September 3, 2021: Charlottesville hires Gurley as new superintendent; Albemarle Supervisors discuss legislative priorities

We are now officially past the two-thirds mark for 2021...


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On today’s show: 

  • Charlottesville Public Schools hires Royal Gurley as the next superintendent

  • Albemarle’s Board of Supervisors discusses legislative priorities for the next General Assembly session 

  • An update on the pandemic 

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There are 4,070 cases of COVID-19 in Virginia reported today by the Virginia Department of Health. Since Wednesday, there have been 361 new cases reported in the Blue Ridge Health District. Tomorrow the University of Virginia men’s football team will play and attendees will be required to wear masks in any indoor spaces, though outdoor use is strongly recommended. (UVA update)

“People who are not vaccinated are also required to wear masks outside on UVA property so there’s not a process of checking who is vaccinated or not,” said Dr. Costi Sifri, director of hospital epidemiology at UVA Health. “The delta variant can cause breakthrough infections so in this setting with 30,000, 40,000 people in close proximity to one another, wearing a mask during the game is advised.”

Dr. Sifri said the delta variant is fueling the recent spike in cases and modeling data indicates that infections will continue to rise. 

“What’s more difficult to tell, I think, is when is the surge going to occur, and at what level, but I think it’s clear we’re on the upsurge right now,” Dr. Sifri said. 

Virginia has now administered more than 10 million doses of vaccine, and 57 percent of the total population has been fully vaccinated and 68.1 percent of adults are fully vaccinated. Yet, the increase in cases has caused UVA to go back to higher mitigation measures.

“Back to universal masking, decreasing visitors and other folks in the institution to try to minimize the virus coming in and out,” said Dr. Reid Adams, the chief medical officer at the University of Virginia. “I think probably the biggest difference is the mask recommendation rather than a mandate throughout the Commonwealth. That’s probably the biggest different from the prior part of the pandemic.”

Another change is that public schools are in session five days a week with attendance by anyone who chooses to be back for in-person instruction. 

For now. Amherst County Public Schools are closed until at least September 13 due to a high number of positive tests at a community-wide testing event held this past Tuesday. 

In their first action item at their September 2, 2021 meeting, the Charlottesville School Board filled an important leadership position. James Bryant is the body’s vice chair. 

“Madam Chair, I would like to make a motion to move for the acceptance of the appointment or Dr. Royal A. Gurley Jr. for Superintendent of Charlottesville Schools,” Bryant said. 

Gurley will take the reins on October 4 as he finishes up his time as assistant superintendent for academic services in Dinwiddie County southwest of Petersburg. (press release)

“Leading Charlottesville City Schools is not something that I take lightly,” Gurley told the Board after signing his four-year contract. “I believe as Superintendent I must continue to create opportunities for our students and help them to reach their fullest potential.”

Gurley succeeds Rosa Atkins, who retired at the end of May after fifteen years in the position. 

Later this month, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors will take up a rezoning for 332 housing units off U.S. 29 in Hollymead. In June, the Planning Commission voted six to one to recommend approval of the RST Residences project. That advisory body appeared not ready to make that recommendation in March when they saw a slightly larger version. (listen to March 5 podcast)

 Last week, one member of the Board of Supervisors met with the Forest Lakes Community Association, a homeowners group whose Board of Directors have opposed the project. 

“I listened to their concerns regarding development that is coming up and it was a good opportunity to meet with a lot of the residents and I really appreciated that,” said Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley of the Rivanna District. 

The proposal states that 75 percent of the units will be within the county’s affordability guidelines. To learn more about the Planning Commission’s action, read Allison Wrabel’s coverage in the Daily Progress. The item goes to the Board of Supervisors on September 15. 

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With only four months left in the year, the 2022 General Assembly session looms large and localities across the Commonwealth are putting together their legislative wish lists. Albemarle County will meet with area legislators in November with the hopes of enticing each to carry bills for changes in state law. (read list of 2021 legislative positions)

One request has the title “Enable Civil Penalties in Lieu of Criminal Punishment.” 

“The purpose was to decriminalize a lot of the actions that are prohibited under the code,” said county attorney Greg Kamptner. 

Many of these actions relate to zoning violations and would convert them to civil infractions rather than criminal ones. Some supervisors were concerned that frequent violators are still able to be held accountable. (sample legislation

“I just want to make sure we’re not doing anything that makes it more difficult to deal with the so-called frequent fliers,” said Supervisor Diantha McKeel of the Jack Jouett District. “I recognize that there are not that many of them, but the ones that we have have just really consumed an enormous number of staff time.”

Zoning administrator Bart Svoboda said if the change was made, the county would be able to request higher fines for repeated violations. 

“There may be some additional tools in the toolbox as we apply this to other sections of the county code,” Svoboda said. 

Another legislative priority is to change law to require inspections and building standards for structures built for events and operations on agricultural properties.

“The buildings under current law do not have to meet the minimum requirements of the building code,” Kamptner said. 

Kamptner said the agricultural community and the Farm Bureau would need to be involved in order for the legislation to have a chance of passing.

Supervisor Ann Mallek of the White Hall district said buildings where events are held should at the least be required to have features like panic bars in case of emergencies. She hoped to get support from her colleagues to move the legislation forward. 

“If people want to put a tractor or livestock in some building, that’s different than having 300 people there,” Mallek said. 

Another legislative idea is to expand an already approved law that allows photo-speed monitoring cameras to be used in school crossing zones and highway work zones. (HB1442 from 2020)

“The idea would be to expand the enabling authority to allow localities to decide whether they want to place these devices on rural roads,” Kamptner said. 

LaPisto-Kirtley said police struggle to enforce speeding on two-lane roads in the rural area. 

“I think long stretches of the rural roads where there it is virtually impossible for the police to ticket someone because if they do stop someone on a two-lane road it’s going to cause a mile-long back up,” LaPisto-Kirtley said. 

Supervisor Diantha McKeel suggested the legislation be tailored for specific roads rather than a blanket provision. She also said Albemarle has yet to implement the authority it currently has. 

“Our police department is still looking at that,” McKeel said. “They’re going to have to come back to us to let us know if they think they can even do that.”

Kamptner said the 2020 bill that gave enabling authority for cameras at work and school zones had originally included residential areas, but that was removed in order for it to pass.

“The concern that we have in our county are the crashes and the number of deaths which would indicate high speed so if we were to pursue these devices in locations at above 35 miles per hour that would take us out of the traditional residential areas,” Kamptner said. 

Supervisors also discussed legislation to allow a portion of recordation tax to be set aside for affordable housing initiatives. They opted to not pursue legislation, but to instead find out whether they can take that step without additional enabling authority. 

A final vote on the 2022 legislative agenda will be held in October.

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