By Callie Hietala
A vote on reversion was among the issues confronting Garrett Dillard on Tuesday when he officially began his tenure on the Henry County Board of Supervisors.
Dillard, who is representing the Iriswood District, supported a motion to file a complaint for declaratory judgement to stop the City of Martinsville’s attempt to compel the county to comply with the terms of the Voluntary Settlement Agreement. (See related story.)
The reversion issue also prompted transparency to the forefront in terms of Dillard’s goals.
While he does not know how he would have voted if he had been in office at the December meeting during which the board voted to reject the Voluntary Settlement Agreement, and still believes “there’s not a lot at this point Henry County can do to stop reversion,” Dillard said there are ways to delay the process.
Regardless of the outcome, Dillard said he hopes residents in both localities remember “we’re still one community. Martinsville’s success and Henry County’s success is locked hand in hand. Therefore, we should work together for the betterment of our community.”
For now, Dillard said one of his first priorities is to become more familiar with the basic operating procedures of the board, get to know his fellow supervisors, and “get a better understanding of the issues that are impacting Henry County.”
Also, he plans to bring to the forefront some of the issues he feels need to be addressed and which were a focal point of his campaign—crime, poverty, drugs, and violence or, as he calls them, “people issues.”
“People is really what we deal with,” Dillard said.
Discussions about reversion, about the county’s use of the 1 percent sales tax increase, about bringing in new jobs, are all relevant but “until you get people in a good place where they’re content and able to live their lives, it’s hard for them” to care about what’s going on in their local government. “It’s hard for someone dealing with a drug issue to worry about broadband,” Dillard said.
“If we can help families have a better income and pull people out of poverty,” then those people are more likely to have the time, interest, and opportunity to engage with what’s going in in Henry County.
“When you have to work two and three jobs just to survive, a lot of the political stuff doesn’t really matter,” Dillard said. “I’d like to see more conversations about (issues like poverty) and have people affected by those issues come in and share their perspectives with the board.”
Dillard said he also would focus on continuing to attract new, higher paying business and industry to the area to give workers more opportunity for good wages. In addition to new business, he wants to sit down with current business leaders to see what solutions are available to increase wages for staff.
However, he noted it may be difficult to attract some of those higher-paying industries if steps aren’t taken to address some of his core concerns, particularly drugs and violence.
To address those concerns, Dillard envisions working with the Henry County Sheriff’s Office to form a community group tasked with finding solutions to fight drug problems. Then, he hopes “some of those young folks we’re losing will finish high school,” perhaps go to college or to the military or start a business and return to Henry County and live as a law-abiding, tax-paying residents.
Dillard also wants to focus on increased transparency in local government, encouraging attendance at meetings, as well as public comment “so we know what they’re thinking, they know what we’re thinking, and there’s nothing that is a secret to anybody that is allowed to be public information.”
Part of his plan to make local government more transparent is to hold community meetings and listen to residents in his district to determine the issues that are important to them, such as solar projects.
At a Nov. 24 meeting, the Henry County Board of Zoning Appeals voted to reject two proposed solar projects in the Axton area. Dillard said since he does not live on or near farmland, the issue would not affect him directly, hence his desire to speak with those residents in his district who have a greater stake in the issue.
“You really have to do your research,” he said, adding that, in addition to speaking with constituents, he wants to speak with experts versed in the pros and cons of constructing solar farms.
So far, Dillard said his board colleagues and county officials have been warm and welcoming. In advance of his initial meeting, Dillard said he met with board chairman Jim Adams, as well as several county officials, and received calls from other supervisors who told him to reach out if he had any questions.
“That’s important because it’s all new to me,” he said. “It’s good to know that you have folks that you’re working with that are reaching out that want you to be successful. It’s been a good start.”