Thursday, June 28, 2012

Starry starry night

Keeping Goochland in the dark

One of the many life savors of life in Goochland is the wonder of our night sky. Sometimes it looks like diamonds strewn over black velvet. As more people move here and turn on their porch lights, the stars grow dimmer.

At a June 21 workshop, county planning commissioners addressed the use of dark sky regulations. Several advocates of these policies shared information and suggested strategies to turn down the lights. Signs using LED lights were not part of the discussion. Visit for a comprehensive overview of the subject.

Excess light was characterized as pollution with all the negative connotations that term usually carries. It can also be ugly. Excessive wattage from unshielded fixtures can cause shadows and blinding glare that would seem to defeat the very goal of illumination.

District 1 commissioner James Atkinson cited a business in Hadensville whose bright illumination spills onto Broad Street Road disturbing the night vision of passing drivers.

(All of the presentations and a recording of the session have been posted on the planning commission section of the county website They are well worth a look.)

When Laura Graham of Powhatan noticed disappearing darkness, she began to research dark sky protection and eventually volunteered to become the Virginia Chapter Leader of the International Dark Sky Association. Her interest in the matter resulted in the adoption of a dark sky ordinance by Powhatan County last year.

Laura Greenleaf, a conservationist who has written extensively about the subject, contended that light pollution is harmful to human health and the environment and considers it a toxic substance.

Mike White, senior project manager for environmental design and development at Luck Stone, whose spectacular new corporate headquarters in Manakin is LEED certified presented examples of dark sky compliant lighting that is both elegant and effective. Luck Stone, said White, did not go out of its way to use dark sky lighting, but good design in pursuit of security and safety resulted in meeting the guidelines.

Dark sky compliant lighting fixtures focus illumination downward onto specific areas so that light goes only where it is needed. Greenleaf contended that property rights include the right to not have someone else’s light on your property.

Dark sky compliance defined as “fully shielded no light emitted at or above the horizontal plane that shall not exceed one half foot candle at the property line,” is easily measured by a relatively inexpensive light meter, according to Graham.

As with most regulations, the devil is in the details. Due to the intrusive nature of light trespass, effective strategies for protecting the night sky depend on universal compliance.

Even if a comprehensive dark sky zoning regulation is passed for the entire county, existing light sources would be “grandfathered in,” essentially exempt from compliance, until the fixture is replaced. As enforcement would be complaint driven, it creates yet another mechanism for neighbors to drag each other into court.

That is a worst case scenario. On the up side, if folks can be convinced that dark sky compliant lighting is effective, attractive and will reduce power bills, they might be more willing to comply.

Goochland’s current dark sky lighting regulations apply only to commercial applications. Dark sky advocates recognize that more light is needed in commercial enclaves, like Centerville, than rural areas.

Residential and agricultural applications, however, could be quite tricky. For instance, who will tell an offending property owner to turn off the lights? Do not expect Sheriff Agnew to participate in these schemes.

The Powhatan ordinance exempts barns and paddock areas. Graham believes that dark sky lighting would provide adequate light for these uses that are safer than traditional glaring fixtures.

The term “light trespass,” which refers to light spilling over from the boundaries of the parcel on which it is located to somewhere else was used extensively in the discussion. Greenleaf and Graham stated that the use of the term adds more gravitas to the notion of excess illumination.

The women believe that education about the importance of dark sky lighting is vital to compliance. Some jurisdictions include an educational “welcome to living in a rural area” packet with property transfers that explains the virtues of minimal lighting.

Greenleaf, who grew up in a dark, rural environment and now lives in the City of Richmond, said that she personally paid to have an offending light in her neighborhood shielded. That might work in a city neighborhood with street lights on public land, but how would you do that in the country?

There is a generally held belief that bright lights deter crime. Indeed, in some cities, high powered street lights are deployed in high crime areas.

Greenleaf presented statistics contending that the opposite is true. She said that some school districts now extinguish lights when buildings are empty. This has been very successful in deterring vandalism and, of course, reducing electric bills.

Greenleaf and Graham observed that power companies generally do not support the use of low wattage and shielded lighting.

Unless the county leads by example, it is doubtful that any non-business dark sky rules would get much traction. This would include turning off all but minimal interior safety lights for buildings not in use and ensuring that lighting fixtures on county property are dark sky compliant. Light curfews tend to be part of dark sky regulations, which means that yes, Goochland, you can light up the football field to watch our Bulldogs play.

Department of Corrections facilities in the county are not dark sky compliant. Neither are the streetlights in Courthouse Village. Schools and some fire-rescue stations are brightly lit at night.

Graham said that there are some dark sky compliant prisons in Virginia and those in Goochland could retrofit at some point in the future. It is doubtful that the state is anxious to spend scarce dollars on replacing what it probably considers perfectly good lights.

Commission chair Courtney Hyers District 5 appointed a subcommittee to draft a proposed dark sky ordinance for presentation at a public hearing, probably after Labor Day.

Is Goochland ready for light police? As the current supervisors are working to streamline government it seems unlikely they will have much interest in placing another layer of regulation on citizens.

However, protection of our night sky is a worthy topic for discussion and education. Wise use of lighting is common sense and can save energy. Turn down the lights so you can see the stars.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Belt and suspenders

Just in case

In our hyper-connected existence, it’s hard to imagine being unable to contact the outside world.

Following Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and parts of the Gulf Coast would have been totally isolated without the aid of amateur radio enthusiasts, known affectionately as “Hams,” who stepped in to save lives when the storm crippled traditional communication.

Goochland has its own fine group of Amateur Radio Operators that provides back-up for our excellent deputies and fire-rescue providers. During a recent interruption in local emergency communications, our Hams relayed information between county dispatchers, deputies, and emergency responders. They used their skill to keep things going until the system could be fixed.

Hams are also able to contact other places in the state and around the world. They are part of a global network that enjoy keeping in touch with each other, but often put those connections to good use in all sorts of emergencies.

Ralph Fetty of Shannon Hill, a longtime amateur radio enthusiast, recruited fellow Hams to craft our local communications backup system. Thanks to Fetty, amateur radio operators are prepared for deployment to county fire-rescue stations and the dispatch office.

This weekend, beginning at 8 a.m. on Saturday, June 23 and running until 1 p.m. on Sunday, June 24, the annual Goochland Amateur Radio Field Day will take place at the Courthouse Company 5 Fire-Rescue Station, which is located on Fairgrounds Road near the Food Lion.

The event will run through the night as our local Hams make contact with as many contacts as possible around the nation and perhaps the world and could include ships at sea.

A wide array of equipment, all operating on emergency power sources entirely free of the electrical grid, will be in operation.

The purpose of the field day is for the radio operators to make as many contacts on as many different frequencies as possible. This is part of a competition. Points are awarded for each contact.

Goochland amateurs also get points for the number of visitors that attend the event. (Additional points are awarded for visits by public officials; school and county staff; law enforcement personnel and Constitutional Officers.)

This is  a great opportunity to learn more about this mode of communication. Amateur radio operators must pass a test and be licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to operate a radio. Each operator uses a unique call sign, usually a combination of numbers and letters, to identify themselves during radio communications.

Although amateur radio operators are able to send and receive messages using simple equipment and antennae, they also work with local emergency communications systems and have equipment on area communications towers.

A resolution passed by the Goochland Board of Supervisors at its June, 2012 meeting recognized Wayne and Travis Duley of Duley’s Electric Communications Site Service, Inc. for donating about $7,000 worth of specialized labor to upgrade one of the towers used by the Goochland Amateur Radio group.

Goochland is blessed with many generous and talented people, like our amateur radio operators, who share their skills to better the community. Please come out and see them in action this weekend.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The search for just right

It’s been about five years since Goochland County hired a new superintendent of schools. Not much was known about the hiring process used then. The school board announced that the current superintendent was leaving and it was searching for a replacement. Things are different now.

Our new school board promised to conduct its business as openly as possible. To speed selection of a new superintendent the Board retained the search firm of BWP and Associates to facilitate this delicate task.

Given the confidentiality required of personnel matters, the identity of candidates will not be made public. However, the school board is committed to openly sharing the methodology used in arriving at its decision. The recruitment process used by BWP supports that approach to transparency.

The firm’s website includes a link to the Goochland search as well as phone numbers for BWP consultants Drs. Kevin Castner and Wayne Harris who are working with Goochland. The website also explains the recruitment process used by BWP.

On the first Monday in June Castner and Harris came to Goochland and began to determine what qualities the county wants in its new superintendent. They spoke with the supervisors, the sheriff, school administration, county staff, and teachers. On June 6 they held a public forum to gather input on the search and explain how the search will be conducted.

They also want to hear from you. A brief survey may be accessed on the school website, and paper surveys are available at the public library. Please take a few minutes to participate in this important activity. The survey will close on June 15.

Castner explained that BWP will present the school board with a slate of four to six well-qualified candidates that they believe are a good fit for Goochland. This is expected to occur in early August. The school board then winnows down the finalists to choose the next superintendent. A timeline included in the presentation includes the expectation of a new superintendent on board in September.

The results of the boots-on-the-ground investigation by Castner and Harris will be distilled into a Goochland specific profile approved by the school board. This profile, crafted to paint a picture of important qualities for candidates, will be part of the search. This profile includes professional qualification and experience and attitudinal attributes.

Interested parties apply online. BWP vets applications to select those that they believe appropriate for Goochland. Sometimes they encourage people they know who they believe would be a good fit for a particulate position to apply.

References are checked to verify information on applications and associates use their personal relationships throughout the education community nationwide to determine which candidates are a good fit for Goochland.

As applications come in, Castner and Harris will use their contacts and experience — they are both retired school superintendents — to make appropriate recommendations.
Castner said that while the Goochland search is not occurring at the optimum time, he believes that the position will attract many highly qualified people. Due to the relatively small size of our school district and accompanying modest salary, applicants will likely be highly qualified assistant superintendents.

“We want the school board’s job to be very difficult when they choose the new superintendent,” said Castner. Then he settled into the work of the evening, gathering public input to use in crafting the profile.

All comments were thoughtful and constructive. Although attendance at the forum was light, those who came clearly value our schools and want them to succeed.

People want someone who plays well with others and does not run with scissors. They want a superintendent who will cherish our teachers and find ways to help them ensure that each child reaches their maximum potential while in Goochland Schools.

Thoughts expressed at the forum included:
•Our schools are doing a good job at passing (the SOLs) but a poor job of excelling.
•Our schools are not as strong as they once were and that must be reversed.
•We are looking for someone whose values are consistent with those of the community and is able to rebuild trust between the schools and the rest of Goochland.
•A superintendent who visits the schools each week to offer encouragement and support, not micromanagement.
•Rebuilding relationships
•Inspirational leadership
•Vision, working to a purpose
•Take risks
•Some who will help ensure that each child reaches full potential before leaving Goochland schools.
•Goochland has many elements for success, but needs a catalyst to make it happen.
We need a way to measure real performance, not just the SOLs.

In short, we want someone to lead, run our schools well, love them, and encourage the entire community to do the same.

The school board will work hard to hire the person whose qualifications, experience, and attitude are compatible with our schools. If they don’t get the chemistry right, the other attributes won’t matter.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The other primary

Goochlanders, it’s time to put on your voting shoes. Next Tuesday, June 12, there will be a primary to select republican candidates for United States Senate and Virginia’s 7th District in Congress.

Although the election will determine republican candidates, it is an open primary, so any voter registered in Virginia may participate. Cross pollination during primary season is something of a tradition. Democrats who voted to ensure Walter Stosch kept his seat in state senate in 2007 and members of the GOP who cast ballots in the 2008 democrat presidential primary know all about this practice.

Many of us believe that the country is a mess and will not get better without meaningful change in Washington. Candidates chosen by party leaders on both sides of the aisle are two sides of the same coin. We cannot afford to recycle the same old faces and attitudes.

Jaime Radtke is a mother from Chesterfield County whose concern about the unprecedented growth of the federal debt caused her to seek the GOP nomination for the open Virginia senate seat. She helped launch the Tea Party to give voice to the frustrations of many and brings a vigorous new voice to Virginia politics.

Radtke believes that our Constitution provides clear and meaningful direction for governance of America. She rejects the creeping intrusion of government into our lives enabled by the whims of a populist wonk bureaucracy that uses regulation to sidestep legislative direction.

As the national debt balloons to levels few of us can comprehend, Radtke understands that if the country’s fiscal house is not put in order fast, nothing else matters.

Radtke is passionate about issues and wants to represent you in Washington. Her opponents, in contrast, are more interested in joining one of the most exclusive clubs on the planet, the United States Senate.

Unlike other candidates, Radtke understands firsthand that ballooning prices for basic items like peanut butter, cotton and gasoline mean that inflation is very real and has an impact on the everyday lives of Virginians. She knows that rising prices coupled with steady or falling wages make it harder for ordinary families to keep their heads above water financially.

Radtke understands that the way that government operates now and how it was envisioned by the Founding Fathers are very different things. She believes that the best way for America to go forward is to go back to the basic principles that created our nation. These include fiscal restraint, limited government, and upholding your right to bear arms. Radtke will work to reduce the governmental regulation that strangles businesses and kill jobs.

Last November Goochland voters replaced the same old faces with principled and dedicated elected officials who govern with honesty and integrity. It’s time for Virginia Republicans to take back control of their party by sending a clear message in this primary.

Radtke uses her conservative principles as a guide to live by instead of mouthing what she thinks voters want to hear during an election cycle.

Radtke will bring those principles to the U. S. Senate and put them into practice. Please vote for Jamie Radtke so she can work to build a better future for us all. Visit www.radtkefor to learn more about this outstanding candidate.

Polls will be open from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. On Tuesday, June 12, Goochland voters will cast ballots at their regular precincts. Please go to the registrar’s page on the county website at for more information.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Moving along

As we move into summer mode, Goochland County government keeps chugging along in a positive and purposeful way.
At their June 5 meeting county supervisors attended to routine business.

On recommendation of the audit committee, the supervisors voted to retain the services of the Harrisonburg firm PBGH, LLP to perform the annual audit for the county, schools, and community services board. The firm was selected as the result of its response to a detailed request for proposals that was carefully crafted by members of the audit committee.

During a meeting of the audit committee held just before the supervisors’ session, John Wack deputy county administrator for financial services contended that PBGH is a good fit for the county audit. The firm has extensive experience working with small local governments and its price was far lower than other respondents.

For the past three fiscal years county audits were performed by KPMG. As Goochland has pretty much gotten its fiscal house in order since 2009, the cost of these audits can be scaled back. Also, changing audit firms on a regular basis is sound business practice unlike the appointment for life scheme used by the previous regime. (See the board packet on the county website for details of the contract.)

Those in attendance at the afternoon board session saw Goochland Fire-Rescue in action. A person in the audience experienced a medical emergency during a presentation by the county forester and was quickly aided by Deputy Chief EMS and paramedic D. E. “Eddie” Ferguson, Jr. He was soon joined by County Registrar Frances Ragland, a volunteer EMT with Courthouse Company 5. A county ambulance arrived shortly thereafter and transported the patient to an area hospital. The efficiency and professionalism illustrated in this incident is the result of hard work and commitment to excellence by many people. Goochland is fortunate to be served by these dedicated providers.

Goochland County Treasurer Pamela Cooke Johnson reported that the time needed to complete monthly closings has dropped from 68 calendar days at the beginning of the year to nine days for April. The number of county bank accounts has been reduced from 19 to ten and Johnson expects that number to continue to decline.

She expressed concern about the lack of traffic in the treasurer’s office for tax payments. The due date for the first half of 2012 real estate tax was June 5.(At 2 p.m. it was mighty lonely at the teller window, but the speedy service was excellent!)

Johnson also reported that she has found no evidence of written policies in the treasurer’s office and will “start from scratch” to develop policies as her workload permits.

Johnson also told the supervisors that her predecessor permitted some landowners to pay their property taxes after the statutory due date with no penalty. The practice has been discontinued. You just can’t make this stuff up!

Mike Cady representing VDOT declared the Centerville widening of Rt. 250 complete except for landscaping. A public hearing on the widening of Interstate 64 in Goochland will be held at Centerville Company 3 on July 11.

Goochland County Administrator Rebecca Dickson introduced Daniel Schardein III, the new deputy county administrator for community development. Having filled most of the important staff positions that had been vacant for some time, Dickson can concentrate on running the county. The caliber of new department heads bodes well for the future.

As the county’s fiscal year ends June 30 the board trued up the budget for fiscal 2012 matching projections with actual amounts. Revenues were higher and expenses lower to the tune of about $3.2 million, all of which was appropriated for specific uses.

Susan Lascollette District 1 contended that economic development is a higher priority item for the county than parks and moved to switch appropriations for parks and economic development. This will provide $480,000 for economic development and $300,000 for parks instead of the other way around. The entire board concurred.

The supervisors authorized Dickson to execute a contract for creation of an economic development website for up to $45,000. This is yet another badly overdue item that will help to attract businesses to the county.

At the start of the evening session Dickson introduced William Gilchrist, a senior at VCU, and Mark Holman Jr., a senior at Virginia State University, who will be serving as summer interns.

Gilchrist will work with in the county attorney’s office learning about how civil and criminal disputes are handled at the local government level.

Holman will shadow Dickson getting a close look at the nuts and bolts of actual county operations by spending time in each department.

As part of their internship Gilchrist and Holman will work on projects for the county and craft a template for future internship programs.

Good government does not happen by accident. It is achieved by collaboration between honest and effective elected officials and skilled and hard-working staff. These fine young men are to be commended for their interest in local government. Kudos to the supervisors and staff, especially Paul Drumwright, for bringing this initiative to fruition.

Following public hearings, the board approved an amendment to the county zoning code to permit wastewater treatment plants as a conditional use by special exception on property zoned A-2 (agricultural limited.) It also granted such a permit to Aqua Virginia, Inc. to operate a wastewater treatment plant on the site of an existing wastewater treatment facility on the corner of Hermitage Road and Rt. 6, which has been there for nearly 40 years. Better late than never!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Opinions needed

Tonight, June 6, beginning at 6 p.m. in the high school auditorium the school board will conduct a forum to gather public input on the search for a new superintendent of schools.

If you cannot attend this meeting, please participate in the survey being conducted by the superintendent search firm. A link to the survey appears on the school website

This is a great opportunity to let the school board know what qualities you beleive are important in a school superintendent even if you do not have children in the county school system. Citizen engagement in public policy is a right and responsibility that ensures integrity in government.