Dec 21, 2021 • 16M

December 21, 2021: Walker, Hill bid farewell from Council; One speaker at public housing plan hearing

Plus: Governor-elect Youngkin appoints Commerce Secretary and new members appointed to city BAR

Sean Tubbs
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Regular updates of what's happening in local and regional government in and around Charlottesville, Virginia from an award-winning journalist with nearly thirty years of experience.
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Today is the longest day of the year, but we are now past the astronomical point of the year known in the northern hemisphere as the Winter Solstice. There are now 182 days of increasing amounts of light until the summer when the yo-yo parabolas back to where we are today. Between now and then, Charlottesville Community Engagement will be here to document some of what happens along the way. I’m your host, Sean Tubbs. 

This is the 298th edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement. To receive #299 and many more, sign-up for free and decide later whether to help cover the costs!

On today’s show:
  • City Councilor Heather Hill and Mayor Nikuyah Walker say goodbye to public office

  • Governor-elect Youngkin appoints an entrepreneur as Commerce Secretary

  • Charlottesville’s public housing body has a public hearing on the annual plan

  • Bills to reduce some restrictions on firearms are filed in the General Assembly 

  • Some portions of Virginia are now on drought watch

In today’s first Patreon-fueled shout-out:

Algorithms know how to put songs and artists together based on genre or beats per minute. But only people can make connections that engage your mind and warm your heart. The music on WTJU 91.1 FM is chosen by dozens and dozens of volunteer hosts -- music lovers like you who live right here in the Charlottesville area. Listener donations keep WTJU alive and thriving. In this era of algorithm-driven everything, go against the grain. Support freeform community radio on WTJU. Consider a donation at wtju.net/donate.

Pandemic update

The Virginia Department of Health reports the largest one-day total of new COVID-19 cases since early February, when the 2020 holiday surge was beginning to recede. That’s 4,437 cases reported, bringing the seven-day average to 3,575. The seven-day percent positivity is 9.6 percent today, continuing an upwards trend. These numbers are also consistent with where Virginia was in the middle of September. 

Seventy-eight of those new cases are in the Blue Ridge Health District where the percent positivity is 6.9 percent today. 

Every Friday, the VDH reports case rates by vaccination status. The latest report with data through December 11 shows that “unvaccinated people developed COVID-19 at a rate 4.2 times that of fully vaccinated people and 2.2 times that of partially vaccinated people.” 

Put another way: As of December 11, 5.65 million Virginians were fully vaccinated, and 1.3 percent of that number have developed COVID-19 and 0.0163 percent died. As of this past Friday, 1.8 million Virginians have received a booster or third dose.

This chart shows the case rate for the entire pandemic to date, showing a third surge in Virginia is underway
Council hires the Robert Bobb Group to run the city

Near the end of last night’s City Council meeting, Council voted 4-0 to hire the Robert Bobb Group of Washington D.C. to fulfill a contract to provide emergency management services. More details on that in a future newsletter. Mayor Nikuyah Walker abstained from the vote. Two firms applied and the city attorney is still working on the contract for ratification, according to City Council Clerk Kyna Thomas.

Youngkin appoints Commerce Secretary

Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin has appointed an entrepreneur to serve as his Secretary of Commerce and Trade. Caren Merrick is is the chief executive officer of the Virginia Ready Initiative, an workforce development firm formed in the spring of 2020 that seeks to “rapidly reskill Virginians for in-demand jobs.” 

In a statement, Youngkin said he intends to preside over an administration that adds 400,000 jobs and launch 10,000 start-ups. 

“Virginia’s jobs machine has stalled out, and Caren is going to play a pivotal role on the team that will jumpstart our economy and reinvigorate job growth here in the Commonwealth,” Youngkin said.

According to the statement, Merrick has over 25 years of experience in business. The Virginia Ready Initiative sought to train people using “accelerated credential courses for in-demand skills in technology, healthcare, manufacturing and skilled trades.”

Over 3,500 people have been through the process and a third have jobs, according to the release. Read through their annual report to find out more.

Caren Merrick (Source: Virginia Ready Initiative annual report) 
More pre-filed General Assembly bills

The Virginia General Assembly meets in less than three weeks, and a steady stream of bills are being pre-filed. Here’s the latest:

  • Incoming Delegate Tim Anderson (R-Virginia Beach) filed a bill that would allow school security officers to perform other duties if so assigned (HB8)

  • Delegate Lee Ware (R-Powhatan) filed a bill giving school boards the option of extending probationary periods for new teachers (HB9)

  • Anderson filed another bill prohibiting localities from charging registration fees for concealed handgun permits (HB10)

  • Anderson’s third bill pre-filed on December 17 would reduce penalties for breaking concealed gun laws (HB11)

  • Anderson’s fourth bill would limit the number of public entrances to public schools (HB12)

  • Anderson’s first bill filed on December 20 would remove a prohibition under state law limiting citizens from purchasing more than one handgun a month (HB14)

  • Ware also filed a bill on December 20 that would allow electoral boards more leeway in responding to Freedom of Information requests in certain situations (HB15)

Public hearing for CRHA annual plan 

The city’s public housing agency held a public hearing last night on a federally-mandated document. 

“It’s for our policies, programs, operations, and strategies,” said Kathleen Glenn-Matthews, the deputy director of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. “They’re all put together in one place.” 

(See also: CRHA preparing annual plan review, November 18, 2021

Glenn-Matthews said the annual plan is a prerequisite for receiving capital funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

“We talk about what residents’ concerns are,” Glenn-Matthews said. “It’s an opportunity for residents to get involved. We ask what individuals like and don’t like about their communities and it is a chance for us all to try to change and improve the rules. Most of all it’s an opportunity to set goals for the future.” 

Glenn-Matthews said the report explains how the CRHA is studying the possibility of issuing its own bonds to fund further redevelopment, as well as establishing a division in the agency that can manage various redevelopment and modernization projects. They can do so in part because of an infusion in direct investment from Charlottesville taxpayers. 

“The city will be providing about $15 million to CRHA for redevelopment and rental assistance in the next five years which will help to leverage funds, federal and non-federal, to maximize outcomes for redevelopment activities,” Glenn-Matthews said. 

CHRA must submit the plan to HUD by January 15. The Board of Commissioners will hold a work session on January 13, a meeting which will include a new representative from City Council. The CRHA fiscal year runs from April 1 to March 31. 

The only speaker at the public hearing was Shelby Marie Edwards, the executive director of the Public Housing Association of Residents. This year, a decision was made to end security patrols of public housing sites. 

“We know that CRHA has adopted a camera policy and that they are being installed at some of the sites,” Edwards said. “However our hope is that we can have future conversations about reestablishing an in-person security service included but not limited to a door person over at Crescent Hall once the building is open.”  

Glenn-Matthews said she received no written comments about the plan. 

Drought Watch in some parts of Virginia

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has issued a drought watch advisory for portions of southern Virginia and the Eastern Shore. This is the first step in the process that could result in water restrictions being imposed by localities.

“DEQ is notifying local governments, public water works and individual water users in the affected areas to minimize nonessential water use, review or develop local water conservation and drought contingency plans, and take actions consistent with those plans,” reads a release sent out this morning. 

This advisory does not apply to the Charlottesville area. The determination was made by the Virginia Drought Monitoring Task Force on December 17. 

“Significant portions of the Roanoke, Chowan, Middle James, Southeast Virginia and Eastern Shore drought evaluation regions have received less than fifty percent of normal precipitation over the last 60 days,” reads a portion of the 36-page report

The Task Force next meets on January 6. 

The Task Force evaluates regions of Virginia by watershed. Learn more in their latest report.

Time for a second Patreon-fueled shout-out:

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Last Council meeting for Hill, Walker 

Another era of Charlottesville City Council has concluded with a long meeting last night with lots of votes and decisions. It may take a few newsletters to get through it all. Council met for nearly three hours in closed session before beginning the public session. They began by getting the public acknowledgment of the end of two terms.

Vice Mayor Sena Magill introduced a resolution to honor outgoing Councilor Heather Hill and Mayor Nikuyah Walker. 

“Mayor Walker, you ran on a platform of unmasking the illusion, [and] being there for those who have not had a voice in many spaces,” Magill said. “I would like to thank you for being that voice for many others.” 

Magill lauded Walker for creating the Home to Hope program to assist people returning from incarceration.

Magill also thanked Hill. 

“Thank you for the time that you have spent in these past four years connecting people in our community, for answering almost every email that has come through, and for often keeping many of us on track when we start going sideways down sporadic paths and trying to figure out exactly where we’re supposed to be or what we’re supposed to be doing exactly in that time.” 

Hill said she had mixed emotions about coming to the end of her term. She announced early in the year she would not seek a second. 

“The last four years have been uniquely challenging for Charlottesville,” Hill said. “This small city has carried a lot on its shoulders and I believe that these challenges have impacted the work that Council and staff have been able to accomplish. I acknowledge that there have been missteps and I’ve been part of some of those and take ownership of that. This will all weigh heavily on me. There was much more I was hoping that we could have made strides on before the end of this Council’s term that I would have had the opportunity to be part of.” 

Hill lamented a lack of collaboration between leaders and the community, but noted that this Council increased funding for affordable housing projects. 

For her introductory remarks, Walker quoted from the late bell hooks. 

“She says in this chapter that ‘progressive visionary leaders have always known that any action which liberates and renews oppressed exploited and Black people strengthens the nation as a whole,’” Walker said. “‘Not only do these actions provide a model for ending racism. They provide strategies for the overall healing of America.”

Walker continued quoting from hooks including a passage about how personal attacks on visionary leaders take away from the wisdom those individuals offer. 

“Visionary leaders abound in our society,’” Walker continued quoting. “‘Many of them are women. Patriarchal thinking blocks recognition of the power of female wisdom and our words.” 

In other comments, Walker recalled being asked to run for office by former Councilor Holly Edwards, who was elected to one term in November 2007. She died in January 2017 and Walker decided to run after months of contemplation. 

“It was a commitment to her work and her vision for this community,” Walker said. “Holly used to say, and it wasn’t a joke, she was very serious. She used to say that we would get t-shirts made with our percentage of the population on it because of her concern that we would no longer exist here.” 

Walker said she almost quit last December, and decided not to run earlier this year after Police Chief Rashall Brackney was fired. (September 8, 2021 CCE)

“I make no apologies for fighting for us to understand that there are people who suffer every day,” Walker said. 

Walker said she will continue to fight to dismantle what she calls systems of oppression. 

Three newcomers elected to the Charlottesville BAR

After the goodbyes were said, Council still had another five and a half hours of business. First up, they reappointed Cheri Lewis to the Board of Architectural Review and appointed Hunter Smith, Clayton Strange, and David Timmerman. Smith served briefly on the city Planning Commission in 2018 before resigning. 

More from City Council in a future newsletter. 

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