Radford City Council passed the first reading of the ordinances for new voting precincts in the city at its regular meeting Monday night.
The vote was 4-1, with Councilman Rob Gropman dissenting, on the establishment of new boundaries for the East Voting Precinct. The council voted unanimously in favor of the creation of a new precinct and boundaries to be called the New River Precinct.
The East and New River Precincts separate the current East Precinct in two, with Tyler Avenue being used as a dividing line. There would now be four voting precincts rather than the current three.
Gropman said he felt voting is “one of the most sacred civic duties that we as Americans participate in.”
He went on to say he does not agree with the four-precinct approach and would rather see the boundary lines moved over a bit instead. His concerns included the jump in registrations and whether that number may “dwindle” so that the future numbers may not be accurate. Names can stay on the rolls for six years, and over time, Radford students’ numbers could become “9,000 added to 17,000” city residents. So there could possibly be 26,000 registrants and six voting precincts. The registrations could also lapse, and the city would have unneeded precincts. He said that time wasn’t an issue, as results from the last election were ready by 7:30 p.m. He felt the city should wait until 2020 rather than rushing to meet the Jan. 1 moratorium deadline.
Councilwoman Naomi Huntington said she understood Gropman’s concern with the accuracy of voting rolls, but felt that shifting lines would move the problem from one precinct to another. She is concerned that there may be a need to create a new precinct right in the middle of the moratorium.
“Rather than waiting and hoping, the more proactive approach is to go ahead and add in the precinct. I don’t believe the numbers are going to go down…I am just not willing to be caught between these two [added numbers and the moratorium],” she said.
Later, she also expressed concerns with polling places if lines were moved. For example, the Central Precinct could have problems with parking and space if more people came in.
She also thanked Registrar Tracy Howard and the electoral board for the meticulous manner with which they approached the decision on the polling place.
She pointed out that the Grove Methodist Church has more handicapped spaces, there is a bus stop nearby that students can access and the walk from campus to the recreation center is 20 minutes, while the walk to Grove is 15 minutes, making it closer. She felt Grove Methodist Church was the best choice.
Vice-Mayor Dick Harshberger shared that the city is required to have voting precincts of a certain size, and if they go higher than allowed, the city would be in violation of voting statutes. “So I think we have to make the move,” he said. Harshberger later complimented Howard, also.
“He’s the best registrar in the commonwealth,” he said. “He has worked very conscientiously to bring this to us.”
Councilwoman Jessie Critterton stated that there were inherent costs with either moving the line or creating a new precinct, so that was not a factor.
“We had a wonderfully detailed report provided to us by our registrar, and I have full confidence and faith in what he has provided us, and if I’m going to…err on either side, I’m going to err on the side of trusting our registrar,” she said.
Mayor David Horton said he was thrilled that there are so many more people in Radford who “want to vote in this community; who want to participate; who want to have their voice heard.”
He said there were three choices: do nothing, move the line, or create a new precinct.
“Doing the precinct split gives us the opportunity to provide the best service possible for each and every voter in the city of Radford to make sure their experience is the best that it can possibly be, and it’s proactive. Change can be scary to many people, but proactive change is what a community like Radford needs to grow and to thrive and to move forward in the 21st century,” Horton said.
He said keeping the lines the same would cost the same as creating the new precinct and moving the line would compound the problem with the number of voters in both precincts rising while doubling the cost for tabulators, etc.
Horton said the council is making the decision, not in haste or based on some philosophy, but the facts, and to try to make sure that every voter can vote in a way that is expedited, safe, secure, and professional. He also cited the recommendations of the electoral board and registrar.
The council will have the second reading of the ordinances at its next regular meeting in December.
In reference to Thanksgiving, Horton said, “While it’s parades and food and all of that, I think it’s also a time for us to reflect and be thankful for all the things we have in our lives. I know we really think about the people we get to spend time with, the community that we have.” He also talked about the residents of Radford, the schools, and organizations that took it upon themselves to make sure that others had food at Thanksgiving.
Sadie Hurst, a junior at Radford High School, gave the council an update on various activities taking place at the school.
“This school year has flown by in the best possible way,” she said in her opening remarks.
She mentioned that golf came in sixth in the state finals, boys cross country placed second at states, and the girls placed seventh. She also shared that she was on the Radford state championship volleyball team.
The drama program placed third in the regionals for one-act plays. The RHS band came in first and received “many superior ratings for multiple competitions.” The robotic team has started up and is preparing for competition.
Hurst said she also got to be a part of a discussion about the new schedule being implemented next year that includes three, seven-period days, one day with three 90 minute classes and a later arrival at school and the fifth day with four 90 minute periods. There will also be the one hour “One Lunch” program that she said “everyone’s excited about.” She explained that during lunch students will be able to eat in designated areas around the school with friends, meet in clubs, get extra help from teachers, and work on classwork.
She said everyone is excited to be able to participate in Project Based Learning next year. She explained how various classes would be working together in creative ways. She also expanded on some of the plans for the one lunch with the physical facilities. She shared that about half the students would eat during the first 30 minutes and a second group would eat during the last 30 minutes.
Matt Close, a biology professor at Radford University and a member of the Radford Beautification Commission, made a presentation to the council on the recent work in Wildwood Park. “Over the past three years, we’ve had a lot of tree falls, mostly because of winter storms. We’ve had some hurricanes, a lot of flooding that’s happened, and as a result of that, the park has…gradually been accumulating…a lot of downed debris,” said Close. “Our objective was to try to clean this all up.”
They removed debris, cleaned trails, and took material out of the stream. Cub Scout Troop 46, the mayor, city workers, Radford University students, community members, Pathways, and other organizations helped out. Overall, 60 people pitched-in on the effort. They collected ten, 55-gallon trash bags filled with trash.
Future endeavors include getting a cut-up tree on the bank of the stream out. There are some dead trees that will need to come down, and some areas of the trail need a little engineering work. New trees will need to be planted, and discussions will take place down the road about that.
Beautification Commission Chair Pat Fluke thanked Victoria Woffenden and Andrew Wagner from the public works department for their hard work and expertise with the project, also.
Several of the council members and the mayor praised the commission and workers for all of their help with the project.
Gary Harris, VFW Commander, asked the council the status of a proposal to put the five service flags near the entrance of the city by the Memorial Bridge. He said that about a year ago former mayor Bruce Brown shared possible drawings with Harris to take back to the VFW to choose a design. Since that time, he has not heard anything about the proposal.
Horton said that the current council has not yet considered this project. He deferred to previous council members Gropman and Harshberger to speak to their understanding of the status from last year. Harshberger said he wanted to be sure that the American flag was at a higher level than the service flags. Harris said the American flag and the Virginia flags were already visible at the high school, so the service flags could just be added behind the Radford sign.
Gropman said he loves the project, that he recalled they were waiting on the decision from the VFW on where to place them, and that they were going to use some city labor while the VFW was going to garner funds.
Harris thought that the city would provide the poles and put them up and the VFW would maintain the flags.
Horton said that other people should be involved such as the beautification commission, and discussions need to happen as to what will be done and how it would be done, as well as how it would be funded. He said people respect and support veterans and that there is the opportunity of raising money. He said everyone on the council needs to be a part of the discussion. Gropman, Horton, and Critterton suggested putting service flags on the Memorial Bridge while the discussion/committee work takes place on the final concept. Critterton pointed out that all of the council members are in support, but the details need to be worked out.
City Manager David Ridpath mentioned that paving is behind due to the weather. On Saturday, the Holiday Parade is at 11 a.m. and the RHS state football semifinal game is at 2 p.m.
Gropman thanked the electric department for all of their work in the “wee hours” of the morning. He asked about the date for the parade if it is postponed. Ridpath said there is a backup date of Dec. 8 at 11 a.m.
Critterton dedicated her moment of silence to deceased Radford soldier James T. Altec. She recommended that next year the council do town halls every quarter in different regions of the community. She shared that Glencoe Mansion is having its Christmas traditions celebration on Thursday, Dec. 6 from 6-7:30 p.m.
With the American Legion project, they are waiting to hear back from the design team, and they are exploring liability insurance. There will be empty water jugs distributed around the community for donations for the Legion renovation process.
Critterton also complimented several people in the community who helped others over the holidays. She thanked them for having “a big heart.” She thanked the beautification committee for their Wildwood Park work and was appreciative of Sadie Hurst for presenting an update on RHS activities.
She feels it is important to have students visit and share events. She also talked about the city participating with RU in a love and unity parade/festival in the future.
Horton also commended the electric department on their hard work through the night to restore power.
He reiterated that the Radford Holiday Parade was coming up on Saturday at 11 a.m. and encouraged everyone to come out and participate in the parade that will stretch from the university to the west end.
He also suggested making every Saturday between now and Christmas “Small Business Saturday” to encourage support of local businesses and restaurants.
In Citizen Comments, John McCandlish said he would be one of the people affected by the establishment of a new voting precinct, and he thought it was a good idea.
He noted that with the last election he voted early, and although he was the 200th person to vote, it was a little after 8 a.m. in the morning. With a presidential election, it would be different. He suggested that for students, there might be a special bus service on election day.
Lynn Burris suggested having free buses for all voting precincts to encourage voting on election day.
John Phillips suggested that before the project on the service flags takes place, there should be a review of the proper protocol for the display of flags.
The council ended the meeting with a closed session.