By Debbie Hall
Many people plan to attend a public hearing on September 8.
The Commission on Local Government (CLG) commission will preside over the hearing that begins at 7 p.m., in the New College Institute.
The Rev. Tyler C. “T.C.” Millner is among those working behind the scenes to encourage residents to attend the hearing and participate.
Millner, who is the pastor of Morning Star Holy Church, said his concerns include the impact on local school divisions, the city’s finances and “taxes. Double maybe, and/or rates up or down” for residents in both the new town and the county.
He also listed other concerns like “the re-figuring of both the schools and the political lines,” and “how and in what manner will the citizens have a voice? Will citizens work in conjunction with the two government bodies? Will there be an advisory” committee to ensure input from residents?
Mary Martin, a former member of the Henry County School Board, said she also plans to attend the public input session and is encouraging others to do the same.
“I want to share my perspective on this whole thing. It is short and sweet: Citizens in the city and in the county have all been left out of the entire process,” Martin said.
“Neither school board has been involved in this, and they” will bear the brunt of changes wrought by reversion, Martin said. “The very people that it affects the most haven’t had any input.”
He said residents were excluded from ‘having a say,’” and added that a “bad attitude toward the citizens that has been on open display in this process. The question is why? After all, the two governing bodies both represent the citizens, and they work for the citizens.”
“That simply is not true,” Assistant City Manager and City Attorney Eric Monday said. “City Council held multiple sessions where the input of the public was solicited, heard, and considered before they ever voted to proceed with this in 2019.
“Public input also occurred when council considered it in 2008 and 2012. We — and by that, I mean the citizens of Martinsville and Henry County, have been very publicly discussing and debating the pros and cons of reversion since the 1970s,” Monday said.
“People who don’t like reversion, and don’t want to see it happen, may say there has been no public input, but that is not so — there are 50 years’ worth of news articles, studies, minutes, notices and meetings that prove otherwise,” Monday said.
Stephen C. Piepgrass, of troutman pepper, the law firm retained by the city, said “the facts belie any assertion that there has been no opportunity for public input during the reversion discussion/process.”
He said the current reversion “has been (and will be) publicly presented, debated and discussed by the city,” on occasions that include, but are not limited to:
*November 19, 2019 – Reversion study presentation at City Council public meeting (studies incorporated information from various sources, including City schools and finance department)
*December 10, 2019 – Presentation on reversion at City Council public meeting, followed by vote confirming intent to pursue reversion
*January 26, 2021 – Update on reversion progress at City Council public meeting
*May 26, 2021 – Joint public meeting of City Council and County Board of Supervisors with presentation and vote on Memorandum of Understanding
*August 24, 2021 – Resolution passed in public City meeting, authorizing filing of Notice of Intent to Revert with Voluntary Settlement Agreement with Commission on Local Government.
“This list does not include the numerous public meetings held by the county, nor does it include the many times reversion was discussed at other meetings by city bodies where it was relevant, including for example, in public meetings to discuss the city budget,” Piepgrass said.
Additionally, the list also does not include “the many times reversion was publicly discussed and debated before the current reversion effort – including most recently in 2012-2013,” he said, and added thar “certainly, some meetings regarding this reversion had to be held in closed sessions, both because the Virginia Freedom of Information Act provides for closed meetings to discuss actual or probable litigation, and because matters in mediation (including specifically mediations regarding reversion) are required to be kept confidential under Virginia law. Full public presentations were made after each such closed meeting, however, during which the decisions coming out of those meetings were presented to the public.”
The county’s Public Relations and Community Liaison, Brandon Martin, said “we understand the public’s frustration with the reversion proceedings so far and we’ve taken steps to make information available as soon as it can be shared. Given that this is a city-initiated effort, the most we can do is respond. It’s important to note that this is still a legal proceeding and to protect the county’s ability to negotiate on behalf of our residents, there are some aspects which should only be discussed in closed session.
“Even with that said, we have done everything on our end to keep citizens informed when new information arises,” Brandon Martin said, and noted documents, agreements and letters are available on the county’s website.
“Now that we are officially into the actual proceedings, we highly encourage our residents to sign up to speak during the public input session as it is the appropriate forum for such discussion,” Brandon Martin said.
Both Mary Martin and Millner plan to do just that, in hopes the reversion process will end.
“Henry County and the Board of Supervisors, and Martinsville and the City Council, those two entities, have chosen to do this. They made the decision for you,” Mary Martin said. “The citizens” in both localities “are just now starting to figure out how bad this will really be. What should and needs to happen is, this whole thing (reversion) needs to stop in its tracks.”
“Clearly, we’ll have to be strategic,” Millner said. “We’ve got to make two or three crucial points if we want to impact the commission.”
The commission has a series of meetings set for Sept. 7 to 9 at the New College Institute in Martinsville.
The city is scheduled to present before the commission on Tuesday, Sept. 7, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The county will follow suit on Wednesday, Sept. 8, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The commission will meet again at 9 a.m. on Sept. 9.
While all meetings are open to the public, input from residents will be accepted only on Wednesday, Sept. 8 at 7 p.m.
Those who want to address the commission must register before 5 p.m. on September 8 by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with their name and contact information.
Those attending the public meetings must wear a mask and comply with social distancing requirements, Monday has said.
Written testimony must be submitted or postmarked by September 17 and mailed to the Commission on Local Government Department of Housing and Community Development Main Street Centre 600 East Main Street, Suite 300 Richmond, VA 23219, or emailed to email@example.com.