Supervisors name new Planning Commission member but not without controversy

By Heather Michon

A question of protocol came up during the Board of Supervisors meeting on Wednesday (May 1).

With Bree Key not seeking re-appointment, the task at hand was to select a new Planning Commission member for the Rivanna District. 

Six candidates applied for the position, including Lake Monticello Police Department Chief David Wells and Gary Sellick, current vice president of the Lake’s Board of Directors. Other candidates included Robert Dorsey, Eddie Shifflett, Woody Fincham, and Raghvendra Singh. 

Wells, Sellick, and Dorsey spoke to the supervisors about their respective qualifications for the seat. Dorsey, for example, had spent six years on the Covenants Committee and two years on the Board of Directors for a large homeowner association in Northern Virginia. Sellick, a historian at Monticello, also volunteers with the Fluvanna County Historical Society. Wells talked about the many property and infrastructure issues he has dealt with at the Lake.

Supervisor Tony O’Brien, who represents Rivanna, nominated Sellick, saying he had the “youth and energy and diversity of experience” the commission needed and could be a valuable liaison between the county and the LMOA.

Nobody seconded his motion.

Palmyra Supervisor Tim Hodge then nominated Eddie Shifflett, rescue chief of the Lake Monticello Volunteer Rescue Squad. While Shifflett didn’t have specific experience in planning issues, he had frequently conversed with some board members on a number of issues facing the county, and Hodge said he “had the most available free time” of all the candidates.

Hodge’s motion was seconded by Fork Union Supervisor Mike Goad, and Shifflett was appointed with a vote of 4-1.

O’Brien voted no, adding “I find it irregular that the supervisors from the district wasn’t given a second for a vote.”

He brought the issue back for discussion later in the meeting, pointing out that the supervisor from the district with the vacancy usually chooses the candidate.

“I understand that maybe the person that I selected isn’t what the board wanted,” he said, “but I find it deeply disturbing that a volunteer wasn’t given a second at the very least and that a vote wasn’t taken.”

He called the failure to give Sellick a vote “a grave error” and hoped “we’ll be a little more thoughtful the next time we take these votes.”

False alarms

With pool-filling season now underway, Hodge noted that companies filling their tanks off the Aqua water system were causing low-pressure alerts in the Lake Monticello area.

Since the water tower near Zion Crossroads needs regular flushing, he asked if they could look into selling that water to pool companies at a lower price than Aqua currently offers. This would prevent water from going to waste and could provide a revenue stream for the county. 

County Administrator Eric Dahl said it was “a fair idea” and would direct the staff to look into it.

Hodge, who is also a first responder, questioned if the county should explore “a false alarm ordinance.”

He gave two examples of frequent false alarms.

First, low water pressure can trigger automatic alarms in buildings with fire-suppression systems, leading to needless call-outs for all three fire companies.

Second, some seniors trigger their personal emergency alarms “when they just want to talk to us,” said Hodge. Supervisor Mike Sheridan, who works with the Kents Store fire department, recalled a situation where an individual put out an alarm each time they needed help getting in and out of their bathroom.

In these instances, fire departments call the Department of Social Services for seniors who seem in need of help, but they don’t always take the assistance offered.

Hodge said his concern was that first responders would be dealing with a false alarm and would not be able to reach a genuine medical crisis in time.

County Attorney Daniel Whitten said he would research how other localities deal with persistent false alarms but said he didn’t “love the subjective element” of trying to penalize nuisance calls.

Honoring Len Gardner

O’Brien said the family of former supervisor (and Fluvanna Review founder) Len Gardner was looking for some way to publicly honor the long-time public servant. 

Gardner, one of the last survivors of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, died in 2020 at the age of 99. He served on the Board of Supervisors from 1991-2003.

Some suggestions included naming the Lake Monticello dam or nearby bridge over the Rivanna River in his honor. There was also discussion about placing a plaque at the park in Palmyra or a memorial at Pleasant Grove, which he helped establish. 

Dahl said he and his staff will look into some options and bring them back to the board for further discussion. 

Other matters

Members heard a presentation on Share the Air, a program to discourage smoking in outdoor public areas, got an update on the county’s Two Year Plan, and talked about their annual retreat.

They also approved a proclamation declaring May as Older Americans Month and authorized a public hearing on building inspection fees.

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