June 17, 2022: Spotted lanternfly quarantine to be extended to Albemarle, Charlottesville; ACSA officials says no PFAS in local water
Plus: The General Assembly convenes to respond to Governor Youngkin's budget amendments which also includes creation of a new felony
It’s Friday once more and there’s no time like this moment to begin to tell you about information that’s been waiting for you to read or listen to. The purpose of Charlottesville Community Engagement is to bring you as many stories and articles about the community as possible, on as frequent a level as possible. I’m the host Sean Tubbs, and I want to make sure you know no Sean Tubbs were harmed in the creation of this episode.
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On today’s show:
Former Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney files suit against the city alleging she was fired for trying to reform what she calls a racist department
The General Assembly meets today to act on Governor Glenn Youngkin’s amendments to the state budget
A quarantine on moving some materials around parts of Virginia to stop the spread of the Spotted Lanternfly will soon be extended to Albemarle and Charlottesville
Charlottesville’s Board of Zoning Appeals upholds a determination related to a future Wawa
The Albemarle County Service Authority reports it’s ready to guard against “forever chemicals” in their drinking water supply
First Shout-out is for the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards
In today’s first subscriber-supported shout-out, have you ever wanted to learn as much as you can about how to preserve and protect trees? The Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards are opening up registration for their fall series of online training sessions and field activities running from August 9 through November 19. Full tuition details are at charlottesvilleareatreestewards.org and if you want to get a feel for what you may learn, there’s a public tree identification walk through the grand trees spanning the front areas of the University of Virginia on Sunday, June 26. Attendance is limited, so register today!
General Assembly to consider Governor Youngkin’s budget amendments
The House of Delegates and the Senate convene this afternoon in Richmond to finalize budget amendments recommended by Governor Glenn Youngkin.
“I approve the general purpose of this bill, but I am returning it without my signature with the request that thirty-five amendments be adopted,” Youngkin wrote in his recommendations for HB30.
(the paragraph below was edited to make a correction)
One of the largest amendments is a three month suspension on the state tax on gasoline and diesel beginning July 1. Legislation to accomplish this goal did not pass the General Assembly in the Special Session in April. A bill introduced by Youngkin did not make it out of either the House of Delegates Appropriations Committee or the Senate Finance Committee.
Another amendment would make it a class 6 felony to picket at the residence of a judge, juror, witness, or court officer.
The amendments cover both the current fiscal year and the next one that begins in two weeks, so financial amounts listed below are split over the biennium. These include:
Two full time positions to support the Lieutenant Governor
An additional $300,000 in salary increases for staff in the Office of the Attorney General
$300,000 in state funds to the Virginia Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services to add staff to expand inspections for new meat processing facilities
An additional $3 million for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership Authority
An additional $4 million to expand the Early Reading Specialists program to schools that rank lowest in performance
The redirecting of $5 million in financial aid assistance to students at Norfolk State University and Virginia State University
Two million in additional funding for an Innovation Center to be built an a historically Black College of University as well as another four million over two years for increased security at all of the Commonwealth’s HBCU’s.
Four million in funds would be redirected to support the University of Virginia’s Program on Constitutionalism and Democracy
There’s $160,000 going to the Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University to “research ways to increase opportunities for K-12 students”
Two million over two years for the Hampton Roads Proton Beam Therapy Institute at Hampton University
$2.35 million in each year to hire 36 security guards at state-operated mental health treatment centers
Another $200,000 would go to the families of the security officers killed at Bridgewater College earlier this year
an appropriation of $50,000 would be made to prepare more prison beds for those arrested for picketing at a judge’s house
There are also new policies that have been introduced into the budget.
All public universities will have to demonstrate an “official commitment and set of policies and practices to support freedom of expression and inquiry, free speech, academic freedom, and diversity of thought.”
The University of Virginia at Wise is authorized to offer graduate programs
All state funding for any abortion-related service would be prohibited unless required by federal law
Bail would be waived for certain criminal offenses
Participation in the new Community Lab School program would be expanded
Youngkin made three amendments to HB29 which is known as the caboose bill as it looks back at previous budgets including the current fiscal year. These include a $26.5 million increase in revenue for FY22 and a $15 million for site preparation work in Richmond in an account called the Property Analytics Firm Infrastructure Fund.
VDACS to expand Spotted Lanternfly quarantine to Charlottesville area
The state entity that oversees management of invasive species will expand a quarantine on the movement of certain products to help slow the spread of the Spotted Lanternfly. The Virginia Department of Consumer and Agricultural Services has sent a letter to localities including Albemarle and Charlottesville notifying them of the new rules.
“The Spotted Lanternfly Quarantine requires a permit to ensure that businesses are taking steps to guarantee regulated articles are free from spotted lanternfly,” reads a June 15 letter from David Gianino, the program manager for the Office of Plant Industry Services. “To obtain a spotted lanternfly permit, completion of an online training course is required and businesses must then apply for the permit with VDACS.”
According to the letter, the spotted lanternfly is known to feed on “grapes, peaches, apples, maples, walnuts, hops, cucumbers, and basil.” The insect was spotted in Frederick County in January 2018 and a quarantine has been in place there, Clarke County, Warren County, and the city of Winchester. However, surveys conducted by VDACS indicate the bugs have been found in the cities of Buena Vista, Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, Lexington, Lynchburg, Manassas, Staunton, Waynesboro and the counties of Albemarle, Augusta, Carroll, Page, Prince William, Rockingham, Rockbridge, Shenandoah, and Wythe.
A wide range of materials are regulated including live or dead trees, lumber, vegetation, shipping containers, outdoor construction materials, equipment trucks, recreational vehicles, and more. A complete list is available in that letter. Information on how to get a permit is available on the VDACS website.
Albemarle County Supervisors were briefed on the spotted lanternfly back in February, as reported here.
Board of Zoning Appeals upholds city zoning in Wawa
Officials with Tiger Fuel attempted yesterday to overturn a decision by the city’s zoning administrator that affects the future layout of a proposed Wawa on Fifth Street Extended. This one gets a little technical.
“The applicant contends that the prescribed front setback for gas stations in Section 34-931(h) of the zoning ordinance are more lenient than the front setbacks for structures in the Highway Zoning district,” said Genevieve Keller, the chair of the Board of Zoning Appeals.
Keller said that Tiger Fuel believed Zoning Administrator Read Brodhead should have used Section 34-738 instead. Tiger operates a convenience store immediately to the south. The details are way above most people.
“It’s a little complicated, I know,” Brodhead said.
Gordon Sutton, president of Tiger Fuel, tried to simplify the argument.
“We are asking you to determine which of the two standards is more restrictive,” Sutton said. “The Highway Commercial regulations or the gas station regulations.”
Sutton said the highway commercial zonings should apply, and he said his company has had to work under those rules in the past.
Attorney Valerie Long with Williams Mullen represented the property owner, RBD Bent Creek LLC.
“Virginia code specifically provides that the Board is to presume that Mr. Brodhead’s determination is correct and that the appellant, Tiger Fuel, has the burden of proof of proving otherwise,” Long said.
Long said their scope of review was solely whether Brodhead was correct.
“This is not the appropriate venue for a business owner to be attempting to stifle competition from a prospective business owner or property owner,” Long said.
Long said the zoning rules for gas stations are written specifically to safely govern such a use, and that Tiger Fuel’s interpretation was not germane.
After a public hearing and brief discussion, the BZA voted unanimously to uphold Brodhead’s determination.
Albemarle County Service Authority officials: No PFAS in municipal drinking water
On Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued non-binding health advisories on the presence of certain chemicals that do not break down. Yesterday, the environmental compliance specialist for the Albemarle County Service Authority told that entity’s Board of Directors that the municipal water supply is set up to filter out per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.
But first, Tim Brown explained there are thousands of different chemical combinations that were created to make products that are water-resistant, heat-resistant, and grease-resistant.
“Every chemical is distinct by the fact that the element fluorine is a component of the chemical, and the carbon-fluorine chemical bond is a very very strong one,” Brown said. “What does that mean? It means this chemicals do not break down in the environment.”
Brown said health risks include liver failure, hormone imbalances, cancers, and suppression of immune systems.
“A lot of nasties in there potentially,” Brown said.
The EPA is currently promulgating new regulations to require monitoring and to seek to lower the acceptable level of PFAS compounds to near zero.
“It was almost borderline startling information,” Brown said.
Brown said the current acceptable standard is around 70 parts per trillion for PFAS and the new regulations could take that down.
“Now going down into the fractions of parts per trillion which is in essence at the parts per quadrillion level,” Brown said.
Brown said one issue will be that current test equipment may not be able to detect those levels. He said he felt the EPA advisories are intended to signal water producers across the country to take the issue seriously. He said the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority have been testing for PFAS twice a year since 2019.
“Eighteen PFAS compounds were tested at all six of our treatment plants, both in the raw water and in the finished or treated water,” Brown said. “There were zero detections.”
Brown said the new standards will be announced in September to be effective in the fall of 2023. He said the ACSA and the RWSA will continue to monitor the situation.
Second shout-out goes to Camp Albemarle
Today’s second subscriber-supported public service announcement goes out to Camp Albemarle, which has for sixty years been a “wholesome rural, rustic and restful site for youth activities, church groups, civic events and occasional private programs.”
Located on 14 acres on the banks of the Moorman’s River near Free Union, Camp Albemarle continues as a legacy of being a Civilian Conservation Corps project that sought to promote the importance of rural activities. Camp Albemarle seeks support for a plan to winterize the Hamner Lodge, a structure built in 1941 by the CCC and used by every 4th and 5th grade student in Charlottesville and Albemarle for the study of ecology for over 20 years. If this campaign is successful, Camp Albemarle could operate year-round. Consider your support by visiting campalbemarleva.org/donate.
Brackney sues the city of Charlottesville, other parties
Former Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney has filed a lawsuit in federal court against multiple parties alleging that, among other things, the city of Charlottesville acted unlawfully when former City Manager Chip Boyles fired her last September 1. She’s seeking ten million dollar in damages. (read the suit and its exhibits)
In addition to Boyles, Brackney’s complaint in the Western District of Virginia also includes: former city Communications Director Brian Wheeler; city attorney Lisa Robertson; acting police chief Latroy “Tito” Durrette; former assistant police chief James Mooney; current Councilors Sena Magill and Lloyd Snook, former Councilor Heather Hill, and former Police Civilian Review Board chair Bellamy Brown.
She also named Mike Wells of the Police Benevolent Association as a defendant.
The suit builds on a claim filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission soon after she was fired by Boyles. In a series of facts, the complaint seeks to establish that Brackney was hired in June 2018 to “bring empathy, community-oriented training, and years of law enforcement methodology to the table” following distrust after two specific incidents in the summer of 2017.
“As Chief of Police, Dr. Brackney’s priority was to stabilize [Charlottesville Police Department] by building rapport with its employees, whilst simultaneously empowering them to challenge their personal assumptions, regarding policing in the 21st Century,” reads paragraph 31.
As part of that work, Brackney collected data on all divisions of the Police Department and according to the complaint concluded that members of several of them including the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team were not up to the task.
“Assignments were not based on strengths, but decades-old, archaic practices such as nepotism, favoritism, genderism, and racism,” reads paragraph 36.
The complaint describes Brackney’s attempts to reform, such as converting four positions to civilians rather than sworn in officers. One of these was the public information officer. More trainings sessions were to be held, as well as taking minutes at department meetings.
“These actions angered those who resented having a Black female at the helm of a police department, particularly one in the South with a conservative undercurrent,” reads paragraph 47.
On June 3, 2021, Brackney received an email and video from a community member claiming police conduct by a specific officer and she took action on the complaint. That action included dismantling the SWAT team and firing or suspending officers she found to be involved through a subsequent investigation.
In paragraph 61, the complaint states that Bellamy Brown and Mike Wells in early August put together a survey for Charlottesville police officers that Brackney claims was “intentionally negatively worded and targeting Plaintiff as a result of the investigation and disciplinary actions described above.”
Paragraph 66 alleges a conspiracy between Brown, Hill, Wells, Snook, Boyles, Mooney and Magill to out Brackney as chief. The next one states that Boyles expressed confidence in Brackney’s leadership on August 26, 2021, as evidenced in a secret audio recording she made of their meeting.
Brackney was fired on September 1 and paragraph 76 of the complaint quotes Boyle’s September 3 press release in the first of many iterations used to advance her complaint.
“In order to dismantle systemic racism and eliminate police violence and misconduct in Charlottesville, we need a leader who is not only knowledgeable in that work, but is also effective in building collaborative relationships with the community, the department, and the team at City Hall… and [w]hile very good work and progress has been made, I ultimately decided new leadership was required to continue the City’s progress towards building a new climate and culture within the department,” Boyles wrote.
The complaint continues to list specific incidents that Brackney considers libel. Paragraph 89 accuses Roberston and Boyles of falsifying documents, and offers that Brackney has secret recordings.
Brackney seeks a trial by jury for all of the counts, including one alleging “tortious interference with employment contract.” Another claims unlawful retaliation and another claims that Brackney acted as a whistleblower and another alleges defamation and another claiming business conspiracy that involves Wells, Brown, and the named City Councilors.
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