By Debbie Hall and Brandon Martin
The chairman of the Henry County Board of Supervisors proposed ways for the county to participate in discussions of reversion with officials in the City of Martinsville.
During a recent meeting, city officials said multiple attempts were made to discuss the reversion issue with the county, but there had been no response.
“Our Board of Supervisors feels the future of our two public school systems is the most important and impactful issue facing us in the immediate future, and our Board wants to concentrate on this sole issue at the outset,” Jim Adams, chairman, wrote in a Wednesday letter to Martinsville Mayor Kathy Lawson.
Studies on the implications of reversion will be available in early December for the council to review. A public hearing on the matter is slated for Dec. 10. After that, the studies will be available for public review, before an eventual vote on the issue.
Adams’ letter requested the city to delay any vote on reversion until after a proposed facilities study is completed and discussed by both parties.
The county proposed hiring a third-party entity to conduct the study of the city school system and the county school system buildings, to determine the feasibility of combining the city’s contracting with Henry County for educational services, a merger of the divisions, or another method.
“Our board also believes that bringing in an unbiased third-party would greatly enhance our chances of success,” Adams wrote, and added the county would pay two-thirds of the entity’s cost and the city would pay one-third.
“The Henry County Administrator and the City Manager would work with their respective staffs and with the respective school superintendents to craft a Request for Proposals (RFP) to solicit the third-party vendor for this study,” Adams wrote.
“Once the study is complete, a meeting of the two boards and the two school boards would be convened to review its findings and to determine a path forward,” he added in the letter.
“Enhancing educational opportunities for our young people is the best way to attain a prosperous future for our community, and we believe this approach would allow all parties to focus our efforts on that goal,” Adams wrote.
Henry County Administrator Tim Hall also recently pushed back on allegations made during a Nov. 19 presentation about reversion in Martinsville.
Then Eric Monday, assistant city manager and city attorney, said “There are five people sitting here who really want to talk, but it does take two sides to have a conversation. Coming and telling this council that we ought to be talking, you are preaching to the choir. If you want that conversation to occur, please call your elected representative in the county and make that suggestion to them.”
Other city officials echoed the sentiment at the time.
“We would love to sit down with the county,” Vice Mayor Chad Martin said. “We’ve already actually worked out who would go and actually talk. The problem is that they won’t sit down with us unless we vote to revert.”
City officials said they have tried to communicate with the county, and even sent letters and emails.
“As we all know, the discussion of reversion is on the front burner now and there have been several media pieces and presentations designed to capture this issue,” Hall said in a prepared statement. “Additionally, we all have our own slant on things past, present and future. But there are a few items currently in the public arena that are misguided, and I feel a duty to bring them to light for the Board and set the record straight.
“The city’s mayor recently sent a letter to this board, requesting a meeting to discuss consolidation, reversion, or all of the above,” Hall said. “And since that letter went out, we’ve been bombarded with ‘Are you going to meet? Why aren’t you going to meet? Why won’t the county meet with the city?'”
Hall noted that the Henry County Board of Supervisors’ Nov. 22 meeting was the first time the board had gathered since receiving the letter, aside from a brief special meeting to discuss jail financing.
Since the supervisors only meet once a month, and council meets twice a month, it was the county’s first real opportunity to discuss the letter, which Hall said referenced an “executed agreement” in 2012 which mentioned a path forward on issues of present concern.
“We’ve checked our files and we don’t have the agreement being referenced,” Hall said. “I asked the city staff twice to send us a copy. Although, its staff is still looking, so far it appears the city doesn’t have one either. George Lyle (County Attorney) and I met with city staff at least once, maybe twice, back then and discussed ways we could enhance cooperation. But to my recollection, no document was ever agreed to or executed.”
In light of the ongoing water and sewage issues between the county and the city, Hall said talks are a matter for the Public Service Authority (PSA) Board of Directors and not the Board of Supervisors.
In his prepared statement, Hall also took issue with accusations being lobbed during the city’s reversion presentation that the PSA had violated state environmental laws involved with reopening the Lower Smith River Wastewater Plant.
“The Lower Smith River plant has been approved by the Commonwealth to be reopened,” said Hall. “The plant was permitted by DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) in April 2017, and the project is underway. And finally, the PSA and its staff believe that by reopening this plant, with the best and most modern wastewater treatment processes available, the Smith River will be even better environmentally than it is now,” he said.
Hall said the PSA asked the city if it wanted to be a customer for the improved plant, but the city declined.
“I believe City Council and city staff want what is best for their residents,” Hall said. “I know without a doubt that the Board of Supervisors and county staff want what is best for county residents. This is and will continue to be, until its conclusion, an emotional process. There is passion on both sides of the aisle. Passion is good. But sometimes it can lead to mistakes and misstatements, and the longer these misstatements are allowed to go unchecked, the more likely people are to take them for facts,” he said.
Questions or comments on the reversion may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.