By Callie Hietala
The Martinsville City Council on Tuesday voted to adopt a Voluntary Settlement Agreement for Reversion, mirroring a similar vote taken earlier by the Henry County Board of Supervisors. (See related story)
The motion to approve the Voluntary Settlement Agreement was approved in a roll call vote.
Council member Tammy Pearson cast the sole dissenting vote.
The agreement is “essentially a document where the lawyers fleshed out in extensively more definition and detail the terms of the memorandum of understanding that was reached with Henry County after the mediation earlier this spring and was approved by the two governing bodies during the joint meeting in June,” Assistant City Manager and City Attorney Eric Monday said.
Pearson asked if the vote could be postponed so that the agreement, which was only finalized last Thursday, could be made available to the public for review and comment.
Monday said a vote was required at the meeting because the Commission on Local Government needs to issue the required advertisements for public hearings to keep to the timeline agreed to by the city and county. Pearson indicated that she would rather the timeline be pushed back to give citizens time to share their input on the agreement.
According to the previously agreed-upon timeline, the commission has set the dates for the public hearing and private deliberations on the reversion process for early September. The hearings will be held in the Martin-Lacy Lecture Hall at New College Institute. Formal hearings will be conducted by the commission during the day on Sept. 7 and 8.
The public can express their views on reversion to the commission from 7-11 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 8.
“The commission expects any people attending those hearings to be masked and you will also be required to comply with social distancing requirements,” Monday said. The public will also be able to watch the proceedings remotely.”
He added, “it is unlikely that (the commission) would recommend that the reversion not proceed given the fact that all matters of controversy other than the effective date of reversion have been agreed upon by the city and the county.”
The commission will issue a report, which is the triggering event for the Chief Justice of Virginia to appoint a three-judge panel to hear the reversion trial. State law requires that the hearing move to the top of the court’s docket.
“There’s really not a whole lot that’s going to occur at that trial,” said Monday. “There will be some necessary testimony concerning our population and our financial condition, but the fact that we have already agreed upon all substantive matters for the county, and the county agrees that we meet the criteria for reversion, really the only thing our attorneys will be arguing about is what will be the effective date of reversion.”
Pearson also raised the issue of city school system, citing Virginia statue 22.1.25 which reads, “No school division shall be divided or consolidated without the consent of the school board thereof and the governing body of the county or city affected or, if a town comprises the school division, of the town council.”
Monday said the school system is not a necessary part of the reversion process, nor have they been included in other reversions across the Commonwealth.
While the city would like the school board’s cooperation, Monday said consent of the schools is not required for the process to move forward.
“Frankly, our school system is going to cease to exist. They will no longer be an entity upon reversion. The reversion statute did not contemplate that a school system is a necessary party to the decision,” he added.
The Martinsville City School Board announced Wednesday it will hold a special closed session meeting via Zoom at 6:30 p.m. on August 31. According to the agenda, the board will discuss and consult with legal counsel and briefings by staff members, attorneys or consultants pertaining to actual or probable litigation, or other specific legal matters requiring the provision of legal advice.
In other matters, the council:
*Considered a reading of a proclamation acknowledging the importance of COVID vaccinations for the good of the public health.
*Voted to adopt a resolution setting the allocation percentage for personal property tax relief for qualifying vehicles in the City of Martinsville at 42.28 percent for tax year 2021.
*Approved a new management contract for the Martinsville Mustangs baseball team with Next Plan Athletics, LLC, a locally based group. Council member Chad Martin voted “no” on the contract.