LC Jones and Aaron Rawls, the newly elected Martinsville City Council members, have been hard at work to prepare for the upcoming year, with big plans for their tenures.
Jones has been talking with people throughout the region, and especially those in the community, to establish relationships.
“I’ve been speaking with different community leaders, business owners, citizens in general. That’s Martinsville, Henry County, even as far as Danville and Roanoke, just really trying to rebuild relationships and establish some new relationships and really trying to put a plan together of things that may be possible to get done with the right relationships and a path forward to turn a new leaf here in Martinsville,” he said.
Rebuilding relationships is one of Jones’ priorities. He believes that having fresh faces on city council will be a good start in that process.
“I think the narrative is kind of changing with having Aaron and myself. We’re both new. We both want some changes made, and want to rebuild relationships. I think it’s kind of putting a lot of people at ease. We’ve still got to keep reaching out and talking to more people. And I understand there’s going to be a lot more to that process, but that’s the start of it,” he said.
Jones, who remains anti-reversion, wants reversion to be one of the first things that is addressed in the first couple of council meetings held in 2023.
“One of the first things I kind of want to get done and over with is reversion. I know we’re still waiting on the three-judge panel, and a lot is going to be weighed and based off of that decision, but I still stand on my stances from when I was campaigning that I would like to see the end of the reversion,” he said.
Jones said he knows there’s a process to ending reversion, and he believes that the resources spent on it could be better spent elsewhere.
“It’s been a dark cloud over us for so long. We’ve put so much money into it, and it’s gotten us nowhere. I feel like we need to put the same energy, time, effort, and money into rebuilding relationships and to doing something positive for our city,” Jones said.
He also addressed the city council’s recent contract termination of city attorney Eric Monday.
Jones said he “thought it was a bad decision on their part.”
Members of council supporting the contract termination said they did so after hearing that incoming council members – Jones and Rawls – planned to do so.
“I know the rumor was floating around about possible changes,” Jones said, “but the way I look at it, both (the city manager and city attorney) have a lot of experience. They bring a lot of value to the city, so I was very much open to just having a conversation. I know we don’t necessarily agree on the same things, especially as far as reversion, but I did think there was a space where we could work together.”
Jones said constituents have expressed concern about the manner in which the contract was terminated, and he believes it is not a good look for the city.
“I’m not sure why they made that decision, especially after they just redid his contract. “I don’t know all the details behind everything, but it didn’t look good. It didn’t look like the right thing to do from a moral perspective, an ethical perspective,” he said.
When it comes to keeping the assistant city manager and city attorney position as one position, Jones said he’s not even sure the city needs an assistant manager, but wants to see “what we can do to be the most effective.
“I’m not sure we need an assistant city manager. And that’s something else I’ve really got to dive into. I met with Leon (Towarnicki, city manager) yesterday, we’re scheduled to meet again pretty soon. I get to dive into a little bit more of what he needs on a daily basis and what he’s got going on. I’m not sure that’s a position that we may need,” Jones said.
Overall, Jones is excited to begin the process of bringing many of the plans he campaigned on to fruition.
“I’m eager to get going. I can’t wait. I think the citizens are eager as well. They’re hopeful for a whole lot really fast. Things are not going to come fast. It’s going to still be a process like it always has been. I really feel that the transparency that we plan to show the community will really put an ease on as the process moseys along at times,” he said.
Rawls, too, has been talking to those in the community to try and get the ball rolling, creating the transparency that was part and parcel of his campaign.
Rawls said he and Jones “have spent together a tremendous amount of time being with citizens throughout the community. Talking, listening, revisiting things that we brought up during our campaign, that we ran on. Letting people know how we plan to take action, and then actually figuring out how our plans will unfold once we’re seated,” he said.
One of Rawls’ areas of focus is housing in Martinsville.
“We’ve made clear to the city manager, and been trying to work with partners throughout the state and within the community, to get some aggressive building plans going for places to live for people in Martinsville,” Rawls said. “Right now, we have a significant shortage of housing, both for people who wish to come here and rent and for people who wish to come here and buy a home.”
Rawls said the first meeting, where mayor and vice mayor are selected, will be “pretty smooth.” Unlike Jones, Rawls said he does not want to make a huge splash during the first meeting.
“I suspect that we’ll see a little bit of talk about reversion, and probably anything the current council has pending that has not yet been addressed. That may include proclamations or something like that. And we don’t want to make a huge impact in this first meeting, particularly if we take up reversion. That’s a task that, while a few elements of it will need to be discussed, want to be sure that we are clear and present the facts to the citizens really well. If reversion is on there, I expect to see some of that,” he said.
When it comes to rebuilding relationships, Rawls is primarily focused at first addressing the issues facing Martinsville directly.
“I’ve had a couple of board of supervisors pass their numbers on to me. I don’t want to be discourteous, but I want to be really sincere that I’m dead set on dealing with the issues that Martinsville faces in its own backyard first. I just don’t see the county as the first step in discussion or problem-solving right this second,” he said.
Like Jones, Rawls said he is concerned about how the former council approached the termination of Monday’s contract.
“Most people, if not all people that observed that, found that to be bizarre and improper,” Rawls said. “I was very concerned about the manner in which it was done because I feel like it’s a risky way to do that, and I say that as a long time personnel manager.
“What was raised as a motion was made by a councilmember who suggested ‘we’ve all heard the rumors,’ which to me as a manager, terminating someone based on rumors is a wrongful termination lawsuit waiting to happen,” Rawls said. “That’s an extremely risky thing to state publicly and then execute.”
Rawls does not want the manner in which the termination was handled to come back and negatively affect the city.
“I’ve never seen a termination handled like that. My concern only extends to the extent of the city being at risk. If there’s no push back, I don’t want to beat anybody up about it, I’m just happy it’s done, and I wish everyone well in whatever they do,” Rawls said. “It’s my job as a council member to protect the city from risk, and that was an extremely risky way to have handled that.”
Rawls also believes that city attorney and assistant city manager being one position, “caused quite a few issues within the city.” He mentioned exploring the possibility of the city attorney position being a part time position.
“If I were king for a day, there would not be any shared positions between the city attorney and any other administrative role. I don’t think that that was proper,” he said.
Overall, Rawls is excited to take office in January and drive his plans for a better Martinsville forward.
“I’m so excited to start building a future for Martinsville that’s actually bright and has vision, rather than just waiting around to decline,” he said.