By Callie Hietala
A letter from Martinsville officials called out members of the Henry County Board of Supervisors, alleging the board’s action was “a clear breach of the VSA,” is “a violation of prior official commitments by the county,” and “is extremely poor public policy” that “sets a terrible precedent for all future negotiations between localities.”
The Wednesday letter signed by Martinsville Mayor Kathy Lawson followed a vote by the supervisors Tuesday to reject the Voluntary Settlement Agreement (VSA).
The letter stated, in part, that Martinsville will take action to enforce the agreement. Failing that, the city will pursue a fully litigated reversion, the letter stated.
It was distributed to each supervisor, as well as County Administrator Tim Hall, County Attorney George Lyle, attorney Jeremy Carroll, of Guynn Waddell Carroll & Lockaby – the firm representing the county during reversion proceedings, members of city council, the Commission on Local Government, the Honorable Jane Roush, and the legislative delegation.
The letter noted that the city appreciated the “spirit of cooperation and honest dialogue” that resulted in the agreement (VSA), which “has now been approved three times by public votes of city council and twice by public votes of the county board.
“It was with considerable dismay that we learned of the county’s rejection of the VSA on December 14 after we had received repeated assurances that it would be approved,” the letter stated.
City officials allege hearing “from a variety of credible sources” that the county intends to try and “pursue a legislative change to the statutory framework for reversion in place since 1988, seeking to render reversion practically impossible,” the letter stated, and added that would be “at least the fourth time” the county has tried to enact such a change.
“Such a dramatic change of course at this late stage indicates a deliberate repudiation of the jointly pursued process which we have relied upon, which both parties have now substantially performed, and which has entailed significant expense,” the letter alleged.
The recent action by the county board violates a resolution approving the agreement that was adopted by the county on Aug. 24 and stated, in part, that “It is the intention of the Board of Supervisors, after the Commission’s review, to adopt the Agreement and thereafter to petition the appropriate Circuit Court to affirm and validate the Agreement and give it full force and effect,” the letter alleged.
“As a result of this unfortunate event, the city has instructed its legal team to take steps to immediately enforce the VSA,” the letter stated.
If the county’s compliance is not mandated, the letter indicated the city will proceed by “seeking all remedies available to it, including relief for damages incurred as a result of our detrimental reliance upon a settlement subsequently shown to have been negotiated in bad faith by the county.”
Additionally, the city will pursue a litigated reversion which it anticipates will result in a more favorable outcome. According to the letter.
“Litigation will of course also result in significantly increased legal expenses being borne by the taxpayers of both city and county,” it stated. “We are confident that the additional expense will not, however, alter the inevitability of reversion, or of annexation two years thereafter.”
“The entirely avoidable responsibility for all of this is yours alone,” the letter concluded.