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November 2011

The City’s Legislative Priorities

Every year, the City of Newport News submits a list of legislative priorities to the Virginia General Assembly to inform our State governing body of the issues that are most important to our City. The priorities set forth by the City can address a variety of issues under the State’s control such as funding for locally administered State programs, changes to the Code of Virginia or Virginia Constitution, or City Charter changes. While all of the issues included in the legislative package are important, the items I will discuss in this article stand out in my mind as particularly significant.

Capitol Building
The Virginia State Capitol Building in Richmond.

Require pawnbrokers to photograph items, identification, and persons involved in transactions. Recovering stolen property can be an extremely difficult task for law enforcement agencies across the country. The process becomes more complicated when stolen goods are unknowingly bought or sold at legitimate pawn businesses. The City is asking the General Assembly to amend the law such that pawnbrokers will be required to photograph all pawned/sold items, the person selling the goods, and the identification card used for the transaction.Current law requires that pawn shops document the information on the seller’s ID and a description of the merchandise. The change the City is requesting will make it much easier to find and identify stolen goods and the person who sold, and may have stolen them.

Define the City’s boundary to extend to the center line of any body of water located between it and another jurisdiction. Large bodies of water are a hallmark of the Hampton Roads region. Most of these waterways traverse several cities and counties, and it is sometimes unclear which locality is responsible for enforcing boating regulations, conducting water rescue operations, or providing for other public safety concerns. Our Charter defines the City’s boundary as extending to the “mean low water mark,” a description which is somewhat difficult to determine and can raise issues when emergency situations require prompt action. The City is requesting that our Charter be modified by the General Assembly to define our boundary as extending to the center line of any body of water located between us and another jurisdiction. By moving to a more easily identifiable boundary, we are better able to ensure the safety of residents and visitors.

Oppose further funding reductions in State Aid to Public Libraries. The ongoing economic downturn has resulted in shrinking budgets in most organizations, public and private. In the public sector, “non-essential” government services are the first to be reduced and usually suffer more substantial cuts than other services. While the City has not reduced library funding more so than it has other departments, the State has made substantial reductions in the support it provides for public libraries. As you know, I feel that libraries are a very important part of our community, support our educational system, and represent an investment in our future. Given the continued financial challenges we face at the State and local levels, Newport News has simply requested that the Commonwealth make no further funding cuts to public libraries. We want our libraries to be able to provide a high level of service to the residents of Newport News and throughout Virginia.

The Commonwealth must assume financial responsibility for inter-city passenger rail if Federal funding is reduced or eliminated. Travelling in Hampton Roads can often be a frustrating and difficult task. With congested roadways posing an ever-present challenge to commuters, alternative modes of transportation are a necessary component to ensure the future economic vitality of the region. Although the Federal government has historically helped to fund the creation and operation of inter-city and passenger rail lines; that funding is in peril as Congress works to try to reduce Federal spending and control ballooning national debt. Because an efficient, reliable transportation system is critical for the continued growth and prosperity of the Commonwealth, our City is requesting that the State commit to long-term financial support for inter-city and passenger rail should Federal funding be reduced or eliminated.

While the City has targeted a handful of issues that it feels are the most essential to Newport News, it is important to understand that the General Assembly has a substantial influence over municipalities in a multitude of areas, not the least of which are financial. There are two major ways the Commonwealth can impact the operating budget of localities—imposing unfunded mandates, and reducing/eliminating the aid it provides to local governments. If either of these were to occur, there would be a substantial negative impact on the ability of our City to operate at its current level. As such, Council has stressed to our State representatives the importance of ensuring that neither of these situations occur.

To view all of the City’s 2012 legislative priorities, click on the link below.

A Tribute to Excellence

If you have an opportunity to meet someone who has truly had an impact on history, it is an occasion that one does not forget. At a Celebration of Achievement on Saturday, October 29, at the Carver Memorial Presbyterian Church, I had a memorable experience when I was given the opportunity to honor Ms. Katherine Johnson.

Ms. Johnson
Ms. Johnson and I pictured after the Celebration of Achievement ceremony.

Ms. Johnson, a longtime Peninsula resident, worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for 33 years as a research mathematician and physicist. During that time, she helped to develop and solve complex mathematic calculations which determined the flight trajectories for our nation’s most historical space expeditions. In 1953, Ms. Johnson began her career in a pool of female mathematicians (whom she affectionately refers to as “computers who wore skirts”), but quickly earned a place working on a flight research team, alongside her all-male colleagues. Over her career, she hand-calculated the flight paths for Alan Shepard’s first manned space flight in 1961, the first successful orbit of the earth by John Glenn in 1962, and the most significant space expedition of all time, when Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon in 1969. Additionally, Ms. Johnson also authored or co-authored over 21 technical publications for NASA during her 33-year tenure, all while raising her three daughters.

Ms. Johnson, now 93, has been nationally recognized for her contributions to our country’s space program, but on October 29th it was Newport News’ turn to celebrate her lifelong achievements. I was fortunate enough to take part in the commemorative program, which gave accounts not only of her professional contributions, but also her service to the community—both of which are extraordinary. I would like to thank Carver Memorial Presbyterian Church for hosting this wonderful event, and most importantly, I would like to thank Ms. Johnson for her lifetime of service to our region and our nation.

Recent Community Events

As a part of this publication, I like to share information about community events that are of particular importance to our City and some of those in which I am able to take part. The three events discussed in this article are all significant to Newport News in that they all served to improve upon the lives of our citizens.

Community Day - 1
These are some of the local student band members who performed at the Community Family Day

On November 5, 2011, the Newport News Parent Educators’ Group (P.E.G.) held its third annual “Community Family Day” at the South Morrison Family Education Center in Newport News. P.E.G., a part of the Keeping Our Kids Safe initiative, hosted the event to promote positive parenting and childhood development, while emphasizing ways to protect youth from being involved in or victims of violence. The event had 67 participating community organizations which provided parents and children with important information and held interactive activities (including everything from Zumba demonstrations to diabetic screenings). This was an exciting, informative, and energy-filled event that I look forward to being a part of in the years to come.

Every year, communities across the United States unite in an effort to combat the debilitating and currently incurable disease of Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer's Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s helps to raise money and awareness through fundraising campaigns and organized walks in over 600 communities nationwide. The Peninsula’s 2011 Walk to End Alzheimer’s was held on Saturday, October 22, at Port Warwick. The fund-raising effort had 41 local business sponsors and 101 teams (comprised of 1,004 registered participants) who raised $158,000 for Alzheimer’s research and education. Events like this are extremely important in helping to find a cure for this devastating disease, which affects millions of Americans every year.

Tennis Ball Gala
My wife and I enjoying the Gala.

An Achievable Dream (AAD) is a groundbreaking partnership between Newport News Public Schools, the City, and the local business community. The year-round, extended hour program helps children of poverty achieve their academic and career goals through a disciplined academic environment from kindergarten all the way through 12th grade. To help raise funds for this life-changing program, AAD holds an annual fund-raising event, An Achievable Dream Tennis Ball Gala. This year’s event was extremely well attended, with over 800 people helping to raise funds for the continued success of the program. To help raise money, the Gala had both a silent and live auction (which included nine cars), as well as a raffle. This is always an extremely enjoyable event and one that is certainly a worthwhile endeavor.

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