Local News

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.”

Best smackdown

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.

Fight club
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

 

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Local News

Utility infielder
When it comes to local baseball, nobody pitches in more than Darrell Gardner

Charlottesville enjoyed a taste of spring sunshine on March 6 and 7, and, fittingly, the Lane Babe Ruth baseball league held its preseason tryouts that very weekend on Darrell Gardner Field at Lane Park on McIntire Road.

After the tryouts wrapped up on Sunday, 71-year-old Darrell Gardner—clad in a dusty black baseball cap promoting “The G Field at Lane Park”—parked a small lawn tractor near third base and hooked a rusty metal drag to the back. The tractor started with a sputter and Mr. G, as he’s known around the diamond, putt-putted toward second base at a painstakingly slow pace, the iron smoothing the dirt behind him.

In a town where many local sports venues bear the names of wealthy donors, Gardner’s investment in the local ballpark is measured in decades, not dollars.

“He eats, sleeps and drinks Lane League baseball,” says attorney Bruce Maxa, a local coach and longtime friend of Gardner’s. “He’s the backbone of the league. I guess that’s why they named the field after him.”

For 30 years, Gardner has coached, umpired, kept official statistics and belonged to the board of directors for the local Babe Ruth baseball league, for players ages 13-19. He is perhaps best known as the longtime groundskeeper who has overseen Lane Park’s evolution into one of the region’s best youth baseball fields. In 2001, the Lane Babe Ruth Board of Directors voted to name the field—which is owned by Albemarle County but maintained by the league—in Gardner’s honor.

“The board must have had a mental lapse when they did that,” chuckles Gardner, a lifetime baseball fan who “bawls like a baby” every time he watches Field of Dreams. “Having a farmer’s background, I like working with the grounds,” Gardner says.

Gardner is the first to admit he’s had some help making the field what it is. In the early ’90s, the league added grass to the infield. Later in the decade, local Boy Scouts renovated the bleachers, bathrooms and scorekeeper’s booth. And, in 2002, the league added a 25-foot fence along the McIntire Road side of the field to prevent home runs from hitting passing cars.

Jon-Mikel Whalen, who will play in the Lane League’s 14-15-year-old division this spring, calls Gardner “the father of the field.

“I played all around the state on a traveling team this summer,” says Whalen. Gardner Field, he says, “is definitely the nicest.”

Although Gardner has spent the past 53 years in Charlottesville—where Major League loyalties seem split between Baltimore and Atlanta—the Illinois native remains a staunch St. Louis Cardinals fan.

“I used to hitchhike down to old Sportsman’s Park,” says Gardner, who keeps the left fielder’s glove he used in high school tacked to the wall in the scorekeeper’s booth, which serves as a display case for Gardner’s baseball memorabilia.

After a stint in the Army that sent him to Korea, Gardner returned to Virginia to attend Richmond Professional Institute (now Virginia Commonwealth University). In 1960, he began a 22-year career teaching marketing education to Albemarle High School students. As his three sons went through the local Babe Ruth League, Gardner discovered that hanging with kids on the diamond could be a lot more fun than doing it in the classroom.

“He would always ask us about the field. He would ask ‘How’s the mound? Does it need to be wider? Taller?’” recalls Larry Mitchell, a former Lane Leaguer who pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1992 to 1997 before returning to coach baseball at Charlottesville High School.

“What comes to my mind is [Gardner] out on that tractor cutting grass on hot sunny days,” says Mitchell. “He’s a tireless worker. He’s definitely trying to build the field of dreams on a daily basis.”

For both farmers and ballplayers, spring is a time for sowing seeds. As the teenage players work out their arms and practice their swings in hopes of reaping victory this summer, Gardner tends the park as his gift to the future.

“I want to make this the best field I can for the kids,” he says.—John Borgmeyer

 

Bypass, what bypass?
Lynchburg has road worries of its own

Like most Virginians, Lynchburg residents get worked up over roads. However, the stretch of pavement that most rankles ’burg residents might not be the proposed U.S. 29 Western Bypass around Charlottesville, which has agitated lawmakers in Richmond of late, but the bypass currently being built in Madison Heights, a Lynchburg suburb.

When asked about the Charlottesville bypass debate, Dorie Smiley, who was strolling down Main Street in Lynchburg on a recent morning, quickly switches gears to gripe about the Madison Heights construction, which she says has created “impossible” traffic problems. Smiley has heard about the fuss over a Charlottesville bypass, but admits she knows little about the dispute, “other than that it’s taken 100 years.”

The battle over a stalled plan for a western bypass around Charlottesville is an old one, dating back about 17 years. The latest volley in the General Assembly last week resulted in a relatively toothless bill in support of the bypass. But the road war between Lynchburg and Charlottesville goes back further than 17 years, to an old spurning of the southern neighbor.

“It’s not so much about Charlottesville as it is that we’ve been bypassed, so to speak,” says Darrell Laurant, a longtime columnist for The News & Advance in Lynchburg, of resentment stemming from the 1961 decision to run I-64 through Charlottesville instead of Lynchburg. The State had endorsed the Lynchburg route, but was overruled by the Feds. Smiley and others cite a legend, popular in Lynchburg, that Charlottesville may have exploited a local resident’s connections with President John F. Kennedy to snag I-64.

Regardless of whether Lynchburg was cheated out of I-64, Laurant says some locals still carry a grudge about the decision. He jokingly says that all of the town’s woes are blamed on the lack of an interstate.

Lynchburg, a city of 65,000, certainly has its share of problems. According to Mayor Carl B. Hutcherson Jr., the city faces a budget gap of “unprecedented proportions.” Hutcherson supports the building of a bypass around Charlottesville, saying it “would enhance transportation all the way down the corridor” from Washington, D.C. to North Carolina. However, Hutcherson, who spent some time at UVA and whose daughter went to the University, says the money crunch and several local construction projects, including the local bypass, have surpassed the Charlottesville road on his list of priorities.

“We’ve had so many other issues that we’ve had to deal with,” Hutcherson says. “We’re looking at our own transportation. We’ve got to concentrate on that.”

But across town, in the office of the Lynchburg Chamber of Commerce, fighting for a bypass around Charlottesville is Job One. Rex Hammond, the chamber president, calls U.S. 29 “the lifeblood of our community” and says the manufacturing town depends on truck traffic, tourists and salespeople that travel on the road.

“These groups are not being served by being forced through a bottleneck,” Hammond says of the string of traffic lights along the road in Albemarle County.

Hammond’s main beef with Charlottesville’s leaders is that he claims they are pulling out of a longstanding agreement among several localities to build bypasses along U.S. 29. Hammond says he understands that the “political undercurrents” are different in Charlottesville than they are in Lynchburg. But though he says it’s prudent for Charlottesville’s leaders to listen to the “pro-environmentalist, anti-growth voices” that oppose the Western Bypass, he thinks it’s wrong “to have progress stymied by these opponents.”

The Lynchburg media has covered the Charlottesville bypass debate, and many local residents there are aware of the issue. But the mayor laughs at the question of whether people are stewing with anger at Charlottesville. As columnist Laurant sees it, if Lynchburg residents reflect on Charlottesville at all, they might think only that the neighbor to the northeast is expensive and perhaps a little liberal.

“We don’t even pay that much attention to Roanoke,” Laurant says. (Roanoke is about 55 miles east of Lynchburg.)

In a worst-case scenario, Laurant says, people sometimes lump Charlottesville in with Northern Virginia.

Angie, 45, of Lynchburg, calls the bottleneck in Charlottesville “a pain in the butt.

“It’s almost like being in Washington, D.C.—that one spot,” Angie says, adding, “Charlottesville’s screwy. You get lost there.”

But Angie, whose daughter attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute and who would not give a reporter her surname, may harbor resentments that go beyond bypass brawls. The schism over college allegiances is a common one in Lynchburg, with Laurant claiming that the town is split evenly between Hoo and Hokie fans. If you lean toward Tech in Lynchburg, perhaps you’re simply inclined to dislike that college town up north.—Paul Fain

 

Choice across party lines
Midwifery, it seems, is a reproductive issue many can agree on

I can legally have a baby at home by myself, but it’s illegal to have a skilled professional assist me,” says Charlottesville mother Julia Weissman, who had her boys, Jonah and Tim, at home. “Does that make sense?”

Not legal, yet not prosecuted, home midwifery is underground in Virginia. But new light is being shed on its practice, due to bi-partisan support of an issue that traditionally divides legislators: a woman’s reproductive rights.

“Birth is part of the reproductive process,” says Delegate Phil Hamilton, R-93rd District, chair of Virginia’s House Health, Welfare & Institutions Committee. “If women have the right to abort, what about the right to birth?…A woman ought to have the right to choose the birthing method she wants.”

Earlier this year, Hamilton co-sponsored H.B. 581, a bill to legalize midwifery in Virginia and allow certified professional midwives to perform out-of-hospital births, as is done in all but seven states.

Interestingly, Hamilton and co-sponsor Delegate Allen Dudley, R-9th District, both Republicans, are endorsed by the Virginia Society for Human Life (VSHL), a pro-life lobby. The bill’s third sponsor was Adam Ebbin, a Democrat from the 49th District endorsed by the National Organization for Women, a pro-choice PAC.

“It’s not political,” says Hamilton of the unexpected alliance. “It’s a policy issue.”

According to state records, in 2002 there were 404 home births in Virginia. Legislators were facing an empirical reality. “People finally got the message that there were more and more of these births occurring,” says Hamilton.

In committee, Delegate Rob Bell, a Republican who represents Albemarle and whose sister was born at home, laments midwives’ current legal limbo. “The current legal structure is the worst of both worlds We should license it or outlaw it,” Bell wrote in an e-mail, adding that he favors the former. “If a woman wants to home birth, we should set up a system so she can do it.” Delegate Mitch Van Yahres, a Democrat from Charlottesville, agrees, as do many constituents in Charlottesville, which had 30 home births last year. Van Yahres says, “This issue generates more e-mail than anything else.”

The House passed H.B. 581 by a vote of 91-9. However, it was subsequently killed in the Senate Committee on Education and Health by a vote of 10-5.

What stopped the bill? “The medical lobby,” Hamilton figures. Among the “nays” was Senator Russel Potts Jr., R-27th District, chair of the Senate Committee, who received more than $50,000 in contributions from the Virginia Medical Society and the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association PAC.

The bill’s detractors largely follow the position of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), that childbirth presents hazards that can only be addressed by a hospital setting. In 2002, ACOG reported that the risk of death to infants delivered at home is nearly twice that of newborns delivered in hospitals.

Midwifery advocates cite major flaws in ACOG’s report, noting a previous study using virtually identical data that found no difference in outcome between home and hospital birth.

“It’s a draw,” says Jen Downey, a Charlottesville mother who gave birth to her daughter Lil at home, and testified in Richmond in support of the bill. “Anyone who looks at the data cannot help but accept that they appear to be on par.”

Coincidentally, ACOG is supportive of a woman’s right to birth choice—when it comes to cesareans. In a recent statement, ACOG disregarded evidence that c-sections lead to more complications, and suggested that doctors cannot ethically deny a woman an elective cesarean. But, by the same token, can they, or the State, ethically deny them a midwife?

“You get this feeling that everyone’s saying, ‘We can’t let these poor mothers make decisions for themselves,’“ says Weissman.—Brian Wimer

 

Turning the Page
New owner saves Batesville’s general store

For Realtor Norm Jenkins, it was more than a store. Sure, Page’s Store in Batesville was the town’s single outlet for grabbing a quick snack or beer. But as Jenkins and the rest of the town knew, as the last business in town Page’s also literally defined Batesville—and if someone didn’t buy the property soon the town would lose its identity. So with no other good options in sight, he bought it himself.

As C-VILLE reported last year [“Batesville RFD,” Fishbowl, May 6, 2003], the clock was ticking for Page’s Store. In 2001, the general store/post office, originally opened in 1914, closed shop. As the two-year vacancy mark approached last year, so did the impending loss of its grandfather clause exception to rural area zoning laws. If no commercial entity moved in it would revert to residential zoning, and Batesville would lose its own ZIP code and identity, like so many other hamlets before it.

The town’s response was informal and off the record, but residents yearned for the store to reopen as rumors floated about its next incarnation, everything from new housing to a recording studio.

The ideas just didn’t sing to many, especially not Jenkins. A resident of nearby Afton, who at one time lived in Batesville, Jenkins was disenchanted with the proposed transformation of the town center. So in January he bought the building for $200,000. Now, with help from Charlie Page, who ran his family’s former store from 1970 to 1994, he’s revamping its interior and stocking its counter with such modern delights as deli sandwiches and Greenberry’s coffee. As he prepares for the March 20 reopening, surrounded by new wood and old furnishings, Jenkins wants to make sure nothing gets lost along the way.

“Page’s has always been the place where, at the end of the day, people stop by to pick up a few things and catch up,” he says. While it may have been the only place within five miles to grab a quart of milk, the little market where neighbors said hello also served to remind people they were living in a community that isn’t defined solely by its conveniences.

Yet Jenkins knows that without those conveniences the center would not hold, but move outward, leaving Batesville less intact and self-sufficient than it was decades ago when it counted five stores among its businesses.

“It was my love for the store,” says Jenkins of his decision to cheat the clause and keep Page’s alive. “My love for Batesville.”—Sheila Pell

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Commons grounded

Council tables controversial project, promising change is on the way

For now, at least, the stretch of Preston Avenue in front of the Monticello Dairy Building will stay as it is—a triangle-shaped island of grass and empty beer bottles, bordered by the convoluted intersection of Preston, Grady Avenue and 10th Street, along with parking lots, cars and shops ensconced in the 1937 dairy building.

On Monday, March 1, a group of Preston business owners effectively thwarted a City plan to turn the 1.4 acre parcel into about 50,000 square feet of condominiums and office space.

Blake Caravati joined fellow Councilors Rob Schilling and Meredith Richards in a 3-2 vote to kill City plans for the project, with Mayor Maurice Cox and Kevin Lynch opposing; also, Council unanimously voted to form a committee that will study redevelopment opportunities on Preston, from the 10th and Grady intersection eastward.

“I hope there’s as much momentum to create something [on Preston] as there has been to stop something,” Cox said after the vote. The lame duck Mayor and retiring City planning director Satyendra Huja had championed the controversial plan, known as Preston Commons.

Contending with opposition from residents and apathy from developers, Cox formed a toothless “Mayor’s Advisory Committee” last year. Its task: to receive responses to a “Request for Qualifications,” a rarely extended invitation from the City that asks developers for their resumés, but doesn’t ask for specific ideas.

Only two developers submitted proposals; both asked to buy the property, and one asked the City to forget Preston Commons and begin redevelopment on sites to the east.

After killing Preston Commons, Councilors agreed that redevelopment would nonetheless come to that area. A 2000 study by the design firm Torti Gallas recommends mixed-use redevelopment for Charlottesville’s “commercial corridors” on Preston, Cherry Avenue, Fifth Street Extended and River Road. But local business owners disparaged the study, because it does not mention extant businesses that could be displaced or disadvantaged during construction.

Cox says Preston is “certainly underutilized,” and said during the Council meeting that Charlottesville must redevelop, given that the swelling City budget relies heavily on property taxes. “If we wait until the market says it’s O.K. to build on Preston Avenue, we’ll have had to make some severe cuts,” said Cox.

Hey, big spender

More than 35 percent of City revenue comes from real estate taxes—that’s too much, said City Manager Gary O’Connell on March 1 as he introduced Charlottesville’s FY 2004-05 budget, adding that there are few places left to turn for money.

The budget totals $105,813,350—a nearly 7 percent jump from 2004. O’Connell says Charlottesville is facing new expenses (namely, school construction projects and Ivy Landfill clean-up), as well as declining revenues from Richmond for the Regional Jail and youth services.

O’Connell has proposed the following to cover the mounting costs:

n Increase cigarette tax to 25 cents per pack;

n Increase the E-911 tax to $3 per phone line;

n Increase trash fees by 5 percent;

n Increase various building permits and fees;

n Increase public safety fees for finge printing, false alarms and copying reports;

n Increase commercial utility rates.

 

The Commonwealth’s financial woes may also impact the City’s bond rating, which determines the rate at which the City can borrow money. O’Connell says that given the State’s shakiness, the credit rating agencies will look skeptically at Virginia cities now. Charlottesville’s proposed budget suggests issuing $10 million in bonds for capital projects.

The current and proposed budgets are available on the City’s website, www.charlottesville.org. Click on the “Resident” link, locate the budgets, then register your thoughts with the online Budget Forum.—John Borgmeyer

 

Passage to India

Local companies send jobs to South Asia

Senator John Kerry, the newly anointed Democratic nominee for President, has been fulminating over “Benedict Arnold CEOs” who are “sending American jobs overseas.” Kerry and other politicians have leveled these charges at the growing trend of “offshoring,” in which American firms send information technology or other white-collar jobs to developing countries, often India.

International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) recently found itself in the crosshairs when The Wall Street Journal wrote about the company’s plan to move 3,000 high-paying programming jobs out of the United States this year.

Smaller companies are also taking advantage of an increasingly wired globe, including some based in Charlottesville, with at least three local firms now hiring help in India.

Through a contract with an Indian data collection firm, SNL Financial has operated an office of 40 workers in Ahmedabad, India, since last summer, according to Mike Chinn, SNL’s president. And Brad Lamb, the president of InteLex, an academic publishing firm headquartered in Charlottesville, says his company has employed an Indian data entry firm for more than a decade. A third local company, the National Law Library, declined to discuss its work in India, but did not deny hiring help overseas.

InteLex produces electronic versions of scholarly texts, the hard copies of which are scanned by the company, sent to India and then typed-in twice by workers there to create accurate electronic versions. U.S. companies commonly outsource this process, which is called “double keying.” Lamb says that if any American companies are double keying, it’s with offshore subcontractors.

Tim Grubbs, a text editor for InteLex, traveled last year to see his company’s contractor operation in Bangalore, India. Though Lamb and Grubbs say the company took steps to assure that its contract workers were treated well, such as paying them 30 percent more than the local industry standard, Grubbs says he had some worries before the tour.

“I really went into it with some apprehension,” Grubbs says, admitting that he wondered, “Is this going to be a sweatshop?”

The office is located in an upscale suburb of Bangalore, a city of about 6.5 million people. Grubbs says the well-dressed workers were typing on about 50 computers in a room that looked like it could be located on the second floor of a building on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall. He says the employees took regular Chai breaks on the rooftop.

“[I] was very impressed,” Grubbs says. “It seemed like a dream job for a lot of those people.”

Chinn at SNL stresses that his company’s contractors in India are not replacements for liquidated local jobs, but are part of an overall expansion of the company. SNL trained the employees, who are hired through a contractor, even bringing several of the “team leaders” to Charlottesville. He says the data analysis done in India is “largely still manual” and is most helpful when SNL crunches data around the quarterly reporting cycles of the financial corporations it analyzes, a time when “the sheer volume of information that becomes available is overwhelming.”

The appeal of hiring help in Ahmedabad, a city that is home to more than 5 million people and massive pollution problems, is that the English-speaking population includes “a large pool of people with accounting skills,” Chinn says. Also, the time difference between the two countries can be helpful, because, as one Indian data processing firm says on its website, “While the U.S. sleeps, India works, and vice-versa.”

Cost is obviously an important factor in offshoring. Chinn says that for the work in India, SNL spends about 25 percent to 30 percent of what it would to hire comparable American employees for the job. Furthermore, Chinn says the cheaper skilled labor is important for SNL to stay competitive, particularly because he says industry rivals such as Bloomberg, Thompson and Reuters are also engaging in offshoring.

“In order to sort of stay ahead, we felt like we had to do this now,” Chinn says, adding that he feels that most local SNL employees “understand why [offshoring] should benefit them in the long run.”

Chinn says SNL’s operations in India have been a success, and that “we expect the office to grow.” The company is also looking at new offshore locations in countries such as Pakistan and the Philippines.

Analysts predict that many U.S. companies will join SNL in ramping-up overseas outsourcing. A recent report from Forrester Research estimates that 3.3 million U.S. jobs and $136 billion in wages will have moved to developing countries between 2000 and 2015.

Charlottesville resident Ariel MacLean has been a private job search consultant for almost 15 years. She says the skills of many of her tech-oriented clients are becoming obsolete, partially because of offshoring. However, she stops well short of blaming that trend for local and national employment woes, calling the protectionist rumblings from Kerry and others “just rhetoric.”

“It’s a one-world economy,” MacLean says. “It’s the way of the dollar. It’s nothing personal.”

Grubbs of InteLex says he hopes the backlash caused by offshoring doesn’t fall on India.

“It’s a very intelligent culture that’s just starting to shine now,” he says.—Paul Fain

 

Popular click

Meet George Edward Loper, gentleman journalist

Aquick Internet search for any Charlottesville newsmaker is likely to yield dozens of links to www.loper.org/~george. For example, Google finds a whopping 63 links for City Councilor Rob Schilling on the site, which is run by George Loper, 57, a local liberal and media maven.

“I saw things I’d forgotten I’d even written,” says Lloyd Snook, local Democratic Party chairperson, of the links his name turned up on the Loper page.

With deep archives stretching back to 1996 and beyond, and a daily drumbeat of content, some of it original, the Loper webpage has become a repository of information on local politics and personalities, as well as national issues that are hot in progressive circles.

“It’s completely arbitrary,” Loper says of the material on his site, most of which are links to news articles and letters from readers. On a recent sunny morning at his office, which is on the second floor of his home in the Greenbrier neighborhood, Loper points to a two-foot-tall stack of newspaper clippings that is to be scanned and uploaded to his website.

Loper sporadically hires two writers to help him write for the free webpage, and regularly sends e-mails to a list of about 350 people who signed up to receive updates. And though Loper works with and has served on the boards of several local groups, including Planned Parenthood and the Piedmont Housing Alliance, running the giant website is his chief calling.

Loper may be the site’s editor, but he says he doesn’t personally agree with the majority of its material.

“If you’ve got a good discourse, then things will come out right. My contribution is not about advancing agendas,” Loper says.

So what drives Loper to be the de facto archivist of local politics?

Loper, who has a master’s degree in social work, says he created the site in part because he missed the “intellectual dialogue” of the UVA community, which he had not been directly involved with since he finished postgraduate work there in 1982. (Loper’s wife, Ann Booker Loper, is a professor and director of programs in clinical and school psychology at UVA’s Curry School.)

“I had some time on my hands and I wanted to see what was going on,” Loper says of his decision to start the website about a decade ago. “By giving other people voice, it also gives me voice.”

Loper’s political ideology has shifted a great deal since his teenage days in San Antonio, Texas, where he says he was a “Barry Goldwater conservative.” While at the University of Texas at Austin during the Vietnam War, Loper, a conscientious objector, decided that certain situations require Federal involvement, and a devout Democrat was born.

When asked if he ever wishes he’d become a professional journalist, Loper says, “Oh absolutely.” But though his site, which he admits is about what interests him, might not qualify as pure journalism, it certainly pursues several journalistic goals, including holding local figures accountable. When a noteworthy statement is made in Charlottesville, it likely lands on Loper’s site—and stays there.

“If you ever thought that e-mail is not a permanent thing, you’re sure wrong where George is concerned,” Snook says.—Paul Fain

 

High expectations

Independent Vance High wants to drop science on City Hall

The notion that Charlottesville is getting too big too fast isn’t uncommon. Nor is it unusual, as election season draws near, for squeaky wheels to get louder.

Vance High isn’t mad mad. Irked is more like it. When the City began considering plans for a new residential development in a wooded area near his home on Cleveland Avenue, High realized he would lose the sound of horned owls at night and the sight of blue herons in the morning. Charlottesville can’t afford to keep paving natural areas, he says.

“Green space needs to be protected, and the neighbors need to be addressed when developments are coming,” says High. “That’s what got me off the bench.”

That the City needs better public relations is an oft-heard complaint—witness last week’s demise of Mayor Maurice Cox’s plans to redevelop Preston Avenue [see “Commons grounded,” p. 9]. Local business owners opposed that project, Preston Commons, and decried the City’s “arrogance.”

High, who is 46, doesn’t seem like a ruckus raiser. Bespectacled and slight, he fits the image of a science teacher, a job he’s done in both Charlottesville and Snohomish, Washington. High’s scientific background (he has masters degrees in epidemiology and science education) earned him the support of Council-watcher Peter Kleeman.

“He wants to know: How much pollution is in our waterways? Is the City concerned about it?” says Kleeman. “He’s willing to take his camera and his chemistry set out and ask, ‘What’s really going on out here?’”

Last week, as High struggled to obtain the 125 registered voter signatures he needed by Tuesday, March 2, he posted a message on George Loper’s website (http://george.loper.org) offering to buy dinner at C&O for whomever helped him round up signatures. High got help from both Kleeman and Dudley Marsteller, but High says neither accepted the dinner offer. [For more on Loper, see page 13].

With no party apparatus to help raise money and mobilize voters, High is at a clear disadvantage compared to the other five candidates. No independent has won a Council seat in recent elections. James King ran as an independent in 1998, and won 34 percent of votes cast in the four-man race for two seats. He finished fourth, 140 votes behind Republican Michael Craifac. In 2000, independents Kevin Cox and Stratton Salidis earned 14 percent and 6 percent, respectively, of 5,220 votes cast.

Cox, who ran to oppose “the City’s long neglect of working class people who pay their own way, and public policy that treats renters as second-class citizens,” says he feels the other Council candidates ignored his ideas, in contrast to the voters.

“I think people took some satisfaction that there was a voice there,” says Cox.

High’s message to preserve green space may indeed resonate in neighborhoods that oppose Council plans to increase density and building heights. As a newcomer to politics, High can afford to ignore, for now, the fact that the City’s budget is demanding a wider real estate tax base.

All that will come later, says High, who adds he’s studying the issues and fine-tuning his platform. “Right now I’m just happy I had a chance to get on the ballot. It’s nice to be able to get involved on this level,” he says.—John Borgmeyer

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The South shall rise
Downtown goes modern with newest building projects

During contemplative moments, John Gibson looks up from his desk on the fourth floor of the City Center for Contemporary Art on the corner of Water and Second streets, and gazes out the window at the bricks of the Jefferson Theater’s fly loft. During the vaudeville days of the early 1900s, scenery backdrops arrived there by train, and workers loaded them into the pulley system via that strange door high in the back of the Jefferson.

“It’s meaningful for me,” says Gibson. “Two theaters, side by side. The first ‘theater alley’ in the history of this community.”

The two buildings couldn’t be more different. Built in 1901, the Jefferson Theater’s Ionic columns and rusticated brickwork reflect the Greek Revival architecture dominating much of Downtown Charlottesville. The City Center for Contemporary Art opened last year to a buzz of controversy over its unabashedly modern design and periwinkle/orange/ metallic color scheme. Some have clucked that the building doesn’t “fit in,” but Gibson loves the contrast.

“It shows that Charlottesville is not a monolithic uniculture,” he says. “Thomas Jefferson is an important influence, but not the only identity for this community.”

Gibson also sees meaning in the fact that the Jefferson Theater faces north, while the C3A, as the building is dubbed, faces south—toward the Friendship Court public housing block (formerly known as Garrett Square) and the warehouses lining the CSX tracks. “It’s like we’re opening up to the community,” Gibson says.

Indeed, the stylistic divide between North and South Downtown is ultimately a reflection of the social, economic and racial divides. “The cultural divide on Water Street is at least as strong as the stylistic,” says Jeff Bushman, who designed the C3A building. Gentrification, Bushman says, is intertwined with the stylistic changes afoot south of Water Street.

The C3A building represents a radical change for Downtown architecture, and its appearance heralds the increasing importance of Downtown’s south side. The area roughly bordered by E. Main, Avon and Ridge streets and Elliott Avenue is poised to become Charlottesville’s hip new district, where a modern, playful style of architecture will offer a contemporary counterpoint to the staid historicism in North Downtown. Along the way, the Mall’s “Jeffersonian” tradition will be redefined.

When Shannon Iaculli first walked into the Glass Building on Second Street S.E., she knew it would be the perfect home for the funky clothing store she hoped to open. The open ceiling in the refurbished warehouse reveals steel I-beams and shiny heating ducts, complemented by the cinderblock walls that Iaculli painted silver when she opened her store, Bittersweet, in the Glass Building more than two years ago.

“For what I wanted to sell, it made sense to be in a funkier, lofty industrial space,” Iaculli says. Her store sells retro clothes, cheeky t-shirts, trucker caps and other apparel with a vintage look and modern price tag. “I couldn’t get that on the Mall. Everything there had that ‘office’ look. Yuck.”

When Iaculli moved in, Charlottesville’s South Downtown was “like tumbleweeds,” she says. But since then, the area’s transformation into Charlottesville’s SoHo has picked up speed.

“I can’t think of a time when Downtown has been more exciting,” says developer Bill Dittmar. Naturally, he’s stoked—in January he and partner Hunter Craig began leasing apartments in Norcross Station at Fourth and Water streets. Dittmar and Craig renovated the 1924 grocery warehouse into 32 apartments, adding sleek steel kitchen appliances while retaining the building’s original old-growth pine beams and the maple floors that still bear scratches from handcarts. Next door to Norcross, Dittmar is putting up another 32-unit warehouse-style apartment building.

Norcross Station is one of several “adaptive reuse” projects coming to South Downtown, including Phil Wendell’s plan to move his ACAC fitness club into the Ivy Industries building on Monticello Avenue, and Gabe Silverman’s reoutfitting of the former Frank Ix & Sons textile factory (Silverman has three partners in that massive venture—Dittmar, Ludwig Kuttner and Allan Cadgene). On these sites, abandoned relics of Charlottesville’s bygone industrial age will be reintegrated into the urban fabric as homes, businesses and stores. Frank Stoner’s Belmont Lofts condo project on Graves Street is a brand-new construction, but the design reflects the hip warehouse look.

“We’re capturing feels from other urban areas, that Tribeca loft feeling,” Dittmar says. “We’re getting away from staid Jeffersonianism. That had it’s place. Where we have it, lets protect it then let’s make an urban statement.”

The epicenter for Jeffersonianism is North Downtown’s Court Square district. The 1781 Albemarle Courthouse, where future presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe each began his legal career, is a textbook example of the North Downtown style—the brick-and-column architectural motif that Monticello and the Rotunda popularized, to which Charlottesville seemed forever wedded.

Many of the buildings and homes in North Downtown display the brick facades and standing seam metal roofs that mark the Federal period. But the most relevant aspect of North Downtown architecture is its small scale, says Chad Freckmann, who has lived on Northwood Circle for five years with his wife Jacky Taylor and their three children.

“It’s very pedestrian friendly,” says Freckmann. “It allows residents to walk through the streets, to spend time in their yards and meet their neighbors. We’re able to access the Mall very easily on foot. It provides a great sense of community.”

Although many architectural styles have come and gone since the 19th century, Charlottesville has never lost its love for Jeffersonian architecture, writes UVA professor K. Edward Lay in his 2000 book Architecture of Jefferson Country. North Downtown is thus full of 20th-century buildings designed to look older.

The Palladian windows in the high-rise still known to some as the Monticello Hotel and located on the south side of Court Square, for example, are indeed very Monticello-esque. Built in the 1920s, that project demolished historic buildings and was greeted with great fanfare, Lay says.

“I think everyone was happy about it. Now attitudes have changed about history,” says Lay. “Some people still have the old attitude that progress is worth anything, but most people don’t anymore.”

Indeed, in the late ’80s and into the ’90s the City’s Board of Architectural Review (BAR) seemed so fiercely devoted to tradition that many developers complained the body wouldn’t approve a new building unless it was built with bricks and Palladian windows—consider, for example, the Queen Charlotte Square Apartments on High Street. More recently, developer Lee Danielson wrangled with the BAR over his company’s designs for the Charlottesville Ice Park and the Regal Cinema, complaining to C-VILLE at the time that if City planners didn’t “get out of his way,” he’d “never build in Charlottesville again.”

When the BAR approved the Bushman Dreyfus design for the C3A building in September 2001 by a margin of 6 to 2, it signaled that a change was underway—but it wasn’t painless. Some BAR members weren’t going gently into the realms of terne-coated stainless steel and purple-hued, ground-face concrete block.

“These decisions shouldn’t be seen as noncontroversial,” says Lynn Heetderks, vice-chair of the BAR, who describes herself as “probably the most traditional member” of the board.

“I favor buildings that use more traditional materials, and I’m sensitive to things that are more human in scale,” says Heetderks. “Some huge modernist buildings seem more evocative of machinery than people.”

Still, Heetderks says, the BAR’s membership increasingly favors modern designs. That change led to an unexpectedly warm reception recently for Danielson, the BAR’s onetime nemesis, when he returned to Charlottesville from California this fall announcing plans for a nine-storey boutique hotel on the Mall’s former Boxer Learning site. When he appeared before the BAR on December 16, chair Joan Fenton actually encouraged Danielson’s architects to experiment with the hotel’s design.

“We want you to be creative,” Fenton told Danielson. “Don’t design it a certain way because you’re afraid we won’t approve it otherwise.”

Mary Joy Scala, a City planner, says there’s a new theory abounding as to how modern buildings can fit into traditional surroundings. “New buildings take their cues from historic images,” Scala says. “They reinterpret designs of traditional decorative elements.”

For example, an important feature of historic design is articulation—tiny details that make a building more inviting. Plans for Danielson’s new hotel call for it to be built with a limestone base and bricks laid in an alternating “Flemish bond” style; the yoga studio in the old Grand Piano building incorporates transoms and sidelights to spruce up its orange façade. Even the C3A building borrows from traditional forms, Scala says. The modernist metal façade, in her interpretation, recalls the standing seam roofs of many North Downtown structures—sort of. “Maybe that’s a stretch,” she concedes.

“I think it’s delightful that someone would make those kinds of connections,” says Bushman.

In South Downtown, the City wants architects to play with the sleek warehouse forms, Scala says, and developers are willing to bet they can profit from a new generation of suburban refugees who demand stylish urban housing.

“We’ve got a lot of talented architects here, and the BAR wants them to use their talents,” says Scala.

“I think the reason those spaces are so popular is that they’re stark, streamlined, no-nonsense,” she says. “Young people are attracted to that type of architecture because it’s open and flexible, and it’s right Downtown where people want to be.”—John Borgmeyer

 

The write stuff
Can write-in votes resurrect Meredith Richards?

City Dems may not have seen the last of Meredith Richards. The two-term incumbent bowed out of the City Council race after her party dumped her from the Democratic ticket on February 7, and in her concession speech Richards said she would not run as an independent.

Days after the convention, flyers started to appear on local bulletin boards urging voters to “write in Meredith Richards.” Some flyers were stapled to an editorial photocopied from the February 10 edition of The Daily Progress, which lamented her ouster and floated the idea of a spontaneous “grass-roots write-in campaign.”

Richards says she hadn’t seen the flyers until C-VILLE asked her about them. “I’m not planning to mount an active campaign,” she says. “That would be hard for me to contemplate, because I’m a Democrat. Certainly I encourage people to support the Democratic ticket.”

Even so, Richards is not exactly discouraging people from writing her in on election day, May 4. The petitions, she says, are coming from “people who are angry at the party, who just can’t understand how the party could do this.

“I’m not taking a position on it one way or the other,” she says.

Dem chair Lloyd Snook says party rules forbid Richards—who serves on the Democratic finance committee—from approving a write-in campaign. Richards signed the party’s pre-convention pledge promising not to support any candidates opposing Democrats. But she points out that the pledge has been violated “repeatedly,” most recently in 2000, when some Democrats formed a group to support Republican John Pfaltz for Council that year. Besides, says Richards, the pledge only “refers to an intention you have when you come to the [nominating] convention.

“I tried to run as a Democrat, and they turned their backs on me,” she says.

City registrar Sheri Iachetta says there hasn’t been a successful write-in campaign in recent Charlottesville history. But that doesn’t mean it’s without local precedent. In 1993 Sally Thomas staged a last-minute write-in campaign and upset Carter Myers for the Samuel Miller district seat on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors. Incumbent Ed Bain dropped out of the race seven weeks before the election, leaving too little time to add new names to the ballot. Thomas says she was “the only one foolhardy enough” to run as a write-in.

Thomas’ campaign was handicapped because write-in candidates can’t buy voter registration lists as other candidates can, making it difficult to send out direct mailings (still, write-in candidates must follow the same fundraising reporting rules as other candidates).

Many saw Thomas’ victory as a referendum on the Western Bypass, which she opposed. Could Richards’ support for the Meadowcreek Parkway, which cost her the nomination, similarly energize write-in voters? Richards predicts the write-in buzz will dwindle with the anger over her loss at the party convention.

Iachetta isn’t so sure. “In the past 10 days, we’ve received numerous phone calls on how to write in names. More than normal,” she says. “I’m not making any interpretations. I’m just saying it’s been interesting.”

Criminal past passed?

The Daily Progress on Monday, February 23, reported Republican candidate Kenneth Jackson’s admission that he had been convicted of assault and battery four times, and that three of those incidents involved him wielding a knife.

According to the story, the first incident happened in 1985, when Jackson was 18. Then, in 1990, he was convicted for misdemeanor assault on a police officer.

Records in Charlottesville District Court show Jackson was arrested for felony assault in 1993 after a fight in a restaurant kitchen with Charles Sands—who was arrested for misdemeanor assault in that incident.

The Progress reports that Jackson’s last arrest occurred when he stabbed a man in Richmond—also a felony—in 1994. According to Richmond General District Court records, however, the incident happened in 1995, when Jackson was 28.

“I’m not very good with dates,” says Jackson. The 1993 charge was dropped and in 1995 Jackson pled guilty to a misdemeanor.

Republican party chair Bob Hodous tells C-VILLE Jackson acknowledged “some run-ins with the law” when the two first met. When Jackson came forward as a candidate, Hodous says he didn’t ask for details about his past.

“That stuff was in the early part of his life. He’s turned himself around,” says Hodous, although he could not give specifics about the turnaround.

Jackson, who stresses public safety in his campaign, says he’s “learned” from the experiences. “It helped me see I was too intelligent to be getting in this kind of trouble. Situations still arise that could become violent, but I’ve learned to walk away from them.”

As for the other Council candidates, C-VILLE finds that Democratic incumbent and cycling advocate Kevin Lynch has two driving convictions—one for improper driving and one for failure to obey a highway sign. Democrat Kendra Hamilton also had a bit of driving trouble—two parking tickets and a speeding ticket. David Brown has three speeding tickets. Ann Reinicke has a spotless record, according to Charlottesville and Albemarle general district courts.—John Borgmeyer

 

Company man
UVA professor wrote the script for indie drama troupe Offstage

If you’re an aspiring playwright living in Central Virginia, you probably know Doug Grissom. If not, you should. Having written dozens of plays and worked with countless would-be Mamets and Wassersteins as a professor in UVA’s Drama Department, head of the Southeastern Theater Conference’s playwriting division and co-founder of Offstage Theatre, he knows a good script when he reads one.

“I kind of backed into it,” Grissom says of his career in theater. He had planned to study journalism, but got bitten by the stage bug instead. After earning degrees at the University of Tennessee and Brandeis University, he joined the UVA faculty in 1986.

In 1989 he attended a theater conference in Richmond with two playwright friends, Tom Coash and Mark Serrill. While the three waited in a bar for a producer who never showed, an idea took hold among them. After a healthy amount of drinking, they decided to start their own theater company using “found spaces” around town. Voila! Offstage Theatre was born, and a few months later, Chug, its first production, took the “stage” at Miller’s.

Since then Offstage has found homes in bars like Orbit and Rapture for the popular Barhoppers series (plays about bars set in bars) and more abstract locations like studio apartments or in front of the Paramount Theater. Last week Offstage concluded a run of Pvt. Wars at R2, the disco at the rear of Rapture.

Grissom, who remains an Offstage board member, is proud—if a little surprised—at the group’s success. “We’ve been able to go out and take audiences into non-theater locations and open their ideas of where theater can happen,” he says.

More than that, however, he’s proud of Offstage’s success in producing new works by local authors.

“We have to have produced more original works than anybody else in Virginia,” he says. “Most of them, granted, are small 15-minute plays. But still, if we do a list of new plays we’ve premiered, there are few other theaters that have done as much as we have.”

The opportunity to stage work, and Grissom’s mentorship specifically, have been a boon for countless local playwrights. One is C-VILLE theater critic Joel Jones, who, at the urging of several of Offstage’s members, began writing with no professional training. Since then, several of his works have been produced by Offstage locally and in New York.

“My favorite thing Doug ever said to me was after my third play,” Jones says. “Like most beginners I was addicted to blackouts. So Doug was criticizing me for using blackouts at the end of every play, and I was whiningand Doug said, dryly, ‘End the fucking play, Joel. Just end the fucking play.’”

Grissom keeps busy with his own work, singling out as highlights his collaborations with the Sexual Assault Resource Agency, Because I Said No and I Never Saw it Coming. Both plays toured widely, and “I know they had such a profound impact for the people I wrote them for,” he says. Next up, look for a piece tentatively titled Elvis People, which he workshopped last fall with Offstage.—Eric Rezsnyak

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“My way or the highway”
State pols try to force unwanted Western Bypass on stubborn City Council

The first order of business for Council on Tuesday, February 17, was to appropriate about $550,000 that flowed into the City from Commonwealth and Federal coffers. The money was granted for police equipment, walking trails and financial aid for low-income families. While Council was counting its blessings from the Commonwealth, however, Richmond was putting on the heat in other areas.

Just three days earlier, the Virginia Senate had passed a bill demanding that the State build the U.S. 29 Western Bypass around Charlottesville, regardless of opposition from local transportation planners. Leaders from Lynchburg and Danville have long demanded the bypass, but strong local opposition and money troubles at the Virginia Department of Transportation have stalled the project.

A great deal of Charlottesville’s fate is bound to the will of bureaucrats and legislators in Richmond and Washington, D.C., who have the power to infuse local schools, police and social services with extra funds as well as the muscle to push local officials around. The relationship with the higher rings of government is crucial for Charlottesville’s prosperity, and that relationship will change soon, when at least two new people join City Council in July.

“It’s quite important to know the State process in terms of funding—to have some connections and people you can talk to in various agencies,” says Harrison Rue, president of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. “Any official needs to do their homework and learn the system to be effective.” Rue’s group oversees regional planning initiatives.

Meredith Richards has a high rank in the Virginia Transit Association, is a member of the Metropolitan Planning Association (MPO), the Virginia E-Communities Task Force, and a policy committee established by the Virginia Municipal League. She likely knows more about playing nice with the higher-ups than her fellow Councilors, but earlier this month her bid for a third term was quelled as Democrats elected two first-time politicians—Kendra Hamilton and David Brown—to share the May ticket with incumbent Kevin Lynch. Republicans also put up two new faces—Kenneth Jackson and Anne Reinicke—to run for two of the three open seats. The preponderance of newcomers means the next Council will have at least two new members who, like many rookies before them, will surely be too busy learning about local politics to handle the intricacies of State and Federal affairs.

Negotiating the State system will fall to the veteran Councilors—Blake Caravati, Rob Schilling and perhaps Lynch. Schilling, a four-year City resident, still seems to be learning how things work in Charlottesville. Caravati’s resumé includes stints on the Planning Commission and the Housing Authority board, but he’s probably more familiar with the streets of Charlottesville sister city Besancon, France, than the General Assembly in Richmond. As chair of the MPO, a regional transportation body, Lynch knows how Federal and State money trickles down to localities. Should he win reelection, however, Lynch is favored to be the next mayor, a job that leaves little time for searching out Federal grants or bickering with VDOT.

Council’s change in State and Federal expertise will come at a time when outside hostility to the region seems on the rise. At press time, the U.S. 29 bill, sponsored by Lynchburg Sen. Stephen Newman, was awaiting its fate in the House of Delegates. Even if Newman’s bill fails, it reveals impatience with this region’s local government, to which some local politicians are sensitive.

In November, Albemarle voters elected two new supervisors—Ken Boyd and David Wyant—who seem more likely than previous supervisors to play ball with VDOT on the bypass.

“I don’t like the idea of the State coming in here and telling us what to do with local matters,” says Boyd. But, he adds, “I think we need a bypass in our county. We need to get that on the fast track.” The State, Boyd says, “thinks we’re a bottleneck.”

The rest of Virginia seems to view Charlottesville as a place where plans grind to a halt. Surely the 36-year-old Meadowcreek Parkway saga reinforces those opinions, and the City is feeling tremendous pressure from VDOT and the County to build that long-delayed road.

But while Albemarle County is cozying up to the State, City Council is moving in the opposite direction. The Dems ousted Richards largely because of her aggressive pursuit of the Meadowcreek Parkway. (Lynch opposes the road. Hamilton says it’s “not on her radar screen,” while Brown says he will support the Parkway only when cash-strapped VDOT can afford to build an interchange for it at the Route 250/Ridge-McIntire intersection.)

Butch Davies, the local representative to the State’s Commonwealth Transportation Board, says Richmond is getting fed up with Council’s delays.

“Local needs indicate the road ought to be built,” says Davies. “The people who are applying the brakes now create a real problem.”

Davies does not support Newman’s bill to build the Western Bypass, but he sees it as the result of “deep-seated resentment” that’s building against the region. The City should take the bill as a warning, he says. The public transportation projects the Democrats want to initiate in Charlottesville, such as a bus rapid transit system, will require County participation and extensive cooperation from the Feds and Richmond, as well. Those entities may not be inclined to deal with Charlottesville if they feel Council won’t return the favor.

Davies warns that Charlottesville’s stubbornness may cause VDOT to restore its “iron fist” approach to local transportation issues.

“When you focus solely on your own objectives and you ignore the political realities around you,” says Davies, “things happen that you cannot control.”—John Borgmeyer

 

Indy bandwidth
Cvilleindymedia.org publishes all the news you won’t see on CNN

Media mergers and the oft-cited charge that cable TV and other news sources beat the drum for war in Iraq have fueled a growing belief that the media have become shills for corporate America.

Though CNN has yet to answer these complaints with a “think you can do better?” taunt, a group of local activists has attempted to do exactly that.

In an effort to fill a perceived void in news coverage, the group has created www.cvilleindymedia.org, which will officially kick off on Tuesday, February 24, at a launch party at the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar. The site is part of a network called the Independent Media Center, an international collection of at least 130 sites, all of which encourage people to “be the media” by posting their own reporting.

“It’s a source for information that I don’t think [Charlottesville residents] are going to find anywhere else,” says Alexis Zeigler, a founder and driving force behind cvilleindymedia.

Though Zeigler says he hopes the site will get the scoop on local news, he says the worst hole in media coverage is on foreign policy or big-ticket environmental issues.

“The tone gets set in the mainstream media by corporate America,” Zeigler says, adding that coverage of the war in Iraq is usually “patriotic bullshit.”

Following the method of “open publishing,” cvilleindymedia posts the thoughts of any contributor, as long as the submissions are not blatantly racist or intended to undermine the site, according to Zeigler.

“Basically, people are free to post,” Zeigler says. “We haven’t taken anything down yet.”

The site went through an upgrade on February 10. That same day, a posting on the site drew international attention, not all of it welcome. The post, which was an announcement of the recent Earth Liberation Front attack on equipment and vehicles at the Hollymead Town Center construction site, beat local media to the story by a day.

“It hit the global site immediately,” Zeigler says of news of the local ELF attack, which he says he does not support. “That’s not exactly what I had in mindIt just puts a shadow over us all.”

The most disconcerting part of that shadow is possible scrutiny by Federal law enforcement, Zeigler says. The Federal Bureau of Investigations is handling the ELF attack.

“It just makes me nervous,” Zeigler says of the investigation, adding that he fears possible suppression of the new website by law enforcement.

So far the Feds have yet to touch cvilleindymedia, which is currently posting several stories and event listings each day. At the Tuesday launch party, the new site will celebrate its link to the global network. Zeigler says the international group “didn’t bat an eye” at the Charlottesville organization’s proposal to join the network.

Zeigler says the ultimate goal of the local news venture is to engage residents through several different mediums, including radio. And to join the group’s leadership, people need only come to its biweekly meetings.

“Whoever walks through the door becomes part of the consensus,” Zeigler says.—Paul Fain

 

Is race an issue in the race?
Yes, though candidates say it shouldn’t be the only issue

There are two African-American candidates for City Council in this year’s election. And though both Republican Kenneth Jackson and Democrat Kendra Hamilton say their priorities as Councilors would extend far beyond issues of race, the topic will likely surface during the campaign season.

There has been a black Democratic voice on Council for all but two of the last 34 years—always a Democrat. And maintaining this representation is clearly important to many people in Charlottesville, which is 22 percent African-American, including Mayor Maurice Cox, who sought a black candidate among Democrats prior to deciding to bow out of this year’s race, as previously reported in C-VILLE.

The May 4 election won’t be the first time two black candidates have vied for seats on Council. The most recent occurrence was 20 years ago, when two parties fielded African-American candidates. However, the second black candidate, Margaret Cain, who joined Democratic incumbent Rev. E.G. Hall in the 1984 election, belonged to the liberal Citizens Party.

A law student at UVA, Cain failed in her bid for Council, drawing 1,713 votes. Her tally prompted some Democrats to hold her responsible for the failed reelection bid of John Conover, a Democrat who lost to upstart Republican Lindsay Barnes by only 22 votes. Democrats charged that Cain pulled black voters and female voters away from their candidates. Think Ralph Nader in the last Presidential election.

David Toscano, who would later serve as a Democratic City Councilor and mayor, ran Cain’s campaign. Toscano disputes the claim that Cain’s candidacy tanked Conover’s reelection bid.

“I don’t think there was block voting based on race in that election,” Toscano says of the possibility that black voters may have voted for both Hall and Cain back in ’84. Furthermore, Toscano thinks a similar block vote by blacks for the current black candidates in May’s election is unlikely. “I just don’t see it happening,” Toscano says.

The spoiler tag wasn’t the only beef Democrats had with the Cain campaign. Prior to the election, a mysterious flier supporting Cain appeared in primarily black neighborhoods. The flier included a picture of Rev. Jesse Jackson with Cain, and touted a Jackson endorsement, which said, “Sunshine or rain vote for Cain.”

Rev. Jackson had never officially endorsed Cain, and Cain’s campaign said it hadn’t distributed the flier.

“That created quite a flap,” Toscano says of the “infamous” flier, which he says was “never authorized” by the Cain campaign.

Controversy has revisited Cain, and this time, authorities say she had something to do with it. Cain, a lawyer in Charlottesville since the ’80s, had her law license revoked in November by the Virginia State Bar over allegations that she settled a client’s personal injury claim and then deposited the check into her own account. According to the Bar, Cain never notified her client about the judgment. Cain was indicted on Tuesday, February 18, by a grand jury on fraud charges in Charlottesville’s Circuit Court.

 

“Not a black candidate”

Republican candidate Kenneth Jackson says his campaign isn’t about representing a certain race. Instead, Jackson says, he intends to give voice to a class, specifically working, lower-income people.

“Really, I never looked at it on a black or white basis,” Jackson says of his candidacy.

“I’m one of those average, working class people who’s trying to make ends meet,” says Jackson, who is disabled and only able to work part-time. Jackson was a Democrat until two years ago, and attributes his party shift to Republican Rob Schilling, whom he says “asks common-sense questions” in the role of Councilor.

Though she says she cares about the concerns of black residents, Democratic candidate Kendra Hamilton stresses that her goal is to listen to the concerns of the broader community and to represent people who support her positions on issues such as the achievement gap, community-police relations and housing affordability.

“These are not black issues—they’re community issues,” Hamilton says via e-mail (due to illness, she was unable to speak on the phone). “In an at-large system you have to be accessible and listen to all the voices.”

Corey Carter, the editor of Reflector, a local newspaper aimed at African-Americans, says having black candidates from both parties means more diverse viewpoints in the election. “That’s a good thing. Not just for the African-American community, but for the community on the whole.”

Jackson and Hamilton’s statements on race are reminiscent of those made by Charles Barbour, the first African-American elected to City Council in modern times. Barbour, who still lives in Charlottesville, was elected in 1970, served two terms and was also mayor. According to The Daily Progress, upon accepting his candidacy in April 1970, Barbour said, “I’m not a black candidate. I’m one of two Democrats running to represent all people.”—Paul Fain

 

Gay rights clears another hurdle
Assembly passes domestic partner

insurance reformVirginia’s gay rights advocates had something to cheer about on February 16, just two days after www.dontgivetouva.com officially kicked off its campaign for gay partner benefits at UVA. The victory was a 50-49 vote by the State House of Delegates to allow private employers to offer health insurance to partners of gay employees.

The General Assembly is hardly cozy with gay rights groups, having reinforced the existing State ban on gay marriage only a week prior to the health insurance vote. However, the change in direction from Richmond seems unlikely to provoke a shift from UVA, which, as a State agency, is not directly affected by the vote.

Victoria Cobb, director of legislative affairs for the Family Foundation, says the Delegates’ vote for partner benefits so soon after the marriage ban is “at best contradictory and at worst disingenuous.”

But according to David Lampo, the vice-president of the Log Cabin Republicans of Virginia, a gay rights organization, the key to the insurance bill’s passage was that it dealt with the decisions of private Virginia companies to pay for health insurance. Several corporations, including credit card giant Capital One, publicly supported the measure.

As a result, Lampo says, lawmakers were able to look at the bill “through the eyes of free-market Republicans,” instead of “through the eyes of homophobia.”

Cobb, whose organization strongly opposes the bill, concedes that its passage is a “large step forward for those advancing a homosexual-rights agenda.” Cobb rejects the argument by the bill’s proponents that health benefits for gay partners is primarily a free-market issue, claiming that governments regulate many business practices. For instance, she cites child labor laws, and adds “protecting marriage is on that level.”

The State Senate is set to consider the bill in the next two weeks and Lampo says he’s “cautiously optimistic” that the bill will pass.

But even if gay partner benefits clear the Senate, the bill will not remove legal impediments for State agencies such as UVA to offer domestic partner benefits to employees. And according to Lampo, changing the rules for State agencies on partner benefits would be far more challenging than for private companies. He says opponents will come down hard on any effort to allow an institution that receives taxpayer money to give benefits to gay partners.

“That’s going to be a much tougher road to go down,” Lampo says. —Paul Fain

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Benefits struggle begins again
“Insure our families,” say gay UVA staff

When Ellen Bass, an assistant professor in the department of systems and information engineering at UVA, came to the University two years ago, she knew she and her lesbian partner would have problems with the school’s stance on domestic partner benefits.

“I knew I was going to fight this battle,” Bass says. “I didn’t realize it was going to come to a head so quickly.”

The new publicity over UVA’s long refusal to offer domestic partner benefits, which also came to a head when professors challenged the University on benefits more than a decade ago, was stoked by a website created by two 2003 UVA graduates. The site—www.dontgivetouva.com recently went live in its request for alumni donations to fund health benefits for partners of gay UVA employees.

Currently, domestic partners of UVA employees do not receive health insurance or other perqs like the use of gym facilities. And because of Virginia’s strict laws against second-parent adoption, many children of gay couples do not qualify for benefits.

UVA spokesperson Carol Wood says, via e-mail, that the school will be studying the benefits issue “for some time.” In the meantime, Wood says that as UVA is a State agency it must follow Virginia laws, which deem that only married couples qualify for partner benefits. Further, she says, the State has ruled that benefits are “a matter of State law rather than of University policy.” (UVA tabled its efforts to gain more autonomy from the State during the current legislative session.)

The new website’s co-founder, Andrew Borchini, wrote his senior thesis on the domestic partner benefit issue at UVA. Borchini says UVA is losing professors and students to schools that offer benefits, such as the University of Michigan and many others.

“It’s not just a gay thing, it’s a good business decision,” says Dyana Mason, the executive director of gay-rights advocacy group Equality Virginia, of partner benefits.

Borchini and Mason’s claims may prove true in the case of Jenny O’Flaherty, a doctor and associate professor of anesthesiology and pediatrics at UVA Health System. O’Flaherty’s partner and three children do not qualify for benefits at UVA. Purchasing health insurance for the kids imposed a substantial financial drain on the family. Recently, O’Flaherty and her family left for New Zealand, where she is currently on sabbatical.

“One of the reasons we’re in New Zealand is that we were so fed up with the way UVA was treating our family,” O’Flaherty says via e-mail. “We felt we needed to take a break from the place.”

In Bass’ case, she says she chose working at UVA over the University of Michigan because of location and quality of life. Bass says her partner, a social worker, was “really mad” when she learned that she would not qualify for benefits. For several months, the couple had to pay for health insurance for their son, because Bass is “the non-biological co-parent, as we like to call ourselves.

“You hate to choose your job based on the benefits,” Bass says, adding that she shouldn’t have to waste energy on the issue. “I should be worrying about mentoring my students.”

Many Virginia employers that are chartered in other states can and do offer domestic partner benefits. For example, Gary Campbell, the human resources manager at Lexis Publishing, which employs 500 people in Charlottesville, says the company has offered domestic partner benefits for about three years.

In addition, Washington and Lee University and Hollins University, both private Virginia schools, offer benefits to same-sex couples, according to the Human Rights Commission. As does Capital One, a credit card company based in Richmond.

“We believed it was the right thing to do,” says Hamilton Halloway, a spokesman for the company.

Prominent UVA psychology professor Charlotte Patterson and her partner, Deborah Cohn, aren’t buying the school’s excuse that the State has shut the door on domestic partner benefits. Patterson and Cohn, who have three children, both say that UVA, which employs more than 11,000 full-time staff and faculty, has made progress in the equal treatment of gays, but that it is falling behind other elite universities on the benefits issue.

“We’ve been hearing it for 20 years,” Patterson says of UVA’s naysaying on benefits. “I don’t think anybody wants to see UVA become a dinosaur.”—Paul Fain

 

Meter made
Website Poetry Daily nears a decade of posting verse for the masses

Breaking news: Poetry lives. And so does its audience. Charlottesville too has people snapping their fingers, and “hmmming” to last lines in reading rooms. And Poetry Daily, www.poems.com, the brainchild of Charlottesville residents Don Selby, Diane Boller and Rob Anderson, and self-described as “the world’s most popular poetry website,” points to the existence of those who even like to read the stuff.

Every day since it began in 1997 the website has posted news and a poem a day. Visitors range from military men on research boats in Antarctica to former heavy machine operators logging on from the couches of unemployment in North Dakota, according to a self-conducted survey.

In 1995, Boller and Selby, neither of whom writes poetry, were investigating Web technology for Lexis, the law publishing company where they were working. Behind The Federal Rules of Evidence Manual in Boller’s office, Selby caught a glimpse of a volume of poems by W.S. Merwin. It was fate. Within two years, postings like “Old Man Leaves Party,” by Mark Strand, from Blizzard of One, were appearing on their homepage.

Today, Poetry Daily verges on legendary in certain circles. In 2003, the site got 13.7 million page views and it’s on pace to repeat that volume this year with 1.2 million page views during January. For local furniture maker and poet John Casteen (who shares a name with his better-known father, who runs a certain local university), the website serves him in his roles as both reader and poet. “As a reader it’s a real pleasure to get a daily digest that presents a broad cross-section of contemporary poetry. I use it to keep an eye on individual poets, literary presses and literary journals,” he says.

“As a poet, it gives you an audience roughly 10 times as large as the press run for a first book, which is invaluable if you want people to read your work.”

While it’s a popular site, Selby and Boller aren’t about to dumb-down poetry to suit the masses. The aim is to represent contemporary poetry, plain and simple. “If we hear the bells go off in a poem it goes on [the website],” says Selby. Since the poems are selected from magazines and review copies, Selby and Boller work primarily with publishers for blanket permissions, so they don’t have to pursue copyright permissions each time they want to post a poem.

Last November, the editors and their associates—including co-editor Chryss Yost (who lives in California) and poets Rita Dove and Dana Gioia—released a book, Poetry Daily: 366 Poems from the World’s Most Popular Poetry Website, an anthology of website poems. The poets included run from Wislawa Szymborska to Mark Doty—an illuminating overview of contemporary poetry.

In an oft-quoted essay about poetry, Gioia once promised, “If poets venture outside their confined world, they can work to make [poetry] essential once more.” That pledge underpins Poetry Daily.

“There’s a general audience for literature and fiction,” says Boller. “And we believe that there’s a general audience for poetry and that poetry can be a part of everybody’s life. It’s not just a forum reserved for poets and academics. All literate people can enjoy it.”—Nell Boeschenstein

Camera shy
ACAC bans camera cell phones for privacy’s sake

Citing concerns about the more than 6 million camera cell phones that Americans are now toting, local fitness giant Atlantic Coast Athletic Club recently decided to ban cell phones in the locker rooms of their two locations. Members have thanked ACAC employees for the move, says Hunter Schwartz, ACAC’s director of fitness and wellness. But that’s not because members are grateful to be free of the worry that photos of them in various states of undress will wind up on the Internet. No, most members have said they’re thankful they won’t have to listen to loud cell phone monologues in the locker room anymore, Schwartz says.

The spreading trend of camera phones might not be a big privacy concern in Charlottesville, but the phones have sparked the interest of companies, government agencies and lawmakers in several states. For some, such as automakers in Detroit or the U.S. Air Force, the phones have been banned in restricted areas.

In the case of ACAC and many health clubs around the country, the phones are a problem because of the discreet ease with which a photo can be snapped and then sent to other phones, or even instantly uploaded to a website.

“Most clubs are trending toward” banning cell phones in locker rooms, Schwartz says.

There are legitimate uses for the camera phones, which were first introduced in the United States in late 2002. In addition to snapping and sharing a photo with a friend, camera phones can be used as memory tools, to document accidents, or to help people ask for directions, according to tech guru Alan Reiter, president of Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing, a consulting firm based in Maryland.

The phones have even spawned a new form of blogging—the popular practice of posting musings on the Internet. Called moblogs, the Web sites are produced by Text America, Buzznet and other companies, and work by allowing subscribers to quickly post their pictures on a personalized site.

Though Reiter admits that privacy and security concerns with camera phones are “not to be dismissed,” he says the backlash is “overblown.” Reiter says far smaller, more sophisticated cameras are better tools for industrial espionage or other forms of nosy photography. But with camera phones set to triple the resolution of their photographic capacity in the next year, Reiter says the phones are hardly just a novelty.

“They’re going to explode,” he says. “We have not seen anything yet.”

Ethan Sutin, a 23-year-old research assistant at UVA, bought a Sprint camera phone about four months ago. He says the camera phone was initially a fun way to keep in touch with his sister, who lives in California.

“I never really had any nefarious purposes in mind when I got it,” Sutin says. However, the novelty of the phone quickly faded for him. “I didn’t get that much of a thrill out of it,” he says. —Paul Fain

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And then there were three…
Dems oust Richards for new faces

Meredith Richards believes that a referendum to build the Meadowcreek Parkway would pass in Charlottesville, but on Saturday, February 7, the only votes that counted belonged to the 530 people who showed up for the Democrats’ nominating convention for May’s City Council election.

“It’s a shame that it came down to a single issue, but that’s what happened,” Richards said moments after party chair Lloyd Snook announced that David Brown, Kendra Hamilton and Kevin Lynch had beaten her for three positions on the Dems’ May 4 ballot, effectively writing the ending to her eight-year term on Council.

Hamilton won with 429 votes. Incumbent Lynch took 341, and David Brown beat out Richards 322 to 300 for the third position on the Democratic ticket. It will be the first political campaign for both Hamilton, president of the Rose Hill Neighborhood Association, and Brown, a chiropractor, youth soccer coach and former party chair.

That the Dems chose to oust the two-term incumbent Richards in favor of newcomers reflects just how seriously the party faithful opposes the Meadowcreek Parkway, which Richards wants to build. On the other big-deal Dem issues—affordable housing, public transportation, social activism and environmental policy—Richards sounded all the right notes. She shucked her party only on the controversial road, which for local Dems has come to symbolize the City’s battle with the County for middle-class homebuyers.

“It’s not just a single issue,” explained Mary MacNeil, an outspoken Parkway opponent. “The Parkway is about who’s going to live in Charlottesville, who’s going to pay the taxes,” she said. The City should be coaxing the middle class into Charlottesville, MacNeil says, so why should Council approve a road that sends more of them into Albemarle? “What does it do for the City? Zilch!” she declared.

At press time, only Republican Kenneth Jackson, a Parkway supporter, had unofficially declared his candidacy (the Republicans’ nominating meeting was to take place during the evening on Monday, February 9). Jackson, a restaurant worker, says he will attack the Democrats for wasteful spending. “We have schools in disrepair,” Jackson says. “We need to spend our money on necessities.” On the Parkway, Jackson says it’s time to start construction.

 

Richards knew her stance on the Parkway would cause hard feelings within her party. Before the convention, she presented a Parkway referendum as democracy in action. “I want to let the people decide,” she said at a candidates’ forum on February 5. Fellow Councilor Lynch argued on that occasion that he didn’t want the issue to be decided by a California-style “battle of sound bites.”

Richards’ line played well on WINA, which advanced the notion that Richards was the only Democrat who would “allow the people to choose,” but Richards knew that outside AM radio-land she was in trouble with the party. At the February 5 forum, Richards backed away from a plan to ease VDOT land for the Parkway.

“It’s been misreported that we would vote for an easement,” she said. “That’s not the case. I want to have a public discussion about it.”

The conflict provided the only interesting debate during that night’s two-hour event, moderated by Virginia Organizing Project Director Joe Szakos. About 30 people braved freezing rain to meet in City Hall, where Szakos gave each party hopeful two minutes to answer audience questions.

Though the forum’s theme was ecology and social justice, no one asked any questions about water.

The Democrats would rather not talk about the water supply, says Jock Yellott, a Republican who attended the forum and who says he might consider a run at Council as an Independent. “They’d rather not remind us that 30 years of irresponsible Democratic rule has left us vulnerable, and we remain so,” Yellot said via e-mail. “Next drought we’ll be flushing our toilets with bottled water again.”

Instead, the questions allowed the candidates to wax philosophical: What is the best way to achieve social justice? How will you protect citizens from the PATRIOT Act?

“Let’s do something about gentrification in our traditionally African-American neighborhoods,” Hamilton said, in response to a question about racism and classism. A Ph.D. student in English, Hamilton’s eloquent speeches about a diverse City “dreaming the same dream together” helped win her the nomination on Saturday. As a newcomer to politics, however, Hamilton has yet to face the paradox that confronts every Democratic activist who would sit on Council—the party values social programs, but the City must court a middle-class tax base to pay the bills. As City leaders, Councilors encourage gentrification. But in the company of fellow Democrats, they can’t be too enthusiastic about it.

 

“It takes one term to make you a Councilor, two terms makes you a leader,” outgoing Mayor Maurice Cox said on February 7, to the cheers of Democrats who packed the Albemarle County Office Building auditorium for the convention. As he spoke, he was endorsing Kevin Lynch, but he could have been talking about Richards, too.

Regardless of Charlottesville leaders’ attitudes toward sprawl-favoring County pols, the City can’t pursue its interests without the cooperation of the County and the State. In ousting Richards, the Dems lose a politician with expertise outside the City limits. Cox personally courted Hamilton to oppose the Parkway, and her nomination now means that this summer Council will gain at least two rookies. And who knows? Maybe the Parkway will prove to be as popular as Richards thinks, and Republicans will ride the road to a Council seat.—John Borgmeyer

 

Progress returns to pooch patrol
Daily paper all worked up over old issue

Controversy has heated up around a dog lab at the UVA School of Medicine in which students practice surgical techniques on dogs that are later euthanized. Animal welfare activists held a protest in front of Jordan Hall and later met with the Dean of the School of Medicine, who refused to shutter the lab.

That was more than 15 years ago.

Now the dog lab flap has been resurrected. A new group called the Citizens for Humane Medicine is taking it on. And this time, leaders of the campaign have succeeded in saving the dogs’ lives—for now.

Key to the campaign’s success has been local media coverage. The Daily Progress has led the charge with at least three news articles and an editorial denouncing the lab. However, the DP made no mention of previous debates over the pooch lab.

“We had a lot of coverage back there, 15 years ago,” says Susan Wiedman of the Jordan Hall protest in which she participated.

The difference with the current campaign, say Wiedman and Marianne Roberts, a co-founder of the Citizens for Humane Medicine, is the leadership of Rooshin Dalal, a fifth-year M.D., Ph.D. student at UVA, and the fact that since the mid-’80s many medical schools have moved away from using dog labs.

“I think the time was not right,” says Roberts of previous efforts to shut down the lab.

Supporters of the dog lab surely will be disappointed by the February 4 announcement from the medical school suspending the lab “until after the review has been completed.” Troy Mohler, a UVA medical student, who was enrolled in the optional lab a month ago, says working with live tissue is invaluable. Of the 30 students in his class only three opted out of the dog lab, Mohler says.

“I think it’s a great lab. I learned a lot,” he says.

The supposed shift by medical schools away from dog labs was highlighted at a forum at UVA just more than a year ago. Arranged by Dalal, the forum sparked several editorials in the Cavalier Daily. The Daily Progress, however, failed to cite the debate’s long tenure on campus in its recent articles.

The keynote speaker at least year’s forum was Neal D. Barnard, M.D., the president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine—a group that opposes live animal labs. Barnard’s group argues that only 18 percent of the approximately 125 medical schools in the country use live animals to train students. This claim has been central in the current donnybrook over the UVA lab and features prominently in DP coverage. And though the survey was conducted by the PCRM, hardly the most unbiased of sources on animal labs, it appears to be mostly validated by other research. For example, a 2002 USA Today article cited an academic survey that found only 30 percent of medical schools still offer live animal labs.

Dalal says that instead of cutting into dogs, the common standard these days is for medical schools to use more “human-based models” such as high-tech dummies or cadavers.

Besides the PCRM, Dalal and his group now have allies among other national organizations, including the Humane Society and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). But although the local campaign has widely distributed the group’s e-mail alerts, they did not actively seek the high-powered support of them or other national activist groups.

“I have not spoken to PETA once,” Roberts says. “I guess The Daily Progress contacted them.”

PETA’s controversial tactics, such as putting naked women in cages to protest the circus, have been known to provoke backlashes. Though Dalal says he appreciates the support of groups like PETA, he admits he’s concerned that the group “won’t get the full facts” in its Web material or elsewhere. Indeed, PETA’s action alert drastically overstates the number of dogs put to death by UVA each year, which officials say is fewer than 100. —Paul Fain

 

Creative differences
Local screenwriter leads Hollywood types
against the FCC

With almost a decade in Tinseltown and nine television movies under his belt, screenwriter Jonathan Rintels knows a bit about Hollywood. But as a lawyer who has practiced in Washington, D.C.—and also worked as a cab driver there—the Keswick resident also knows his way around the nation’s capital.

Armed with this bicoastal experience, Rintels came to believe that Federal regulators are doing little to stem the snowballing growth of media conglomerates. Furthermore, the homogenized content controlled by these companies means less work for writers.

“The things that were happening in Washington were having an obvious negative impact on creative writers,” Rintels says. “All these issues were having a hell of a lot more impact on my destiny than what was going on in L.A.”

In the fall of 2002, Rintels decided to actively combat the big media trend by forming a nonprofit advocacy group comprising Hollywood writers, producers, actors and directors.

The group, originally called the Center for the Creative Community, first hit the scene during the hubbub prior to the Federal Communications Commission‘s decision last June to loosen the rules on how many television and radio affiliates a media company can own in each media market. That ruling sparked a massive backlash, with an estimated 2 million complaints deluging the Beltway agency.

In the last year, Rintels has put together a board of directors with several Hollywood heavy-hitters—including Warren Beatty, Fay Wray and director Blake Edwards—and recently changed the name of his organization to the Center for Creative Voices in Media. Rintels, a UVA Law School graduate, has represented the group on National Public Radio, C-SPAN and at an FCC hearing in Richmond.

Besides Rintels, other Charlottesville luminaries occupy positions on the board of the upstart Hollywood group, among them Sissy Spacek and filmmaker Paul Wagner, who won an Oscar for a 1984 documentary. Wagner says he has “libertarian leanings” and admits that he hesitated when asked by Rintels to join in calling for government action on media consolidation. But Wagner says his belief in the need for a true “marketplace of ideas” won him over.

“I wish that we didn’t have to ask the government to do these things,” Wagner says.

In early January, Rintels, Beatty and other members of the group met in Hollywood for a discussion with Senator John McCain (R–AZ) and network executives. And in March, Rintels’ group will host a conference in Los Angeles on media consolidation that will feature numerous bigwigs from both Hollywood and Washington.

Though energized by his organization’s role in a hot issue that he sees as being “the new environmental movement,” Rintels acknowledges that the Center has its work cut out for it. For example, he says people often believe that having hundreds of cable channels means that they have more media choices than ever before.

“It’s like the cereal aisle. There’s a hundred brands, but they’re all made by three companies,” Rintels says.—Paul Fain

 

It’s ’Hoo you know
UVA shows its love with hot tickets for pols

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know—nowhere is that more true than the back-scratching world of Virginia politics. As a State agency, UVA needs the support of elected leaders. What better way to make nice with good ol’ Virginia boys than free tickets to the big game?

UVA invites local leaders like Creigh Deeds, Rob Bell, Steve Landes and Mitch Van Yahres to every game. “They usually meet for snacks or lunch at Carr’s Hill beforehand, then they’re taken by bus to the game with University leaders,” says University spokesperson Carol Wood. Also, UVA invites every member of the General Assembly to the Virginia Tech game, which is known as “Commonwealth Day.”

Other legislators apparently get tickets when UVA wants something from them. In 2003, for example, UVA entertained Delegate Bob Marshall and Senator Mark Obenshain and likely encouraged them to back off on their efforts to ban emergency contraception pills at all Commonwealth universities. Marshall and Obenshain must not have been too impressed by the Cavalier victories—this year Marshall introduced a bill prohibiting emergency contraception at all public colleges.—John Borgmeyer

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No payoff on Lobby Day
The Assembly’s Christian Right doesn’t let science get in the way of its anti-abortion agenda

On the corner of his desk in the offices of the Virginia Legislature in Richmond, Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) keeps a copy of Why One Way: Defending an Exclusive Claim in an Inclusive World by John MacArthur, an evangelical pastor whose brand of angry Christianity has made him a popular author and radio personality.

MacArthur sells books by claiming God wants us to hate everyone who’s not a fundamentalist Christian (forget that wishy-washy “love thy neighbor” stuff). As a politician, Obenshain exudes a similar God-is-on-my-side vibe, so the group of James Madison University students who filed into the Senator’s office on Pro-Choice Lobby Day weren’t expecting a compromise.

“We don’t expect to change his mind. He’s a hard-liner,” says Erin Coughlin, a JMU senior.

On Wednesday, January 28, about 200 abortion-rights advocates descended on Richmond for the annual pro-choice event. At 9:30am, 79 people from Charlottesville, Harrisonburg and southwest Virginia arrived in Richmond on a pair of chartered buses, just minutes before the JMU students were scheduled to meet Obenshain. It was bound to be an interesting session.

Last spring, Obenshain was an aspiring senator sitting on JMU’s Board of Visitors. With encouragement from Del. Bob Marshall (R-Manassas), Obenshain pushed the board in April to prohibit the school’s student health center from distributing “emergency contraception” pills without a doctor’s prescription (last month, the JMU Board of Visitors responded to student outrage by reversing the ban). In November, Obenshain won the 26th District Senate seat, and in his first session he seems poised to support Marshall’s HB 1414, which would prohibit any Virginia public university from distributing EC pills—with or without a prescription.

There are currently more than 20 bills before the General Assembly that would restrict access to abortion and birth control—such as the so-called “TRAP” legislation that would effectively close all but one abortion clinic in the Commonwealth and other bills that would require any doctor prescribing EC to students to seek parental consent. The young women who would mostly be affected by these measures don’t know what’s afoot in the legislature, contends Mandy Woodfield, a JMU senior.

“I don’t think the majority of women my age are aware their rights could be taken away,” she says.

Woodfield and her fellow student lobbyists wanted Obenshain to know that most young people support the right to choose. But no sooner did they take a seat on Obenshain’s sofa than the Senator let them know they were wasting their time.

“You and I have a fundamental difference of opinion,” Obenshain told the students. “With respect to you, I think you’re wrong.”

Obenshain sat on the edge of his desk, crossed his arms and spoke to the students in the soft voice of a shepherd coaxing wandering sheep back to the fold. During the polite but occasionally tense exchange, Obenshain told the visibly nervous students that he believed emergency contraception pills constitute abortion—and murder—because they flush a fertilized egg from the woman’s body before it attaches to the woman’s uterus. “It’s a definitional issue,” said Obenshain.

“Not according to science,” replied JMU senior Tim Howley. Pregnancy, as defined by scientists and Virginia’s Attorney General, begins with implantation, not fertilization. Emergency contraception is nothing more than a high dose of conventional birth control pills, and an advisory committee to the Federal Food and Drug Administration recommended that EC was safe enough to be sold over the counter.

Obenshain countered with his version of Pascal’s Wager. “Look at it this way,” he said. “If I’m wrong, then we’re imposing hardships on some families. If you’re wrong, then we’re taking literally millions of lives.”

Obenshain, who supports the death penalty, told the students that “people want leaders with a moral compass,” apparently referring to the 29 percent of registered voters in the 26th District who put him into office. The message was clear—college kids may know their science, but they don’t vote.

After 40 minutes, the two sides agreed to disagree. Nevertheless, the JMU students were lucky. The hallways pulsed with lobbyists, all wearing issues on their sleeves—Planned Parenthood’s army of co-eds, trial lawyers waving little red flags, health care advocates with helium balloons and fortune cookies. Most spent their time simply waiting for legislators who were stuck in meetings.

Planned Parenthood missed Albemarle Republican Delegate Rob Bell, for example. The 36-year-old Bell comes from the old school of Virginia Republicanism—cut taxes and cut the budget—and he keeps his religion private. David Nova, president of Planned Parenthood of the Blue Ridge, sees Bell as a Republican who can be reasoned with.

“He’s very smart,” says Nova. “But he’s under intense political pressure to vote with the party line on these issues.”

Last year, Bell joined Planned Parenthood in supporting a bill that would add language to the Code of Virginia stating that “contraception does not constitute abortion” and that abortion restrictions like parental consent and notification would not apply to birth control. A similar bill, SB 456, is on the table this year.

However, Bell has also introduced HB 671, a bill specifically punishing “feticide” and “fetal injury.” There are currently nine bills referencing “feticide” or “fetal injury,” which critics say are steps toward equating abortion, which is Constitutionally protected, with murder, which is not. These bills teem with Virginia’s far-Right lawmakers’ fetish-like preoccupation with the unborn fetus.

After the meetings, Planned Parenthood’s lobbyists retreated to a nearby pub for lunch. Holly Hatcher, a Charlottesvillian and director of statewide organizing for Planned Parenthood, arrived with some bad news—Marshall’s TRAP bill passed the 100-member House with 69 votes, four more than last year. The TRAP bill will likely die in the Senate again this year, but that wasn’t much consolation.

“We’re going in the wrong direction,” said Nova. “If we’re ever going to have a good vote, you’d think it would happen right after the legislators see 200 of us walking around their office. It’s scary.”—John Borgmeyer

 

Water into whine
Hollymead developer finds his wetlands mistake costly

The undeveloped land north of Charlottesville ain’t cheap—about $12 to $18 per square foot. But perhaps the most expensive piece of real estate of all along 29N is 17 feet of an unnamed tributary of Powell Creek, which runs through the Hollymead Town Center site.

In the fall, bulldozers cleared trees, bushes and grass alongside 2,517 feet abutting five creeks that run east to west through the Hollymead site. The problem? The State’s Department of Environmental Quality approved razing only 2,500 feet along the creeks. D’oh!

Project developer Wendell Wood says DEQ inspectors visit the site weekly, and on October 21 the State caught the mistake.

“We admitted it,” says Wood. “In situations like this we could go to court, but in this case we agreed we made a mistake. It wasn’t worth fighting over.”

Before construction companies can alter creeks or other bodies of water, they must first get permission from the DEQ. Usually, the State allows developers to destroy wetlands in one place if they promise to clean up and protect equivalent wetlands somewhere else, a process called “mitigation.” Developers may mitigate land anywhere in the State, as long as the plan meets DEQ approval.

The DEQ gave Wood permission to raze land along five streams that currently divert the site’s runoff into a holding pond. When the project is finished, those streams will live in pipes beneath the parking lot of the 165-acre site. To mitigate this damage, Wood agreed to plant trees and bushes along 2,500 feet of Powell Creek on land he owns just south of Hollymead. Wood says the plantings will extend between 70 and 100 feet on both sides of the creek. The DEQ tells developers what kinds of flora to plant and where. Furthermore, Wood must pay to put the mitigated land in permanent easement, so that any future development there will not disturb the creek.

With the violation, Wood’s company, United Land Corporation, was fined $2,000. But the real cost was paperwork and lost time, says Wood.

To make up for the extra 17 feet of damage, Wood must mitigate another 17 feet of Powell Creek. This change means his company needed to submit a completely new application to the DEQ, which meant Wood’s workers had to stay away from the Hollymead stream sites for 30 to 40 days while the new permit worked its way through the State bureaucracy, says Wood.

Wood declined to estimate how much the delay cost his company. “That 17 feet was pretty expensive, in terms of time and paperwork,” he says. “I wish we had never disturbed it, I can assure you.”

On January 14, the DEQ published a legal notice of the violation in The Daily Progress. According to the notice, the State Water Control Board will accept public comment about the DEQ’s action against United Land up to 30 days after publication of the notice.

Edward Liggett, an enforcement specialist with the DEQ in Harrisonburg, says people usually use the comment period to opine that the penalty is too harsh, or not harsh enough. But the penalty, he says, isn’t so much punitive as it is a “pathway to compliance.” So far, no one has used the public comment period to sound off about the controversial super shopping center project itself.—John Borgmeyer

 

There’s always next year
No charter for UVA this time around

Head honchos at the Commonwealth’s three top colleges have decided to put on hold their measures to gain autonomy from the State. On the advice of legislators who say this year’s General Assembly session will be crammed with tax and budget issues, the presidents of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, the College of William and Mary and UVA said last week they will wait until next year to try for “charter” status.

“This doesn’t change anything significantly. The University is just slowing down a little,” says UVA representative Carol Wood.

This fall, presidents of the three schools said they were fed up with the State’s dwindling financial support—especially as nearby rivals like University of North Carolina have been beefing up their college budgets. Faced with the nightmarish vision of top students turning (gasp!) Tarheel, the three Virginia colleges sought to decide their own tuition and out-of-state student enrollment levels, and control their own investments. In exchange, they would take less money from the State.

Each school would have to draft its own unique charter for General Assembly consideration, says Senator Creigh Deeds (D-Charlottesville). “It’s a big bite for legislators to consider in one year,” says Deeds. The General Assembly will consider more than 3,000 bills during the current 60-day session, and legislators are already expecting clashes over tax reform and budget cuts.

A draft of the charter bill has been introduced into both the House and Senate, where the Education and Finance committees of both bodies will study it. When this year’s session ends, Wood says UVA’s administration will work with the State to draft the particulars of UVA’s charter.

Wood doubts the Assembly will come through with any last-minute money that would make autonomy unnecessary. “If you look at how much we’ve been cut and the difficulty the State has had, it’s unlikely,” says Wood.

Don’t cry too hard for UVA, though. Between 2002 and 2003 its endowment grew nearly 7 percent to $1.8 billion from $1.69 billion, more than twice the national average increase of 3 percent, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers.—John Borgmeyer

 

Schooling the City Council
Everybody’s sick of the MCP. Won’t someone think about the children?

The acrimonious debate over the proposed Meadowcreek Parkway, which continues to roil City politics, has made the upcoming May elections for City Council look like a referendum over the controversial road that would go through McIntire Park. Candidates will likely pepper their election bids with words like “easement” and “VDOT.” But what if the jargon of City politics revolved around accreditation and SOLs—the buzzwords of education?

“I would welcome that more than anything,” says Linda Bowen, the chairperson of the Charlottesville School Board, of an alternate reality where public education ruled City politics. “I think it’s wise for [residents] to scrutinize what’s going on with the school system.”

Public schools should be of interest even to City residents who don’t have kids in the system, as about 31 percent of all of the City’s expenditures go to the schools.

Bowen and several other well-positioned observers of City schools agree that the hottest issue for any education debate would be school funding. According to Superintendent Ron Hutchinson, Charlottesville’s school system is facing a “worst case scenario” of being up to $2 million short for next year’s budget. The crunch is largely due to changes at the State level, including shifts in the retirement system and in the way Charlottesville’s comparative wealth is tabulated by the State. In order to make ends meet for a proposed $46 million budget that suggests increasing teacher salaries by 6 percent, Hutchinson has recommended several possible job cuts.

The City currently contributes two thirds of the schools’ funding, and Hutchinson says the Council “continues to be very generous to us.” But with the State not pulling its share of the load, several observers say schools need more help from local government when it comes to working with Richmond.

Bekah Saxon, a teacher at Buford Middle School and president of the Charlottesville Education Association, says her strongest plea for City Council is for them to push the State to send more money to schools. In the current school year, Virginia only kicks in $16 million of the school system’s total revenue.

After budget worries, other likely local education flashpoints cited by insiders include Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL) tests, achievement gaps, potential increases in enrollment and the ongoing search for a new superintendent for City schools.

In order for a Virginia school to be fully accredited by the State, 70 percent of its students must pass the SOL tests in all four core subject areas. Currently, four of Charlottesville’s nine public schools, including Charlottesville High School, fall short of full accreditation. Though the failing rating won’t officially kick in for schools until 2007, this year’s seniors will be the first to be denied diplomas if they fail to pass the SOL tests. Del. Mitchell Van Yahres (D- Charlottesville) recently introduced a bill to delay the diploma sanctions, but the bill was voted down on January 26.

The Federal government also has a hand in school achievement testing with the No Child Left Behind Act. The complicated Federal program targets school performance in several areas, with a range of dates for compliance.

“[School] divisions are not going to escape those mandates,” Hutchinson says of the Federal performance goals, adding that if Charlottesville schools did pull out of the Federal program, “it would have a potentially significant financial impact.”

The implications of the performance tests include an achievement gap between students from lower- and higher-income families, and the possibility of parents being able to remove their kids from failing schools. This issue could also intensify debates over the districting of elementary schools.

“I would love to see a discussion of allowing parents to choose elementary schools,” says Aileen Bartels, the co-president of the parent-teacher organization at Burnley-Moran Elementary.—Paul Fain

 

Scratchy record
A violent past becomes present for UVA student accused of murder

Witnesses on both sides of the verbal sparring that occurred in the minutes before volunteer firefighter Walker Sisk was stabbed to death on November 8 have testified that UVA student Andrew Alston, the accused murderer, did not appear likely to up the ante with any violence.

“I wasn’t concerned about Andrew getting in a fight,” said Jeffrey Cabrera, a member of the group of four young men that included Alston the night of the murder, at the January 15 murder hearing. “Andrew seemed cool.”

Cabrera might have been more concerned about Alston’s violent tendencies if he had been with him on Halloween night in 1998. That evening, Alston assaulted another juvenile in his suburban Philadelphia hometown. He was later charged with criminal conspiracy and aggravated assault, according to Frank Snow, deputy chief juvenile probation officer for Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

Though officials with the Montgomery County Juvenile Probation Department are now withholding many of the details of the 1998 Alston assault case, Snow told Beth Cohen of The Reporter, a local newspaper, that the assault, “was a Halloween incident and [Alston] stole the kid’s candy, broke the kid’s nose and the kid ended up with a skull fracture.”

Snow confirms that on January 5, 1999, Alston was committed to a six-month stint at a farm-based juvenile detention program in the Philly area where participants are taught conflict management. Though the residential program is designed to last three months, Alston apparently did a double stint.

At Alston’s January 15 hearing in Charlottesville General District Court, his lawyer, Scott Goodman, introduced clarifying evidence that Alston did not, as had been said in a previous hearing, kick the youth on the ground in the 1999 assault.

Alston’s father, Robert A. Alston, attended the January hearing. The senior Alston is an accomplished corporate lawyer and an elected township supervisor in Andrew’s hometown of Lower Gwynedd. The legal team the Alston family has assembled for the alleged murderer’s defense, which will continue with grand jury proceedings beginning on February 17, includes Goodman, a local lawyer, and Barry Boss, a prominent Washington defense attorney. Among Boss’ most noteworthy defenses was when, in 1998, he and another lawyer persuaded the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Department of Justice to drop the Federal death penalty for a notorious D.C. drug kingpin who had been charged with six murders.

During Alston’s January 15 hearing Boss’ persistent examination of witnesses visibly perturbed Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jon R. Zug, who will handle the case as it moves to the grand jury in February.—Paul Fain

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Ticket masters
Outside U-Hall the call is “I got your tickets right here”

The UVA men’s basketball team and Clemson’s squad are only minutes away from tip-off, and two men who have driven from Afton and Crozet to see the game have yet to land tickets. But on the walkway to the entrance of the arena, the two fans find their man, or rather, boy, in the form of a 9-year-old ticket scalper.

The kid begins to negotiate prices with the men, but is quickly interrupted by another, full-grown scalper who takes over the deal. The two aspiring fans seem to hesitate, perhaps feeling guilty on this Tuesday night for stiffing the kid, who is shivering in his windbreaker on an evening where the wind chill stands at 19 degrees.

“That’s my son,” says the 32-year-old veteran scalper after sensing that his customers are wavering. “I’m gonna let him in on the action.”

Their worries assuaged, the two hoops fans buy two tickets for a total of $30. Tickets are still available at the ticket window inside the arena, but are selling at the face value of $18 apiece—so the two fans each save $3.

“This is a nice way to get tickets,” one of the fans says. Asked if he thinks he broke a law by purchasing tickets from scalpers, he says, “I would think it’s legal, but I don’t care.”

In fact, it is legal to buy tickets from scalpers for UVA sports events, as neither the Commonwealth nor the City or University has banned the practice. However, numerous scalpers, some of whom have been selling tickets for decades, say UVA police harassment has hit an all-time high in January.

According to several scalpers, the trouble began just before the January 3 men’s basketball game with Providence, when at least one scalper was escorted to the parking lot and told to refrain from selling tickets. A scalper says the police officer, while giving a ticket seller the boot, said, “You won’t be getting your rent money today.”

Of the incident, one scalper, who says his name is Troy, but later offers a different nom de guerre, observes, “It’s a shame, man. With what [Coach Pete] Gillen’s got going on in there, they need all the help they can get to fill the place.”

The consensus theory among several regular scalpers, who are aware that their business is on the level, is that the offending cop may have been new and unfamiliar with the legal status of scalping. Additionally, several scalpers speculate that a bogus ticket may have been sold to a fan, perhaps contributing to increased scalper scrutiny by the UVA police.

Sergeant Melissa Fielding of the UVA police force confirms both suspicions of the local scalping crew. She says UVA police are investigating a case in which a fan purchased an outdated and invalid ticket from a scalper for the January 11 matchup against hoops powerhouse Duke. However, Fielding says the UVA police have long ago reached a working relationship with scalpers. She says their only goal is to keep scalpers from blocking the entrance to the arena.

“It’s not been a problem in the 11 years that I’ve been here,” Fielding says of ticket scalping. “Most [scalpers] are courteous enough. They’ve really been cooperative in the past.”

Fielding confirms that a scalper representative received an audience with command staff of the UVA police force after scalpers complained about the overzealous cop at the Providence game.

“That particular incident was resolved,” Fielding says. “We have new officers in. They’re not really clear on what the rules are. Sometimes there can be some confusion.”

Tensions appeared nonexistent between police and the dozen or so adult scalpers and their four accompanying children working the trickle of fans arriving for the January 20 game with Clemson. Frigid conditions and the prospect of cold shooting (the two teams were dueling for the worst shooting percentage in the Atlantic Coast Conference) likely kept many fans away. As a result, scalpers were asking only $10 to $25 per ticket. In contrast, tickets to the recent Duke game were going for $50 to $80.

Scalpers generally get their tickets from alumni and other season ticket holders who are looking to unload extra tickets on their way into a game. The scalpers then sell these tickets at some markup.

“I think we do a great service,” says the scalper who brought his son to work the Clemson game. He says he brings in between $75 and $200 on men’s basketball games, and anywhere from $400 to $1,200 at football games.

“It’s easy money,” he says.

The Charlottesville native, who says he studied finance in college, says he began selling tickets to UVA games when he was his son’s age. As for why he’s brought his son into the business, he says, “That’s a little guy who I don’t have to give money to,” adding that he even encourages the young scalper to invest his earnings in stocks.—Paul Fain

 

Over the Hill
Did the Jefferson School Task Force heal the wounds of urban renewal?

City Hall was closed on Monday, January 19, for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, so Council held its regular meeting the next day. Maybe Council was trying to stay true to the spirit of the holiday by heaping praise upon the Jefferson School Task Force during Tuesday’s meeting.

All five Councilors beamed like doting parents at Lelia Brown and Mary Reese, the chair and vice-chair of the Jefferson School Task Force, respectively, as they delivered a report detailing their group’s 16-month consideration of the fate of Jefferson School—the former all-black school on Fourth Street and the last vestige of Vinegar Hill, an African-American neighborhood bulldozed during “urban renewal” in the late 1960s.

The moldering Jefferson School building had sat largely forgotten until 2002, when Council’s plans to sell the site for a housing development and shuffle children attending the City preschool housed there back to neighborhood schools caused an uproar. In response, black leaders, neighborhood activists, former politicians and other powerful folks formed the Citizens for Jefferson School to oppose the sale. Under pressure from CJS, Council assembled the Jefferson School Task Force and spent more than $121,000 on facilitators to help the disparate group work together.

The task force’s final report was due last fall, but Council granted them an extension when their work wasn’t finished by then. Looking at the 37-page document so long in the making, however, one wonders what the task force was up to all this time.

The report recommends the building and the adjacent Carver Recreation Center be nominated for the National Register of Historic Places, and it suggested three possible redevelopment options—as a new home for the main branch of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library, an early-childhood education center or an adult-education center. Each option would include a cultural component to “tell the story of Jefferson School and the African American community in Charlottesville and Albemarle County,” according to the report.

“In Washington, there’s 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, in London there’s 10 Downing Street, and in Charlottesville, we’ll have Jefferson School,” Reese told Council.

The presentation consumed about an hour of the January 20 meeting, yet many questions remained unanswered when Council finally finished lauding the task force, many of whose members were at the meeting. The report is full of scenarios for how Jefferson School might be reused, yet there’s little information on what redevelopment might cost the City, how long it might take or what Council needs to do next. More than anything, the report told Council that a great deal of work remains to be done before Jefferson School can be brought up to code (an $8 million project).

Yet Council’s praise of the report is a clue that the City convened the Jefferson School Task Force not so much to advance a development project—indeed, it seems a smaller group could have done the same work faster and cheaper than did the task force—as to defuse a political landmine.

Racial tension will always be an issue in Charlottesville, which struggles to reconcile its progressive image with a racist history that some would argue still informs its social fabric. In the late ’60s, for instance, the City bulldozed Vinegar Hill to make way for white businesses, sending many black residents to live in housing projects such as Westhaven. Newspaper reports from that time show that feelings were mixed among displaced blacks about urban renewal. Some welcomed the transition from Vinegar Hill’s substandard housing to homes with heat, running water and reliable electricity, while others opposed the damage to local black culture and the blatant disrespect of a forced move. Today, the legacy of Vinegar Hill is so politicized it’s all but impossible to talk about race issues without mentioning the incident.

Indeed, when Council talks about “expanding Downtown’s vitality,” some people still remember when that phrase justified wiping out an entire black neighborhood. Today, critics of Council’s current housing plan—which involves replacing low-income renters with middle-income homeowners in poor neighborhoods—invoke Vinegar Hill and level charges of gentrification. When Citizens for Jefferson School argued that Council should save the building, Vinegar Hill figured large in their rhetoric.

A year and a half ago, some CSJ members claimed the task force would “heal the wounds of Vinegar Hill.” Making amends for racial injustice seems beyond the scope of the report presented to Council last week, and even though the document is short on facts and figures, given the back-slapping, it’s easy to say Council won over former foes and got exactly what it wanted from the task force.

 

Mayor Cox: See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya

“Part of what professors do is profess,” said Mayor Maurice Cox during a press conference at City Hall on Thursday, January 22. Standing behind a wooden podium, clad in his trademark light green Euro-style shirt, striped tie and corduroy jacket and sipping a lukewarm ginger ale from a clear plastic cup, Cox exuded the academic air—which inspired some and infuriated others during his term—as he announced he would not seek reelection to City Council.

Doing triple-duty as a practicing architect, a UVA professor and City Councilor left very little time for family and relaxation during the past eight years, Cox said. He said he has applied for an eight-month Ivy League fellowship and is looking forward to “taking a break from public service to reflect on the past eight years, and to consider how I might best serve this community in the future.”

The Mayor left no doubt he would remain a behind-the-scenes player in local politics, especially as Council works to develop a new transit system and redevelop W. Main Street, and he all but promised to seek public office again.

For months, observers speculated Cox would leave Council, and in practical terms his resignation was confirmed on Tuesday, January 20, when Rose Hill Neighborhood president Kendra Hamilton announced her candidacy for the Democratic Party nomination. Cox had claimed he would leave Council only if a candidate who shared his views—preferably a black woman—could be found.

Hamilton joins chiropractor and former Dem chair David Brown, as well as Council incumbents Kevin Lynch and Meredith Richards, as the only announced candidates for their party’s nomination. At press time, Republicans have not fielded a candidate. (Two years ago, Republican Rob Schilling entered the race at the 11th hour and defeated Democrat Alexandria Searls in the May election.)

By State law, both parties must have their ballots set by February 10. The Democrats will hold their nominating convention on February 7; the Republicans on February 5.—John Borgmeyer

Interpretive dance
Economists duel with different reads on the Guv’s tax plan

Ask two people the same question and you’re liable to get two different answers. This maxim certainly applies to two groups of economists who were tasked with evaluating Gov. Mark R. Warner’s proposed tax plan. As expected, the economists’ takes on the plan reflect the view of whoever requested the review.

The complex tax overhaul proposed by Warner includes raising taxes on goods, cigarettes, high-income households and on some corporate practices. It would also reduce rates on food and on certain income brackets, estates and business expenses. The net impact would be an added $1 billion in State revenue.

Republicans who oppose the tax hikes are citing an analysis from a firm headed by Dr. James C. Miller III, who was President Ronald Reagan’s budget director. Miller’s number crunching, which was commissioned and paid for by two top Virginia Republicans (House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell and Attorney General and GOP gubernatorial candidate-apparent Jerry Kilgore), found that the Warner plan would wreak economic ruin on the State. By 2006, the plan would cost Virginia $9.8 billion in lost revenue and 27,700 jobs, the report says.

Not to be outdone, Warner and other supporters of the tax plan are touting their own economic analysis. Four economists in the State’s Department of Planning and Budget, which is under the purview of the Governor’s office, produced this study. The document, which is heftier than its counterpart, finds that the economic stimulus resulting from the plan will outweigh any hindrances caused by raising certain taxes.

The Republican-funded study looked only at the impact of raising sales and cigarette taxes, which it calls the “central feature” of the tax plan. The State analysis seeks to “assess the overall economic impact” of the tax plan, partially by factoring in the ripple of indirect benefits resulting from education and infrastructure spending increases. As a result, the State report offers a far more complete view than the study from Miller’s firm, but is also less specific and more likely to trail off into uncertainty.

Dueling economic projections are nothing new in politics, likely leading some observers of the tax scrap to disregard the reports as little more than expanded sound bites from the politicians who commissioned them. However, the analyses warrant a second look in the run-up to a vote with potentially long-lasting effects on Virginia’s economy.—Paul Fain

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Fewer kids having kids
Local teen pregnancy is down but the Right can’t take credit for it

Teen idol Britney Spears may no longer be a virgin, but so far she seems to have averted one particularly momentous consequence of sex: pregnancy. And teenage girls seem to be following Britney’s lead as teen pregnancy and birth rates have fallen steeply over the past dozen years.

The social ills that drive teen pregnancy rates in the United States defy easy categorization, and trying to measure the value of various methods to combat the problem has proven equally vexing.

One current debate is over the role of abstinence-only education, which is currently en vogue in the White House and on Capitol Hill. Locally, teen pregnancy is down, and abstinence-only programs have hardly been visible on the landscape. Federal abstinence-only programs, which require that grant recipients abstain from teaching teens about condoms and other forms of contraception, are not prevalent in the Charlottesville area. In 2003, Virginia received only $828,619 of the $117 million the Federal government spent on abstinence-only education in 2003.

Yet local teenage pregnancy and birth rates have followed the national trend, falling since their peak in the early ’90s. From 1992 through 1994, about one in every 14 teenage girls in Charlottesville gave birth, according to a report from the Charlottesville/Albemarle Commission on Children and Families. That annual rate dropped to about one birth for every 36 girls during 1999-2001. Virginia’s teenage pregnancy rates also declined substantially in the ’90s, as did Albemarle County’s [see accompanying chart].

Local experts on teen pregnancy say the encouraging trend, which predates the Bush Administration’s abstinence-only push, can be attributed to a broad range of factors, including better sex education, access to contraceptives and increased fears about HIV/AIDS.

Saphira Baker, the director of the Commission on Children and Families, says efforts to curb teen pregnancy have “gotten smarter” in recent years. “We’re not a community in crisis because we have good programs in place,” Baker says.

One way local teen pregnancy programs have made strides is by targeting at-risk teens, such as kids who have had discipline problems or have had teenage siblings that have gotten pregnant, and helping them to feel that their lives matter, according to UVA psychology professor and teen pregnancy expert Joseph Allen.

“Kids get pregnant when they have a dim enough view of their future,” says Allen, who has worked on local teen pregnancy programs.

Allen says teens need more than information to push them away from the risky behavior that leads to pregnancy. He says an increasing number of successful pregnancy-prevention programs include volunteer opportunities that give teenagers “a vision of how they can fit into their community.” Without a link to the world around them, Allen says the risk of pregnancy fails to faze teenagers. As an example of an effective local program, Allen cites Teens GIVE, which puts teenagers to work with younger kids, the elderly or on environmental projects.

Dyan Aretakis is the project director for the Teen Health Center at UVA. She says an informal poll from several years ago found that 15-year-old girls visiting the center had already had sex with an average of four partners. Aretakis believes this number would almost certainly decline if a similar poll were conducted today. She says that education about HIV/AIDS has helped change teens’ attitudes regarding sex.

“HIV has served to make kids aware about the biggest dangers of having sex casually,” Aretakis says.

The news on teen pregnancy is not all good, however, says Maureen Burkhill, the associate director of Teensight, a local group that works with teens on pregnancy and STD prevention. Burkhill notes that teen pregnancy rates have actually increased slightly in Charlottesville over the past couple years, and that a large percentage of local teenagers still use drugs and alcohol and have multiple sexual partners. Though Burkhill and Gretchen Ellis, a planner at the Commission on Children and Families, agree that the slight increase in teen pregnancies in Charlottesville is not statistically significant and does not yet represent a trend, Burkhill says it is an indicator that the social disease of high teen pregnancy rates has yet to be cured.

Teensight runs an abstinence-only program for siblings of teen parents as part of its suite of services. Though Burkhill says the endeavor is going well, she says abstinence education shouldn’t replace all other teen pregnancy prevention efforts, particularly for teens who are already sexually active.

“My gut feeling is that it’s not the only answer,” Burkhill says.

Aretakis agrees. She says her organization talks about abstinence “all the time,” but that only teaching abstinence is naïve and unrealistic. Aretakis says the stakes are too high for teen educators to stay mum about contraception when talking to a teenage girl.

“Too many people don’t reach their potential when a teen has a baby,” Aretakis says.—Paul Fain

Declarations of independence
How will a more autonomous UVA affect Charlottesville?

In the pages of college-ranking magazines and in the eyes of prospective students, UVA reflects tradition and high academic standards. Locally, the view is more complex—UVA is a multibillion-dollar engine that drives growth and culture, while coughing out new buildings, roads and parking garages anywhere it wants.

Given these distinct views of UVA, it’s not surprising that some top legislators in the General Assembly (such as House Speaker William Howell, budget chairman Vincent Callahan and senior Democrat Richard Saslaw) endorse giving Virginia’s top colleges, including UVA, more freedom from State control, while locally the idea has earned a more tepid response.

Before this year’s General Assembly session commenced on Wednesday, January 14, the Commonwealth’s top three schools—UVA, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and the College of William and Mary—started to promote an idea that would allow the schools to set tuition and out-of-state-enrollment numbers and to make investments independently. In turn, the universities would get less State funding and be subject to fewer State regulations.

The part about “fewer regulations” has Jan Cornell, president of the staff union at UVA, up in arms.

“I have a huge problem with all of it. We’re going to fight it as hard as we can,” Cornell says. “Nobody understands the implication it’s going to have on employees.”

Cornell has a list of concerns about autonomy, but her biggest worry is how the proposed change would affect the benefits and job security of 11,000 classified employees. As a State agency, UVA must currently follow State regulations that require the school to provide a strong benefits package, and abide by rules that make it difficult for supervisors to fire employees. With greater autonomy, Cornell says, UVA could become more like the Medical Center, which gained a similar measure of freedom from the State in 1996.

One result of that change was that the Medical Center cut expenses by switching its health insurance plan to an HMO that was cheaper for the institution, but more complicated and slightly more expensive for employees, says Sue Herndon, a hospital employee who weathered the change.

Furthermore, the Medical Center adopted its own policy regarding employee firings, a system that gives department supervisors broad powers. This opens the door for favoritism, says Herndon. In theory, two employees could make the exact same mistakes, and one might get fired while the other might not.

“It’s all up to the supervisor,” Herndon says. “That’s where it gets iffy.”

But even as Medical Center workers absorbed the liabilities of privatization—cheaper benefits and less job security—they didn’t see the benefits private employees usually enjoy, such as higher wages or the right to unionize.

“I understand where management is coming from. They’re losing money,” says Herndon. “But at the same time, they’ve got people in there making $500,000, and it’s the poorest workers that end up hurting the most.”

Cornell also believes that greater autonomy at UVA will mean more cronyism in the school’s contracts for such work as painting and flooring.

“If they’re out of the State system, they’ll be giving work to their friends. I wonder if they’ll look for the best deal,” says Cornell.

UVA spokesperson Carol Wood says UVA currently follows the Virginia Public Procurement Act, which requires a competitive bidding process for contracts and prohibits discrimination. Under autonomy, Wood says UVA “would continue to follow the guidelines of the Public Procurement Act. It’s a good business practice.”

The Daily Progress quoted Cornell on January 11 denouncing autonomy as “horrific,” and she admits she’s had to turn up the rhetoric against autonomy because, she says, many UVA employees don’t believe a change would affect them. In reality, no one can know exactly what will happen, because an autonomy bill hasn’t been drafted yet. Cornell says she has “no illusions” about defeating a bill that would be supported by three university presidents, but she hopes to drum up enough opposition so that any eventual bill will include some protections for the 50,000 employees at the three schools.

“I think UVA is spending more time talking to the press about this than its own employees,” says Cornell. “If they’re not talking to employees about it, we have to assume it’s not going to be good.”

Wood says UVA is planning a series of “town meetings” where employees will be able to ask questions about how autonomy would affect them. Should UVA gain autonomy, Wood says the administration will take employee concerns into consideration as it negotiates its charter with the State, which would happen over the course of the next year.

“This is just the beginning of the process. There will be a lot of listening going on to make sure we do this right,” says Wood.—John Borgmeyer

Secure transactions
Homeland security equals pork dollars for localities

Formed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the Department of Homeland Security has doled out $4.4 billion in grants to state and local governments under the rubric of the “War on Terror” as of March 1, 2003. In some major cities, like San Francisco, mayors have complained that the Feds have been too stingy and slow with the grants. In Charlottesville, however, the money has been a boon for local police and fire departments in times of tight State and local budgets.

The $7,094,688 that Charlottesville and Albemarle have received from Homeland Security will pay for things we hope never get used, like protective suits that resist radioactive fallout. But the money will also buy tools for day-to-day use, such as improved communications technology that will help City, County and UVA police officers talk to each other. The money flows through the Virginia Department of Emergency Preparedness, which divides the grants between cities and localities in the Commonwealth. Here’s how the money breaks down.—-John Borgmeyer

Charlottesville Police Department

Three grants totaling $160,000 to be used to purchase suits that protect officers against radioactive or biological fallout, gas masks, communication devices for the CPD’s crisis negotiation team, and a trailer to serve as a mobile headquarters in case of a major accident or disaster.

Albemarle County Police Department

Three grants totaling $183,328 to be used mostly for gas masks and one Kevlar ballistic vest.

Albemarle County Fire Department

Two grants totaling $178,260 to be used to pay a portion of the $400,000 it will cost to outfit the department with the latest Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) equipment.

Charlottesville Fire Department

Two grants totaling $512,000 to be used for SCBA equipment. The department will work with City police to assemble a hazardous materials team and to purchase a mobile command unit.

Emergency Operations Center

Three grants totaling $6,061,100. One grant will pay for emergency training exercises, and another will equip the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), a group of citizens trained to respond in their own neighborhoods to disasters. Charlottesville, Albemarle and UVA together won the $6 million competitive grant that will help unify emergency communications between the three jurisdictions, including installing computers in all police cars.

 

Fade to black
The Goth set mourns the end of Tokyo Rose’s Dawning

The small cloth-and-marker banner hanging over the stage said it all: “The End is near!!!” It wasn’t a doomsday prophecy or existential credo. On Saturday, January 17, it was the truth for the near-capacity crowd of 141 at Tokyo Rose’s regular Saturday show, The Dawning, which that night held the final live performance of its five-year-plus run in the Rose’s laser-lit, couch-lined basement.

On January 3, Chris Knight, The Dawning’s concert booker, sent word out to the show’s mailing list and online message boards: As far as Tokyo Rose was concerned, The Dawning would no longer see the light of day. “The management has kindly given us space and supported us for years and they are finally ready to step away from the liability of having a high-risk event in their space,” she wrote in the message. The final live show would be Silent Muse, followed by a “wake” party with The Dawning’s five staff DJs Saturday, January 24, Knight announced.

Tokyo Rose owner Atsushi Miura’s decision came following several fights in the venue, including a December 27 incident that brought the police when a knife-wielding man, who had been drinking upstairs, fled downstairs into a performance by Goth band Bella Morte, Knight told C-VILLE. “The fights were probably the last straw for someone considering letting go the more aggressive, even the all-ages shows,” she says.

Following the Dawning’s demise, Miura will ban those under 18 from any of Tokyo Rose’s downstairs concerts, as well as discontinue all punk, Goth and industrial shows. “That music carries problem people,” Miura says. “Almost every time we have that, there’s problems or tension. I feel sorry for parents who have kids like that.”

Neither Knight nor Bella Morte’s Andy Deane and Gopal Metro, who pioneered The Dawning in 1998 as a regular Wednesday Goth night, blame Miura for his heavy-handed response. “Atsushi is awesome, straight up,” says Metro. “He’s always been a full supporter.”

Talent booker Knight says Miura’s only proceeds from the all-ages shows came from the bar—though he regularly faced liability threats from underage drinking, rowdy behavior and vandalism of the nearby Cavalier Laundromat.

“When he started hosting the shows he was of one mind. After six years of doing it, especially for music that he’s not really into, he’s just grown tired,” Knight says.

But the end of The Dawning leaves many displaced Goths upset and looking for reasons why. “There’s nobody really to blame it on,” says Metro. “I was going to say young people, but at our show, when Atsushi finally said ‘We’re done with it,’ it was adults causing the trouble.”

At the January 17 concert, regular Dawning attendee Skunk, 22, who works by day at Integral Yoga, blamed irresponsible people. “They need to know that this is not going to be the place to come and start shit.”

Other concertgoers merely mourned the loss of a hangout. “It was the coolest place in Charlottesville. I really feel comfortable here—even though I did feel like a fight could break out any minute,” said an 18-year-old man who asked to be called Nny.

For now, Dawning patrons can look to Knight for a solution. “Chris has got a head full of steam,” says Deane. “And she’s got a lot of people behind her.” Knight is currently raising funds to find a new space for Goth and other live music. “This town has got an enormous amount of musicians and they don’t have any place to play,” she says.—Ben Sellers

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Paved with good intentions
The MCP debate is a give and take on what’s best for the Mall

Downtown Charlottesville is one of the few places where you can hire a lawyer, mail a letter, drink a freshly brewed ale, look at leafy trees, smell gutterpunks, watch a play, hear banjo music and purchase a dog-shaped clock with a pendulum tongue, all within a four-block radius. Ensuring— and, indeed, expanding—this kind of urban vitality is one of City Council’s top priorities, so it’s perhaps not surprising that the Mall has become the touchstone for ideological posturing of all stripes.

“We need to make sure people can get Downtown,” said Tim Hulbert to City Council on Monday, January 5. Like other proponents of the Meadowcreek Parkway, Hulbert, outgoing president of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Chamber of Commerce, argues that the road will link County shoppers with Downtown shops.

As a business advocacy group, the Chamber’s point of view seems to be that whatever is good for the business owner is good for everyone. The Charlottesville Republican party, driven by the related idea that wealthy landowners rather than public servants should manage growth, tends to march in step with Chamber leaders.

For all his pro-Downtown rhetoric, however, Hulbert failed to remind Council on January 5 that the Chamber also advocates on behalf of Albemarle businesses. Nor did he mention that the Parkway would be a boon for County commerce, especially the homebuilding industry.

Parkway foes like Democratic Mayor Maurice Cox have implied that City businesses would suffer because of the Parkway. In other words, the path to continued Downtown success lies with an unbuilt road and increased emphasis on alternative transit. One argument against the road holds that County drivers will use the Parkway to cut through the City, adding to traffic snarls.

Keep in mind that for some local Democrats, there’s no such thing as a good road, period. The only transportation projects they support involve bicycle, bus and pedestrian amenities.

City Councilor and Parkway foe Kevin Lynch, and even Cox, have claimed they’re willing to compromise on the road, but Councilor Meredith Richards doesn’t buy it. She doesn’t trust that Lynch or Cox will vote for the Parkway even if their demands are met, and this mistrust is behind the current parkland-easement scheme that’s dividing Council.

Just as Downtown is now much more than a pedestrian passageway, after more than 30 years of debate, the Meadowcreek Parkway is no longer just a road. It has evolved into a symbol of the ways and means of Charlottesville and Albemarle’s future growth, which is why politicians are able to send a message to voters simply by saying they are “for” or “against” the Parkway without getting into the complex (and potentially boring) details of growth-management policy.

With the Parkway thus endowed with symbolic value, both sides seem to see any compromise as selling out their ideas. Indeed, a vote on whether to request a legal opinion on an easement from Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore passed by a 3-2 margin.

 

Despite the conflict, later in the meeting Council banded together to engage in its favorite activity—forming a task force to discuss the possibility of making a decision.

Council voted to form a committee that will study changing Council elections to November from May, to coincide with State and national elections. The switch isn’t official yet, but there was no major dissent (except from Councilor Rob Schilling, who said the committee should also consider whether Charlottesville’s Council should adopt a ward system, have a directly elected Mayor and expand to seven members).

According to a report presented by City Manager Gary O’Connell, the Council has been discouraged by low voter turnout during May elections, which generally hovers at around 20 percent of Charlottesville’s eligible voters. The idea behind the proposed change is that when people turn out to vote for the Virginia General Assembly and the U.S. Congress, they will also vote for City Council.

The notion had been considered before, in 2001, but the debate died in the face of unresolved concerns. Publicity is the main worry: Will the press coverage of local issues be drowned out by bigger races? O’Connell observed to Council that in Albemarle last November, candidates for the Board of Supervisors and the School Board weren’t obscured by State and national candidates. In that election, County voter turnout topped 32 percent.

The first step in changing the election occurred last year, when Charlottesville Delegate Mitch Van Yahres successfully introduced a bill that gave localities the ability to hold elections in odd-numbered years. This will prevent Council campaigns from competing with presidential election hype.

Council hopes this year to pass an ordinance effectuating the switch to November elections. That means whoever wins election in the May 2004 race will have six months shaved off the end of his or her term. So far, there are no announced candidates for what could be the final spring Council race.—John Borgmeyer

 

Mock and awe
Mini Hummer earns plenty of notice

While sitting alone in a Charlottesville parking lot, John Stock’s imitation Hummer looks remarkably like the off-road vehicles that can be found rumbling through the streets of Baghdad and the cul-de-sacs of suburbia. But up close, Stock’s Hummer comes into focus as a Lilliputian imposter, with a desert-tan colored cabin that is barely shoulder high.

The original civilian H1 Hummer is virtually identical to the military’s Humvee, which, in official Army-speak, is called the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle. Stock’s mini-me version of the H1 was built with a kit of made-to-order parts and a 1973 Volkswagen Bug chassis. Dubbed the Hummbug, its name stands out on the vehicle with gleaming, blockish letters reminiscent of the Hummer brand. For a further ironic twist, Stock affixed a Christmas wreath to the diminutive but authentic-looking Hummer.

Stock, a 35-year-old Albemarle resident, says the Hummbug’s assembly was simple, and that he built the car in the parking lot of his apartment complex during his free time.

“It only took about a year to put together,” says Stock, who works as a histology technician at the UVA Medical Center. “I am not a mechanic. I learned a bit working on this. I can change oil and that’s about it.”

Stock says many people think his car is a Hummer upon first glance, but remark that it doesn’t quite look right. The rather obvious difference people are seeing is that a Hummer is about 4′ longer, 3′ wider and 2′ taller than the Hummbug. And what people don’t see is that the featherweight Hummbug, which tips the scale at 1,800 pounds, is more than four tons lighter than an H1. All of which suggests the girly-man Hummbug won’t be joining California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Hummer collection anytime soon.

Despite the fact that the little Hummbug is a humorous commentary on what many see as the wanton waste and embarrassing macho posturing of Hummer ownership, Stock insists that the car is not a swipe at Hummer drivers.

“I did it more for the project itself,” Stock says of the Hummbug. He says he’s in the early stages of a new replica car, this time creating a faux Lamborghini Diablo (the one with spacecraft-style doors that open vertically) on the chassis of a Pontiac Fiero. Stock says his knock-off Hummer has elicited an overwhelmingly positive response, though it was once derided as a “dumb-bug.”

Stock may not be seeking to offend with his car, but the Hummbug kit’s producer, the Wombat Car Company, managed to raise the dander of General Motors. GM, the world’s largest automaker, purchased the marketing rights to the Hummer brand from its manufacturer, AM General, in 1999. Shortly thereafter, GM put the heat on the Hummbug, and the Wombat Car Company was forced to change the replica’s name and design.

“I think they changed it about six months after I’d bought the kit,” Stock says.

Stock finished building the car three years ago, at a total cost of about $15,000. Though not cheap, the Hummbug’s cost pales in comparison to that of the 2003 Hummer H1, which starts at about $105,000, according to Edmunds.com. And price isn’t the only category in which the mini version tops the real deal, as Stock says the Hummbug could easily beat the 13 miles-per-gallon the Hummer gets in city driving. Besides, “it looks cute,” Stock says.—Paul Fain

 

What’s the frequency, Kenneth?
Charlottesville tunes in to satellite radio

Extraterrestrial hunters and NASA scientists are no longer the only people listening to radio frequencies from space. A rapidly increasing number of subscribers are now tuning into satellite radio, with the two leading services, XM Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio, sporting a combined total of more than 1.2 million listeners nationwide.

Marketing themselves as alternatives to the commercial-heavy, preprogrammed generic play lists of FM radio, both satellite radio providers tout 24-hour programming and CD-quality sounds on 100 specialized music, talk and sports radio channels. “Once you hear XM, there’s no tuning back,” claims the website for XM Radio.

“Satellite radio is one of the fastest growing technologies ever,” says Todd Cabell, the Car A/V editor for Charlottesville-based CrutchfieldAdvisor.com, a consumer electronics information site associated with the mega-electronics retailer. Cabell, who has XM Radio at home, says with satellite radio “you almost don’t need a CD player anymore.”

Most satellite radio receivers can be connected to either car or home stereos, but some of the more recent models work on both systems and can be carried between different stereos. By using a receiver and a small antenna, which must be positioned in view of the sky, satellite radio subscribers get a crisp signal on all of each company’s 100 channels, which can be heard anywhere in the lower 48 states.

Both companies launched their own satellites into orbit to bring their services online. XM Radio, which is headquartered in an old printing loft in Washington, D.C., beams its signals from two satellites that are positioned in fixed orbits over the East and West coasts. New York City-based Sirius controls three satellites, which orbit in figure eights over the United States.

“They’re both totally state of the art,” Cabell says of the two companies’ control centers, both of which he has toured.

Though similar, the two satellite radio companies come with somewhat different programming and prices. Sirius offers slightly more sports and talk channels, and plays no commercials on its 60 music channels. The service costs $13 per month, or $500 for a lifetime subscription. XM Radio is cheaper at $10 per month, but offers no lifetime deal. It has a more music-heavy lineup, with 70 music channels, but plays some commercials on some of the music frequencies. The receivers for both satellite radio services run anywhere from $25 to $200.

Cabell says both services have just annnounced an upgrade, and will soon be offering real-time weather and traffic information in select markets. Additionally, XM Radio will cease running any commercials on its music channels.

Car manufacturers and electronics companies each offer products with satellite-radio capability, but have had to choose sides in the XM-Sirius rivalry. For example, Sirius landed the Ford, BMW and Kenwood deals, while XM Radio is affiliated with General Motors, Lexus and Pioneer.

Pearl, a clothing store located on the Downtown Mall, subscribes to XM Radio. The black antenna, which looks like an electronic stapler, sits on a windowsill. A small receiver with a blue-glowing display panel controls the tunes from behind the counter.

Hope Leopold, the store manager at Pearl, says she subscribes to XM Radio because she spends 40 to 50 hours per week in the store, and “you can only listen to so many CDs over and over again.

“The mixes are so good,” she says of the programming on XM’s channels. But, she says, the reception requires exposure to the southern sky. As a result, neighboring store Cha Cha’s, which also subscribes to XM radio, had to drill a hole in Pearl’s wall to run its antenna to a south-facing window. Cha Cha’s owner, Marly Cantor, says she enjoys the programming on XM Radio, but complains the sound is not quite CD quality. “It’s not as full sounding,” she says.—Paul Fain

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Phase Two for the morning-after pill
Local FDA expert says approval is not exactly a sure thing

Plan B is a popular version of the “morning-after pill,” which can substantially reduce the chance of pregnancy if a woman takes it within 72 hours after having unprotected sex. The drug is currently available only by prescription in virtually every state, including Virginia. But in mid-December, an advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration recommended that Plan B was safe enough for sale over the counter.

The news media jumped all over the announcement, giving the appearance to the casual headline reader or CNN viewer that the drug would be available on the shelf in Kroger in short order. In reality, however, the advisory committee, as its name suggests, was offering only advice. The FDA has the power to reject the recommendation. And with anti-abortion groups lined up in opposition of the morning-after pill’s approval as an over-the-counter drug, the final decision is anybody’s guess.

C-VILLE Weekly sat down with one local resident who can make an unusually educated guess on FDA decisions, Richard Merrill, a UVA law professor and former chief counsel to the FDA. Merrill’s take is that the morning-after pill still faces an uphill battle before it goes over the counter. He also says FDA chief Mark McClellan will likely be shoved in two directions, with his scientific advisors pushing for approval and his bosses in the White House seeking to appease the anti-abortion foes of the drug.—Paul Fain

Paul Fain: What factors influence an FDA decision to switch a drug from prescription only to over the counter?

Richard Merrill: The FDA would expect the manufacturer to be able to supply either clinical trial data or historical information that suggests that the incidence of adverse reactions or side effects associated with the drug were very low. That’s probably the most important thing.

Were you surprised that the FDA panel so overwhelmingly recommended that the morning-after pill be sold over the counter?

Given the controversy that surrounds this product, I guess I’m a little surprised that it was that decisive. But I would’ve been surprised if it had gone the other way, because these people, by and large, ask questions about “Can it be safely and effectively used by reasonably intelligent laypeople?” It seems to me the case for that is pretty strong. If they’d been asked other questions that had to do with the—you might say—the social desirability of having it available, you might’ve expected a wider, and more sharply divided panel.

Will the final decision be a tough one for the FDA?

I think it will be a difficult decision. At least if the press coverage of the advisory committee meetings is to be believed, not only was the vote, as you put it, quite overwhelmingly in favor of approval, but the tenor of the discussions among the committee members and the questions raised and debated and the arguments heard by members of the public would suggest that there is a strong, but not unanimous, consensus in favor of the switch [to over-the-counter status] at least on medical and scientific grounds. On the other hand, I suspect that there are pressures within the Bush administration to go the other way, and that makes it particularly difficult, I think, and sensitive for Commissioner McClellan. I’m sure that Karl Rove sees no advantage to Bush in the approval.

Could the FDA Commissioner approve the drug despite possible White House pressure?

As a legal matter, there’s no question that he has the latitude to do that. And indeed one could argue that a decision of this sort is a decision that is supposed to be based on the scientific merits and it is a decision that, by law, the Commissioner rather than anybody in the White House, is entitled to make … [President Bush] can fire him, but he can’t make the decision for him.

Why have anti-abortion groups, who are fighting the over-the-counter approval of the drug, kept the abortion argument quiet during the debate?

They pretty clearly made a decision, I think, that at least so far as the public debate that’s going to go forward, they’re going to treat it within the parameters that FDA usually operates, and not going to raise the stakes or change the discourse. That doesn’t mean, though, that there will not be pressures that reflect that very view, even if it’s not articulated, that are being brought to bear on McClellan. In some sense it makes it easier, they might think, for McClellan to disagree with the [advisory] committee. McClellan cannot issue a press release that says, “I’m not going to do it because in my view this kills babies.” He’s going to have say: “There’s an unanswered question about the safety of this product, about the extent to which young women are going to avoid getting medical counseling.”

What’s your prediction about how the FDA Commissioner will find?

One could write a decision rejecting [approval] for now, and that’s how it might come out: “There’s no ‘never,’ but there are some questions that need some further exploration, further research.” And I would think that that outcome is about as probable as approval, before the election. And it’s always possible that they’ll sit on it.

A walk in the park
Getting to know the nine acres of McIntire Park that will someday become a road

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, a golfer placed his ball on the fourth tee in McIntire Park, beside a babbling Meadow Creek. With a whoosh of his club and a soft ping, he sent the ball arching toward a red flag fluttering at the hole. The ball landed, plop, and the player hitched a bag of clubs over his shoulder and walked along a strip of land that will, someday, become Charlottesville’s portion of the Meadowcreek Parkway.

When the road is finally built, it will mark the conclusion of a decades-long battle between Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Until then, however, the S-shaped strip of land—curving from Melbourne Road near Charlottesville High School, through the park lowlands to the Vietnam Memorial at the intersection of Route 250 and McIntire Road—symbolizes how troublesome it can be for two separate jurisdictions to solve transportation problems.

To hike the land south from Melbourne Road, you first have to get around a 10′ fence that’s adorned with a sign prohibiting any dumping, even leaves, “due to environmental concerns.” An asphalt driveway overgrown with crabgrass leads down to the thorn bushes along the banks of Meadow Creek, the City’s most polluted waterway. The occasionally pretty brook absorbs most of Charlottesville’s run-off, and here in this no-man’s land between Melbourne and McIntire Park some sections of the creek glisten with a pink, oily film.

Across the creek and beyond the trees, the Parkway will swoop through the lowlands of McIntire Park. In 1926 Paul Goodloe McIntire, who had returned to his native Charlottesville after making a fortune on the New York Stock Exchange, donated to the City the land that would become McIntire Park.

Once this becomes a stretch of the Parkway, southbound drivers will see a steep hill to their right, with oak branches spreading against the sky.

For now, though, this strip of parkland belongs to the golfers and, on snowy days, a more daring breed of sled rider. While the Parkway project will pave over about nine acres of land, landscape architect Will Rieley, who is designing the City’s portion of the Parkway, estimates that about 19 acres of McIntire “will be altered significantly” when the road is finished.

Because the road will change land originally designated for everyone’s enjoyment, Virginia’s constitution protects the intent of donors by requiring local governing bodies to secure a four-fifths majority before paving public parkland.

The few acres of grass, trees and stray beer cans are the center of a conflict so intense it has caused Charlottesville’s City Council to turn on itself. One group of Councilors (Meredith Richards, Blake Caravati and Rob Schilling) hopes to accelerate construction of the Parkway by granting the land outright to the Virginia Department of Transportation against the opposition of Councilors Kevin Lynch and Maurice Cox. Both sides have rattled the saber of litigation.

Backdoor maneuvers by both the pro- and anti-Parkway factions have produced unusually intense feelings of mistrust inside Council. The obvious rancor on display at recent meetings reportedly holds off the dais, too, according to sources in the City. The two sides apparently aren’t speaking, a potential concern for those who have matters other than transportation to bring before the Council.

Given the will of the State and County to see the Parkway built, it seems like this S-shaped strip of land, a mere dot in the City’s 10 square miles, will be paved eventually. The question, then, is whether it will happen with the blessing of a cooperative Council working in the City’s best interests—all of them.—John Borgmeyer

Home movies
After a surprising success, an indie film producer wants to set up shop here

Barry Sisson was nervous when he arrived at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, last January. The first screening of every movie had already been sold out, except for one, the one he cared about: an under-the-radar character study called The Station Agent that had only been edited the night before and flown to Sundance that morning. Sisson describes himself as “an active investor” in the film, a role the film’s producer, an old friend, drew him into. Not only that, but Sisson was on set during its three-week filming process, immersing himself in the world of indie filmmaking. At Sundance he stood among the empty seats and wondered what he had gotten himself into.

In true movie-magic fashion, the story has a happy ending. The partial crowd loved the film, and word of mouth spread so rapidly that before the festival was over, not only did The Station Agent win the Audience Award for dramatic film, but Miramax studio head Harvey Weinstein flew out for a private screening. By 6:30 the next morning, Miramax and the film’s producers had a deal. The ensuing accolades and wide distribution launched this low-budget indie into the national spotlight (it’s been running for several weeks at Vinegar Hill, an indication of its draw nationwide), and Sisson reassured himself that he had made the right decision after all.

The Station Agent was Sisson’s first movie investment, but he’s determined it won’t be his last. With this major success behind him, he’s diving into the movie business even deeper with the creation of a production company here in Charlottesville, where Sisson lives with his daughter, Bari, and wife, Terre, owner of a local tour company.

After 25 years as a businessman (electronic security), Sisson speaks of films in terms of quarters and business plans, asserting that good independent films can be profitable, too. He plans to produce films for less than $1 million apiece. By movie industry standards that’s a drop in the bucket—less than some films spend on wardrobe and makeup.

Currently he is shopping for scripts while awaiting the release of Charlie’s Party, the second film he invested in, which was test-screened in Charlottesville in December. Once the groundwork is laid for the new production company—sometime this spring, he says—his assistant Marc Lieberman (a UVA grad who has spent the past three years working on films in Los Angeles) will set up an office in New York to establish ties between the indie film community and Charlottesville.

But why Charlottesville? “A whole lot of the process can be done anywhere, so why not base it close to my home?” Sisson answers. For that matter, why not just do the filming here? Charlottesville is well known as an arts-friendly community, and although the City has no official film office to help moviemakers scout locations and such, there are also no permits or fees to deal with. Not to mention the wealth of potential local collaborators who would be an added bonus.

“There’s a lot of talent in this area,” Sisson concurs. “There’s no reason why a film can’t be shot around here.”

But first Sisson needs to find his next script, raise capital from investors and find a name for his company—Cavalier Productions is the current frontrunner. Although Charlottesville has been home to a spurt of interest in guerilla and documentary filmmaking recently, perhaps an indie picture company is poised to steal the scene.—Chris Smith

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