Monday, January 30, 2017

A little help for our friends

The transition from military service to civvy street—life as a civilian—is hard for veterans, especially those burdened with injuries both obvious and invisible. Finding a job, a home, a place in the world can be just out of reach for some of the noble men and women who wore our country’s uniform.

The mission of Tech4Troops Project, a 501 c (3) non-profit organization, based in a Henrico warehouse, is to provide refurbished computers to veterans in need and teach them basic technical job skills. Mark Casper and material destined for recycling

Rockville resident Mark Casper, who became executive director last year, would like to see T4TP participate in filling the approximately 17 thousand current Virginia job vacancies in the computer and cyber security field with veterans. Casper, who served in the Marine Corps, has a background in the information technology field.

A wall covered with graffiti supporting our troops, created by Girl Scouts from Ft. Lee, greets visitors as the enter the inner sanctum of T4TP. Stacks of donated electronics, and neat bins filled with components are everywhere.

“Some of these we can refurbish for use, some we dismantle and sell for scrap or upcycle into art,” Casper says sifting through bins of cables, ribbon connectors and other parts.

Special donations of technological artifacts, including a blue electric typewriter and overhead projector will not be broken down for recycling, but serve as reminders of the “olden days” of technology.

T4TP, collects used computers and other electronic equipment (it cannot accept CRTs—the giant desktop screens of yore—printers, or televisions) to either refurbish and give to needy vets, or dismantle and recycle. This keeps old electronics out of landfills and raises a little money for the organization.

Casper prefers the term ‘upcycle” because disable vets transform the more interesting pieces into art. A disabled vet used electronic parts to create this mortar and operator

T4TP began a few years ago, when Founder Laurie Phillips and son Chris wanted to help a friend of Chris, newly returned from war, who was trying to find his way back into the world and having trouble landing a job.

“Computers are part of everything we do today,” said Casper. “You can’t put a resume together or file a job application on a phone. Libraries restrict the amount of time you can use their computers. If you’re going back to school, you need a computer of your own to keep up with classwork. If money is tight, they’re hard to afford.”

T4TP also offers hands on free basic computer classes including: hardware; operating systems; web development; and computer networking.

T4TP has donated computers to veterans in need and their children in the Richmond area. It put a computer lab in McGuire Veteran’s Hospital and shipped computers to needy vets in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Former service members seeking computers must be sponsored by a veteran’s organization such as the American Legion.

The organization has recycled more than 146,000 pounds of bits and pieces over the years and keep it out of landfills. Donations are tax deductible.

Community support for the mission of T4TP has been strong. Area companies including Goochland based CarMax and Performance Food Group have donated used equipment and encouraged their employees to volunteers for regular work sessions. Other businesses donate food for these work sessions, or make cash donations. The Albemarle County Regional Jail recently donated all of its old computers to T4TP.

T4TP wipes hard drives of the electronics it receives using state of the art programs. “We never open the hard drives,” explained Casper attaching a laptop drive to a computer that runs three separate diagnostic programs to determine if the drive can be salvaged. “If the drive does not pass even one of those tests, it gets degaussed with powerful magnetic fields.”

Many of the donated computers have dead batteries or faulty hard drives. While the drives can be swapped out after they have been wiped, the dearth of working batteries has been an impediment. A donation of replacement laptop batteries is high on Casper’s wish list.

Navy veteran Duane Osbourne, currently working at T4TP part-time while pursuing network security certification, said that his classes never “look inside the box.” At work, he takes computers apart and reassembles, them gaining additional skills. Duane Osborne with a stack of laptops waiting for batteries.

Dedicated volunteers make T4TP possible. Regulars are veterans themselves, many have served on active duty in the Marine Corps. Dana, a retired Army officer, learned about the organization through his West Point alumni group. He liked what he saw during a tour, and now spends several hours each week at T4TP, doing whatever is needed.

As T4TP operates on a shoestring budget, Casper takes it one day at a time. He’d like to be able to hire a part-time clerical person to handle paperwork, but would be grateful for someone to volunteer for this task on a regular basis.

T4TP is a great place to take your old computer equipment, especially knowing that it will be put to good use. T4TP are located at 4848 Waller Road, on the opposite side of Staples Mill Road from the new Libbie Mill complex. Visit the website or follow them on Facebook at Tech for Troops Project.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

First do no harm

Hold onto your wallets, the General Assembly is back in session.

According to Wikipedia, the Virginia General Assembly is the oldest continuous law-making body in the New World. In January of each year, the 100-member House of Delegates and 40-member state senate convene in Richmond to conduct the business of the Commonwealth. The GA meets for 45 days in odd-numbered years, and 60 days in even-numbered years.

As Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, localities, like Goochland County, have only those powers specifically ceded to them by the state. Keeping an eye on the shenanigans in Richmond is vital to prevent the local ship of state from being swamped by the good intentions of legislators.

The number of bills filed each is staggering. See for a list of this year’s offerings. Topics range from benign commendations for a person or group to more serious issues including taxation, and life-and-death situations.

Goochland tries to work closely with its GA representatives: Delegates Lee Ware, Peter Farrell, and newly elected senator Mark Peake, to see that its interests are represented and protected in the legislature. Only Ware, a former Powhatan County supervisor, has local government experience and knows first-hand what happens when poorly crafted legislation rolls downhill to localities.

In past years, Goochland has been fortunate to have our delegation sponsor bills helpful on the local front. This year, the county’s legislative agenda, positions on issues, is more policy oriented and defensive.

Like many other rural jurisdictions, Goochland is always searching for ways to expand broadband coverage across the county.

HB 2108, a bill currently in the legislative hopper, requires localities to jump through a series of state mandated hoops before owning, operating, or leasing any system to provide broadband. Lynchburg area Delegate Kathy Byron, Chief Patron of the bill, contends that its intent is to protect localities from wasting tax dollars on systems better left to the private sector. Detractors claim it only protects current providers from competition. This illustrates the sinister irony of the phrase “we’re from the government, we’re here to help you.”

A new website includes a host of articles exploring the consequences of the bill.

Excerpts from a letter sent to Byron by a resident of western Goochland made the following points: “I write to you as chief patron of House Bill 2108 - Virginia Broadband Deployment Act. I am a resident of Goochland County, and a lack of broadband in certain parts of our county limits families' and businesses' desires to move here - resulting in significant opportunity costs for growth and economic development.

My husband and I both presently work for the Commonwealth in two different agencies, and we both utilize telework options to ameliorate the challenges of a long commute and raising a young family of three children age 5 and under. Prior to working for the Commonwealth, I started and operated a research consulting business out of my home. We have internet access through a cell phone provider on wireless cards, and while sufficient for basic needs, we cannot fully utilize what the internet has to offer, the service is expensive, and there are data limits.

We are grateful to have what we have - although we are always investigating any promise of new options - only to have our hopes dashed repeatedly about the viability of broadband companies investing here. And truthfully, we can afford the services we need to get by. That said, many in my community - and around the Commonwealth - are not as well-positioned as we are to incur the expense.
This is why I take biggest issue with your legislation: Even if internet is available, it does not necessarily make it accessible or affordable to all who need it. And I do not believe it is the state's role to limit the potential opportunities a locality might seek to provide for its citizens - in the names of safeguarding corporate profits. I believe - and I am raising my children to see that what's best for all citizens trumps what's best for a select few with privilege….”

She cited the comment made by Dr. James Lane, former superintendent of Goochland Schools, that the “digital divide” separating those with and without affordable access to broadband is “the civil rights issue of our time.”

A communication to the Goochland GA delegation from District 2 Supervisor Manuel Alvarez, Jr., who has spearheaded efforts to expand broadband coverage, included the following comments: “We (Goochland County) have no plans to get into the broadband business; however, we are looking at the possibility of partnering with a provider and I think that HB2108 will insert some unnecessary roadblocks. If the cable companies want to expand business in Goochland nobody is stopping them. In fact, I could not encourage them more. They should not keep others or the locality from leveraging infrastructure to connect more citizens. I think this bill is unnecessary and I hope it never comes out of committee. “

According to Alvarez, Ware has said he will not vote for the bill. The views of Farrell and Peake are unknown. However, during a candidate forum in Goochland a few days before the special election that put him into office on January 10, Peake displayed astonishing ignorance of the value of broadband for economic development and in education when he said that “the state should not pay for people’s entertainment.”

Susan Sili, a Caroline County freelance journalist further discusses the proposed legislation on conservative website Bearing Drift:

Stifling innovation and competition in localities looking for ways to expand broadband coverage is a bad idea. HB 2108 seems designed to protect the telecommunications companies that have most of the business, not citizens.

Goochland representatives are : Peter Farrell; Lee Ware; and Mark Peake

Monday, January 9, 2017

We don’t want no stinkin’ apartments

The above statement pretty much sums up the reaction to mixed use enclaves proposed for different parts of eastern Goochland.

On December 15, and again on January 4, local developer Scott Gaeser held community meetings to gauge citizen reaction to a conceptual plan for Manakintowne. As presented, this enclave will build 230 apartments in three and four story buildings, and 44 townhomes on property behind and to the east of Essex Bank in Centerville.

Gaeser’s vision of village-scaled retail and commercial space along a well- landscaped boulevard entrance instead of the continued march of fast food emporiums along Broad Street Road was perhaps the most acceptable part of Manakintowne. He contended that there is a need for small, affordable commercial spaces to attract starter businesses who cannot afford rents in Short Pump.

Cary Friedman, proprietor of the late, great Grandpa Eddie’s barbecue restaurant, said that he would like to open a small bakery there.

Manakintowne would also be a great place for a library branch in a retail space, to attract locals to the site, and supply an “amenity” for the eastern part of the county.

People at both Gaeser meetings were very vocal in their opposition to the apartments, less so to the town homes. Most would prefer no high-density housing.

Gaeser explained that the land in question has been zoned B-1 for decades. A hotel could be built there by right. He believes that Manakintowne is a better alternative for the area in the long run.

The Gaeser meeting was part of the pre-application process, which means that it is still in the conceptual stage. Changes could be made by the time the project reaches the planning commission for the first phase of any rezoning, or it could not move forward.

At the January 5 planning commission, changes requested by the county and Pruitt Properties, for mixed use on the north side of Rt. 6, just east of its intersection with Rt. 288, the former site of the Oak Hill golf course, drew a similar reaction.

After two hours of mostly negative public comment, applicant West Creek principal Tommy Pruitt, requested a 60-day deferral on the matter, which the planning commission seemed relieved to grant.

This project is also in the conceptual stage. Items before the Planning Commission were essentially housekeeping matters. They were: amending a zoning ordinance to permit expansion of the West Creek Business Park; amending proffers that apply only to the West Creek Business Park; and rezoning approximately 7.66 acres immediately adjacent to the West Creek Business Park from A-2 agricultural to M-1, making them eligible for inclusion in West Creek.

West Creek boundaries, as defined by a 1989 county ordinance, are generally Rt. 6 to the south; Tuckahoe Creek to the east; Hockett Road to the West; and Broad Street Road to the north. The item dealing with the rezoning and expansion make it possible for small parcels at the southwestern edge of West Creek to be added.

The zoning ordinance in question, applies only to West Creek, because it is the sole planned business park zoned before 2004, it does not and cannot apply to any other property.

Speakers at the Planning Commission meeting were furious that West Creek would ask to “go back” on the promise made when its land was first rezoned, prohibiting retail with one thousand feet of Rt. 6, and residential use. Requested changes in road access that would create dangerous traffic patterns also drew a great deal of ire even though they were also conceptual.

West Creek neighbors, including those who live in the River Road corridor, do not want the pastoral Rt. 6 view shed marred by retail and multifamily housing. One gentleman said that, if West Creek wants to build stores, restaurants, and apartments, it should locate them in the park’s interior so no one can see them.

Opponents questioned the need for new retail and restaurant space on Rt. 6, citing decaying and vacant strip shopping centers a few miles to the east in Henrico. West Creek promised to bring high quality retail, including a grocery store, and upscale eateries to the project, but contended that it is too early in the process to have commitments from specific tenants.

In 2012, the West Creek ordinance was amended to permit multifamily housing on up to 60 acres in the 3,500-acre business park. Apartments at The Notch are almost built out. The Bristol apartments, on the east side of Rt. 288 just south of Capital One, are clearing land. The proposed apartments at the south end of the business park would use of the remainder of the acreage. West Creek contends that adding the small parcel on Rt. 6 to the multifamily acreage is essentially housekeeping, that the initial number of acres was somewhat arbitrary.

Opponents contended that, if expansion of multifamily acreage is granted, West Creek will keep asking for more.

Tommy Pruitt reminded the planning commissioners that West Creek pledged a site for a new fire-rescue station when and where the county deems appropriate.

Goochlanders have been quite vocal in their opposition to high density housing. Apartments, or other kinds of multi-family housing, they contend is not rural and therefore not appropriate for the county. The transient nature of apartment dwellers is also troubling. Gaeser explained that condominiums, which tend to be owner occupied, are more difficult to finance than apartments.

Astonishing numbers of apartments seem to rise from the ground like mushrooms after rain east of the county line. Many speakers at both meetings questioned the need for even more apartments in Goochland. One cited a recent article in the Wall Street Journal about a nationwide apartment glut.

Both meetings raised concerns about the impact of hundreds of new dwelling units on county services, especially schools and fire-rescue.

On January 4, Gaeser contended that the county is moving to a career fire-rescue service because the volunteers are no longer able to meet the demands of a growing and aging population. This produced an angry response from a fire-rescue volunteer who said that the volunteer corps is doing just fine.

At the Planning Commission meeting, one woman said that the county would need to start hiring EMS responders to meet the demand that multifamily housing would place on the system.

Goochland has had a small number of paid fire-rescue providers since 2009, hiring additional people each year. These county employees are deployed countywide, augmented by volunteers when possible. Funds generated by a cost recovery program that charges insurance for hospital transport cover part of the tab.

Schools are another important issue. Randolph Elementary, the county’s eastern most primary school, added trailers this year to handle its burgeoning population. A new elementary school has been in the county’s capital improvement plan for several years and is expected to be built around 2020. Coincidentally, Gaeser said Manakintowne would be complete the same year.

Both Gaeser and Pruitt contend that their projects will attract primarily empty nesters, and have little impact on the schools.

So far, experience has proven this to be correct. The Retreat apartments opposite Wawa, have, to date, added only a handful of students to the school division. Other high density communities including The Parkes at Centerville and Saddle Creek have produced very few students.

Traffic, of course, is a serious concern.

The Centerville project will exacerbate a major bottle neck. Gaeser said he wants to have an access point from Manakintowne to Plaza Drive behind the Company 3 fire-rescue station. Comments made by a fire-rescue volunteer indicate that may not happen.

With its main entrance sited at the end of the entrance ramp to northbound Rt. 288, the transportation impact of the West Creek project will also be tricky. A traffic impact study will be required. VDOT will have the final say on road improvements, all of which will be funded by West Creek.

Mixed use is a very new concept for Goochland. We still do not know how, or if, it will be implemented here. Do we really need more retail space? If so, what kind of business will occupy it? We do need more office space for doctors, dentists, and other kinds of professional services. Without the high-density housing, will there be enough customers to support these businesses or attract and retain others?

Given the strident opposition to any mixed use in Goochland, developers and the supervisors will need to step carefully to ensure that growth keeps pace with the county’s ability to provide core services. Both Manakintowne and the Rt. 6 West Creek enclave are still in the early stages. It will be interesting to see what the final products look like.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Meet the candidates

The candidate forum held Friday night at Goochland High School was the perfect antidote for the election weary.

Local democrats, republicans, and tea partiers banded together to provide county voters with an opportunity to listen to candidates for Tuesday’s special election to fill the 22nd district seat in the Virginia State Senate left vacant by incumbent Tom Garrett’s election to the United States Congress.

Governor Terry McAuliffe called the special elections to fill vacant seats in the General Assembly for January 10, the day before the 2017 session begins. Due to electoral procedures, results of these elections will probably not be certified until after the GA gets underway, which may leave some Virginia voters, like those of us in Goochland, with no state senate representation for a while.

Be that as it may, a hearty band of citizens came out on a frosty evening as the first “snowmageddon” of 2017 headed toward the Commonwealth. They were rewarded with an up close and personal look at the candidates.

It was nice to see Goochlanders of all political stripes gather to hear the three fine men running for office make their pitch.

Please vote next Tuesday. Goochland has the reputation for being the votingest jurisdiction in Virginia; let’s keep that going. A hefty turnout will also send a clear signal to whichever candidate prevails on Tuesday that we expect to have our interests well represented in the Virginia Senate.

The underlying angst in this race is the balance of power in the state senate. If the democrats can add one seat to their column in the upper house, they will have defacto control with the tie breaker vote cast by Lt. Governor Ralph Northam, a democrat. Though the candidates vowed to work first for the good of the citizens, it’s hard to believe that partisan politics as usual will not intervene.

The candidates are Independent Joe Hines; Republican Mark Peake; and Democrat Ryant Washington.

Hines and Washington understand that the lack of high speed internet impedes school children in rural areas from competing with their more urban peers and stifles economic development. Peake dismissed the issue saying “it’s not the role of the state to provide entertainment.”

Hines, an engineer by training and temperament, also has an MBA and a stellar track record in economic development. He is a self-described conservative who wants to solve problems in the most effective and efficient way.
Joe Hines

As an independent, he said he might not caucus with either party but rather work with all sides for outcomes most beneficial to the Commonwealth. He did not enter the race to be a spoiler, or lose. Hines said that bringing sound economic development and good jobs to the 22nd district is of utmost importance. He believes that excessive regulation is strangling the economy and depriving people of the opportunity to provide for their family and have fulfilling lives close to home, so kids have jobs to c come back to when they complete their education.

Hines said he was unfamiliar with the so-called bathroom bill that might be introduced, but did say that North Carolina’s actions cost the state a lot of money. Hines contended that it might be better to “build a few more bathrooms” than waste time and energy fighting about the matter.

He believes that the people who manage the Virginia Retirement System funds must be held accountable. Hines would have “real conversations with real people” to decide what needs to be done to maintain an acceptable level of services before making any decision on Medicare expansion.

Visit his website at for details.

Peake, an attorney in Lynchburg, never seems to have stopped running for the 22nd District Senate seat since he lost to Tom Garrett in the 2011 primary. His opening remarks were a typical stump speech filled with republican themes of less government; protection of second amendment rights; pro-life; and fiscal responsibility. He does not support Medicaid expansion and believes that entities like free clinics are a better way to help people who fall below the poverty level.

Peake contended that Goochland is the largest jurisdiction in the 22nd District, even though Amherst, Fluvanna, and Prince Edward counties have larger populations.
Mark Peake

Peake declared that proffers are a matter between builders and localities even though legislation in the 2016 GA essentially gutted the practice. He did say he could not support the latest “bathroom” bill floating around the GA, but believes that you should “go to the bathroom with the parts that God gave you.” He vowed to stand fast against any efforts by Governor McAuliffe to impinge on citizens’ rights. Minimum wage jobs, said Peake, are entry level employment opportunities that lead to enhanced skills and experience that command better salaries. It is not the state’s job to set wage rates.

He supports lowering the drinking age to 19 to lessen the tendency to campus binge drinking and would like to eliminate corporate and individual income tax in favor of a sales tax.
For more details visit:

Democrat Ryant Washington, former Sheriff of Fluvanna County, dispensed with a formal speech and spoke “from the heart.”

His wife is the current chair of the Fluvanna County School Board, so he is very familiar with the unintended consequences of state legislation at the local level. Washington “gets’ the heartburn that unfunded mandates that run downhill from Richmond inflict on localities.
Ryant Washington
“I know what it’s like to look a deputy in the eye and tell him I have to let him go because of budget cuts,” Washington said. Having grown up in a large family headed by a single mother, Washington said he understands firsthand the importance of a secure safety net. “Some republican governors have expanded Medicare in their states. If we’re not going to do that, what are we going to do to ensure that everyone has access to healthcare?”

“Just because I’m a democrat does not mean I’ll always vote as a democrat,” he said. “I want to work together to come up with a good common result. It’s my job to make policy and see if that policy is followed. A smile is nice, but it is what’s in the heart that matters.” Washington pledged to take his passion for public service to Richmond to serve all people in the 22nd District, and always be accessible to his constituents.
Visit his website at

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Out with the old, in with the new

On January 3, the Goochland County Board of Supervisors held its first meeting of 2017 by ringing out the old and in the new in different ways.

Continuing its custom, reinstated in 2012, the chairmanship rotated during the Board’s annual organizational meeting. Bob Minnick, District 4, passed the gavel to Ned Creasey, District 3, who was elected by the other supervisors. Ken Peterson, District 5, was serve as vice chair for 2017.

The board then adopted its Rules of Procedure; Code of Ethics; and Standards of Conduct. This annual recommitment to the highest levels of ethical and moral conduct reminds the Board that it serves the citizens, and must earn the public trust by careful stewardship of local government in every action.

A bittersweet moment followed as County Attorney Norman Sales, who will retire at the end of January, was presented with a resolution of thanks for his seven years of service to Goochland.
Ken Peterson, Norman Sales, Susan Lascolette, Manuel Alvarez, Jr., Ned Creasey, Bob Minnick.

During his tenure, Sales’ wise counsel helped the county negotiate some very troubled waters. When the current board took office in 2012, he made sure it adhered to the law while making sweeping changes.

Sales shepherded Goochland through a complicated redistricting process after the 2010 census. He successfully represented the county in the Benedictine litigation and drafted many economic development agreements during his tenure.

Sales worked with citizens and interest groups to craft ordinances that address delicate issues including: companion animals, large crowd permits; and new zoning districts. He also served as interim county administrator last year enabling a seamless transition in county administration. His common sense and legal skill, combined with gracious good humor and respect for everyone he encountered, was vital to the success of county government.

In a special session, Tara A. McGee was sworn in to succeed Sales. McGee, who left a position as senior assistant county attorney in Chesterfield, has considerable experience in litigation and land use. She will begin work on February 1.

Tara A. McGee

McGee holds a B.A. from James Madison, where her son and daughter are currently students; a Juris Doctor from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Mary; and a Masters of Public Administration from VCU.

After she took the oath of office, Creasey welcomed McGee to the Goochland government family.

In brief remarks, McGee explained that her appreciation for the value of public service came from her father, a career army officer. She is one of six children, especially close to her sister Colleen, ten months her senior, who traveled from Baltimore for the occasion. Friends and colleagues joined other members of McGee’s family, including husband B. J., and son Brian, to witness the oath taking. Daughter Katie was on a previously scheduled ski trip.

McGee thanked her mentors and former assistant Susan Wilson for their help in shaping her legal career. Honored to succeed Sales, for whom she has the utmost respect, McGee cautioned that she has a penchant for puns.

In addition to a keen legal mind and a wealth of experience relevant to Goochland’s challenges, McGee brings a bright smile and engaging temperament that fits well with staff. Once again, the supervisors filled an important positon with an excellent candidate who will continue and expand upon the work of her predecessor. Welcome to Goochland Tara McGee!