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City Council Passes Budget with no Water/Sewer Increases After All

GREENSVILLE/EMPORIA DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES

LOCAL BOARD MEETING

The Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services Administrative Board will meet on Thursday, October 18, 2017, at 3:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services located at 1748 East Atlantic Street.  The public is welcome to attend.

A public hearing for a Zoning Amendment Request to permit an Adult Day Support Facility on South Main Street occurred just before the regular City Council meeting on Tuesday, June 19, 2018.

The request was submitted by Tony Vincent, who plans on turning the building into an Adult Day Care center where clients can come for 6 hours a day for activities, with no overnight care provided. According to the application, clients will receive one hot meal and two snacks each day.

The Planning Commission and Staff both recommended approval of the Zoning Amendment to add “Adult Day Support Facility” to the permitted uses in the City’s C-1 zones.

No citizens spoke during the public hearing.

After the close of the Public Hearing, City Council entered into the regular meeting.

The first order of business after the approval of the agenda, minutes, reports and bills was the presentation of a plaque to outgoing City Manager Brian Thrower. Mr. Thrower is leaving to take a job in Smithfield and this was his last City Council meeting; his last day with the City is June 29th.

After a closed session at the end of the meeting, Assistant City Manager Dr. Edwin Daley was appointed as the Interim City Manager and a search for a replacement will begin.

Old business on the agenda was the passage of the FY2019 budget. The 2.75% rate increases reported on EmporiaNews.com after the June 5 meeting have been removed, and there are now no rate, fee or tax increases in the budget.

The FY2019 budget includes increases to make Emergency Services a full time position, three new cruisers for the Emporia Police Department, a new cruiser and part-time deputy for the Emporia Sheriff’s Department. Also included in the budget was a 2% COLA increase for city employees.

With this budget the City Council has scrapped the idea of a new City Hall and/or Police Station, saving over $7 million.

With the budgets passed, Council moved on to the new business, approving the Zoning Amendment from the earlier public hearing, appropriated some additional sales tax money to Greensville County for GCPS and passed a resolution for the Independence Day fireworks. City Council also heard from the Auditor, and that information will appear as a stand-alone story on EmporiaNews.com at a later date.

During the public comments section, Becky Walker, Director of the Meherrin Regional Library System stood to thank council for their continued support of the Library, both through financing and facilities. Ms. Walker added that there were exciting things happening at the library. The Summer Reading Program started on June 1st and will continue through the summer. During July, the Richardson Memorial Library will participate in the summer feeding program, serving lunch one day a week and snacks two others.

In addition to the Summer Reading Program, the Library has added new online resources, including Ancestry for Libraries, the A-Z Database – a job hunting resource, and Universal Class – online classes that offer continuing education credits in over 500 topics.

Debra Brown, President of the local NAACP and a national board member spoke about polling place issues on Primary Election Day. The polls for Districts 5 and 7 did not open on time. The key that the poll workers had would not open the door and the Fire Chief could not be reached. The polling place was only opened because two fire-fighters showed up at 6:30. After the poll workers, including an member of the Electoral Board finally gained entry to the building, they discovered that the lock was not functioning because it had been taped.

When the General Registrar was able to reach the Fire Chief, it was at his place of business. The response to the concerns of the Director of Elections was “we don’t want y’all” here anyway.

Mrs. Brown addressed the Council directly, “I want to know who are the ‘we’ and who are the ‘y’all’?” She also added that concerns were raised when the polling place for District 5 was moved to that location, stating that the City Council was told then that there would be problems, and the problems have started.

Mrs. Brown reminded Council that while they no longer administered the Volunteer Fire Department, they did continue to fund the operation, adding that the building was a designated polling place and should remain available.

Mrs. Brown also shared a complaint made to her about the practices for renting the fire hall. An African-American family had used the facility for a graduation party, and another African-American family was planning using the facility the next weekend for a birthday party. The second family was apparently told, by the Fire Chief, that they [African-Americans] could not rent the facility on consecutive weekends. Mrs. Brown asked that there be a designated person to handle the bookings for the facility, as is the practice at Veteran’s Memorial Park, Greensville County High School, Golden Leaf Commons and the Greensville Volunteer Rescue Squad.

Mrs. Brown also had another concern, and asked the Secretary of the NAACP to read a letter to City Council. The text of that letter is here:

This letter is written with great consternation over comments made by Councilman F. Woodrow Harris to Dr. Angela B. Wilson, Division Superintendent of Public Schools in Greensville County, Virginia.

It is reported that during Dr. Wilson’s presentation to City Council, Councilman Harris referred to Dr. Wilson in his pontificating and stated “… what you don’t understand little girl…” As President of the Local Unit of the NAACP and a member of its National Board of Directors, I, along with our membership here in Greensville Emporia, the Commonwealth of Virginia and across this Nation, are appalled at the lack of respect shown to Dr. Wilson.

Mr. Harris’ poor lack of judgement and professionalism reflects volumes on the decorum of City Council and its members. Councilman Harris’ degrading remarks harken back to the days of “Jim Crow” when some Caucasians found it acceptable to refer to grown adult African-American ladies and gentlemen as boy, girl, missy, aunt, uncle or other racially degrading misnomers. The decorum of the whole of City Council is brought into question due to the absence of any member of Council for not admonishing Councilman Harris for his words and lack of respect right then and there when he uttered such drivel for the entire City to hear. Thusly, an outside observer would feel it was the consensus due to the deafening silence from any member of City Council. We can only hope that this is not the case.

We realize that some words are spoken with intent and reflect one’s absolute ignorance and intolerance for others that are unlike them – be it another’s race, color, size, religion, ethnicity or educational attainment however, so much more is expected from the members of this City Council in Emporia, Virginia. In a municipality which currently contains a more than 60% African American population as its citizenry it is Expected, with NO exemption, that all are treated with respect and dignity whatever their station in our community and society.

We are here this evening to request an apology from Councilman Harris to Dr. Wilson. Not just a spoken one, although that is a good start, but an apology that is published in the local newspaper and other media from Councilman Harris as well as an apology from City Council so that its meaning is crystal clear – not all of City Council condones such derogatory and classless comments. It is also recommended that a Code of Conduct be added by to the City’s Ordinances to address any future lack of judgement by any sitting Council member. If you should require assistance in developing said code I will be happy to put you in contact with our knowledgeable and professional legal team serving the NAACP in the Commonwealth of Virginia and our National organization.

It is our sincerest hope that this misstep in addressing a professional employee and citizen of the Greensville Emporia community in such a belittling way can and will be corrected in a satisfactory manner. We look forward to working with the City of Emporia to move our city beyond this regression and join together for a brighter prosperous and respectable future for all its citizens.

After the letter had been read, Mayor Person addressed the concerns about the polling place, stating that they were aware of the issue and were working to resolve it. The Mayor then gave Councilman Woody Harris to respond.

“If I could, I would like to respond, since my name was mentioned, under a point of personal privilege, and I promise to limit myself to three minutes.”

“I find it interesting and fascinating that such comments would be made by anyone about anything that was said in a discussion between Dr. Wilson and me over a school budget. At a time, folks, when our school system is down over 200 kids, when over two dozen teachers have fled to other school systems, when SOL scores for our students are down, when local spending drastically up with nothing to show for it and when most of our schools are not accredited.

I find it astonishing that you would be more concerned about what a fat old councilman says in exchanging repartee with the school superintendent who I’ve known for years.”

“No, there will be no apology, nor is one warranted or needed; and I understand your agenda. I know what you’re trying to do and I think it is laughable to focus on that instead of the serious, legitimate problems that exist with our school system.”

“Thank you, Madame Mayor.”

Mrs. Brown responded, “No, it is not ridiculous. When someone comes before you, you should treat them with respect.” Mrs. Brown went on to add that the major problems with the school system stem from lack of funding and budget cuts, with Councilman Jim Saunders adding that funding for education had increased.

Rev. John Kinsey stepped to the podium to invite the entire Council to a special service to honor city officials at Faith Baptist Church on July 8 at 10:30 am.

After the meeting, Debra Brown stated that the NAACP concerns were “not about the quality of or the funding level (which is woefully inadequate) of the school system. This is about respect for a person who is doing a job that is more difficult than sitting on City Council, a person that is at the very least his [Councilman Harris’] equal.”

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