By Callie Heitala
A candidate seeking a post on the Henry County Board of Supervisors discussed reversion during a press conference Wednesday at the Henry County Administration Building.
The occasion coincided with the one-week anniversary of the Commission on Local Government’s (CLG) public hearings on the issue.
“It’s pretty fair to say that everyone that was there from Henry County was opposed to this measure,” said Andrew Palmer, who is challenging incumbent Joe Bryant for the Collinsville District seat in November.
“Last week was the first time that any county or city residents were allowed to speak about this matter. As taxpayers of the county, we need a voice,” said Palmer.
During testimony before the commission, Debra Buchanan, vice chairman of the supervisors, said that in the fall of 2013, the board adopted a legislative package requesting a referendum before reversion could become effective. The city opposed the legislation and successfully had it amended twice.
The bill eventually signed into law, “only requires that all five council members vote on reversion,” Buchanan said, and added that a similar referendum was also requested in the county’s legislative packages in 2019, 2020, and 2021.
Noting potential legal issues surrounding reversion, particularly in the dissolution of the Martinsville City School system, Palmer said, “there were several legal issues that were brought to the commission’s attention on why the City of Martinsville and Henry County cannot dissolve the Martinsville City School operations. It was made very clear that this may be an unconstitutional act, and that the city and the county may be in violation of the Dillon Rule,” he said.
According to the National League of Cities (NLC), the Dillon Rule says, in essence, that local governments have only expressly granted powers, and if there is reasonable doubt if a power has been conferred on a local government, then that power has not been given.
He referenced Martinsville Circuit Court Clerk Ashby Pritchett’s testimony during the public hearing that Martinsville City Schools cannot dissolve without a vote from the school boards, which, Palmer said, may be unconstitutional.
“I think it is a shame that neither Henry County or the City of Martinsville has involved either school board about this matter,” said Palmer. “I mean, aren’t our children our greatest asset?”
Palmer also expressed frustration at the lack of action he perceives from the supervisors, particularly Bryant.
“Shouldn’t legal counsel for Henry County be fighting harder for us? Why aren’t they meeting in this room right now behind me? I want to know, why isn’t Joe trying to stop this and help us,” Palmer said.
Both Bryant and Buchanan voted against a Voluntary Settlement Agreement that eventually was approved by both cunty and city officials in separate votes.
Still, Palmer said that Bryant should be having conversations daily with members of Martinsville City Council and encouraging them to stop the reversion process. Palmer indicated that he has spoken with council members. He added that he feels at least two members are leaning toward reversing their opinions on reversion.
“You know that the City of Martinsville is going to annex Collinsville just as soon as they can,” Palmer said. While a 10-year moratorium is included in the agreement, Palmer said an annexation would lead to double real estate taxes for Collinsville residents.
“I hereby challenge the Board of Supervisors to stop this process, hire another lawyer, if need be, and fight this,” Palmer said. “If they won’t, I will. Remember this great country was founded on ‘we the people,’ and I believe it’s time for us residents of Henry County to stand up and say ‘No.’”
Palmer questioned whether the board would want to stop the reversion process even if council changed its stance.
“Andrew is young, he’s ambitious, and he can make statements like that because he’s got nothing to lose,” Bryant said when called for comment. “He doesn’t understand that a lot of the things we do, we don’t put out in public. Andrew is so insistent that I don’t do anything, but he just doesn’t know what I do. He’s not here to watch what I do.”
Like Palmer, Bryant said he does not believe reversion is the right path forward.
“If I had it my way, then we wouldn’t be here today talking about it. We would have seen them in court,” he said of the city.
He and Palmer also agree that the school systems of both city and county should have a larger role to play in the reversion process.
Bryant said there is some truth to Palmer’s claims that Martinsville will annex Collinsville “just as soon as they can,” however, Palmer did not have all the facts, particularly in his claim that Collinsville annexation would lead to double read estate taxes for residents.
“I can tell Mr. Andrew Palmer that absolutely Martinsville City is looking at taking up Collinsville, up to the Dutch Inn is what I have seen. They’re not only looking to take that, they’re looking to take the (Martinsville) Speedway, they’re looking to take the industrial parks, they’re looking at possibly taking the Rural King, that area over there,” Bryant said,
However, “they’ve stressed that they aren’t interested in taking houses because of the fact that you don’t get any revenue and they just want the businesses,” he said, and noted his assertions are based on hearsay.
He said he also felt that Palmer’s statements about the annexation of Collinsville are irresponsible.
“How can you make a comment like they’re going to take Collinsville when you don’t know for sure that they’re going to take Collinsville, because I don’t know for sure that they’re going to take Collinsville,” Bryant asked.
Regardless, Bryant noted a real discussion about annexation may be years away.
“We’ve got this annexation coming up in 10 years,” he said. “We’re not going to just sit there and take it. It’s going to be bad for everybody. The reversion part we can probably live with, but annexation is what’s going to kill us.”