Heartland Authority questioned

Published 1:20 pm Thursday, September 15, 2016

During the Tuesday afternoon Charlotte County Board of Supervisors meeting, two members of the community questioned County Administrator R.B. Clark and Supervisor Gary Walker on their work with Virginia’s Heartland Regional Industrial Facility Authority, better known as the “Heartland Authority.” The authority-owned industrial park is located in Keysville.

Concerns were voiced about the Heartland board members serving terms longer than a county ordinance — eight years — called for, minutes being in “disarray,” missing bylaws, etc. Wylliesburg resident Kay Pierantoni was the first to speak and questioned the transparency of Walker, authority vice-chair, and Clark, authority treasurer, with their involvement.

“Do you know how many code violations have come to light recently? Do you know how how many millions in grants have been awarded to Heartland?” she asked the other supervisors. “For the supervisors who love this county — I beg of you — please take another look at the material we citizens are uncovering, and think of the consequences to Charlotte County.”

The authority is a partnership of counties including Charlotte, Lunenburg, Prince Edward, Amelia, Buckingham and Cumberland.

Terry Ramsey, of Charlotte Court House, spoke second and said he sees evidence of Heartland affairs being “handled in a negligent manner,” citing Virginia Code and the county Ordinance that had been broken.

“Why was a chair not elected annually as required by Virginia Code? … Where are the following required by the county’s ordinance establishing Heartland? Bylaws? Annual reports including activities, accomplishments, tenants, sales, which is required to be given to each county board of supervisor participating in Heartland?”

Walker would later have the opportunity to answer during the meeting.

Walker asked Chairman Haywood Hamlet to speak on the issue after Dr. Nancy Carwile recommended the questions go to Heartland board, and said she assumed the reason the public wanted answers was because they had not received answers to those questions yet.

“Most of you are aware of this, but I will say it to the public. When the Heartland Authority was initially built, and the park was bought and established, we had a paid executive director, a paid staff to handle all this information that people are really interested in,” Walker explained. “The national economy went in the tank in 2008. We laid off those people and we decided we would do the best we could with the volunteers that we had from each county.”

Walker then said everyone was and continues to be busy, which was the reason behind the board not meeting every month — “only when we have business to take care of.” He admitted that until the board’s August meeting, they had not met in more than a year.

“When we laid off the staff, the board felt like, to provide continuity and to have some institutional members since we didn’t have any paid staff, if we rotated the members through every year, nobody would ever know what was going on,” he said.

Walker said the board “kind of” agreed the officers would continue to serve, and if the economy got better they would then hire back a paid staff.

“I think we may be being held to a higher standard than we really should be because it is such a tough thing to do without any paid staff,” Walker said.

After the discussion, the board unanimously — with Walker abstaining — adopted the Heartland Ordinance.

The ordinance states that the term limit is removed, allowing the Heartland Authority Board of Directors to “serve for a term of four years, and may be reappointed for as many terms as the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors desires.”