There is an old School House Rock song called “Three is a Magic Number,” and that was certainly the case as the Radford City Council recognized three longtime Economic Development Authority members and welcomed three new police officers to the force at its regular meeting on Tuesday.
Mayor David Horton asked Dr. Flo Graham, chair of the Radford Economic Development Authority, to present EDA Service Awards to Jeff Price, Jeff Irby, and Albert Mah, who have collectively served 50 years as members of the EDA. Irby is vice-president and city executive at National Bank’s Radford office; Mah is director of contract administration and supplier diversity at Radford University, and Price is a partner at Price-Williams Realty. Graham thanked them “for their longtime service to Radford as members of the EDA.”
Graham said, “During their time on the board, many businesses were established in Radford…Perhaps their most important accomplishment was building and then selling a shell building that is today, Techlab.” Techlab designs, develops and manufactures enteric diagnostics for intestinal diseases. It employs more than 60 people.
“Other accomplishments during their time with the EDA include bringing Applebees and CVS to Radford, thus creating 50 new jobs; Danaher, creating 71 new jobs; Grede, 350 jobs, and Internet, 175 jobs. Additionally, the EDA financially supported the construction of the J.P. King Center at Radford High School, the Radford High School baseball field near the Rec. Hall, as well as the renovation of the Virginia Health Department,” Graham said.
“Each honoree played a vital role and a different role as a board member. Al and Jeff Irby were both chairs for many years. Jeff Price was our go-to real estate expert whose depth of knowledge about land value and building construction was immeasurable to our decision-making process. Our sincere and grateful thanks are extended to Al, Jeff, and Jeff for their commitment to Radford through their service as members of the economic development authority,” Graham added.
Horton congratulated and thanked the three honorees for their commitment to Radford through “hundreds of meetings, hundreds of hours dedicated to making Radford better.”
Radford Police Chief Don Goodman then introduced three new members of the Radford City Police Department. Megan Brown, who is a veteran of the U.S. Army Reserve, finished third in the recent criminal justice class. Jamie Rose moved over from the sheriff’s department to the RCPD and finished second in the class. Chase West, who is an ordained minister and has served the university community for several years, finished ninth in the class.
Goodman said, “I had three out of the top 10 of that class, or we did as a community. I think that shows their commitment, their dedication, their ability to learn and to apply what they’ve learned…I want you guys (referring to the officers) to look at the people that you serve. I think that’s really important. And just understand as you move forward that your commitment is first and foremost to the oath you took…and these people.”
Horton began the meeting with an appreciation of veterans in recognition of Veterans Day, but he also recognized all of the different people in the city who serve it in one way or another. “As I look through this room, I see so many different types of service that benefit this community, that make a difference in people’s lives every day.
“Whether it’s students engaging in activity…business people helping the business community; members of boards and commissions who take the grassroots approach to the city; our police and law enforcement; fire and EMS. We are so blessed with the many, many types of service…and we’re so appreciative of that,” he said.
Radford High School art teacher Kimberly Reese introduced tenth grader Alice Lin, who created a unique Christmas card, and she and Lin presented student decorated Christmas ornaments to the council.
Horton said, “These are spectacular. They beautifully represent Radford: the mountains, the rivers, the sky, the sun. Absolutely gorgeous. So these will go to Richmond. They’ll be displayed on the governor’s Christmas tree and represent our community very well.” He also mentioned that the ornaments would be on display on city webpages.
The city council unanimously approved a special proclamation declaring the Saturday after Thanksgiving as “Small Business Saturday.” The proclamation said the council “encourages all citizens to participate in Small Business Saturday by supporting local stores, businesses, restaurants, and other independent merchants in the community.” Small Business Saturday falls on November 24 this year.
The city council held a public hearing on the proposed split of the East voting precinct into two separate precincts, the East Precinct and the New River Precinct. The reason for this change is the large and rapidly growing enrollment in the East Precinct that will necessitate a change because of state statute and the fact that a moratorium on changes will go into effect in 2019.
Voting Registrar and Director of Elections Tracy Howard gave an overview concerning why the split was necessary. There are over 5,400 individuals registered in the East Precinct. There are approximately 2,200 in the Central Precinct and 2,600 in the West Precinct. There are only four precincts in the commonwealth larger than the East Precinct.
Between 1-7 p.m. on Election Day earlier this month, the East Precinct processed 200 individuals per hour, according to Howard. Twelve officers of election are needed in the East Precinct, while the other two can get by with eight.
Tyler Avenue will be the dividing line between the new East and New River Precincts. Howard emphasized that the new precinct is not designed with the student population in mind. “This is a precinct that will divide an overly large precinct into two more manageable polling places,” he said.
Horton said one question some raised was why the boundaries of the present precincts were not merely adjusted as opposed to creating a new one. Howard said that was considered, but changing the boundaries by moving the Central Precinct to cover more of the East merely compounds problems. It would mean moving 1400 people from the East to Central giving the Central 3600 voters. Howard said that in 2020 there would still be 4000 registered voters in the East Precinct and 4000 in the Central, therefore doubling the purchase of extra tabulators for each precinct. Once a precinct goes over 4000 registered voters, the locality is required to have an extra tabulator and the equipment that goes with that.
Howard also explained how the new polling place was chosen. The checklist included accessibility from the street, vehicle ingress and egress, the number of ADA lined parking places, the number of regular parking places, the distance the parking lot was from the entrance of the building, exterior lighting, handicapped accessibility from the polling area, the polling room accessibility for ADA compliance, polling room size, pedestrian accessibility, room lighting, line maintenance in the waiting area, the number of tables and chairs each church could provide, electrical outlets and safety issues such a defibrillators or first aid kits.
“The reason we did recommend Grove United Methodist Church was because it had twice the number of handicapped parking spaces than any of the other churches; it has 140 parking places available to us. It also had more than 3,600 square feet in its multipurpose room where the other two were around 1400 to 1600 square feet. It was also very handicapped accessible, and there was a line maintenance challenge at either one of the other two,” said Howard.
The Grove United Methodist met all of the necessary criteria, he said.
After Councilwoman Naomi Huntington read the actual propositions, several people spoke during the public hearing concerning the changes.
Tom Starnes recommended moving approximately 1500 residents from the East to the Central Precincts, keeping the three precincts. He felt it would be disruptive to fewer residents and more cost-effective. He also questioned the need for a distinguishable boundary such as with Tyler Avenue, calling it “bogus,” since he claimed the Central and West Precincts lack one.
Lucinda McDermott Piro supported the new precinct which would better help accommodate Radford students who vote. She was inspired by the number of Radford University students exercising their right to vote in the recent election. She pointed out that many students stay permanently in Radford for careers.
Laurie Murphy spoke in favor of the new precinct. She felt it was amazing that Radford had so many voters that a new precinct was needed. She thanked the council for doing this for the city, and she said everyone has the right to vote—period.
Lucas Hodge spoke in favor of Unity Christian Church for the new polling place. He felt the Grove location was an inefficient use of tax dollars. He said the walkability was inaccessible there and said Unity was a better place to efficiently get more of the younger demographic to the polls.
Nasyah Price also felt the Unity Christian Center would be a better choice for a new polling place because, as a representative of people of color, she felt many people who do not have a car would find walking up to Grove difficult.
John Register also supported Unity Christian Church for the new precinct’s polling place. He felt that the church would strengthen the bond between the city and the university.
Karen Harris asked why other options besides Tyler Avenue were not looked at for the new polling place. She has concerns with traffic congestion on Tyler including both pedestrians and cars. She wondered if there were other options.
Ken Alderman questioned the cost of the new precinct. He said that, speaking for himself, he thought the new precinct was a political move.
Andrew Crane said an enormous number of people come through the East Precinct where he worked during the last election. He said it was virtually nonstop. There were three rows of people coming in for identification. If any worker needed a break or to go to the restroom, it put a strain on the system, and he felt there was a real need for the additional polling place.
Geoffrey Preudhomme spoke about the large number of students who registered last year and voted. He feels that it would be great to have the new precinct.
Phyllis Turk felt strongly that the polling place should be at Grove. The parking is difficult at United Christian coming in and out on Clement Street. There is a city bus that goes to Food Lion that could stop right in front of Grove Church for elections, she said.
Brooke Love wondered about how poorer people on the West End will be able to get to the polling place to vote.
After the citizen comments, Howard came forward once again to answer council and citizen questions. He cited the state statute explaining the necessity for a distinguishable boundary. He explained that simply moving the Central boundary line will not solve the problem as population growth by 2020 will require an additional tabulator in each polling place plus equipment for each precinct. There would be 6500 in the East Precinct if nothing is done and Central would have over 4000 by 2020 if 1500 voters are added to it. He said the electoral board looked closely into those options and it would be “kicking the can” down the road, but not solving the problem.
He said the city received free poll books from Waynesboro since they upgraded their equipment. With election officers, the East currently needs 11-12 officers, but with the new split would require about eight each. The cost would not be that great of an increase, Howard said.
He said within the boundary of the new precinct there were no buildings suitable for a polling place that would meet the necessary criteria. The election committee feels that the Grove United Methodist church is the ideal location at this time.
The cost of the split precincts would be less than the cost of two very large East and Central Precincts (merely changing the boundary) because of needed additional tabulators in both precincts in the latter option. Voter cards for precinct notification will be necessary whether there is a new precinct or people are moved from one to another.
Howard reiterated the need to make a change to the precincts now, before the moratorium on changes. In 2020 the East Precinct would have more than 6500 registered voters, which would trigger a need to alter anyway.
Later, he also pointed out that there were 1012 transfers into the East Precinct and 970 transfers out, but there were also 716 new registrants for a net growth of 704. He stated the election commission is trying to get ahead of the looming problem.
He also stated that he was highly offended that someone might think there was a “political nature” involved. “There is no political nature in this. This is a numbers game pure and simple. This is based in Code of Virginia and state law. I do not play politics in my role as Director of Elections, and I hope to goodness everyone in this room knows that,” Howard said.
Councilman Dick Harshberger said that he is a member of the City-University Commision and explained that some students would like a polling place on campus. He told Howard that that was not a good idea because of accessibility and the fact that the students aren’t there for one of the elections. Politics are not involved, he said.
Councilwoman Jessie Critterton said the council’s main goal is that “everyone that has a desire to vote, gets to vote, and gets to vote as conveniently as possible. If you live here and you are legally able to vote, your vote counts.
“This board is going to make sure that you have every ability, no matter whether you are a citizen or you’re a citizen as a student, we’re going to promote your right to vote because it is your legal right, and I would say not only your right but your responsibility. And please encourage other people to do the same,” she said.
Huntington said she is focusing on not just the sheer numbers, but the legal clash between the two state requirements. She said that there are 5000 voters and if all came out, there would be a state-mandated requirement to change that will be out of the council’s hands because that state requirement will be triggered at the same time as the moratorium on changes to precincts kicks in.
Horton stated that he appreciated everyone coming out to share their ideas and opinions and thanked Howard for his service. “You have been one of the best registrars in the commonwealth recognized many times over,” Horton said. He also thanked the entire electoral board.
The council voted to consider the changes at its next council meeting on Nov. 26.
In the citizen comments section of the meeting, Pat Fluke, chair of the Radford Beautification and Forestry Commision thanked everyone who came out on Nov. 3 for the work done in Wildwood Park. She said there were community volunteers, Radford University students, boy scouts and others who helped, and the park is looking really good. Connelly’s Run is free and clear with all the dams removed. She thanked everyone who helped and mentioned that there would be a power-point presentation at the next city council meeting.
Jamie Radcliffe of the Pulaski Town Council wanted to say “Hello” to the City of Radford. He complimented the city on the wonderful job it is doing. He said that he and Brooks Dawson, another Pulaski Town Council member, were there to say, “Radford, if you need anything, we’re across the river…just give us a call.” You have a beautiful place, he said. Horton thanked them for their visit.
Brooke Love thanked everyone who came out to support the Farmers Market this season. She mentioned that there was graffiti under the bridge in Wildwood Park and perhaps there could be some educational programs about keeping Wildwood clean.
Geoffrey Preudhomme said that the Equal Rights Amendment bus tour would be visiting Radford on Nov. 16 to encourage Virginians to pass the amendment. The bus would be at the Dalton parking lot at RU. It would also tour around the city. He also mentioned that the U.S. is the only country making it harder to vote, and the new precinct is a way to encourage voting.
Lucinda McDermott Piro said that the Radford High School Drama Troupe won in district competition and goes on to the regionals Saturday (today) in Nelson County with their one-act play, “The Beggar’s Opera.”
In new business, the council approved a new dump truck for the electric department with a low bid of $53,115. This 2018 vehicle will replace a 2001 model.
The public works department street pavement contract bid by Adams Construction was approved by the council for $145,640.27.
The council approved an appropriation ordinance for the Community Development Block Grant for $165,992. It will be used for payment of a Section 108 loan, program administration, slum and blight improvements, beautification, and organizations such as Beans and Rice, the Radford Clothing Bank and the Bobcat Backpack Program.
The council also approved an appropriation ordinance litter grant for $6,163 that will be used for litter prevention, educational programs and recycling.
The council approved an appropriation ordinance for the use of $34,368 in state asset forfeiture funds for police department software and hardware upgrades.
The next appropriation ordinance approved by the council was for $6,923 for equipment for sheriff’s department vehicles.
Another appropriation ordinance was passed by the council for $12,125 for Emergency Medical Services equipment and supplies.
In his comments, City Manager David Ridpath mentioned that there was a possible winter storm on Thursday with accumulating ice. The weather is also impacting paving, which may have to be done in the spring if the weather does not hold. Work will also be begun on the University Drive bridge.
In council member comments, Critterton said that during the moment of silence each meeting she has been reflecting on a fallen soldier. This meeting she had her father, David Lynn Griffith, a Vietnam veteran from the Big Red One Infantry Division, in her thoughts. He was her “very favorite veteran of all time.” She said he “brought the war home with him” and committed suicide several years ago.
She also mentioned being involved in panels at RU: “Women in Office,” and “Community Leadership.”
Critterton said the American Legion renovation plans are continuing. Design groups are currently touring to provide ideas.
Blacksburg ratified a proclamation concerning the ERA amendment, and Critterton asked for information to bring back to the Radford City Council. She had a visit to the firehouse and was very impressed with the many improvements they are making. She said that the fire department members discussed thinking about the possibility of a fire station on the east side of the city at some time.
Harshberger mentioned attending the Joint City/University Commission. One item that came up was that all Greek organizations will register events so the police departments, student government, and all other groups are working together and people can enjoy themselves responsibly. Melissa Skelton made a presentation on city planning and zoning around the university. They are also looking at transportation and ways to improve it, with Lyft and Uber being discussed.
Councilman Rob Gropman thanked all the poll workers from the election. He welcomed the three new police officers to Radford who are “joining one of the best PDs in the state.” He mentioned appreciation to David Ridpath for getting minutes to the website. He asked about the status of the dam (hydro), and Ridpath said they are waiting to install a part, and that it should be done by the end of the year. Gropman also suggested a “pumpkin chuckin'” contest for next year at Halloween.
Huntington mentioned visiting another city and seeing very efficient recycling activities. She continues to be interested in curbside recycling and looks forward to discussions for Radford. She also appreciated having so many people coming out to share comments during the meeting.
Horton reiterated the theme of service and an appreciation for veterans, police, commission members, poll workers and others. He said that coming out to a council meeting was also a form of service. “Working together—that’s how we make a difference in our community and move ourselves forward,” he said.
Horton said that city offices will be closed for Thanksgiving on Wednesday through Friday next week. The next council meeting will be on Monday, Nov. 26, and the council will be meeting with the school board for a tour of school facilities on Nov. 29, beginning at 11 a.m.
The meeting ended with a closed session.