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Democratic Victories May (Re-)Doom the Western Bypass

Democrats’ sweep of local and statewide elections have them talking about undoing the Western Bypass, Courteney Stuart reports for C-Ville Weekly. A conservative majority on the Board of Supervisors, spurred on by a Republican administration in the governor’s office, held a surprise midnight vote to approve the Western Bypass in 2011. Supervisor Dennis Rooker thinks that there’s both the political will and the mechanisms to halt the plans, with incoming governor Terry McAuliffe appointing a new Secretary of Transportation and the BOS naming two members of the Metropolitan Planning Organization to replace the recently defeated Rodney Thomas and Duane Snow.

Virginia Beach’s Planning Anti-Pattern

In an article about Virginia Beach municipal planning staff meeting with Charlottesville planning staff, C-Ville Weekly’s Laura Ingles writes:

Strategic Growth Area Manager Barry Frankenfield showed the group before-and-after slides of a Virginia Beach street corner. The first shot, with a remarkable similarity to the Random Row buildings at the corner of West Main Street and McIntire Road, consisted of old, rundown one-story buildings, unused sidewalks along uneven parking lots, and no trees. The second photo revealed a multi-story, mixed-use building covering several blocks, with storefronts and colorful overhangs, expansive sidewalks, and street trees every few yards.

“We went from a place where you can have a $1.99 waffle and a cup of coffee to now, you can get a piece of meat for $48,” Frankenfield said. “I think that’s progress.”

So, basically, let’s just do the opposite of whatever Virginia Beach is doing. Instructive.

Audit: County Clerk’s Office Still a Mess

The annual Auditor of Public Accounts’ review of Charlottesville and Albemarle Clerks of Court are in, and the Albemarle Circuit Court continues to be in terrible shape, J. Reynolds Hutchins reports for the Daily Progress. The audit (PDF) of January 2012–March 2013 found that Clerk Debbie Shipp is holding into $434k that should probably be turned over to the state treasury as unclaimed property, submitted an annual report that was off by $64k, and an audit of 53 random cases found that 14 (26%) had significant errors. The audit also found that legally required fees aren’t always being charged, the books aren’t being balanced consistently, and Shipp didn’t deal with reports of levied fines for which there was no record of payment. In her response (page 7 of the audit), Shipp cites the sudden death of her sister and employee, Pam Melampy, in January, as well as insufficient staffing. Shipp says that some of these concerns have been addressed, but for the remainder it doesn’t appear that anything has been done, or that there’s even a plan to do anything, other than want more staff.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because this is how things went with last year’s audit, and the year before that. When Shipp cited insufficient staffing last year, county spokeswoman Lee Catlin flatly denied that, saying that these were problems of management, not staffing. The good news, I suppose, is that the 2011 audit found a 52% error rate, and last year’s audit found a 41% error rate—26% is an improvement, although the small sample size—53 cases—limits the reliability of that number.

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There are concerns found in the report about Charlottesville Clerk of Court Llezelle Dugger, too, although certainly not as severe, on balance. In 2011, when Paul Garrett was still Clerk of Court, the audit was a train wreck, but after Dugger was elected, the 2012 audit found a clean bill of health. This year’s audit finds that the clerk didn’t reconcile the bank account for the past year, that the office is holding north of $100k that may qualify as unclaimed property, a random audit of 41 cases found errors in 25 of them (61%), and Dugger also didn’t deal with reports of levied fines for which there was no record of payment. While that sounds bad, in Dugger’s response she says that she does balance the books, that she’s had to get folks certified in handling some types of claims (when she took over the office, nobody was certified), that none of the $100k actually qualifies as unclaimed property, and that the 25 errors have been fixed and a new process has been put in place to prevent them from happening again.

For comparison, three neighboring counties have also been audited within this period. The audits of Buckingham County and Greene County found no problems, and Nelson only had problems in their random case audits, with 38% having some kind of mistake.

Council Plans City Manager Performance Bonus

City Council has OKed offering a performance bonus to City Manager Maurice Jones, NBC-29 reports, contingent on him fixing the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. Council has accepted that as a “stretch goal” for Jones, a result of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s strong criticisms of the authority last year. If Jones takes care of those problems, he’ll get a bonus of $17k, on top of his $173k salary. Jones will present a plan to Council next month.

New Crozet Library Opens

It actually happened—the new library really, finally opened in Crozet yesterday, Aaron Richardson writes for the Progress. Planned since I was a kid, the $5.8M new building is ten times larger than the old one. They’ve only got half of the books they intend to have ($900k in donations will help to buy another 35,000), they still need more shelves, and the elevator isn’t even finished being installed, but things will be in good shape for the grand opening, later this month.

Unfortunately, the county still isn’t funding fully the staffing of its Jefferson Madison Regional Library branches. This beautiful new building is only open for rather limited hours: 1–9 on Monday and Tuesday, 9–5 on Wednesday through Saturday, and they’re closed entirely on Sundays.

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