CRC Charter Referred

Published 2:48 pm Tuesday, December 6, 2011

FARMVILLE – The Commonwealth Regional Council is now sending a request to the Attorney General's office related to its proposed Charter amendments.

The decision was made last week during the Council's December 1 meeting after CRC staff questioned if non-governmental entities could, in fact, become charter members of the regional planning district commission.

In Planning District 14, which is represented by the CRC, higher educational institutions are already allowed membership as stated in Virginia's Code, but the CRC was hoping by broadening the Charter and creating flexibility through the amendments it would allow the CRC the ability to invite private entities such as Crossroads, according to Chairman William “Buckie” Fore Jr., Prince Edward's representative, during the Council's discussion about the dilemma.

Acting CEO and President, Mary Hickman, explained to the members how the changes relate to the Regional Cooperation Act.

“It is a statute by which the planning district commissions are created,” noted Ms. Hickman.

She also noted how she had contacted Susan Williams, the local government policy manager for the Department of Housing and Community Development, for assistance related to the Regional Cooperation Act.

“They are a contact on that. The DHCD is the agency by which our funding comes through as a planning district commission,” continued Ms. Hickman. “…I contacted Ms. Williams about would there be any issues of expanding membership opportunities within a planning district commission.”

According to the response received by Ms. Williams at DHCD, Virginia Code Section 15.2-4202 provides that planning district commissions are composed of the duly appointed representatives of the localities which are parties to the charter agreement, leading her to provide an opinion that “non-governmental entities” cannot be charter members of a planning district commission.

Virginia's Code also goes on to state the composition of the membership of the planning district commission.

It states, “At least a majority of its members shall be elected officials of the governing bodies of the localities within the district, or members of the General Assembly, with each county, city, and town of more than 3,500 population having at least one representative. In any planning district other than planning district number 23, a town of 3,500 or less population may petition the planning district commission to be represented thereon. The planning district commission may, in its discretion, grant representation to such town by a majority vote of the members of the commission. Other members shall be qualified voters and residents of the district. In planning districts number 4 and 14, the members may also include representatives of higher education institutions. Should the charter agreement, as adopted, so provide, an alternate may serve in lieu of one of the elected officials of each of the governing bodies of the participating localities.”

Buckingham approved the changes that are being recommended by the CRC related to the Charter in November but Cumberland still would like the CRC to leave the Charter unchanged, according to Fore.

Cumberland also approved a decision to send its position to the rest of the Council's member localities last month.

“She (Ms. Williams) could not make a decision…as her being a state agency as far as if there is any kind of legal implications related to the Regional Cooperation Act,” added Ms. Hickman about the response received. “Based on that it appears from the Regional Cooperation Act, based on her review looking at the Regional Cooperation Act, she could not make a legal determination. It's possible that the Regional Cooperation Act does not allow for other entities. It is only for localities.”

At that point, the Council's Chairman expressed that from “the way it looks” by inviting other entities besides those spelled out in the Act it might impact the CRC for state funding.

“I'm not sure we are doing the right thing by stepping outside 'government entity' membership,” offered Fore to the Council. “I need the Board's help here as to whether to proceed with our goal of changing the Charter or just dropping the whole matter?”

Gary Walker, Charlotte County's representative, addressed the issues about “being out of compliance” when Longwood University and Hampden-Sydney were original members of the CRC?

“No, because that is in the Code of Virginia,” responded Fore. “Districts 4 and 14, by legislation, are permitted to take in institutions of higher education-even if they are private institutions… It is written in the Code.”

Walker added, “You'd think they'd want more participation rather than less.”

“Where would we have to go to get an official opinion?” he later asked.

With it being a state agency, Hickman noted, DCHD can only provide assistance related to what the statute says and anything more such as providing legal advice related to changing the Charter would have to be determined by the Attorney General's office.

“Crossroads is where the problem really does lie,” added Fore about compliance and the proposed amendments to the Charter. “Although they have not applied for membership it was our thinking to invite them.”

“Mr. Chairman, I'd like to move forward with our planned changes but I think we need to table them and get an official Attorney General opinion on whether it's proper to do it,” stated Walker at this point. “And then if and when we get that opinion, we can take the matter back up. But I wouldn't say to cancel it because I still say it's the right thing to do.”

No action was needed because the Charter proposal is already in the works, but Chairman Fore did direct Ms. Hickman to the Attorney General's office for legal advice related to the amendments.

“We've already voted to do what we want to do and this is just a procedure on how to get there,” offered Walker about not needing to take a vote on the matter.

Member Investment Dues

The Council did unanimously adopt the CRC membership investment dues during the meeting for the upcoming 2012-2013 fiscal year.

The dues for the upcoming year will be the same as they have been at $15,700.

“I'd like to see them stay as they are,” offered Walker about the investment from localities to the regional planning organization before making the motion.

Appointments

The Council members also decided not to take action on the appointment of the CRC treasurer (to take office in 2012) until new representatives are appointed from member localities, such as Cumberland, because new Board members will be joining several County Boards.

“Bobby (Oertel) will be leaving us,” noted the Chairman about Cumberland's representative not being re-elected back to the Cumberland County Board of Supervisors during the election in November. “We may be finding that we make a change for Cumberland and Buckingham.”

The Council also made the same decision on the appointment of the Budget Committee.

“I'd like for you to be thinking of that Committee as a whole,” offered Fore. “Since we are such a small group.”