Thursday, July 28, 2016

Splish splash

Former Goochland County Administrator Becky Dickson tests the water in the fountain dedicated in her honor, as she jokes with Lisa Beczkiewicz and Bob Minnick.

On July 26, a day suitable for frying eggs on the sidewalk, Goochland County supervisors, staff, and others gathered in front of the county administration building to dedicate a fountain in honor of former County Administrator Rebecca T. Dickson.

Looking cool as a cucumber in a watermelon red dress, Dickson greeted everyone with smiles and hugs. “You don’t realize what a great county you have here,” she said, perhaps with perspective gained during her temporary part-time gig in her old stomping grounds of Chesterfield County.

The fountain, located by the front entrance closest to Sandy Hook Road, was something Dickson believed was needed in Courthouse Village. “I always wanted a fountain, but I thought it would be in the roundabout,” she said, alluding to a much- discussed but never to materialize traffic improvement for the intersection of Fairground and Sandy Hook Roads.

The waterworks began even before the fountain was turned on as Dickson brushed tears from her cheeks.
Board of Supervisors’ Chair Bob Minnick, District 4 said that the fountain will enhance the sitting area and provide a place for staff and citizens visiting the building to enjoy quiet reflection—in more temperate weather.

Dickson expressed her gratitude for the honor and said it was good to be back in Goochland. She admonished staff to keep up its good work for incoming County Administrator John Budesky, who starts work next Monday.

She went on to praise the caliber of people who work for Goochland and express her appreciation for her time working with the current supervisors. “If I had my way, you’d stay [in office] forever.”

Since retiring at the end of March, Dickson has been traveling and addressing her health issues.

The fountain dedication will not be the last Goochland sees of the intrepid Dickson as she will be involved in fundraising efforts for the new county animal shelter.

No word on whether or not the fountain will be stocked with fish. Any coins tossed in will be donated to a local charity.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

On to the future

While the nation wonders and worried who will be running the country next year, we know who will lead Goochland.

John Budesky, whose first official day on the job will be August 1, was sworn in as county administrator on July 5. Dr. Jeremey Raley, who started work at superintendent of schools on July 11, took his oath of office on June 29. Both men bring a high degree of skill and experience to their new posts and have pledged to continue and expand upon the good works of their predecessors.

Filling chief executive officer positions is a delicate task. The county and school division have been ably steered by County Attorney Norman Sales, acting as interim county administrator, and Dr. Steve Geyer, as interim superintendent. Interregnums provide a useful circuit breaker period between the old and new, but must not last too long.

Goochland is a far different place than it was seven years ago, when we last hired a county administrator, and not quite four years ago when the top school job changed hands. There was dysfunction, distrust, and dismay galore then. Thanks to a lot of very hard work and total regime change, things are on track.

Today, cautious optimism about the economy has brought modest residential growth and new commercial development to the east end. Property values, though not quite back to 2009 levels, are rising.

Thanks to careful budgeting and streamlining operations, Goochland ended the past few fiscal years with generous surpluses. For the last two years, revenues rose enough to make retention of the 53 cent per $100 of valuation represent a slight tax increase.
The challenges today are different, but not gone. Budesky and Raley will need to deal with the fallout from state revenue shortfalls that will inevitably trickle down to Goochland. They will each have to replace linchpins in their organizations.

John Wack resigned as deputy county administrator for financial affairs to take a post in Richmond. He deserves our thanks for his part in transforming the county’s murky financial system into an example for others to follow. We wish him happiness and success in his new job—the city has great need of his expertise.

Dr. Peter Gretz, Assistant Superintendent of Schools for Business Operations, who has taken the job of superintendent of Middlesex County Schools will also be missed. His gentle leadership was a beacon during dark times and wind in the sails of Goochland Schools as they moved forward on the right course.

Attention to fiscal matters—money does make the world go ‘round—is the foundation of good stewardship of tax dollars, which is, in turn, justification for trust in government all levels.

Budesky and Raley, who have lots of experience in budgeting and financial matters, undoubtedly have the skill and experience to do their new jobs well. Coming to the county simultaneously provides an opportunity to bond as they acclimate to a new place, and continue the cordial collaboration between county and schools that makes so many things possible.

Best of all, remarks each gave as they were introduced to the county, seemed to indicate that they “get” Goochland. There’s something Janus-like about the county as we try to harmonize rural and urban, newcomer and old-timers, into the very special place we call home. Not everyone understands the mandate to strike a delicate balance between the two.

By setting clear goals and crafting strategic plans, our supervisors and school board built a solid operational foundation that made orderly and seamless leadership transition possible. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. The hands that guide the tiller of Goochland County are ready and able to steer a careful course through the mine field of future challenges.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Speaking for the people

Goochland has a five-member planning commission charged with making recommendations about land use matters. The commissioners are appointed by the board of supervisors and serve in an advisory capacity only.

The nuts and bolts of land use changes are handled by Community Development staff objectively applying laws and policies governing these matters. Planning commissioners look at proposals, make recommendations, which could be at odds with those of staff, and ultimately speak for the citizens.

At their July 14 meeting—moved from the usual first Thursday of the month due to July Fourth—the Commissioners worked their way through a relatively low key agenda. Matt Brewer, District 2, was absent.

Overlay district and entrance corridor regulations are designed to upgrade the appearance of designated areas going forward. Sometimes, they overreach their goals. The Patterson Avenue entrance corridor overlay district applies to all property 500 feet from the centerline of the road on both the north and south sides, whether or not it is visible from the road.

A conditional use permit application to operate a vintage automobile sales and service business on Wilton Road, south of Rt. 6 behind the Patterson Avenue Veterinary Hospital, is a case in point.

The building in question is barely visible from Rt. 6, even though it lies in the Patterson Avenue entrance corridor overlay district. It was built for this purpose years ago, but was vacant for some time and experienced significant deterioration. The applicant has begun to renovate the structure to the delight of neighboring businesses and land owners.

Conditions recommended by staff included a formalization of the existing easement understanding among adjacent businesses and that all work be done inside with bay doors closed at all times. The applicant objected to the closed door requirement because it could negatively impact the health, safety, and welfare of employees, especially during hot weather. As the building in question faces a blacksmith and it not readily visible from Patterson Avenue, this added another layer of unnecessary restriction to a small business. To their credit, the Commissioners recommended approval without the closed door condition.

Mitigation of negative consequences of land use change on existing use must be of prime importance to the county as growth spurs development of infill tracts of land.

An application filed by Goochland County to rezone, for commercial use, several parcels of land, totaling approximately 22 acres, in the vicinity of the intersection of Fairground and Sandy Hook Roads, including the former site of the school bus garage, was deferred by the Commissioners in May. At that time., owners of homes directly adjacent to the bus garage site, requested that proffers protecting neighboring homes be added.

At the July meeting, revised proffers, including mandated approval by the county’s design review committee, were presented. Prohibited uses for this property included adult businesses, indoor shooting ranges, and animal boarding and kennels, which Principal Planner Tom Coleman characterized as the “most noxious uses” for the land. Gas stations and convenience stores did not make the list.
Neighboring p property owners were not entirely comforted by the revisions.

Jim Mann, whose wife’s family owns and occupies the home nearest the bus garage site was still concerned about potential noise, trespassing, and trash issues should a convenience store that is open late at night locate there.

John Shelhorse, District 4 explained that the list of prohibited businesses is not exhaustive, but “sets the tone as to what would be objectionable” to neighbors and contended that the county addressed Mann’s concerns.

Shelhorse further contended that the conditions confirm that the existing homeowners should enjoy their property in peace and comfort not to be disturbed by any business that would impact the safe and fair use of their homes.

Willis Dunn said that the proffers were too vague and worried that the school bus garage site is so narrow that the addition of a turn lane would severely limit potential uses. Sound barriers and setbacks, he contended, were not addressed. Coleman explained that buffers are included in the Courthouse Village overlay district and the Design Review Committee, which can mandate buffers, landscaping, lighting, fencing, berms, and other mitigation measures will have final say on anything built there.

Coleman said that sidewalks would be required, but turn lanes would depend on the specific use. The county is already pursuing intersection improvements, probably a traditional signalized crossroads.

A fourth generation of Joe Trice’s family lives on Sandy Hook Road. He approved of the plan and said that Shelhorse’s statement laid the foundation for future development in the area. Shelhorse said that, above all, the county has a responsibility to protect the rights of existing property owners.

The Commissioners voted to recommend approval of the rezoning.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Recyclers Rejoice

Plastics 1 through 7 now accepted for recycling

At their July 5 meeting, Goochland Supervisors authorized execution of a contract with Central Virginia Waste Management Authority, the company that hauls the county’s solid waste AKA garbage to accept plastics numbered 1 through 7 for recycling. This will apply to residential and drop off recycling.

Up to now, only category 1 and 2 plastics were accepted. The others went into general trash. Not only will this new arrangement make recycling a bit easier, it could generate more cash for the county.

District 5 supervisor Ken Peterson, who keeps his eagle eye on the county’s bottom line, was assured by County Attorney Normal Sales, acting as interim county administrator that the expansion of recycling does not carry an increased cost. As the expansion probably will increase the weight of plastics collected, additional revenue may be generated.
The Board had a light agenda for its first meeting of the 2016-17 fiscal year.

Marshall Winn, the VDOT representative from its Ashland Residency reported that clean-up from the severe storms in mid-June was about 25 percent complete. A study of traffic patterns on Route 250 from Cardwell Road to just west of Fairground Road should be complete by the end of August and is expected to generate some ideas about enhancing safety in this corridor.

A fatal crash near the intersection of 250 and Fairground Road several weeks ago renewed concern about this area. Installation of low profile speed humps to signal drivers that they need to be alert would be more effective than additional signage, a turn lane, or even a traffic signal.

Legislation hastily passed and signed into law during the 2016 session of the Virginia General Assembly, somewhat defanged proffer policies adopted by localities. Assistant County Attorney Whitney Marshall presented a revised proffer policy. The supervisors voted unanimously to repeal the existing policy and replace it with one that adheres to the new state law. This applies only to new residential uses following rezoning.

County Attorney Norman Sales, acting as interim county administrator, said that Goochland never received any complaints about its cash proffer policy.

Proffers, especially cash proffers, were allowed by the state as a way for localities to mitigate the capital costs of new residential development like schools and fire-rescue stations. The calculation to determine the maximum cash proffer a locality could accept—they were allegedly “voluntary”—used a per capita cost for each category and added them up. The cost of operating the new facilities i.e. teachers, deputies, fire-rescue personnel, were assumed to be funded by additional property tax revenues.

The new state law removes libraries from the items that may be used to calculate proffers, but public safety, parks, schools, and roads remain.

Under the county’s new policy, each residential developer—commercial projects are considered individually and encouraged to include turn lanes, landscaping, and other mitigation—must provide a development impact statement and formulate unique proffers to mitigate those consequences. That statement must address impacts specifically attributable to the project in question.

Currently, $13,950 is the maximum cash proffer per dwelling unit that the county will accept. It is payable after completion of the final inspection before the certificate of occupancy is issued. In-kind contributions, including road improvements or land for public uses, could also be considered.

It is hoped that the somewhat vague language will be clarified next year. Indeed, it seems that the General Assembly prefers to legislate in haste and amend at leisure. Unfortunately, that leaves developers and localities scratching their heads as they try to get things done and comply with the law.

It will be interesting to see how this works out as new projects work their way through the rezoning process. Perhaps the newfound flexibility will encourage more ingenuity among developers.

The Board authorized the county administrator to execute construction contracts for communications towers at Companies 4 and 6 that are part of the countywide communications upgrade.

During its evening session, the Board amended the county’s large crowd events ordinance. This was crafted after an initial change to the policy met with a great deal of resistance from the business community.

The ordinance addresses “special events” for groups of 500 or more persons unless alcohol is served, which lowers the threshold to 250 people. The purpose is to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of the community and those attending the event. Applications must be approved by the sheriff, fire marshal, building official, and health department. A plan designating provisions for adequate parking facilities and traffic control as well as contingency plans for rerouting traffic and lane or road closures must be approved by the Sheriff.

In order to be approved, the application must meet certain criteria including that the event does not interfere with normal use of county property by the general public; does not present a safety risk to participants, spectators; and county resources are reasonably available to support the proposed activity.

This permitting process may not apply to indoor events, which are governed by health department and building code regulations.
Bonds to ensure compliance with the conditions of the permit are required. The Board also approved a fee schedule for the permits. Permits for recurring events are available for applicants with a successful track record of conducting special events. The fees range from $25 for a parade permit to $1,000 for seven or more recurring events in a calendar year.

Ironically, this special events permit ordinance amendment was approved about 24 hours after the July Fourth fireworks that reportedly attracted 12,000 people to Goochland’s pyrotechnic display. Many roads east of Rt. 522 were clogged with cars—most from outside the county—for hours.

We all love local fireworks on the Fourth but they may have become a victim of their own success. Our roads are not built for that much traffic. We have been lucky over the years to avoid wrecks with disastrous consequences. One distracted driver, a disabled vehicle, or a rampage of our burgeoning Bambi brigade spooked by the fireworks, could result in calamity. How will Sheriff cars, ambulances, and other emergency vehicles navigate blocked roads to reach people, including those not attending the fireworks, who need help?

It seems like the county exempted itself from the health, safety, and welfare provisions of the special event ordinance for the fireworks. It’s time to stop whistling past the graveyard on the Fourth of July.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Budesky on board

John A. Budesky sworn in as Goochland County Administrator

On July 5, the Hon. Dale W. Agnew, Clerk of the Goochland Circuit Court, administered the oath of office for county administrator to John A. Budesky.

Board of Supervisors’ Chair Robert Minnick, District 4, observed that Budesky is the tenth person to hold the office since its establishment. Following a lengthy nationwide search, the supervisors announced their choice of Budesky last month. He will be coming all the way from neighboring Hanover County, where he currently serves as a deputy county administrator.

Minnick said that Budesky, as county administrator, is charged with balancing the needs of citizens with the services and facilities that support our growing community; serving as a trusted advisor to the board; assuming responsibility for the care and feeding of approximately 190 employees; formulating a nearly $70 million annual budget; protecting of our AAA bond rating; and interfacing with the citizens of Goochland County. “All of these responsibilities are overshadowed by the need for you, John, to just be you.”

Ken Peterson, District 5 read a resolution appointing Budesky as county administrator and authorizing execution of an employment contract.

The entire Hanover County Board of Supervisors, as well as its County Administrator, Cecil “Rhu” Harris, who grew up a stone’s throw away from the Goochland administration building, attended Budesky’s investiture to wish him well. Goochland County staff, Constitutional Officers, Budesky’s colleagues from around the region, and his family were also present.

Budesky said he was humbled and honored to be selected for the post. He takes the responsibilities entrusted to him seriously and thanked County Attorney Norman Sales, acting as interim county administrator and Assistant Clerk Lisa Beczkiewicz, the glue that holds administration together, for their gracious and helpful input in his transition.

“Today is an opportunity for my kids to see what I do all day. To have the members of [the Hanover] Board here today is an honor. I have tremendous respect for the lessons I learned from Mr. Harris.”

He paid homage to former County Administrator Rebecca T. Dickson, whose retirement for health reasons created the opening. “I have tremendous respect for my dear friend Becky. Leadership is making lives better for your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence. I think Becky did that and I hope to honor her work and continue her legacy.”

Budesky then reflected on the role of county administrator. “Learning from and working with our residents is extremely critical to achieve the results we look for. This is about public service above self, providing high levels of accountability through a high level of ethics, and measurably demonstrated results. It’s extremely important that we keep challenging our standards of excellence and look to be better tomorrow than we are today. Regionalism is extremely important. Goochland is a key partner in its growth, providing opportunity for our community.”

Demonstrating understanding of tension between the “been heres and the come heres” Budesky said “...understanding that generations of people who have a solid foundation in the history of Goochland we also have residents who are new to Goochland, and we must balance the needs of all.”

Budesky said he looks forward to the opportunity of working with the Sheriff, Fire-Rescue Chief, career and volunteers to make it a safe and responsive community and continue their good work.

“Never underestimate the value of public trust. I will work diligently every day to preserve that trust. The staff I’ve met so far has worked very hard to achieve high standards. I value feedback from every level and perspectives from every direction.”

Goochland government has changed greatly in the almost seven years since we last changed county administrators. Many of the metaphorical minefields have been cleared.

The county’s success brings a different set of challenges. Budesky’s experience in jurisdictions large and small will add invaluable insight as Goochland seeks balance in the risk and rewards of growth. New eyes on old problems often lead to good solutions.

Budesky will start work on August 1.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy 240th Birthday America

Please take a few minutes to read the Declaration of Independence, the proclamation that set the stage for the creation of America. Think about what you read and what it means. It was written by our third president, Thomas Jefferson, who spent part of his childhood in Goochland.
When you’re done, visit and read our Constitution. Both documents are cited by all sides in this contentious election year. Reflect on the words of the Founding Fathers and how they apply in today’s world.
Happy Fourth of July! God bless America!

The Declaration of Independence: A Transcription
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:
Column 1
Button Gwinnett
Lyman Hall
George Walton
Column 2
North Carolina:
William Hooper
Joseph Hewes
John Penn
South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Arthur Middleton
Column 3
John Hancock
Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton
Column 4
Robert Morris
Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Franklin
John Morton
George Clymer
James Smith
George Taylor
James Wilson
George Ross
Caesar Rodney
George Read
Thomas McKean
Column 5
New York:
William Floyd
Philip Livingston
Francis Lewis
Lewis Morris
New Jersey:
Richard Stockton
John Witherspoon
Francis Hopkinson
John Hart
Abraham Clark
Column 6
New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett
William Whipple
Samuel Adams
John Adams
Robert Treat Paine
Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins
William Ellery
Roger Sherman
Samuel Huntington
William Williams
Oliver Wolcott
New Hampshire:
Matthew Thornton

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Here comes our new judge

June 30 marked the last day of June, and the beginning of the career of Claiborne H. Stokes, Jr. as a District Court Judge. During a ceremonial session of Goochland District Court, Judge Timothy K. Sanner administered the oath of office.


Becki Stokes helps husband, the Hon. Clairborne H. Stokes,Jr. don his judicial robe, presented by Goochland Bar Association President Anthony Paone. LOngtime secretary Carolyn Winn, right, looks one.

Goochland’s venerable courtroom was filled to capacity with family, friends, colleagues, elected officials, judges and Delegate Manoli Loupassi, Chair of the Courts of Justice subcommittee, which participates in appointing judges.

The occasion, as Judge Sanner put it, was both joyous and solemn. “This is a celebration of our democracy and our rule of law. In our system of coequal branches of government, one can transition from one branch to another without the violence that accompanies such transitions in so many other parts of the world.”

Stokes has been Goochland Commonwealth’s Attorney, the county’s prosecutor, since 2004. He came to the county in 1994 as Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney, and succeeded the Hon. Edward K. “Eddie” Carpenter, both as Commonwealth’s Attorney and on the General District Court bench.

Judge Sanner recognized Carpenter, who is retiring after more than three decades of service to Goochland, including his election by the General Assembly to two six year terms as Judge.

“During his tenure, [Eddie Carpenter] established a reputation as a zealous, capable, and fair proponent of not only the Commonwealth’s interest but those of justice as well.” These remarks were followed by a standing ovation.

Carpenter, who has known Stokes for many years, observed that the new judge “is one of the brightest guys I know and he will do a wonderful job.” He cautioned the clerks around the District to secure their goodies against incursions by Stokes.

Tony Paone, President of the Goochland Bar Association, presented the new judge with his official robe, and, in a nod to remarks by Carpenter, a dispenser filled with Navy Blue and Orange M&Ms.

Sitting and retired judges from the 16th Judicial District and other courts welcomed Stokes to the bench with words of wit and wisdom.

One judge rejoiced that now, for the first time in 25 years, the 16th Circuit General District Court has a majority of Wahoo judges, wresting it away from Hampden-Sydney, Carpenter’s alma mater.

Hon. Deborah S. Tinsley, Presiding Judge, Chief Judge of Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, who has known and worked with Stokes for a long time, said that she knew he would make a terrific judge. Worrying that he might have trouble staying in one place for a long time, she presented him with a bottle of Crazy Glue.

Retried Judge Al Talley, who preceded Carpenter in General District Court, opined that Stokes will probably see more citizens than his colleagues on the Circuit Court, who will form their opinion of the judicial system based on comportment of the judge. “I have no doubt you will do a wonderful job.”

Another jurist cautioned: “Remember that there is a huge distinction between doing important work and being an important person; don’t confuse the two. The level of affection and respect that you gain as a judge is to a large measure dictated by how you treat those less fortunate, less capable, and less able than you and will go a long way toward determining what kind of a judge you will be.”

Still another: “At the end of a long day, when your patience has run a little thin, you have to remember that may be the only time a person comes to court. You have to remember that you represent not only that court, but also the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Judge Sanner, who has presided over Stokes’ home courtroom for the last 13 years, reflected on the Circuit’s newest judge.

“I know these things about Claiborne Stokes: he loves his wife and children, he loves the Baltimore Orioles, he loves, with a certain amount of frustration, University of Virginia Cavaliers, and he loves the law. That is rarer than you may think… He knows the law, its delights, and its mysteries…A search for its obscure riddles is, for him, not a chore, but an opportunity. Judge Stokes will know the law, and he will follow it. That said, abstract knowledge is only so useful. Trial judges deal with real people with real life problems they want to share with you. I believe that judges need a burning desire to see that justice is administered fairly. To some degree, that requires an internal framework to achieve resolution based upon a mutual evaluation of the circumstances of the case… In my observations of Judge Stokes for the past 13 years I believe he will deal fairly and respectfully with those who come before him…On more than one occasion I have seen him go out of his way to recognize a mitigating factor for a criminal defendant when arguably, a greater victory could have been obtained for the Commonwealth. If one were to put on blinders, one would not be able to discern if he was addressing the most prominent citizen or a criminal defendant with season tickets to the penitentiary. I know that you will be an outstanding judge.”

Stokes said it was an honor to practice before Judge Sanner. He thanked Carpenter, who he described as “a great boss and a great friend,” for his mentorship as Goochland Commonwealth’s Attorney.

He recognized his staff including former and current deputies Nancy Ogelsby and Mike Caudill respectively. “I believe I have the best office in the county. They did the work, they made it easy. Stokes also took a minute to praise and thank Carolyn Winn, who worked for both he and Carpenter as secretary before her retirement.

Stokes thanked Goochland Sheriff Jim Agnew, and his staff who “...did their work professionally, brought me good cases, and did everything I asked.”

Then Stokes reflected on the contribution his family made to his success. His late father taught him the values of the Greatest Generation His mother received a master’s degree from Uva in the late 1940’s, long before women were allowed. She went on to teach math at Richmond College for 44 years. “I want say thank you for everything she did to make me who I am.” His sister Bruce, a corporate attorney, “is the smart one in the group, I’m the lucky one. She’s taught me a lot of the law.”

Stokes contended that his daughter Lauren was the best campaign manager who made sure no one ever voted against him. Son Trey is a Wahoo true and true. He thanked Becki “for the happiest 16 years of my life and for putting up with me.”

Judge Stokes will be hearing cases in other jurisdictions until those he prosecuted as Commonwealth’s Attorney are resolved.

The general district court is a limited jurisdiction trial court that hears civil cases involving amounts in controversy up to $25,000, and conducts trials for traffic infractions and misdemeanor offenses.

Caudill was sworn in as Goochland Commonwealth’s Attorney by Judge Sanner follow the ceremony. Caudill is expected to run for the office in the November general election.