By Callie Hietala
The chairman of the Henry County Board of Supervisors said the lack of a motion on a Voluntary Settlement Agreement (VSA) came as a surprise.
“I was expecting something in the form of a motion,” Jim Adams said. But “it’s not totally unusual to delay or have somebody not feel compelled to make a motion one way or the other.”
Adams was referring to the lack of a motion at a recent meeting on the county’s agreement with the City of Martinsville. (See related story.)
The meeting at least “gave board members a clear-cut opportunity to express, ‘this is our frustration leading up to this point,’ and that’s what I took away from it,” Adams said, and while he would not speculate as to when, he and County Attorney George Lyle agree the matter could reappear on a future agenda.
“They had the public hearing, which was required to adopt an ordinance, and this VSA, according to the code, is supposed to be adopted by ordinance,” Lyle said. “No one made a motion, so by default the potential action is tabled, which means that it could be considered at a later time.”
Supervisors Joe Bryant and Debra Buchanan, who have both consistently voted against all reversion-related issues, also were surprised by the lack of a motion.
“I’m not 100 percent sure exactly what happened,” Bryant, of the Collinsville District, said. Both he and Buchanan expected another 4 to 2 vote to adopt the agreement.
But when Adams asked for a motion and there was silence, “it was just a shocker,” Bryant said.
After the meeting, Bryant said, “I understand there were a few (supervisors) who had possibly changed their mind on the way they were going to vote, and they were looking for me or Debra to make a motion.”
However, at the time neither were aware the VSA had a chance of being voted down, so neither of them made a motion, Bryant said.
Buchanan, vice chairman and of the Horsepasture District, said that if one or more supervisors have flipped their vote on reversion, that person or persons need to demonstrate commitment by moving against adoption of the VSA.
“Actions speak louder than words,” she said, “so I would definitely have to hear a motion to know that support is there. People know where I stand, I think people know where Joe stands.”
Ryan Zehr, of Ridgeway, said he is undecided — 50/50 — on the issue.
“I think right now, most people want to take time to think about it,” Zehr said. “I’m still doing research. We’ve got a new governor, things have changed since before. I want to see how long we have (to make a decision.)”
Referencing Martinsville’s scheduled community conversations on reversion, Zehr said, “I didn’t understand why they passed it (adopted the VSA), then set up public hearings to talk about it. That didn’t make much sense to me. I think myself and my colleagues are just taking it in before we make any type of motion one way or the other.”
Regardless, “it’s a big step, so I’m doing as much research as I can to make sure it’s the right decision for the county and the board,” Zehr said, adding that David Martin, of the Iriswood District, plans to request adding the item on the Dec. 14 meeting agenda.
“Whether it passes or fails, I don’t know,” Zehr said. “They might ask for more time.”
Martin said that, since the meeting, he has continued to hear from the public on the issue.
“The state process is flawed,” he said. “Times have changed. We now live in, I believe, a collaborative society. We want to know what people think. We don’t want to make decisions in isolation, but that’s not what the state process is.”
With the information he’s gathered from his constituents, “I’d like to be part of the process in December and the decision, if there is one,” particularly since he was on the board when the process began, and the December meeting will mark his last as a supervisor.
Martin said his main concern was the short period of time allowed for consolidation of the school systems and the lack of input from the schools in the process thus far.
Additionally, “I’m not convinced that the city is in financial difficulty,” he said. “But I believe that if we could work out a way for both school systems to be combined, then Martinsville could maintain its identity as a city.”
Though he knows how he likely would have voted on the matter had a motion been made, Martin declined to share that information.
“As an individual board member, we have to make up our own minds based on the data we’ve been given and I don’t want to preempt anybody’s thinking on how they’re going to vote,” Martin said. “I had two calls yesterday that made me think about things in a little different way, and that’s okay, but at least our community is in the discussion phase.”
Stephen Piepgrass, who is representing the city in the reversion proceedings, said the city also was surprised by the county’s inaction.
“The VSA was fully negotiated by both parties, has been voted upon favorably three times by the city and twice by the county, and it has multiple provisions talking about how both parties are supposed to work to ensure that it moves forward, and reversion occurs. This ordinance is the last piece of that process. We’re on the one-yard line,” Piepgrass said, and added that he also is unsure what prompted the delay.
However, the city “fully anticipates that (the county) will pass the ordinance and we will move forward,” he said.
As to the concerns of several supervisors about school consolidation, Piepgrass said, “I think the city has made it very clear we’re willing to work with the county to make that transition as smooth as possible. To do that though, we need to get through this final hoop and have the court approve it so that we have an effective date, then we’re more than willing to work through a transition period and a transition plan.”
If the county fails to act, Piepgrass said the VSA itself contains provisions for situations in which there is a dispute, or if one of the parties is not carrying out their obligations under the agreement, including arbitration.
“But that is speculative, and we fully anticipate that on the 14th, the county will move forward, and we won’t need to worry about that,” he said.
Tommy Slaughter, of the Reed Creek District, could not be reached for comment.