State Police Investigating County Clerk’s Office

State police are investigating the Albemarle County Circuit Court’s office, Graelyn Brashear reports. Nobody’s saying what it’s all about, other than that it involves an employee of the office, but since the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts is involved, it’s pretty likely that this is about ongoing financial irregularities in the office’s bookkeeping.

The Clerk of Court is Debbie Shipp, a 30-year veteran of the office who was elected as clerk in 2007 after eight-term incumbent Shelby Marshall stepped down. Annual audits by the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts started looking grim in 2011, and did not improve any in 2012 or in 2013. Shipp was given the benefit of the doubt by many because of the serial deaths of her son and sister (an employee of her office), but the auditor’s report made clear that her office’s financial practices are chronically irregular, with no plan to improve them, and lack many of the basic practices employed by most people in their personal finances. The Democrat is serving an eight-year term, so she’s not up for reelection until November of next year.

Of course, it’s possible that this investigation is unrelated, but given the involvement of the state auditor, it seems likely that there is suspicion that this is not about incompetence, but fraud. Nobody’s been arrested, nobody’s been charged, and perhaps nobody will be. No word on what the next step is, but apparently the investigation is ongoing.

Albemarle School Board Considering Snow Routes

The Albemarle County School Board is looking at restricting school buses to major roads on snowy days, Tim Shea reports for Charlottesville Tomorrow. County schools have closed for snow on 11 days this winter (prior to Monday’s snow), and the school transportation director figures that would have been closer to 7 days if they weren’t picking up kids on rural routes. This discussion is prompted by complaints of parents who live in developed areas of the county, whose subdivisions are plowed promptly, and are mystified by school closings. (Of course, there are huge swaths of the county where it can take a day or two for a plow to come through.) Those folks don’t know why school has to be cancelled for all kids just because a minority of kids can’t make it. So the proposal being considered is to establish “plan B routes,” basically driving school buses only on major roads, and putting the onus on parents (and kids) to get themselves to bus stops along those roads. The routes they’re looking at now would leave out 1,600 kids, or about 12% of students.

It turns out, interestingly, that Albemarle has already tried this, in the late 1990s. It didn’t work. There was no place for parents to park, due to snow berms along the side of the road, and of course there were safety issues associated with getting kids to those bus stops. (If it’s not safe for a school bus to drive on unplowed roads, then it’s probably not safe for parents transporting kids, or kids driving themselves to school.)

There’s an added twist. Albemarle is required by law, to provide door-to-door transportation for about 120 disabled students. Period. Some of those students live on roads that are not plowed promptly, which seems like a pretty serious obstacle to implementing this plan.

The board hasn’t taken any action, and isn’t planning to. They’re still looking to find out more about what’s to be done, if anything, about snow days resulting from rural road conditions.

Toscano’s Wife Assaulted

Charlottesville member of the House of Delegates David Toscano says—and police confirm—that somebody broke into their home and assaulted his wife, Nancy Tramontin. NBC 29, C-Ville Weekly, and the Daily Progress all offer detailed coverage of yesterday’s attack. 35-year-old Claire L.K. Kennedy Ogilvie has been arrested and charged with malicious wounding, abduction, and what’s variously been described as “burglary” and “entering a house armed.” In a statement, Toscano says that “she was struck by her female assailant in the head several times but never lost consciousness,” and was treated at the hospital and released. The suspect is known to the victim, presumably in part because they both participated in Semester at Sea in the fall 2010 semester. Toscano describes Ogilvie as “a person who we knew but had not seen for over a year.”

Ogilvie is a chemistry teacher at William Monroe High School (in Greene County), and apparently holds degrees from Yale, UVA, and the George Washington School of Law. On her bio on WMHS’s website, she says that she used to be a patent attorney, and that she’s been a contestant on “Jeopardy” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”

The suspect is being held without bond in the jail. No motive is known for the attack.

Feds Oppose Western Bypass

In a stunning development, the Federal Highway Administration is requiring VDOT to prove that the Western Bypass will serve any real purpose and is better than alternatives, Sean Tubbs reports for Charlottesville Tomorrow. The FHA points to the growth of the region and questions whether the two-decade-old plan to build a bypass around our bypass makes sense anymore. (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.) They’ve told VDOT to consider alternatives, which is almost certainly a euphemism for grade-separated interchanges along 29. In perhaps the most gutting line in the letter, they encourage VDOT to “work closely with local representatives to gain their support of the transportation improvement moving forward,” an acknowledgement that only a single member of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors supports the proposed Western Bypass.

As Sean Tubbs writes in the article, “in combination with expected action by the Albemarle Board of Supervisors to withdraw its support, construction of the Western Bypass in the near future now appears very unlikely.”

02/20 Update: Rubbing a little salt in the wound, BOS Democrats passed a surprise resolution against the Western Bypass at last night’s meeting. Ken Boyd, the lone Republican, objected to the unexpected appearance of the resolution, which was met with laughter from the audience and some members of the board. Boyd famously engineered the same thing in 2011, in that case causing the long-dead bypass to rise up again. The whole scene last night amounted to something like revenge fantasy pornography for bypass opponents, who now hold the high ground on nearly every front, an utter reversal from the position of defeat that they occupied three years ago.

City Police Cracking Down on Cyclists

City police are issuing a lot more tickets to cyclists lately, Maggie Ambrose reports for Charlottesville Tomorrow. We’re talking about small numbers here—an increase from nine tickets in 2012 to seventeen tickets in 2013—with a plurality of the citations occurring along West Main / University Ave. (A map of every citation location is helpfully included in the article.) Bicyclists are obliged to follow the same transportation laws as motor vehicles, but some cyclists don’t seem to know or care that this is so, and ignore traffic lights, one-way signs, bike on sidewalks, etc.

Interestingly, cyclists who are cited by police are receiving points on their license, as if they had committed the same infraction while driving a car. Given that operating a bicycle doesn’t require a driver’s license, it’s hard to even see why a moving violation on a bicycle should have any impact on one’s driver’s license. (Should somebody who drives a car perfectly but a bicycle badly be punished by prohibiting them from driving a car, thus requiring them to travel by bicycle, which cannot be prohibited by the court?) That said, looking at § 46.2-492, it appears that this practice is required under the law, as there is no exception for non-motorized vehicles.

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This is a community news blog about Charlottesville, VA, started in March 2001. It's run by Waldo Jaquith. It has nothing to do with C-Ville Weekly, the newspaper. Feel free to submit a story.