Farewell, 2023! 

By Heather Michon

How do you judge a year?

On the one hand, it seems like it’s been a very quiet 12 months. Mother Nature didn’t smack us too hard. The county’s budget and tax rates stayed about the same. Big, ongoing projects like the James River Water Project and the Comprehensive Plan crept forward. We’re getting a Wawa at Zion Crossroads – a sign that Fluvanna has arrived. Nice, normal stuff. 

On the other hand…wow, what a year! Month after month after month, citizens wrestled with big issues and big decisions, including major local elections, book bans, school violence, LGBTQ rights, rural preservation, and even the Israel-Hamas War. 

So maybe it’s more accurate to say that we live in an era when even the quiet times are really, really complicated.  

Here are five stories that made headlines in 2023:

Polonis faces censure, removal vote

A Facebook post by a Lake Monticello Board of Directors member sparked outrage in June and led to a summer-long campaign to oust him from his seat. Director Donald Polonis was censured by his fellow board members for repeated violations of the LMOA social media policy, including a June post aligning the LGBTQ+ rainbow flag with the work of Satan. By law, Polonis could only be removed by a majority vote by all of Lake Monticello’s 4,600 members. A group of Lake residents launched a determined campaign, leading to an unprecedented turnout in a special election in September. In the end, Polonis held on to his seat by just 143 votes.

Woman drives into Lake Monticello

Lake Monticello lifeguards rushed to the scene of a dramatic accident on July 6, when a woman parked in the upper lot at Ashlawn Clubhouse ended up in the water on the Main Beach. Careening downhill at a high rate of speed, the car narrowly missed hitting the clubhouse, broke through the pool fence, crossed the deck, crashed through the other side and continued down to the beach, where it finally came to a stop in the water. Lifeguards and bystanders quickly extracted the driver from the car as it sank. Amazingly, nobody was seriously injured in the incident.

Election 2023

While 2024 is going to be a major year in national politics, the 2023 elections brought major changes to Fluvanna County. Longtime supervisors Mozell Booker and Patricia Eager retired, opening up the Fork Union and Palmyra seats. Linda Lenherr retired after four decades as county treasurer. On the School Board, Perrie Johnson decided not to seek a third term as Fork Union representative and incumbent James Kelley faced a challenger in the Palmyra district. When all the votes were counted, Mike Goad and Tim Hodge won their races for supervisor, Deborah Rittenhouse won the treasurer’s race, Danny Reed won the Fork Union school board race, and James Kelley held on to his seat.

School books challenged

The nationwide movement to remove books from school libraries reached Fluvanna in October, as community members submitted a list of almost two dozen books they culled from the high school library catalog, arguing that they contained sexually explicit and inappropriate content. Led by the candidate then challenging Chair James Kelley from his Palmyra School Board seat, the reverberations far outlasted the election. In November, the board created the Learning Resource Committee as an addition to the existing book review committee. Each board member would select a citizen to represent them on the committee. These appointments were originally scheduled for December but were pulled from the agenda as some members were not ready to make their selections. This led to testy exchanges between Columbia representative Andrew Pullen and outgoing Fork Union representative Perrie Johnson, as Johnson was denied the opportunity to select a committee member before the end of her term.

Two homicides, one arrest

There were two homicides in Fluvanna County in 2023. In the early morning hours of Aug. 20, the Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office was called to a home on Ridge Road after a reported shooting. Johnnie Antoine Brown, 43, was found dead from multiple gunshot wounds after an altercation with two unknown individuals who drove off in a two-door car. No arrests have been announced in the case. On Oct. 6, deputies were called to a domestic disturbance in Kent’s Store where they found Carolyn Faith Grooms, 57, dead from head injuries. Her nephew, Quentin Lamar Burgess, 24, was arrested at the home and charged with second-degree murder.

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