By Callie Hietala
Though reversion was not on the agenda at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, the issue that has divided residents and elected officials alike became the hot-button topic.
Council member Tammy Pearson used part of her comment time to thank the Rev. Douglas Bynam, of the Mount Zion AME Church in Martinsville, and the rest of the Martinsville-Henry County clergy caucus for a recent article titled “Let’s rethink how we approach reversion.”
“I completely agree with them,” Pearson said, “especially in regard to the lack of public opinion and input in the process.” She said that the public should not only be heard but also taken “very seriously” by council “as we are government for the people and act on their behalf.”
Pearson also noted that Martinsville’s Clerk of Court Ashby Pritchett, who spoke against reversion during the public comment hearing before the Commission on Local Government (CLG), had emailed council members and submitted to the CLG a legal brief and request to withdraw the proposed reversion agreement from consideration.
Failing that, she said Pritchett asked that council refrain from voting to send the agreement on to the special three-judge panel tasked with making a final ruling on the reversion process.
Pearson made a motion to add Pritchett to the open meeting agenda, but the motion died for lack of a second.
“As you can see, my request has not been supported by council members,” Pearson said. She stated that she is not against the consolidation of duplicative services so long as that consolidation is thought out, receives public input, and is beneficial for both localities.
“I am extremely disappointed in my fellow council members, continuing, I believe, to not be as transparent as possible and to give this the due process it deserves with public input,” Pearson said, and added that, if the council needed to slow down the process for the public to be heard, she would recommend that it do so.
Mayor Kathy Lawson, Vice Mayor Jennifer Bowles, and Council member Danny Turner all suggested to Pearson that, in terms of transparency, Pritchett’s legal brief and recommendations had been made publicly available through local media and through his public comments during the hearing before the CLG.
All three council members also stated that his brief was submitted to the CLG, who can review it and decide for themselves if it has any legal merit.
Council member Chad Martin was not present at the Tuesday council meeting.
Lawson said that each of Pritchett’s points have been addressed by Stephen Piepgrass, of Troutman Pepper, the firm representing the city in the reversion process. Piepgrass’ responses to the concerns, as well as others raise both by the public and the CLG over the course of the hearings on reversion, are available on the city’s website.
Lawson added that she was concerned about people within the community who believe that the schools “were totally left out of the reversion planning process. That is not true.”
According to Lawson, the superintendents, school board chairmen, financial officers, and other representatives from both Martinsville and Henry County school systems attended a four-hour meeting during which the reversion process, procedure, and how to proceed moving forward were discussed.
“We left that meeting with certain expectations and unfortunately those expectations were not completed as we thought they would be,” she said. “I know it was very painful when Mrs. (Sandy) Strayer (Henry County Superintendent) was giving testimony for her to have to indicate that she had not received the cooperation that we had anticipated would be given.”
Lawson said the issues with the schools would be addressed in greater detail in a forthcoming document, which will also be made available on the city’s website. The document will also address what Lawson said was incorrect information from local media.
In other matters, the council:
* Adopted a resolution celebrating Dry Bridge School ahead of the unveiling of a historic marker from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources for the school on Saturday, October 2.
* Recognized city employees eligible for Service Awards for the period from July 1-September 30, 2021. The honorees names are followed by the years of service to the city: Travis Hodge (5), Todd McCrickard (5), James Rumley (5), Justin Willard (5), James Sawyers (5), Ryan Emberson (5), William Hankins (15), Dale Davis (15), Nancy Sherman (15), Christopher Penn (15), David Bridges (20), and Laura Hopkins (25).
* Approved the Grievance Procedure and Residential Anti-Displacement and Relocation Assistance Plan related to the Pine Hall Road Community Development Block Grant project.
*Heard an update from Kris Bridges of the City Building and Zoning office about demolition of dilapidated structures throughout the city.
* Appointed Al Holland to the Architectural Review Board.
* Appointed Jonathan Martin to the Planning Commission.
* Appointed Paul Mesi to the Tree Board.
* Approved minutes from the Sept. 14 City Council meeting.