- Last Updated on 08:03 AM 12/31/13
- BY The Gazette-Virginian
A former sheriff carted off to jail on embezzlement charges, successful completion of a hospital merger combined with a 686-686 tie for the ED-6 school board seat that had to be broken by luck of the draw and a judge denying an angry group of school retirees their Local Optional Retirement Plan benefits made 2013 a year for the record books in Halifax County.
A yearlong investigation into the financial dealings of former Halifax County Sheriff Stanley Noblin resulted in a judge sentencing him to serve 10 months in jail on five embezzlement charges at the end of the year, and Judge Joel Cunningham ruled defendant James Lloyd Terry incompetent to stand trial in the capital murder case of Charlotte Osborne Rice who was found dead in her North Main Street home in April 2011.
Just days before the July 4 holiday, school retirees suffered a setback when Pittsylvania County Judge Charles L. Strauss granted a demurrer entered by school board attorney Craig Wood, essentially ending the case for them to receive their LORP retirement plan benefits.
Halifax Regional Hospital also made headlines this summer when it successfully completed a merger agreement with Sentara Healthcare.
Throughout the year local opponents of uranium mining continued to wage a strong battle to keep the 30-year ban on uranium mining despite Virginia Uranium’s vigorous effort to get the green light to dig up a 119-million pound deposit of ore located on Coles Hill in nearby Pittsylvania County.
And then there were the elections in November that saw Independent challenger Tracy Quackenbush Martin defeat incumbent Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Freshour by a two-to-one margin and saw ED-6 school board incumbent Fay Satterfield and challenger Rita Best tie for that post.
Before looking ahead to a bright and prosperous 2014, let’s take a moment and review these top 10 stories of the past year:
1. Halifax Regional Health System merges with Sentara
One of the biggest stories of 2013 involved the successful merger of Halifax Regional Health System’s with Sentara Healthcare.
Sentara, which operates more than 100 sites of care serving residents across Virginia and northeastern North Carolina, is comprised of 10 acute care hospitals, including seven in Hampton Roads, one in Northern Virginia and two in the Blue Ridge region, advanced imaging centers, 10 nursing and assisted-living centers, outpatient campuses, a statewide home health and hospice agency, a 3,680-provided medical staff and three medical groups with 618 providers.
Sentara is based in Norfolk, and the majority of their facilities are in Hampton Roads and the Norfolk region, although they are now expanding with three recent partnerships in Charlottesville with Martha Jefferson Hospital, Rockingham Memorial Hospital in Harrisonburg and Potomac Hospital in Northern Virginia.
Halifax Regional Health System encompasses a 192-bed hospital, three long-term care facilities comprising 348 beds, including The Woodview, Seasons at The Woodview and MeadowView Terrace, Halifax Home Health and Halifax Regional Hospice and the Physician Hospital Enterprise.
2. Former sheriff sentenced for embezzlement
Former Halifax County Sheriff Stanley Noblin was sentenced to serve 10 months in jail on five embezzlement charges following an October sentencing hearing in Halifax County Circuit Court.
In addition, Judge J. Leyburn Mosby Jr. ordered the former law enforcement officer to make restitution in the amount of $103,930.38.
The judge sentenced Noblin to three years on each of the five charges for a total of 15 years and suspended two years and 10 months on each charge leaving a total of 10 months active time for the former sheriff to serve in the Meherrin River Jail Authority facility in Boydton with work release ordered.
In addition, Noblin was ordered to pay $1,000 in restitution before he left court with $1,000 per month to be paid within seven years he is on probation.
He was placed on two years active probation and five years unsupervised probation following his release.
3. Efforts to lift ban on uranium mining halted
Opponents of uranium mining received an early Christmas present this month when Virginia Uranium Inc. announced it plans to temporarily abandon its efforts to end the moratorium on uranium mining and will not back legislation to that end in the upcoming 2014 legislative session of the General Assembly.
The company cited Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe’s expressed opposition to uranium mining as the reason for suspending its campaign.
The Chatham-based uranium company has been lobbying to mine a 119-million pound deposit of uranium ore at Coles Hill in Pittsylvania County since 2007 when mining plans were resurrected.
A moratorium on uranium mining has been in place since 1982.
In a low-key statement issued to the Associated Press, Virginia Uranium Project Manager Patrick Wales said, “We are committed to developing the Coles Hill project. We will continue evaluating all options to move the project forward.”
Virginia Uranium’s change of heart follows on the heels of McAuliffe’s position that he will not support lifting the state’s three-decade long ban on uranium mining.
McAuliffe has promised to veto any bill that would lift the ban in place since 1982. He said he also will veto any legislation that would establish a regulatory framework for mining uranium in the state.
4. Terry incompetent to stand trial
In October, Judge Joel Cunningham ruled defendant James Lloyd Terry incompetent to stand trial in the capital murder case of Charlotte Osborne Rice.
Cunningham’s ruling followed a day-long competency hearing in Halifax County Circuit Court with the court-approved psychologist who had ruled Terry incompetent to stand trial testifying before prosecutors and defense counsel.
Cunningham ordered the appropriate state agency to take charge of Terry in an effort to restore the defendant’s competency to stand trial.
Dr. William J. Stejskal, who has performed approximately 200 competency evaluations in capital cases, testified he had met with Terry on four different occasions since the spring of 2012 for a total of almost 12 hours.
He declared Terry incompetent to stand trial in July following his fourth evaluation of the defendant, after declaring him “marginally competent” to stand trial following an earlier evaluation.
Noting Terry’s medical history, Stejskal told the court many of the defendant’s issues stem from a brain injury suffered in the 1990s, with a resulting deterioration in Terry’s executive functions, including “decision-making, thinking, planning” and “determining “alternative courses of action.”
The defendant would therefore not be able to adequately assist his attorneys in his defense at trial, Stejskal concluded.
Cunningham pointed to evidence of the lesion in Terry’s brain resulting from the 1995 injury.
“That’s not guesswork or speculation. Dr. Stejskal testified in his opinion this injury had a significant impact on the defendant and his ability to understand and appreciate information.”
“The defendant is not capable at this point in time to assist in his defense.”
5. School board denies LORP benefits to retirees
In what some education retirees described as “the ultimate betrayal,” Halifax County School Board members voted unanimously to terminate the Local Option Retirement Plan last year, less than one month after some employees had agreed to take early retirement in exchange for participation in the program.
Estimating the retirement plan cost over $1,433,000, Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon recommended the board terminate the program.
After several attempts to get school board members to reinstate the retirement program, the sting of betrayal lingered with retirees who decided in October to retain their own lawyer and pursue legal action.
Former LORP participants pooled resources to hire the services of attorneys from the Richmond law firm, Blackburn, Conte, Schilling and Click P.C. who brought a lawsuit for declaratory judgment against the Halifax County School Board.
However, in July, these retirees were disappointed after Pittsylvania County Judge Charles L. Strauss granted a demurrer entered by school board attorney Craig Wood, essentially ending the case as it is currently structured.
In his ruling, Strauss said the proper course of action was for the plaintiffs to argue breach of contract rather than bring a suit for declaratory judgment.
6. Halifax County Biomass plant opens
After years of planning and construction, the ribbon was officially cut opening the NOVEC Energy Production, Halifax County Biomass plant this fall.
This plant is capable of generating 49.9 megawatts of electricity for the cooperatives’ customer-owners by burning wood chips. The wood waste is burned as fuel to create power in a “carbon-neutral” process creating steam. The steam then spins a turbine that produces energy. “Reclaimed water” from the local water authority will be used to cool the plant.
The plant provides enough electricity to power 16,000 homes.
USDA, in partnership with the Manassas-based Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative and NOVI Energy, helped to finance this endeavor.
Rural Utilities Service provided a $90 million long-term loan for the plant.
The plant construction also was supported through other loan and grant funds of $40 million and NOVEC equity in excess of $50 million.
During the construction period, the project created about 250 jobs with a total payroll of $30 million.
The completed facility requires 26 new full-time jobs with an annual payroll in excess of $1.5 million.
The facility also will generate $600,000 in new annual property tax revenue. In addition, Virginia has taxed about $35 million in material purchased for construction. The result of that is nearly $1.8 million in new sales tax revenue available for use by the commonwealth and Halifax County.
7. Quackenbush Martin wins commonwealth’s attorney race
A contentious race for Halifax County Commonwealth’s Attorney ended on Election Day with Independent challenger Tracy Quackenbush Martin winning election by an almost 2-1 margin over Republican incumbent Mike Freshour.
The Halifax attorney prevailed in every precinct and garnered 6,210 votes, compared to 3,304 for Freshour.
Freshour had been serving as acting commonwealth’s attorney since August 2012, when he was sworn in to fill the vacancy created when former Commonwealth’s Attorney Kim White was appointed a circuit court judge.
Prior to becoming commonwealth’s attorney, Freshour started his career as a prosecutor serving as the Project Exile prosecutor for one year, before serving as the deputy commonwealth’s attorney for seven years.
Quackenbush Martin has represented clients in Halifax County for 15 years practicing law at the Law Office of Tracy L. Quackenbush, PLC.
8. Courthouse renovations
Halifax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a contract with CJMW Architecture for architecture, design and engineering services for the historic Halifax County Courthouse this summer followed by review of schematic design and site plans in the fall, with final design concluded by the end of the year.
Construction is slated to begin in August of 2014 and finish in July 2015, according to Emmett Lifsey, a principal with CJMW Architecture.
The basic services fee in the contract — $610,000 — was based on a preliminary construction budget estimated at $7.5 million for courthouse work.
The estimated total cost of renovations, initially set around $10 to $12 million, will not be known until the ultimate scope of the project is determined.
Plans are in place to provide temporary offices and court facilities during construction as well as relocating the sheriff’s office, which will be moving out of the courthouse permanently.
Those costs are estimated to add up to $2 million to the final cost of the project and contribute to a total project cost in the range of $10.5 million.
In the meantime, B&B Consulting has been approved for architectural and design services for renovation of the county administration buildings for use by the sheriff’s department.
Renovation of the brick administration building to house the sheriff’s office and senior staff plus the central evidence room was estimated at $93,700.
Construction of a proposed new operations building to house deputies, investigators offices, a classroom with fitness area, locker room, fingerprint and intoxication area and storage was estimated to cost $571,200.
The sheriff’s office, now located in the rear of the courthouse complex across from the Blue Ridge Regional Jail, will be moved into the county administration building located on Main Street in Halifax.
In order for the sheriff’s office to be out of the courthouse and in the renovated facility, work needs to begin on the administration building by the first of the year.
The sheriff’s office will move into two shop buildings located behind the administration building, and the shop buildings will have to undergo extensive renovations before they are ready for occupancy.
With law enforcement moving into the county administration building, county workers will have to move into the basement of the Mary Bethune office complex temporarily.
The old industrial arts building next to the Mary Bethune office complex will be renovated to serve as a temporary courtroom while renovations are underway at the courthouse. When the courthouse work is completed, and the temporary courtroom is no longer needed, the county administrator’s office and planning and general properties/building inspection employees will shift into that space, making the industrial arts building the permanent center of county government.
Plans call for the courthouse project to be completed in 2016, at which time all courts would move back in.
9. ED-6 School Board seat tie
Every vote counted in this year’s elections. Literally.
Just ask ED-6 incumbent school board trustee Fay Satterfield who edged out challenger Rita Best in the luck of the draw following a tied vote on Election Day in November.
Both Satterfield and Best received 686 votes in the election, and both expressed relief the election had been decided after Satterfield’s name was drawn from a box.
The drawing took place outside the office of Halifax County General Registrar Judy Meeler, with Satterfield, her opponent Best, officials with the registrar’s office and supporters of both candidates present as Halifax County Electoral Board Vice-Chairman Mike Cull drew Satterfield’s name.
Virginia election laws allow localities to “declare by lot which of the candidates shall be declared elected” in case of a tie vote.
10. Washington-Coleman Center opens
Work wrapped up on Phase II of the Washington Coleman Community Center in the fall, and a ribbon cutting ceremony was held complete with public tours of the facility.
A master plan for the community center project, which includes three phases, was unveiled four years ago in June 2009.
Phase I construction included the renovation and upgrade of the pre-K section of the facility with secure fencing and separate off-street parking.
Phase II involved the renovation of the 1930-era and historic section of the old school into a year-round community center facility for exclusive use by the town’s parks and recreation department.
Phase III, which remains to be complete, is the construction of a new, modern gymnasium to accommodate the overload of indoor recreation demand currently experienced at the South Boston Recreation Center on Broad Street.
When construction talks began on the Washington-Coleman Community Center project, the focus for the project was to keep the historic Washington-Coleman building as original as possible while making the changes.
The newly constructed community center is designed to provide a safe environment for citizens to engage in leisure activities such as arts and crafts as well as senior citizen activity groups and includes a classroom and activity center to enhance the effectiveness of the Mentor-Role Model Program.
Museum exhibits celebrating the history of Booker T. Washington High School, M. H. Coleman Grammar School, Washington-Coleman Elementary School and the Civil Rights in Education Trail also are to be part of the center.
A fully-equipped computer lab/library room at the center also will be available to the general public as part of the project.
When completed, the computer lab/library will feature individual personal computer workstations affording residents access to the Internet and computer applications for personal business.
Extensive broadband access throughout the community center will provide WiFi access and Internet access for computer-based games and educational programs.
The Washington-Coleman Community Center is located at 1927 Jeffress Blvd. in South Boston.