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After debate, supervisors support DCC advancement manufacturing initiative

It took three motions, more than an hour of discussion and finally a verbal promise from Danville Community College President Carlyle Ramsey before the Halifax County Board of Supervisors was convinced Monday evening to offer a letter of support for a proposed program expansion of the college’s Regional Center for Advanced Technology and Training.

The college plans to seek approximately $6 million from the tobacco commission for the cost of constructing an expanded Regional Center for Advanced Technology and Training in Danville that will increase capacity for machining and related advanced manufacturing labs “to provide valuable hands-on equipment experience for students enrolled in the program,” Ramsey told supervisors.

Doug Poole, professor of precision machining technology and a Halifax County native, said the plan is a two-prong initiative that includes broadening the impact of workforce training programs in Southern Virginia through the development of an advanced manufacturing certificate training program as well as expanding the Regional Center for Advanced Technology and Training at DCC.

On Monday evening, Ramsey sought a letter of support from the supervisors endorsing the concept, something he already has secured from Danville City Council and the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors. Plans called for submitting these letters along with the request for funding to the tobacco commission executive committee when it met on Tuesday.

“We would like to say that our jurisdictions support this concept, although we have a lot more work to do,” Ramsey told supervisors.


Sticking point

However, for county board members, the apparent sticking point came after receiving an email from Southern Virginia Higher Education Center Executive Director Betty Adams on Monday afternoon that took exception to Ramsey categorizing the higher education center as “a partner” in DCC’s initiatives.

Ramsey had asked the supervisors for five minutes on the agenda Monday evening to discuss two initiatives that will impact the county including a partnership in advanced manufacturing with Danville Community College, Southside Virginia Community College, Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, Halifax County Schools and local employers and a plan to expand the Regional Center for Advanced Technology and training.

Neither initiative will require any county funding.

Adams said Tuesday she learned Ramsey planned to seek a letter of support only after reading a story about the board meeting in Monday’s newspaper.

“It surprises me he would make a presentation without inviting the partners or at least informing the partners he was planning to be at the meeting,” Adams said.

She said she had not been privy to the information about DCC’s proposal that was submitted to board members in their meeting packets.

“We only talked concept. We were not provided the information in the packet that supervisors received,” she said Tuesday afternoon. 

When discussing the proposal with her on March 9, Ramsey failed to mention anything about applying for tobacco commission grant funding for the initiative, Adams said.

Ramsey told supervisors Monday evening he had learned of Adams’ email shortly before leaving for the board meeting and had tried to contact her “several times” to no avail.

“I wish Betty were here, and I wish she had called me today. I wish she had sent me an email. Maybe there has been some protocol mix up,” he said.

However, Adams said Tuesday she did not receive a call from Ramsey on Monday afternoon.

“I was available in my office all afternoon, and I never had a message from him,” she said. However, she did speak with Chris Ezell, DCC’s vice president of academic and student services, who called her at 4:30 p.m. Monday asking about the email.

“I told him I was surprised to learn about the presentation,” Adams said, describing the proposal presented Monday night to supervisors as “premature.”

“We are not ready to sign on to a partnership,” she added.


The email

In her email to board members Monday afternoon, Adams wrote, “It has come to my attention that Danville Community College President Dr. Carlyle Ramsey will be discussing two advanced manufacturing initiatives with the board tonight. The local paper describes these initiatives as a partnership between DCC, SVHEC, Halifax County Public Schools and Southside Virginia Community College.

“I am writing to make you aware that while SVHEC has agreed in principle to the possibility of a new advanced manufacturing program being located at the SVHEC, no formal proposal or memorandum of agreement has been submitted or approved by the SVHEC trustees. While SVHEC is always open to partnerships that benefit Halifax County and the region, I think it is important that the board of supervisors understand SVHEC’s current position on the advanced manufacturing initiatives:

Until a proposal clearly outlining these initiatives is produced, we do not have adequate information to move forward on establishing a formal partnership.

 Partnership agreements require prior approval by the SVHEC Board of Trustees. This has not occurred because no definitive plan or proposal has been offered to share with them.

“These initiatives may very well have merit,” Adams continued, but without adequate information, partner dialogue and board approval, it is simply not accurate to categorize SVHEC as a partner in either initiative – at least not yet,” she concluded.


SVHEC responds

On Tuesday, she issued the following statement in a written email to The Gazette saying, “For more than 25 years, collaborative partnerships have been the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center’s ‘bread and butter.’ With the support of educational partners like DCC, SVCC and Halifax County Public Schools, we have successfully leveraged scarce educational resources to offer some of the finest workforce education and training in the commonwealth.  I look forward to learning more about The Advanced Manufacturing Initiative discussed at last night’s board of supervisors meeting and am hopeful that it will be the next link in what has proven to be a very successful partnership chain.”

During the meeting Monday, ED-3 Supervisor William Fitzgerald told Ramsey he would be willing to give a letter of support as long as Dr. Adams and county school leaders “are comfortable with what we are going along with.

“I certainly would like our support to go toward supporting Dr. Adams and the school here as a tie in to that program and not be left out,” he added.

“If we give the letter of support, what assurance do we have that Dr. Adams will be tied in without their involvement?” Fitzgerald asked. “I may be overreacting tonight, but I just want to make sure that they are involved.”

ED-4 Supervisor Doug Bowman told Ramsey that before it can be said this is a partnership with these other entities, he would like to see some evidence of them embracing this program as a partner such as in a memorandum of understanding.

Ramsey, who said he was disappointed he had not received Adams’ email, told supervisors he had talked with Adams on March 9 about this proposal.

Serving as vice-chair of the higher education center, Ramsey said he is “a little bit puzzled” about Adams’ email and several board members’ request for a memorandum of understanding, but he remains “absolutely committed” to the programs at the higher education center.

Bowman, who was one of four board members contending the letter of support should be tied to a budget issue, told Ramsey he needed an answer to a question before he could vote on granting a letter of support.

“The question I have for you tonight is what is DCC’s position in an education partner cost-sharing model that is required to create operating funds so the higher education center can continue to operate here,” he asked Ramsey.


Cost-sharing model

The DCC president told Bowman he supports a cost-sharing model for the higher education center and said a meeting has been set for May 23 to discuss the issue further.

After further discussion, ED-6 Supervisor Wayne Conner offered a motion to support in concept the two initiatives DCC representatives had proposed and to offer a letter of support to be used in the application for tobacco commission funding.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Conner said, receiving a second from ED-7 Supervisor Lottie Nunn.

However, Bowman quickly offered a substitute motion requiring the board’s condition of approval for the concept be tied to a written statement from partners saying they are in agreement and want to pursue the project. He also asked for an agreement from the community colleges that they are willing to seriously review the new partner cost-sharing model with the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center.

ED-1 Supervisor J. T. Davis seconded Bowman’s motion.

A vote on the substitute motion failed in a 4-4 tie with Davis, Bowman, ED-5 Supervisor Barry Bank and ED-2 Supervisor Tom West supporting the motion.

A vote on the original motion to endorse the concept also failed in the same 4-4 tie vote.


Public hearing ensues

The meeting then turned into somewhat of an impromptu public hearing on whether the county should support DCC’s proposed initiatives and help the college receive tobacco commission funds to advance the manufacturing program.

Chairman West opened the floor allowing Billy Arrington of Red Bank District to tell supervisors his son is a DCC machining graduate who immediately secured a job and has been putting money back into Halifax County since.

Pointing to the program’s 100 percent success rate for finding jobs for its machining graduates, Arrington asked supervisors, “What else have you supported that has had a 100 percent hiring rate?”

John Glasscock, a 2003 graduate of DCC’s machinist program, said he got a job in Lynchburg upon graduation but continues to live in Halifax County where he returns each day after work to spend his money.

He asked supervisors, “We’re not going to support an institute that could bring more revenue into this county. To me that’s just ridiculous that we wouldn’t even consider that because of some technical issues.”

By not taking action, Glasscock said it could prevent DCC from getting the funding, and it could delay advancement of the program by a year. 

“Think about how much revenue that is costing the county by delaying it a year,” he added.

Supervisor Conner tried to reason with his fellow supervisors who opposed providing a letter of support telling them, “It is nothing we can lose by providing a letter of support for this concept. I cannot understand. If we don’t do it, we are taking away from our children.”

Supervisor Fitzgerald said he was willing to take Ramsey at his word after the DCC president publicly stated he supported a cost-sharing model for the higher education center.

Former Halifax County Industrial Development Authority Executive Director Mike Sexton said he was sorry Adams did not attend the meeting to comment on the need to get “a real collaborative cost-sharing model” for the higher education center.

“This is an opportunity to comment to the tobacco commission that there is going to be a real effort on this partnership to help our higher education center get a cost-sharing model,” Sexton said. “A phrase is not going to stand in the way to stop us from getting this funding.”

He told supervisors this would provide an opportunity to tell the tobacco commission that community colleges are “stepping up to help out the higher education center.”


Passing the motion

Ramsey implored supervisors to reconsider their decision, but he added, “Tying a commitment to a cost-sharing plan to an endorsement in my judgment is not the best way to go. I will respect what you do and will make the best of it.”

Conner then again offered the same motion he had made earlier in the evening asking supervisors to reconsider endorsing the two proposed initiatives “in concept only.”

This time, all eight members of the board unanimously approved the motion to write a letter supporting the two initiatives that was to be advanced to the tobacco commission on Tuesday.