Nov 15 • 19M

November 15, 2022: Delegate Hudson explains ranked-choice voting to Albemarle Supervisors; UVA Health urges caution with respiratory disease widely circulating

Plus: Charlottesville gets funding for a major property acquisition along Moores Creek

 
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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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We are now halfway through the month and the clock is definitely ticking. In fact, there is only 12.3 percent left for 2022 in the remaining month and a half. This is another regular installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement, a newsletter and podcast that seeks to be published as often as is necessary. I’m your host, Sean Tubbs, an award winning journalist and freelance member of the Virginia Press Association. 

On today’s program:

  • Continuing updates on the murder of three members of the University of Virginia football team. Two other people remain hospitalized.

  • Concern continues to mount about the convergence of flu season with the presence of RSV as well as the background of the continuously evolving COVID virus

  • A new round-about opens tomorrow at the intersection of U.S. 250 and Route 151 in Albemarle County 

  • Charlottesville gets funding to acquire property across Moores Creek from Azalea Park for a new alignment of the Rivanna Trail

  • Delegate Sally Hudson briefs the Albemarle Board of Supervisors on ranked-choice voting

To get each newsletter in your inbox, please sign-up. If you like the program, please consider paying through Substack. That’ll help me be ready to report whenever its necessary.

Today’s first shout-out: LEAP wants to help you prepare for winter

Crisp air and colorful leaves. Hot cocoa. Snow days. There are plenty of reasons to get excited about fall and winter, but the return of high heating bills isn't one of them. Your local energy nonprofit, LEAP, has been empowering Virginians with energy efficiency and solar solutions since 2010. With programs for all income levels, residents can access upgrades like insulation, LED bulbs, low-flow fixtures, and affordable rooftop solar systems. Visit www.leap-va.org to learn more, and fill out the LEAP Services Inquiry form to lower high heating bills and stay cozy this winter.

UVA community continues to mourn murder victims 

Last night, hundreds if not thousands of people filled the Lawn at the University of Virginia to mourn the murder of three students murdered Sunday night. 

Classes at the University of Virginia are not in session today for a second day of mourning for the deaths of Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr, and D’Sean Perry.

All three were members of the football team. Coach Tony Elliott posted a message across social media. 

A fourth student has not been identified officially, but the Cavalier Daily and others are reporting a tweet from someone believed to be the mother of one of the two who were injured.

For more on the story, do take a look at other accounts:

Around the same time the lockdown at the University of Virginia was lifted, Charlottesville police and UVA police began work on investigating a series of social media posts that made threats against UVA. 

“CPD opened an investigation into the postings and the individual believed to be responsible for posting them,” reads a press release. “At approximately 4:00 p.m., Charlottesville detectives obtained and subsequently served a search warrant for an address associated with the suspect in the 200 block of West Main Street in the City of Charlottesville.”

They then arrested 31-year-old Bryan Michael Silva and charged him with weapons possession by a felon and possession of a controlled substance. Silva rose to fame as an internet personality whose armed standoff with Charlottesville Police resulted in a previous jail sentence.

At this time, CPD does not believe at this time Mr. Silva’s threats were related to the tragic events that occurred last night at the University of Virginia. However, we understand the fear this caused in our community and acted swiftly to resolve this investigation.

He is being held without bond at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail. 

As for shooting suspect Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., he is expected to be held be arraigned tomorrow in Albemarle County court as the University of Virginia is technically within that jurisdiction. 

Pediatricians keeping an eye on RSV cases

The colder weather this week comes at a time when flu cases are rising across the country and while respiratory syncytial virus or RSV is peaking. RSV is something most people are expected to get at some point when they are children. 

“And adults get RSV too,” said Dr. Debbie-Ann Shirley is an infectious disease expert at UVA Children’s Hospital. “It tends to be more severe at the extremes of age so very young children and the elderly can develop more severe RSV. In young children, that can look like a pneumonia or bronchiolitis.” 

Bronchiolitis is the inflammation of the small airways in the lung according to the Centers for Disease Control. Dr. Shirley said this has resulted in more hospitalizations of children to assist them with breathing.

“There is not currently a good RSV treatment like an antiviral and there’s not currently a vaccine available,” Dr. Shirley said. “However, for select very high-risk infants, there a monoclonal antibody that can be given monthly as an injection throughout RSV season.”

Dr. Shirley said that before the pandemic, RSV was fairly predictable with rises expected in fall with a winter peak before subsiding in the warmer months with almost no cases. But that changed in the year of the shutdown. 

“First, a complete disappearance of RSV and we didn’t see the typical peak during the fall of 2020 and into the winter of 2021 and then we started to see an interseasonal out-of-season spread,” Dr. Shirley said. “So RSV has become very unpredictable and this season we saw a very early and rapid peak in RSV cases.”

Dr. Shirley said that meant between ten and a dozen new patients admitted each day for RSV, and that number had dropped slightly as of last week. The situation may be worse because many children born during the pandemic did not have had regular exposure. 

“We’re not yet able to breath any sigh of relief, one because we don’t know how long or how sustained this current peak will be, and two because we are really starting to see an uptick in flu including severe flu in children being admitted with the flu.” 

Dr. Shirley said it is important to take a COVID test when symptoms present themselves to rule that out.  She also urged the importance of wearing a face mask to limit transmission and isolating when ill. 

One of her colleagues added this advice. 

“Most importantly, if you’re feeling sick, stay at home and don’t spread illness to others,” said Dr. Costi Sifri, the director of hospital epidemiology for UVA Health. “And we really can’t emphasize enough that now is the time to get your flu vaccine.” 

Sifri said this is also a good time to get a bivalent COVID vaccine if you have not already done so. The Virginia Department of Health today reports a seven-day average of 891 new cases. That trend has been declining since the end of the summer. 

It’s been a while since I’ve posted an image from the COVID tracker run by the Virginia Department of Health. It is still being updated. Take a look yourself.

New roundabout to open at U.S. 250 / Route 151

A new traffic pattern will begin tomorrow at the intersection of U.S. 250 and Route 151 in Nelson County. The Virginia Department of Transportation expects that vehicles will be routed through a new roundabout beginning at 9 a.m. 

"Flaggers will control traffic through the intersection while the traffic signals at the intersection are removed and pavement striping is completed,” reads a VDOT press release. “Drivers should anticipate brief delays during traffic stoppages and congestion in the vicinity of the project. The traffic switch will be complete, and the flagging operation removed by 3 p.m., at which time traffic will use the roundabout for all movements through the intersection."

This will not be the end of construction, however. Work will continue outside the travel way until February. 

This project is one of six being built by Curtis Contracting under a $28.5 million contract. Another is the diverging diamond at U.S. 250 and Interstate 64. That project opened to traffic this past weekend. 

The four completed projects are the reconfiguration of I-64’s Exit 118 to add a traffic light on U.S. 29 to access to eastbound I-64, a roundabout at Route 20 and Proffit Road, a connector road between Rio Mills Road and Berkmar Drive, and a second turn lane from northbound U.S. 29 onto Fontaine Avenue into Charlottesville. 

All six were funded through VDOT’s Smart Scale process.

A recent aerial photograph of the new roundabout, with Route 151 heading north to the left and U.S. 250 running north to south from top to bottom (Credit: (VDOT/Curtis Contracting, Inc.)

Charlottesville receives funding to buy land along Moores Creek 

The Virginia Land Conservation Foundation has awarded nearly $15 million in grants across the Commonwealth to help preserve land from development. That includes $175,000 for Charlottesville to purchase 8.6 acres of land in Albemarle County along Moores Creek. That falls under the “Open Spaces and Parks” category of the program. 

The money can be used to purchase property, acquire conservation easements, or some other method of preserving land. In this case, Charlottesville will use the funding to buy land currently used by the International Rescue Committee for an urban farming project. That use would continue.

“This property is a priority for developing the Moores Creek Greenway as it allows a shared use path and the [Rivanna Trail] to stay on the same side of Moores Creek as the trail upstream and means we don’t absolutely have to build a bridge, which could cost as much or more than the land itself,” said parks planner Chris Gensic in response to a question. 

Gensic said Albemarle County is aware of the potential purchase and have made comments related to is compliant with the county Comprehensive Plan. 

Other project in the area also received funding:

  • The Nature Conservancy will get $71,937 for 179 acres at Gent Branch in the Elk Conservation Area. 

  • The Piedmont Environmental Council will get $500,000 for farmland protection along Brook Run covering about 698 acres in Culpeper County. 

  • The Piedmont Environmental Council will also get $237,500 for farmland protection on about 340 acres in Orange County. 

Click here for the full list

Standard disclaimer rules apply: PEC is a sponsor of the Week Ahead newsletter but have no editorial control over or involvement with my work

A map submitted to the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation for the property

Second Shout-out is for the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards 

In today’s second subscriber-supported shout-out, an area nonprofit wants you to know about what they offer to help you learn how to preserve, protect, and appreciate! The Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards holds several events throughout the year including a walk in western Albemarle County on the morning of November 20 through a well preserved and highly diverse woodland to see naturally occurring winterberry, spicebush, and dogwood laden with red berries. 

In abundance will be nuts from forest oaks, hickories, walnuts as well as orchard grown Chinese chestnuts, walnuts, pecans, and American hazelnuts. Registration is limited. 

Want to know more about how to identify non-native plants so you can help get rid of them over the winter? There’s a two-part class that begins December 7. Visit charlottesvilleareatreestewards.org for more information. 

Albemarle Supervisors exploring ranked-choice voting 

Tomorrow the Albemarle Board of Supervisors will discuss what the Electoral Board might need if a directive was given to adopt an alternative method of selecting candidates. Earlier this month, Delegate Sally Hudson (D-57) briefed the elected officials with control over elections policy on what’s known as ranked choice voting. 

“Ranked choice voting is an election reform that is now being adopted across the country, both coasts and every in between,” Hudson said. 

Hudson said ranked choice would encourage participation both by voters and by candidates who might feel they have a better chance of making the ballot. She also said this method would elect people who can build consensus. 

“Consensus builders who are invested in the very real work of bringing people together to get good governing done,” Hudson said. “That’s what has motivated me to be so passionate about this topic for some years now.”

Under ranked choice voting, people select more than one candidate.

“You get to rank the candidates from most to least favorable,” Hudson said. 

Hudson said the state of Maine has been using ranked-choice voting since 2018. There’s a whole list of Frequently Asked Questions about the process there.  In many cases, there are still only two candidates for a particular office. 

“But in the event that more than two candidates run, the ranked choice voting really starts to come into play,” Hudson said. 

Voters do not have to rank candidates if they do not want to do so. If no candidate wins a majority on the first round of voting, a run-off election can be counted immediately by dropping out candidates at the bottom. If there are several candidates, this process can take many rounds. 

“A ranked choice or an instant run-off election is just like the run-off elections that have been conducted in the south for years,” Hudson said. “You just don’t drag everybody back to the polls and make them cast another ballot to determine the winner in the head-to-head final race.” 

There’s even an example of how the concept works in recent history. On August 20, 2011, the Charlottesville Democratic Party selected their nominees for City Council in a “firehouse primary” and seven candidates were on the ballot. Voting took five-rounds. 

Two candidates had a majority in the first round of voting in the 2011 Democratic “firehouse primary” but it took until the fifth to nominate the third for the November ballot

Write-in candidates could still play a role. In 1993, Sally Thomas won election to the Board of Supervisors on a write-in vote for the Samuel Miller District. In 2019, a write-in candidate for the Rivanna District who failed to qualify for the ballot still received a third of the vote. 

Legislation carried by Delegate Hudson in 2020 passed the General Assembly and authorizes local government bodies to authorize the use of ranked-choice voting for local office. It’s up to the local body to determine how far they want to go. (HB1103)

“Whether that ordinance could include primaries, general elections, or both, the state code is flexible on that,” Hudson said. 

Hudson said the county’s costs would be to adjust the voting equipment to handle the counts. She said all vendors are offering the service. 

“The county would need to update its ballot scanning software if it wanted to offer ranked choice next year,” Hudson said. 

And that’s the conversation supervisors will have tomorrow. Hudson said she would defer to Registrar Lauren Eddy about the costs for the update. She said parties would like to know if this method is a possibility for next year. 

One option would be to eliminate party primaries in favor of a free-for-all in the general election. 

The system would also be moot if no one wants to run. All three of the Supervisors elected in 2021 ran unopposed including first-term Supervisor Jim Andrews. He said he was in favor because it may spur more to seek office. 

“People’s decisions to run as candidates can be impacted by ranked choice voting just as much as the electorate’s ability to choose among the candidates,” Andrews said. 

Hudson said more people have run in New York City’s 51-seat council since ranked-choice was adopted there and it has made a difference. 

“They’ve never had more than I think 18 women and the year after they adopted ranked choice, they have the first majority women city council and the vast majority of those are women of color.”

Further discussion is scheduled tomorrow afternoon in the Board of Supervisors’ meeting. 

Reading material to learn more 

Housekeeping for #459

The numbers I use to keep track of this program refer to the installments are perhaps not important, and may not be accurate. I put out two newsletters yesterday, but those were to get information out about the murder of three football players committed late Sunday night. You’ll notice I didn’t have any shout-outs, and I tried to sound as neutral as possible.  Those two were not numbered.

I resumed a career in journalism as soon as the pandemic hit. I thought I was ready to move on from deadlines and from devoting my life to being ready to write at a moment’s notice. But, something was missing from my life and I didn’t feel complete. When I created a podcast to cover the pandemic in March 2020, I acted on autopilot for much of that, feeling guided by something. 

We are humans who live in a complex civilization in a world that is shifting. My sense is that not many people know how all of the pieces fit together and I believe that the kind of journalism I practice is intended to provide some of what’s missing. At least, that’s what the imaginary instruction manual for my autopilot seems to say. 

I’m grateful for those who are supporting me, and for today I’ll leave it at that except to thank Ting for matching Substack subscriptions. Details on all of that tomorrow.

Thank you to Michael Kilpatrick for recording a small blurb today. And thank you to Wraki and the Fundamental Grang for providing audio. The latter even composed a very small informal public service announcement that remixes one of the soundbites heard in this newsletter.  This is for a friend of mine who is trapped in an office today despite having flu-like symptoms. 

Thanks for listening, and more tomorrow. 

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