving on a board or commission, an application is on the county website under the “Serving Goochland” tab.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


The last GOMM post contained incorrect information.

At the April 17 meeting of the Goochland Board of Supervisors, the 32 cent ad valorem tax adopted for 2012 was one rather than two cents less than the proposed rate.

On May 1, the supervisors unanimously voted to “replace” the $60,000 that the penny budget change represents by reducing a TCSD loan repayment to the county and the transfer to the capital improvement fund for parks.

Homeowners in the TCSD are justifiably angry about the situation. They’re losing patience with the situation and want the ad valorem tax abolished now.

Explaining the changes to the FY ‘13 budget County Administrator Rebecca Dickson said that, for planning purposes, staff would like to continue the 32 cent rate into the FY’14 budget. She said that the board will need to reconsider the rates next year based on changes in assessed valuation and other factors.

The opening of the West Creek Emergency Medical Center on May 1 should increase the total TCSD valuation and generate a lot of ad valorem tax. Expected Capital One construction could have an impact in FY ’14. Perhaps these factors will help to at least hold ad valorem tax rates steady in the future.

Dickson introduced Mathew Ryan the county’s new director of economic development. Ryan, who started work on April 30, seems to have, pardon the sports analogy, hit the ground running.

Ryan has the strategic plan for economic development, approved last fall, to use as a starting point. He will work closely with staff and the supervisors to market Goochland, especially the TCSD, to the world. In the next few weeks, according to Dickson, Ryan will meet with the board and administration to set priorities.

The most important task on Ryan’s agenda is building trust with TCSD landowners and the development community.
This is yet another step in the right direction for Goochland. Ryan will have full board support for all initiatives that benefit the county. This is a radical change from past practices.

New faces on the board and staff coupled with positive new attitudes toward economic development and the urgent need to get a handle on the TCSD debt situation bode well for the future.
We just need to stick it out for the short term.