Members of Martinsville City Council on Tuesday adopted a resolution to terminate reversion.
Mayor LC Jones and Vice Mayor Aaron Rawls, the newest members elected to the council, joined with Tammy Pearson in support of the resolution. Chad Martin and former mayor Kathy Lawson opposed it.
Pearson, who said she often felt like the lone-wolf in opposing reversion, read the resolution before the vote was taken.
It stated, in part,” following comprehensive studies and presentations of information related to the fiscal and operational impact of the City of Martinsville potentially transitioning to town status, Martinsville City Council voted unanimously on December 10, 2019, to authorize counsel to proceed with filing appropriate documents to initiate that process.”
The city “has recognized the vital nature of including its citizens and institutions in matters of significant and irrevocable consequence regarding a change in municipal status,” it stated.
The city “has expended a considerable sum of capital, effort, time, and goodwill in pursuit of municipal reversion,” according to the resolution, the city “has not duly considered the impact of or desire for municipal reversion on affected parties, including the citizens and institutions of Henry County with whom the city wishes to engage in good faith endeavors for shared mutual benefit.”
Given recent council elections, “a majority of council now believes the reversion process should be stopped,” the resolution stated.
It also directs city staff to “take all other actions as may be necessary to accomplish” the objective outlined in the resolution.
Lawson questioned the transparency of the resolution process, and added that ending reversion takes away “every bit of leverage we have” with Henry County in other issues such as consolidation.
Martin said “before you pull the plug on this, I would ask that you have two to three public comment periods,” and wait “until we at least go through our budget process to see what we are dealing with as a city.
“If you do this now, you’re making Martinsville have to wait five years” before restarting the process, he said. “Please, please do not make this decision tonight.”
“Press pause and give people the opportunity to understand,” Lawson said.
“Why does everyone assume that if we accept reversion, all is well” and all the problems go away, Rawls asked. “I don’t think we know enough about this. I don’t think I have enough information to even begin to let this continue.”
Rawls said, “we are not killing reversion. It was killed by the former government who wouldn’t make the case and tried to force it on citizens (and) did not hear their voices.”
After the roll call vote was taken, and the resolution passed, the audience filling the council chambers and spilling into the hallway, erupted in applause.
Council then opened the floor to comments from uptown business owners and others, including those who currently are homeless.
“I was dropped off at the library” in Martinsville from another locality, said a homeless man.
Rawls repeated some of the man’s comments for verification. The man was told the hospitals would let allow a stay of five nights if a person was suicidal. He was given a tent, and it was suggested that he find a spot on the Dick & Willie Trail. “And it was raining that night,” Rawls asked, as the man confirmed the statements.
“We all need to come together as a community and get justice for the people that are homeless,” he said.
Brenda Stovall, of Brenda’s Catering, “I walked outside my back door to empty some oil. Two guys smoking weed” and drinking. Asked them politely to leave. I asked them one more time—one of the guys was over there urinating right in front of me. The other guy said, ‘Bitch, call the police.’ I said, no problem.”
Noting that there are youngsters and adults visiting business uptown, Stovall said, “who wants to see that? You don’t want that around your business. You should have respect in your community to keep your businesses growing.”
Tim Martin, a business and property owner, said “I do think we need some sort of service to take care of the people.” The issue has “gotten way out of hand. I’m hoping we kind of find some kind of resolution to this. This really has to be addressed. It’s way out of control.”
A representative of Prillaman’s Market said the parking situation on Fayette Street is a “terrible situation,” and noted that some vehicles are parked in front of the dental clinic “for a month at a time. I really would like to see more patrolling uptown. Cars without tags parked there. I don’t understand it. I really don’t. I love to have the dental clinic over there, but looks like they could just tell the patients to park in the parking lot.”
Mary Rives Brown, a property owner uptown, read a letter from Alice Ann Blevins, of Fido’s Finds, which raises funds to support the SPCA. Fido’s Finds was housed on Main Street, and currently is located at 119 E Church St.
“Things changed when Peer Recovery moved into our old space” on Main Street, Rives said Blevins wrote, and added that interactions between the homeless population and customers have prompted “several calls expressing customers would not come back unless this problem is resolved.”
Dean Johnston, president of Move to Martinsville, stated in a memo that the population of some groups currently present in uptown “are not conducive to a good business model.”
Julian Mei said his phone buzzes incessantly with many asking “what in the world is going on in uptown Martinsville?” The plight of those who are down on their luck and suffering is tragic and dire, “and we want to support wherever we can”.
The homeless population is “increasing and increasing exponentially every day. Some of these people seem to have been intentionally relocated here,” Mei said, adding that he recently learned a city resident planned to relocate from Martinsville “because they do not feel safe to live here.”
If Martinsville is unable to continue its efforts to revitalize and grow, “we are doomed,” he said.
Cory Williams, CEO of Epic, addressed reports that his company’s name was included among those that allegedly brought some of the people to Martinsville.
“We want to help. We don’t want to be a hindrance,” Williams said. “I want to be part of the solution. Epic wants to be part of the solution. We are in the fight with you guys. We see a need.”
Epic, which also has locations in Danville and Richmond, is an agency that provides community-based services that include substance abuse services, Williams said, adding that it confronts homelessness among its clients on a regular basis.
He added the agency currently is still investigating the case of two homeless people who said they were transported from Danville to Martinsville.
Barbara Seymour, said “homelessness has a ripple effect” on communities, with problems that include poverty, hunger, lack of education and dilution of services, as well as others. The problems often become generational.
When she sees “evidence of homelessness in the community,” and searches for agencies that help, she said she finds “nothing.”
Bobby Price, business owner, said he is in the thick of this homeless situation, which has gone from a non-violent, small group to “a violent situation. This is not just a homeless situation. This is a mental health situation as well.”
For the first four months he rented the building that houses his business, Price said there were four homeless people, but that number has grown. “Now they are coming from larger cities, very aggressive, panhandling. Uptown was changing for the good the first four months I was there, now it’s sliding.”
Pearson made a motion to create an Emergency Housing and Community Support Commission. The commission would not only address the housing issue but the overall packaging of community support.
The motion was approved after much discussion about the guidelines, structure, membership, etc., of the commission.