March 9, 2022: Oral arguments held in lawsuit seeking 2022 House of Delegates election; Community meeting tonight for 72 units on Locust Grove church property
Plus: Former City Manager Richardson drops his lawsuit against Charlottesville City Council
The only constant is change, a dynamic that frustrates many but a phen upon which others thrive. Charlottesville Community Engagement is intended to document as much of what’s coming as possible in the hopes that more people can affect outcomes if they simply have information. It’s March 9, 2022, and I’m your host, Sean Tubbs.
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On today’s program:
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals hears arguments in a case that could require the Virginia Board of Elections to hold a House of Delegates race this November
Another church in Charlottesville wants to build housing on its property
Albemarle’s top official explains to business leaders how the county works
And one of Charlottesville’s former city managers has dropped a suit against the City Council ‘
And singer songwriter Michael Clem talks about his upcoming appearance at the Center at Belvedere
First shout-out goes to the Rivanna Conservation Alliance
In today’s first Patreon-fueled shout-out, the Rivanna Conservation Alliance wants wildlife and nature photographers to enter their first-ever photography contest! They want high-resolution photos related to the Rivanna watershed and the winning entries will be displayed at the 2022 Riverfest Celebration on May 1. The two categories are 16 and under, and those over the age of 17. You can send in two entries, and the work may be used to supplement Rivanna Conservation Alliance publications. For more information, visit rivannariver.org.
Community meeting for 72-unit apartment complex on Locust Grove church property
The Mount View Baptist Church on St. Clair Avenue in the Locust Grove neighborhood is seeking a rezoning to allow for the construction of up to 72 units on their lawn.
“With this rezoning request, Mount View Baptist Church seeks to remain operational on the property and expand opportunities to serve the community by requesting to have the ability to establish a day care on their property,” reads the announcement for a community meeting tonight.
Shimp Engineering has been hired to oversee the land use application process for the 3.4 acre property. Sixty of the units would be built in a series of “linked townhouses” and the rest would be for the church to build in the future should they want to do so. The property has potential road connections onto several roads in the neighborhood.
Not all of the property is connected to the church. An entity called Route 250 Homes purchased two single family homes that front onto Otter Street last June, and these two properties are being added to the church’s property.
Former City Manager Richardson withdraws suit against the city
An attorney for former Charlottesville City Manager Tarron Richardson has filed a motion with the United States Western District Court ending a lawsuit against his former employer. Richardson had filed a civil rights suit against the City Council and the city attorney in November alleging his rights were violated by the terms of his severance agreement. However the suit was not formally served to the city until late December, and the individual defendants were never served. The motion from attorney Kevin French is a voluntary dismissal with prejudice.
Federal appeals court hears oral arguments in suit to force 2022 election
A three judge panel of the United States Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has heard arguments in a case that could force the state of Virginia to run elections for the House of Delegates this year, and then again in 2023. Richmond attorney Paul Goldman has argued those elections in 2021 are unconstitutional because the districts are based on Census data from 2010, and he sued the state Board of Elections.
However, the 40-minute session largely dealt with procedural issues such as whether Goldman has the legal standing to bring the case forward or whether the appeals court was the appropriate venue. (hear the arguments on Youtube)
Andrew Ferguson is the Solicitor General for Virginia, and he inherited the case from the previous administration.
“The plaintiff in this case contends that Virginia broke the law when it failed to hold the 2021 election on the basis of Census data that did not exist when the electoral process began,” Ferguson said. “We strongly disagree, but the question before the court today is whether it has Article 3 jurisdiction to decide this case at all.”
Article 3 refers to the U.S. Constitution which lays out how the nation’s courts systems should work. Ferguson argued that Goldman could not demonstrate how he was personally harmed by the elections. Last week, he filed a motion to return the case back to a lower court in order to get a ruling on that issue before taking up Goldman’s underlying claim. Ferguson argued the court should not even weigh in on what is referred to as a “sovereign authority” claim.
“I think that the reason that sovereign immunity shouldn’t be addressed before determining standing is that if the court were to issue an opinion on sovereign immunity but subsequently determined there had never been any standing in this case, that sovereign immunity opinion is effectively an advisory opinion because the court never had jurisdiction to issue it in the first place,” Ferguson said.
After a long and legally nuanced discussion about this issue, Goldman was asked to go ahead and make his argument which is built upon a 1981 federal case called Cosner v. Dalton that forced Virginia to hold House of Delegates’ elections in 1982. Goldman argued that the current districts are not balanced by population, a violation of the “one-person, one-vote principle.”
“I am asking and am here for an election in 2022,” Goldman said. “They say there won’t be an election in 2022. I want to run in 2022 and the state says they’re not going to hold an election in 2022. I say Cosner says I have a right to run in 2022. They say it doesn’t.”
Goldman said the legal remedy should be a new election to ensure that people are properly represented as is their Constitutional right. But he said his standing is based on being a potential candidate.
“I gotta wait until 2024 before my new district kicks in,” Goldman said. “I am still represented by the people picked in the old districts and that’s the harm, that’s why you can’t do it. That’s the unusual circumstance in this case.”
Goldman cited data that shows the imbalance.
“There’s one district that’s got 130,000 people in it and there’s another district with 67,000,” Goldman said, “They propose that doesn’t change until 2024. That blatantly unconstitutional and I’m in this courtroom today to try to get justice,” Goldman said
In rebuttal, Ferguson continued to press on the question of Goldman’s legal standing, but said the Commonwealth would not be afraid to argue against his claims.
“If the courts conclude that Mr. Goldman has standing to maintain his claim, we will vigorously defend the constitutionality of the 2021 election,” Ferguson said. “We do not think the 14th amendment requires states to reapportion on the basis of Census data that don’t exist when the electoral process has begun.”
The three judges will take the matter under advisement and will issue an opinion at a later date. For more on the topic:
Fourth Circuit hears arguments in case challenging Virginia House of Delegates election, March 8, 2022, Courthouse News
Second shout-out goes to an arboreal event at the Virginia Festival of the Book
In today’s second subscriber-supported Public Service Announcement, the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards wants to draw your attention to a Virginia Festival of the Book event coming up on March 16. Michelle Nijhuis will lead a virtual conversation on “Seeing Trees, Saving the Great Forests”. Nijhuis will speak with forest scientists and preservationists Meg Lowman and John Reid. Lowman is the author of The Arbornaut: A Life Discovering the Eighth Planet in the Trees Above Us. Reid is the co-author of Ever Green: Saving Big Forests to Save the Earth. The event on March 16 begins at noon. To register, visit vabook.org.
Albemarle County officials address business community at Chamber event
On February 18, the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce held the first ever State of the Community forum, where leaders from Charlottesville, the University of Virginia, and Albemarle got the chance to introduce themselves to business leaders. Yesterday’s edition of this program featured comments from city officials, and today we’ll hear from county leaders.
Emily Kilroy is the director of community and public engagement for Albemarle County. She said she wondered why there had never before been a gathering with city, county, and UVA officials.
“It felt like such a natural convening of our community’s leaders,” Kilroy said. “And of course being together today, we are reminded that the community is not just our individual pieces of the pie, but we all do together to grow the entire pie.”
County Executive Jeff Richardson said the event was a chance to discuss what he called community opportunities and to introduce his leadership team to the Chamber.
“The most effective leaders anticipate where the community is headed and they see changes before others do,” Richardson said.
Richardson recently put that statement out to community leaders and there were some common threads about what they thought was needed.
“Three basically said equity, access, [and] affordable housing, which means good paying jobs and access to health,” Richardson said. “So it’s keeping the community affordable at all economic levels, that was three out of six.”
Richardson said one person said there was a need to find a “new normal” post pandemic and another said shoring up support for public safety first responders. Richardson said local government needs to be working in all of these areas.
“It’s not just one thing,” Richardson said. “It’s so many things.”
The county’s strategic plan is intended to prioritize where county investments should go. For Richardson, that means making sure his employees are stable and that there is investment in economic development. (read the strategic plan)
“Recently at the end of our past budget year, we closed the year our better expected financially so an example of this working in real time is that we put $5 million in our economic development fund, $4.1 million was transferred to capital to move infrastructure along, $3.1 million into a dedicated housing fund, and $1 million went to our workforce stabilization which made our human resources director very happy,” Richardson said.
Richardson urged people to apply for vacancies on various boards and commissions. There’s a list on the county website if you’re interested.
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will hold its first budget work session today beginning at 3 p.m. (meeting info)
See also: Richardson presents $565M “Transform Albemarle” budget to supervisors, Information Charlottesville, February 23, 2022
Michael Clem to kick off The Center’s Thursdays around Five series
This next piece is more of a podcast piece, but I advise clicking on the songs below as you read!
The Center at Belvedere opened in June 2020 to offer a gathering space for people of all ages with a new facility with much more room than the former facility on Hillsdale Drive. The relatively new Center has a performance space, and this Thursday singer songwriter Michael Clem will kick off a concert series for the press.
“For over 30 years, Michael Clem has been playing bass, singing, and writing songs for the national touring act he co-founded, Eddie from Ohio,” reads the event listing on the Center’s website. “Since relocating to Charlottesville, he’s established quite a foothold in the musical scene.”
It’s a return performance for Clem, who appeared there last fall.
“This is a very well-attended event,” Clem said. “People from the community come out and they bring their lawn chairs, and I’m playing in basically like a theater-type of environment. This wasn’t just me playing incidental white noise music while people were gabbing and socializing. They were there focused, facing forward, giving the singer songwriter exactly what a singer songwriter would want! An attentive crowd!”
Clem said the last show was an artistically satisfying event where he got to play original songs and he’s looking forward to playing Thursday’s show.
I spoke to Clem two years ago at the beginning of the pandemic. Like so many others, he began performing online to people at home, and contributed the proceeds to restaurants.
“I felt really bad for these businesses that were taking such a hit, specifically the ones who butter my bread, the restaurants and the music venues,” Clem said. “And a number of them didn’t survive the shutdown which is really sad.”
One of them that survived is the Local, where Clem hosts a singer-songwriter open mic night on Mondays, though that’s currently on what he called Omicron hiatus.
The downtime also allowed him to take on a personal challenge.
“I decided I would dedicate the month of April to writing one song a day, and I did!” Clem said. “I’m not saying that every song was great but just having that exercise was important to battle the hypocrisy because I teach a songwriting class and that was another thing that moved online. My songwriting class is through the Front Porch, and I did a number of them on Zoom.”
Clem said he would play some of these songs, some of which are on an album he produced with Rusty Speidel. You can hear some of them tomorrow night at the first Thursdays Around Five. The website states the event begins at 5:01 p.m.
The event is free, but registration in advance at the Center is required. (register)
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