The home front
Foster parents open their doors while localities search for cash
Evelyn and George Riner want more kids. From the prodigious amount of laundry flapping from sagging clotheslines in their backyard, it would seem their household is already overflowing. In fact, 11 people, nine dogs and eight cats live in the Riners’ house and a double-wide trailer on the 10 acres they own in north Albemarle, but it’s not enough for Evelyn.
“I come from a big family16 kids,” she says. Evelyn grew up in Greene County with her grandfather, a Pentecostal preacher who took in runaway children. “It didn’t matter if they were kin or not,” she says. “If they were hungry, he’d take them in.”
Early in their marriage, the Riners plucked homeless kids straight off the street. Since moving to Albemarle 10 years ago, however, the family has grown by accepting foster children from the local social service system.
Both Charlottesville and Albemarle routinely remove children from troubled households and send them to live—sometimes permanently—with foster parents. The 1992 Comprehensive Services Act (CSA) requires the Commonwealth and localities to share the cost of caring for foster children, which includes living expenses, therapy and special education.
Those costs have been skyrocketing, largely driven by an increasing number of children with severe physical, mental and emotional handicaps, say local officials. In 1995, the City spent about $310,000 on CSA services, while the County spent about $450,000. By 2002 those bills climbed to about $1,705,000 for the City and more than $2,250,000 in Albemarle. In both jurisdictions, the per-child CSA service costs are climbing, although the number of Albemarle children receiving CSA services is declining. In Charlottesville, CSA cases have climbed from 189 in 1995 to 360 last year—which is about 33 percent higher than the maximum recommended by the Child Welfare League of America, according to a recent report by the local Commission on Children and Families.
“We’ve got more complex kids coming into the system,” says Kathy Ralston, Albemarle’s social service director. “It’s not just your regular foster kid that needs some loving care. They’re more disturbed. They need psychiatric care, maybe even lockdown.”
In January, a City-County report on CSA costs reported that the best way to control the climbing social services budget is to prevent the family problems that put kids in foster care in the first place—a challenging solution in times of tight State and local budgets.
In the meantime, the task of caring for troubled children falls to people like the Riners, many of whom literally devote their lives to rearing other people’s kids. Tri-Area Foster Families is a joint Charlottesville-Albemarle-Greene agency that, along with private agencies like DePaul Family Services and People Places, trains foster parents and matches them with children. The agencies provide moral support and small stipends, depending on the severity of a child’s handicaps. Children who can’t find local foster homes are sent to more expensive group homes around the state.
Most children arrive with intense histories, such as a 5-year-old boy who came to the Riners after attempting suicide. Others need almost around-the-clock attention, such as a severely handicapped boy whom Connie Tomasso took as a foster child.
“These kids have always been told they’re no good, and they come to you feeling wrong about everything,” says Tomasso, a former nurse who has fostered seven children. “You give them warmth and love, and when you make that breakthrough with them, its fantastic.”
When juvenile court judges order children into foster care, the court gives the birth family a chance to get their kids back by following a plan to correct their dysfunctions. Social service workers say they prefer that children live with either their birth families or relatives, but many times foster parents adopt their children permanently.
The Riners currently have two foster children and one adopted child in their home—a total of 12 have passed through their care (24 if you count the kids they take on weekends to give other foster parents a few days’ respite). Evelyn says she’s got no problems with the local foster system, except one—a rule that limits the number of children one household can accept. “I’d like to have five or six more if they’d give them to me. The more the merrier,” Evelyn says.—John Borgmeyer
Slice and dice
Council takes a knife to the budget
For the second time in as many Council meetings, on Monday, March 15, City Manager Gary O’Connell introduced his proposed budget to the public with what he called “a whirlwind tour of City government, from A to Z.” The short film that followed, narrated by O’Connell and produced by City public relations director Maurice Jones, featured a pulsing techno soundtrack and information on 26 highlights of City government, from its AAA bond rating to the zoning ordinance.
For those of you who missed the flick during Council’s regular meeting that night, don’t fret—you can still catch the video on Adelphia Channel 10, Government Access Television, alongside Jones’ other shows, “The Talk of Cville” and “Inside Charlottesville.”
Does Charlottesville really need two television programs emanating from City Hall? That’s the kind of question City Councilors will have to ask as they examine O’Connell’s proposed budget, in preparation of voting on a final version April 13.
When reached by C-VILLE, Councilor and incumbent candidate Kevin Lynch said he “looked at” the communication department’s $263,470 budget. (At a time when other City departments are looking for places to cut, the communications department will add a new position next year, to be financed by Adelphia as part of the cable company’s franchise agreement with the City.)
But that’s not where Lynch proposes cuts. Instead, he might take his scissors to the Charlottesville-Albemarle Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, which is asking for a 20 percent increase in funding. “I’m not convinced their outcomes warrant that,” Lynch says.
Another agency on Lynch’s list is the Thomas Jefferson Regional Partnership for Economic Development, which receives $12,500 each year from the City. “I just don’t see the return,” says Lynch, who also supports charging higher rents for artists at McGuffey Art Center and postponing some one-time capital improvements, such as undergrounding power lines.
Other Councilors have less specific ideas of where to trim the fat.
Blake Caravati wants to slice $25,000 chunks out of various programs and agencies instead of cutting whole programs. He suggests applying the savings to reduce the 911 tax (proposed to climb to $3 from $1) and provide property tax relief.
Outgoing Councilor Meredith Richards also favors more property tax relief for the poor, elderly and disabled. Simply cutting the property tax rate only helps big property owners, she says.
Council’s other lame duck, Mayor Maurice Cox, favors more property tax relief for the indigent, too, and he supports raising fees instead of cutting the budget. “We’re at the point where further cuts mean we’ll have to stop delivering certain services that people have come to rely on,” says Cox, citing as examples the City’s free pickup of leaves and big trash items.
All four Democratic Councilors blamed the City’s growing expenses on State budget cuts for police, social services and the regional jail.
Republican Rob Schilling couldn’t be reached by deadline, but last week he told WINA 1040 AM he questions the City’s plan for a major computer upgrade. Schilling actually joined his colleagues in unanimous support of the upgrade last month.—John Borgmeyer
Always on track
Holmes Brown dipped into his athletic past to name Head Start
At 90 years old, Holmes Brown still plays tennis every week. Slight, spry and sitting in his office wallpapered with tennis racquets, the lifelong public relations guru is as ready to talk about capitalism in Russia as he is to talk about the bust he is sculpting of his neighbor. On the wall hang personal letters from Lady Bird Johnson and Ronald Reagan, a copy of the famed Dean’s List of Nixon’s enemies on which his name is marked as business enemy No. 2, his track shoes from 1936, and a Head Start flag. Brown is not merely a collector of Americana: Among countless other things, he helped establish the preschool poverty-intervention program known as Head Start. In fact, he named the thing.
Initiated in 1964 through Sargent Shriver’s Office of Economic Opportunity, as part of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty program, Head Start was founded on the belief that to break the cycle of poverty the government had to provide poor preschool-age children with compensatory tools to address their socioeconomic disadvantages.
In 1964, some expert PR work was needed to guarantee the 90 percent Federal funding this new program required. As with almost everything, the first public relations endeavor was finding the right name. Enter Holmes Brown, who had just accepted the position Director of Public Affairs at the Office of Economic Opportunity on a volunteer basis.
Brown and Shriver were riding in Shriver’s limousine one day and, Brown recalls, “[Shriver] says, ‘We got to think of the name of this thing before we go to Congress to pick up this dough. It’s got to be something athletic. Baseball,’ he said. ‘What about a Fourth Strike or a Base on Balls or Homerun?’
“And I said, ‘Sarge, you may be a baseball player, but I’m a track man, and what do you want in track? You want a head start.’”
Even this was not Brown’s high point, however. Everybody has one special talent, and he modestly claims his is letter writing. He’s referring specifically to the letter he wrote and mailed to 100,000 educators up and down the East Coast in one weekend, encouraging them to write back in support of Head Start’s creation.
“I worked like hell to get these things out over the weekend,” Brown says, laughing. “And when [Shriver and I] met on Monday and he said ‘Have you got any returns on any of those letters yet?’ and I said ‘No! I don’t think anybody’s even read one yet.’ Tuesday, two or three trickled in, and each day he kept asking. By the end of two weeks we had 13,000 acceptances and were able to turn every one into a Head Start program.”
The Monticello Area Community Action Agency (MACAA) provides Head Start in Charlottesville, serving approximately 230 children each year. Due to recent budget cuts, MACAA has had to eliminate a couple of its programs, but the leadership there hopes for a bit of a reprieve thanks to the proceeds earmarked for Head Start from this year’s Charlottesville 10-Miler. Holmes Brown, trackman that he is, will be there at the 10-Miler on Saturday, April 3, as the honorary starter. He’ll fire the gun, start the race and probably tell a couple of stories.—Nell Boeschenstein
Quotes for votes
Council candidates expound at first forum
All six candidates for Charlottesville’s City Council came together to speechify and answer questions during the election’s first forum Thursday, March 18, which was sponsored by the Virginia Organizing Project and other local groups. Though the candidates’ meeting at the Monticello Event and Conference Center lasted two hours, their statements were both substantive and entertaining enough to keep audience attrition relatively light.—Paul Fain
Best money line
Republican Kenneth Jackson, who in explaining how he would trim back what he sees as a City budget “filled and primed with pork,” said, “you cut the fat at the top.” Democrat Kendra Hamilton also had several good soundbites, including, “I think we’re spending too much to lock people up.”
Best use of brevity
Democrat David Brown, whose two responses to questions on gay marriage and possible new nuclear reactors in Louisa County lasted a combined total of about 10 seconds. Brown supports gay marriage and is concerned about the reactors.
Best “get tough on artists” line
Independent Vance High, who, when asked whether he would evict artists from the McGuffey Art Center in favor of housing, responded with a yes, saying “artists are artists” and “they can find another space.” The response was the first by a candidate not to garner any applause.
Best argument for incumbency
Democrat Councilor Kevin Lynch, who gave the “there is quite a lot that I think the City is already doing” response or something similar to several questions. Lynch often followed up with something along the lines of “Now have we done enough? Of course not.”
Best shot at high-dollar developments
Hamilton, who said kicking artists out of McGuffey to create housing would likely just “be another opportunity to sell $450,000 condos.”
Best appeal to populism
Republican Ann Reinicke, who mentioned the “high-crime neighborhood” in which she lives, her role as a foster parent and mentor, as well as her commitment to affordable housing and helping single parents and at-risk kids.
Best failed pop culture reference
High, who mangled the woefully outdated Wendy’s slogan “Where’s the beef?” with what sounded like “Show me the beef.”
Most inappropriate rejoinder to a question
When asked what he thought of the two competing State budgets, Jackson said, “I’m not going to get into this Democrat and Republican thing because I think it’s childish.”
Jackson, who said that a Council ruling on gay marriage, which he does not support, would be a “fake” proclamation. “It doesn’t mean squat,” Jackson said. “That’s not my ball of wax.” “
Can we talk?”
Meeting in the works for Councilors and Supes
With controversial transportation projects dominating local politics, members of Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors think it’s time to get together for a chat.
“I personally think some dialogue between our groups is needed,” says Supervisor Kenneth Boyd.
Though members from the two groups of politicos meet regularly while working on as many as 25 joint panels and commissions, such meetings usually only include a couple representatives from both sides. A full joint meeting hasn’t happened for about two years, so Boyd and Councilor Kevin Lynch got the ball rolling for the huddle, which might occur before the end of the month.
According to Mayor Maurice Cox, likely topics for the discussion would include the proposed U.S. 29 Western Bypass, the Meadowcreek Parkway and a plan, which is being developed by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, for transportation improvements along the 29N corridor and Hydraulic Road. Cox says the County’s growth strategies for 29N and Crozet are taking retail revenue away from the City.
“I’m not sure if Albemarle is aware of the negative impacts of that type of development on the City,” Cox says. “As two bodies, we haven’t focused on it and addressed it.”
During the March 17 meeting at the County Office Building, Supervisors voiced support for a powwow with the City. But Supervisor Sally Thomas expressed wariness about a politically charged discussion that could be light on substance.
“They’re really eager to tell us what to do with roads in our community,” Thomas said during the Supervisors’ meeting.
Supervisor Dennis Rooker, who supports the meeting idea, says local politicians possess varying levels of expertise on roads and development. This is because Councilors and Supervisors can’t be experts on everything, and must choose issues on which to specialize, Rooker says. As a result, a full meeting could be a challenge.
“Often it’s easier to get things accomplished in a small group,” Rooker says.
With three City Council seats up for grabs in the May election, Supervisors had a mild disagreement Wednesday night about when to schedule the meeting. Rooker suggested waiting until after the election, when new Councilors would be on board. But Boyd said a preelection meeting would take advantage of the “tremendous experience” Council will lose with the departure of Cox, Meredith Richards and, perhaps, Lynch, who is up for reelection. Rooker later said he was amenable to an earlier date.
“Anytime’s fine,” Rooker says of the meeting.
If indeed a meeting can be scheduled during the busy budget season, Richards, the City’s Vice-Mayor, says she will push for the City and County to take advantage of a new Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) program that allows local jurisdictions to seize the reins of road projects from VDOT.
“I don’t think VDOT has the capacity in its culture to build the kind of parkway we have in mind,” Richards says. “We can do a better job and do it more effectively.”—Paul Fain with additional reporting by John Borgmeyer.
UVA student sues his attacker
Perhaps UVA’s diversity training isn’t reaching its target audience. On March 17, UVA senior Luis Avila filed a lawsuit against senior Joshua Weatherbee and his fraternity, Alpha Delta Phi, after Weatherbee beat up Avila in an allegedly racially motivated attack.
According to documents filed last week in Charlottesville Circuit Court by Avila’s lawyer, Ed Wayland, the incident happened at an Alpha Delta Phi party on September 19. Weatherbee “drank a number of alcoholic beverages and became intoxicated,” and “stated to several members of Alpha Delta Phi during the course of the party that it was his intention to punch or strike Avila if he came to the party,” according to the suit.
The suit alleges Avila had been invited to party as a guest of Alpha Delta Phi, and when he finally arrived fraternity pledgemaster Weatherbee made good on his threat. According to the suit, Weatherbee attacked Avila without any provocation, “striking him with his fists in his face and body, throwing him to the floor, falling on him and striking him repeatedly.”
The suit claims Weatherbee told Avila, a native of Peru and a legal permanent resident of the United States, that he “should go back to Mexico” and that he “should be washing my dishes.” The suit also claims Weatherbee repeatedly told Avila, “I’m going to fucking kill you.”
The suit claims that “the members of Alpha Delta Phi, with one exception, took no action to protect Avila.” The suit says fraternity member Christopher Dow pulled Weatherbee off Avila, but Weatherbee renewed the attack. Dow pulled Weatherbee away a second time, and Avila escaped into the front yard, where a friend tried to drive Avila to the hospital. The suit says Weatherbee chased Avila around the car, reiterating that he was “going to fucking kill” the plaintiff.
The suit says Avila stayed at UVA Medical Center until the next afternoon, suffering cuts and bruises, a black eye and broken bones in his face. The suit also claims Avila suffered “pain, limitation of activities, emotional distress, fear, anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, humiliation” and he considered dropping out of school for the semester as a result of the attack.
Avila says his injuries were so severe he missed weeks of school and work. “The doctor said that if it was just a little worse, I could have actually lost my sight,” Avila told C-VILLE. “It was that severe.”
On December 12, Weatherbee pleaded guilty to assault and battery in Charlottesville General District Court. He was sentenced to 12 months in jail, with all but 30 days suspended.
Avila’s civil suit asks Weatherbee to pay $300,000 in compensatory and punitive damages for assault and battery and for racial intimidation. It also asks the fraternity’s parent company, Alpha Delta Phi of Virginia, Inc., to pay $300,000 for negligence, alleging that the fraternity had a duty to protect Avila, since he attended the party as a guest.
Weatherbee could not be reached by presstime and his lawyer, Robert Hagy II of Palmyra, declined to comment on the suit.—John Borgmeyer