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It’s Official: Henry County counters City’s effort to force reversion agreement with Martinsville, Virginia

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From a press release by the Henry County government:

The Henry County Board of Supervisors approved a motion during its organizational meeting on Jan. 4 to file a complaint for declaratory judgement in the Henry County Circuit Court to stop the City of Martinsville’s attempt to force the Board into a voluntary agreement which it has already rejected.

The court judgement would put a halt to the City’s bid to use a third-party, private arbitrator to rule on a matter where it lacks both jurisdiction and authority. The Board of Supervisors voted Dec. 10 to reject the proposed settlement agreement and Martinsville is attempting to have an arbitrator force the County to vote in favor of the agreement.

“The Board of Supervisors negotiated and considered a settlement agreement with Martinsville and ultimately rejected the agreement,” said County Attorney George Lyle. “If Martinsville wants to pursue this, the matter of reversion and the future of our schools should be re-submitted to the Commission of Local Government for further consideration in an open and public process. A private arbitrator should not decide this matter.”

Upon the official notice of Martinsville’s intent to revert to a town, the County began negotiations to seek a voluntary settlement agreement with the City as permitted by Virginia Code § 15.2-3400(1).

There is a four-step process for any voluntary settlement agreement to be considered binding and enforceable.

First, the two parties must negotiate an agreement that they believe is in the best interest of their respective constituencies. This step was completed when the City and County adopted resolutions on Aug. 24, 2021 to approve the Voluntary Settlement Agreement (VSA).

Next, the agreement must be presented to the Commission on Local Government (COLG) for it to conduct a hearing and issues a report with its own findings. The COLG conducted hearings on Sept. 7 and 8, 2021. A public hearing was part of this process. The COLG issued its final report on Oct. 15, 2021.

In the report, the COLG noted that citizens were concerned about the lack of transparency with the process and the lack of involvement of the two school systems. It was expressly stated that “citizens voiced concerns over the impact reversion would have on Black students who would have to be integrated into County schools, community engagement, and the impact on the City’s voting power when included in the County Board of Supervisors and School Board districts.”

The third step in the process is the two localities must adopt an ordinance approving the VSA. Once the ordinance has been adopted, the parties would petition an appropriate circuit court to affirm the proposed settlement. The Virginia Supreme Court would then appoint a special court to hear the case. This would trigger the fourth step where the special court either affirms or denies the agreement, giving it “full force and effect.”

The Henry County Board of Supervisors never completed the third step in the process. Before passing an ordinance that would impanel the special court, the County held its own public hearing where citizens voiced similar concerns noted by the COLG. Being swayed by these concerns, the Board of Supervisors voted to reject the VSA ordinance.

This means the VSA was never submitted to or affirmed by a special court who has the sole power of making the VSA binding and enforceable.

On December 20, 2021, the City filed a Claim for Arbitration with The McCammon Group, Ltd., citing provisions within a previously approved Memorandum of Understanding and the VSA as binding even though neither was affirmed by the special court. 

Through the declaratory judgement, the County intends to put a stop to the promulgation of this baseless claim. The County will also continue to fight any effort by the City to compel Henry County into an agreement that runs contrary to the wishes of its constituents. 

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