This Week in Harrisonburg: September 11, 2010

DebSF -- September 11th, 2010

A few additional local news items from this past week:

  • Not much rain lately; the US drought monitor from the Dept. of Agriculture shows what we already know – our area has been abnormally dry over the summer, and the area east of the Valley is experiencing moderate drought conditions. The National Weather Service tags this as ongoing but improving, but WHSV reported this week that these conditions contributed to a  small fire outside the Wachovia Bank on South Main Street late Tuesday afternoon. The HFD believes that someone tossed a cigarette into the mulch and bushes near the curb. The fire department has responded to a number of similar calls over the last few days.
  • The Harrisonburg City Planning commission met Wednesday night to review the land use guide as part of the ongoing comprehensive plan update. Much discussion centered around the expected uses of the Port Republic Road corridor heading toward RMH.  The strategic deployment of mixed-use zoning classifications throughout the city was also considered extensively, as was the possibility of separating and expanding  Ch. 7’s Education, Arts and Cultural discussion into two separate chapters.
  • The Breeze reports that JMU is expanding emergency medical services to students. According to the story, past Health Center policies generally involved sending most emergency cases straight to the hospital. However, in light of RMH’s  move to the county and further outside of easy walking distance for students without cars, the health center has expanded some services and hired a former emergency department physician to meet these needs.  The new HC ER physician is expected to start Sept. 20.
  • According to WHSV, the HPD is still searching for last Saturday’s  Kelly Street shooters. Interesting discussion in the comment section of the story, about the neighborhood watch that had once been established in that area, as well as the former HPD substation and the Weed and Seed program outreach that had been more successful in effectively protecting the neighborhood in the past.And after you make your usual Farmers Market run this weekend, don’t forget the compost bin and rain barrel sale from 9am-3pm in the parking lot in front of the Rockingham County Offices, 20 East Gay Street in the north end of town. More info here.

    Photo by Randy Lowery, from the Hburg News Flicker Pool

    What did we miss? What’s happening in your neighborhood? What do you want to discuss? Consider this an open thread.

37 Responses to “This Week in Harrisonburg: September 11, 2010”

  1. Kristen says:

    I’m a newcomer to the city and trying to learn more about it. City Council website says it is 5 officials elected at large, but only lists three of them:

    Who are the other two? Tying to learn who is running (only have seen signs for Coffman?) but haven’t found a campaign website. Can anyone share more info?


    • Welcome to Harrisonburg, Kristen.

      All five current members are listed there in the upper left column.

      Two of the five seats are up for grabs this November — currently occupied by Carolyn Frank and Ted Byrd.

      As far as I know, Byrd and Coffman are running as Republicans, Fitzgerald and Romero are running as Dems, and Frank and Chenault are running as independents.

    • JGFitzgerald says:

    • JGFitzgerald says:

      I clicked too soon. I was going to point out that the other two council members are the mayor and vice mayor, listed under those titles on the web page. I was also going to point out my website.

  2. Kristen says:

    Thanks! That explains it. Now I can do my research.

  3. How would readers react to a City Council candidate who previously exceeded the powers granted to them by the General Assembly in the enactment of a policy that was illegal under Virginia law.

    • Lowell Fulk says:

      I think I know where this is going my friend. ;o]

    • Ross says:

      Mr. Briggman,
      Would you please explain further?

      • Lowell likely does know where this is going…he was part of the Rockingham County School Board, which also exceeded their authority under Virginia law.

        Back in the early 2000s, Ross, the General Assembly amended a statute was amended that permitted a person to keep an unloaded firearm in a closed container, on school grounds. A closed container included the term “trunk”. The law that was amended is § 18.2-308.1(B). The law contained no wording that exempted students from that newly-amended statute.

        Standing in the way, is Virginia’s Firearms preemption statute, which prohibits local governmental entities from enacting their own firearms ordinances or administrative actions which are contrary to the laws existing and newly-passed by the General Assembly.

        I sent emails to both the City and the County School Boards asking if they intended to amend their school board policies to comply with Virginia law — both said no.

        In response, I asked Senator Kevin Miller to request an Opinion from the Attorney General, at that time, Terry Kilgore. In response, Kilgore issued the following opinion:

        While the Opinion was horribly written, and the news media declined to read the Opinion in full before writing about it, the gist of the finding of the Opinion was:

        “As long as the regulations of the school authorities are not inconsistent with the 2003 amendment, school authorities are authorized to promulgate reasonable regulations that may result in the discipline of a student whose action is in conformance with the language of the 2003 amendment pertaining to the possession of an unloaded firearm.”

        Both the City and County School Boards stated that they would maintain their illegal policies, now inconsistent with Virginia law. Lowell may have a different recollection, but I believe both School Boards relied on Article VIII, Section 7 of the Constitution of Virginia which states:

        “The supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board, to be composed of members selected in the manner, for the term, possessing the qualifications, and to the number provided by law.”

        I believe many Harrisonburg School Board members, including, but not limited to Greg Coffman stated their reliance on the wording contained within the Constitution of Virginia, which is laughable at best.

        Ultimately, knowing that they lacked any ability to maintain such a policy, both School Boards sought out Glenn Weatherholtz to create a new law allowing School Boards to enact and maintain weapons policies which may be inconsistent with Virginia law.

        The resulting law, which I spoke in favor of is here:

        Please note the first nine words of the statute:

        “Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary…”

        Obviously there are other provisions of law to the contrary…the preemption statute being just the first.

        Unfortunately, the question of exactly what kind of weapons are banned on school grounds wasn’t settled…in our testimony before the General Assembly, we were concerned that shotguns were not among those weapons banned from school ground…however, the Republican majority declined to change the wording contained within this statute:

        Looking at subsection (E)(ii), we could not get this wording changed from the definition of destructive devices:

        “any weapon, except a shotgun or a shotgun shell generally recognized as particularly suitable for sporting purposes, by whatever name known that will,…”

        So, if a Republican like Greg Coffman will exceed the authority granted to him to violate laws pertaining to firearms possession, it is more than conceivable to me that he would violate the authority granted to him to do any number of acts which violate the law.

        To me, it was absurd for the School Boards to enact a punishment against a child for engaging in behavior that is specifically permitted on school grounds…all they could muster in defense was citing their ability to punish for certain conduct on school grounds that wasn’t specifically permitted (i.e. cigarette smoking, cell phones, etc.).

        • Oh, one more thing…you’ll see that §22.1-277.07 references the federal Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994…you can find that statute at 20 USC, 7151…you’ll see under Part “G”:

          “Nothing in this section shall apply to a firearm that is lawfully stored inside a locked vehicle on school property, or if it is for activities approved and authorized by the local educational agency and the local educational agency adopts appropriate safeguards to ensure student safety.”

          So, even under the federal statute, the legal possession of firearms within a locked vehicle on school grounds is exempt from a mandatory one-year expulsion.

          • Bazrik says:

            Wow what a well-researched tirade. Doesn’t change the fact that fighting for GUNS on school grounds seems kind of…I dunno…silly.

          • Unfortunately, the argument was based on having “guns on school grounds”…but since even the Gun-Free Schools Act provides an exemption for that behavior, it seems even more silly that a government school division would punish children for behavior that same government has given them specific permission to engage in.

          • Ross says:

            Thank you Mr. Briggman for the detailed information.

          • Bazrik says:

            So you agree that both points are silly. Good!

            I agree that, according to the ins and outs of the law you so carefully presented, there is a great deal of contradiction there. Legally speaking, you seem spot-on.

            Logically speaking, maybe it ain’t such a great idea to mix school and guns. I dunno, perhaps it’s just me.

          • Bazrik,

            Yeah, you’re right…I mean, Virginia Tech has had an illegal weapons policy in place for the better part of a decade and how’d that work for them?

            I’ve spoken with people who have lived in Rockingham County all of their lives who remember bringing their shotguns to an Elkton elementary where they were parked up against a hall in the school.

            While I have concerns about what government generally does and doesn’t do, I’m more concerned about whether government has the legal ability to do most any act.

  4. Ross says:

    Does anyone know if Carolyn Frank will actively run a campaign for City Counsel?

  5. Jamie Smith says:

    I received a mailer from Carolyn last week. Will you work the polls, can I put a sign in your yard, etc. Oh, and please send me some money.

    • Ross says:

      In today’s DN-R, it said Carolyn had spent no money but, you received a mailer last week? Doesn’t that cost money?

    • Ross says:

      Carolyn also has signs? All these thing cost money and you are supposed to report these kind of activities.

  6. JGFitzgerald says:


    The reports are due two weeks after the spending period ends. Possibly the spending has taken place since Aug. 31, and won’t be reflected until the next report.

  7. Thanh says:

    A happening to share: On September 11 the City of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County hosted a compost bin and rain barrel sale. Initial counts are that about 450 compost bins and 420 rain barrels were sold that day! Thank you everyone for their interest in compost bins and rain barrels! City and County staff are talking about possibly hosting another sale in the Spring for anyone who missed this sale or are interested in purchasing more.

  8. Ross says:

    Why did they sell the old High School to JMU? Charles Chenault was a Council member then and voted to sell it, why?

    • Jeremy Aldrich says:

      JMU needed to grow, and the city didn’t want the property. Originally the idea was to turn the old high school into either a 5-6 school or a 7-8 school. As a middle school teacher who thought we were going to be moved into the labyrinthine old high school building, I dreaded the possibility. JMU has spent the money (that the city never could have) to make the old high school building great.

  9. charles chenault says:

    Jeremy says it very well. Additionally, the City could not afford the property, primarily because of its condition and layout. My personal thought process was to build the joint elementary, middle school that we now have in a growth area of the city that was largely unserved from a neighborhood standpoint educationally. It was also important to me that JMU committed to moving its school of education (ironically a most appropriate use of the building) into the old HHS as well as preserving the character and history of the building. Make no mistake, JMU has succeeded well in this regard (if you don’t believe this, visit the building sometime of just drive by it). I believe that JMU has been very sensitive in working with the City to be a good neighbor with the adjoining neighborhoods. I did not want to see the school demolished for development. It was also important to me for city offices to stay downtown (some had advocated moving city offices to the old high school). The City already has a middle school and two elementary schools within a mile of this school which could have necessitated massive redistricting and possibly offered less flexibility for grade configuration. Now we have middle schools serving both sides of the city that hopefully will make walking and bicycling to school a reality as better sidewalks and bicycle facilities are constructed. Finally, JMU paid approximately $9 million more than any other offer the City had received for the property which allowed us to pay off the old high school debt and have additional money to put into the new schools. Probably more to say, but short on time.
    Thanks – Charlie

  10. Jamie Smith says:

    Jeremy, if they had put 5-6 children in that school we would have needed to put chips in them to find them on a daily basis.
    By the way, I saw my first “Frank” sign today. It was in Carolyn’s yard!

  11. Emmy says:

    I agree 100% Bazrik. Very silly indeed.

    • So, Emmy, you’re OK if government violates the laws concerning its power as long as you’re in favor of the action government takes?

      Suppose, and this ain’t a stretch, the Attorney General of Virginia decides that abortion clinics can’t operate unless they’re accredited to operate by some arbitrary governmental or non-governmental entity?

  12. Charlie,

    You’re a paralegal. Do you think people who are currently, or previously, elected officials should be elected or re-elected if they have previously violated the powers granted to them under Virginia law?

  13. charles chenault says:

    I will take one bite at the apple and that is all. I do not support the election or reelection of a candidate who has previously been removed for malfeasance which is a quasi-civil remedy availabe to the public to address the conduct you alledge – I believe. I see no evidence in this thread even approaching an ascertainable standard
    of malfeasance. I will take one dangerous step further, I do not support the possession of firearms by any individual other than law enforcement on school grounds.

    • I wasn’t talking about Becky Neal, Charlie. I was referring to a local governmental body (in this case, the Harrisonburg School Board) putting maintaining an illegal weapons policy when it lacked any authority under Virginia law to do so…

      And those of us with concealed handgun permits can already possess our weapons of school grounds.

      The issue is irrelevant. The question is, would anyone support a candidate for office who previously exceeded their legislative authority under Virginia law…

      …in this case, I’m “speaking” of Greg Coffman…but the person is also irrelevant.

  14. charles chenault says:

    Actually, I was trying to speak to your hypothetical. Knowingly maintaining an illegal weapons policy points toward malfeasance in my mind. I do not believe either school board was knowlingly maintaining an illegal weapons policy. I trust they proceeded with advice of counsel.
    Thanks Dave – Charlie

  15. Charlies,

    I must grin at your response, only because I think you know that when I raise an issue about government, I generally have statutory law to back me, in this case, it was Virginia’s preemption statute that was sent to both Superintendents, the complete makeup of BOTH Boards, as well as counsel for both Boards…

    Both Boards said that the Constitution of Virginia allowed them to make whatever policy they wanted, then both Boards went to Weatherholtz to seek the creation of §22.1-277.01, which would be odd, if both Boards were convinced by counsel that they already had the requisite authority.

    FWIW, I hope that both you and Carolyn prevail in this election.


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