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BreakDown: The 6/21/16 Danville City Council Meeting

Let’s take a comprehensive look at what happened before, during and after Danville City Council’s June 21st meeting. We’ll analyze what you were able to see, what you weren’t able to see and throw in some other thoughts.

We call this a BreakDown.

If you want to see SouthsideCentral’s recap of the meeting we’re talking about, click here. If you want to see our BonusCentral article with extra behind-the-scenes photos, click here.

Now that you’ve got the links to your reference material, let’s pull out the BreakDown Big Board…

  • Tuesday’s meeting was one of the most lighthearted meetings I’ve ever seen. At least, for everything except the dam issue. The last meeting before a new term of council starts seems to always be a “farewell party” for the members who aren’t coming back.
  • Buddy Rawley has always had an overall positive popularity rating with citizens and that’s even with his opposition to the flag ordinance that was designed to get rid of the Confederate flag at the museum. Rawley has had one or two strong detractors, but he’s always been able to swat those few people down (usually by ignoring them). The heat that he took from his stand on the flag ordinance was short-lived because he smartly moved on after that, not getting in too deep with the worst subset of the flag supporters.
  • Buddy Rawley doing the prayer and leading the Pledge of Allegiance wasn’t a totally random coincidence on Tuesday night. It was an honor given to him for the last meeting.
  • I give Sherman Saunders credit for quickly ad-libbing a few sentences about Alzheimer’s Disease when the proclamation recipient bypassed the speaker’s podium and went directly back to her seat.
  • Danville Sheriff Mike Mondul is an awesome guy. He was at the meeting if there were any questions about the grant funding that had to be formally voted on, and he stuck around to hear his official appointment to the Danville Pittsylvania Community Services Board.
  • Speaking of the Danville Pittsylvania Community Services Board, I noticed that somebody replaced Connie Fletcher’s unexpired term. Has she left the area?
  • Trina McLaughlin replacing the term-limited Bob Schasse on the Utility Commission will be a net positive once she gets up to speed on all utility-related information. Schasse was the one who tried to oust commission chair Phillip Smith at the last organizational meeting, but failed. I’ve been mildly impressed at Vanessa Cain’s learning process since she was put on the commission, as she’s now starting to participate in floor debates. I expect the same (and much more) from McLaughlin.
  • Diverting to the Utility Commission for a minute, I’d like to see it expanded to nine voting people (with the one city councilman who can’t vote still there and the city manager becoming a non-voting member). This would be nine “regular people” on the board and still have city council and city manager input in the discussions. I’d also like to have the bylaws changed to have a minimum of two county residents out of those nine.

OK, we’re now up to the dam thing.

  • If you notice from the BonusCentral article, there were a lot of “huddles” happening before the meeting.
  • Due to heavy citizen comments about keeping the dam as it was, a majority of council members had agreed on tabling the resolution to destroy the dam.
  • There were two citizens who spoke in the time for public comments. The first one was Morris Lawson. I’ve done my best to avoid criticizing him because it was his first time speaking in front of city council. Lawson was the guy at the big coal ash meeting who showed off the dead turtle and claimed that wildlife was dying because of the coal ash spill. None of those predictions ever cam close to being true and wildlife is back to the way it always was on the river. Sonja Ingram talked on behalf of Preservation Virginia
  • Gary Miller, the strongest “demolish the dam” supporter, had even agreed to table the decision. He had brought in handouts for the other council members that described a dam modification effort that another city had accomplished successfully.
  • With all of that being said, I was puzzled why Miller made the motion to pass the “demolish the dam” resolution, because he knew it would be dead on arrival. If it was a grandstanding move, it was a stupid one considering he was passing out material on another option 30 minutes before. Miller’s motion caught everyone by surprise, that’s for sure. And that’s why nobody even considered seconding the motion.
  • After the awkward looks and “What the hell just happened?” conversation, here comes Fred Shanks with his totally unexpected motion to build a fence around the dam and place buoys in the river. That gets the same “What the hell is this?” reaction from the rest of council.
  • Shanks should have known of the plan to table the “demolish the dam” resolution, so I believe his motion was just as big of a grandstanding move as Gary Miller’s. At the last second, Buddy Rawley seconded the motion to get it onto the floor to the dismay of the rest of the council members. Shanks tried to explain his idea, going back to a previous council work session when it was said that fencing, signs and buoys on a dam have relieved cities of liability claims. But Fred failed to also publicly mention the fact that after hearing that issue of liability mitigation, a majority of council members were still in favor of demolishing the dam.
  • The rest of council seemed to realize that Shanks’ motion for the fencing and buoys had no chance of passing. Gary Miller broke decorum and interrupted Shanks’ speech, but he later apologized. Lee Vogler & Alonzo Jones talked about tabling everything, but didn’t do it. When it got around to James Buckner, he just stomped the whole thing dead with the planned motion to table.
  • There’s a lot of conspiracy thinkers still out there who believe the fix is in to demolish the dam. That’s not true, but those people are the type who don’t come to council meetings and only believe what others tell them. I’ve worked my ass off trying to get the truth out there, but that work doesn’t get through to a lot of those people. That’s frustrating to me.
  • Finally, there’s a problem inherent to council’s new rules of speaking. It says “Citizens who desire to speak on agenda items will be heard when the agenda item is considered.” When items aren’t required to have a public hearing come up on the agenda, nobody on council polls the audience to see if anybody has anything to say about that specific item. Because people don’t know when or how to speak up for themselves, their viewpoints will probably never go on the record. This needs to be fixed.

Now to the rest of the meeting…

  • Nobody says anything about the incentives to be used for upcoming economic development announcements.
  • By the way, Governor McAuliffe’s planned Danville visit to announce a new jobs project was postponed because the official deal wouldn’t have been finalized in time for next Tuesday’s ceremony. It had absolutely nothing to do with any issue regarding the Confederate flag, despite the claims of some flag supporters.
  • The “Happy Trails, Buddy Rawley!” ceremony worked perfectly.
  • The around the horn section needs to be called in random order instead of alphabetical order, just to mix things up.
  • The break between the business session and the work session goes by quickly, and should be at least five minutes longer.
  • It’s time to have the work sessions televised. Watch for that to be pushed in the near future.
  • The IDA will be subject to the standard term limits just like other boards and commissions. I’m pleased that this change will not start everybody back at Year Zero. because it’s time to get rid of the oldest members who have no clue about what’s being discussed.
  • Director of Finance Mike Adkins is great at teaching council members about financial statements and what they truly mean. He’s also great at teaching me those things, too.
  • There’s still no solution about the Pinetag railroad crossing issue, but city manager Ken Larking says they’re getting closer to a deal. In the meantime, the problem is becoming much less frequent.

Whew. Over 1400 words. We’ve given you a comprehensive look at what happened at Tuesday’s Danville City Council meeting, how & why it happened and even thrown in some extra things.

We call that a BreakDown.

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