From attending enriching workshops to riding around on electric scooters, Vienna Town Council members took advantage of the chance to learn new things and forge relationships at the annual Virginia Municipal League (VML) conference in Roanoke.
All Vienna Town Council members except Pasha Majdi went to the conference, held Oct. 6 through 8 at the Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center. Following tradition, Town Manager Mercury Payton, Town Attorney Stephen Briglia and Town Clerk Melanie Clark also attended.
Council member Howard Springsteen, who first was elected to the Council in 2009, was attending only his second VML conference, as he works as a logistics manager for the Fairfax County Department of Vehicle Services.
“Since I am a empty nester now, I could afford to take a two-vacation day from work,” he said. “I enjoyed seeing folks from around Virginia involved with local government and hearing about their challenges and concerns.”
The conference’s opening day featured committee meetings, a downtown public-art tour, a sports-tourism presentation, a program titled “Intro to Race, Equity and Leadership,” a scooter demonstration and an opening session, followed by a reception and game night.
The second day offered workshops for cities, towns and urban areas; another scooter demonstration; concurrent workshops on topics ranging from cable franchising and the Freedom of Information Act to human services, airports and housing challenges; general sessions on craft businesses and local government, as well as cyber-liability coverage; and a host-city reception and dinner.
The third day kicked off with a 6:30 a.m. yoga session for spry early risers, followed by breakfast and concurrent roundtable discussions on Dominion Energy’s broadband pilot program, making effective use of planning district commissions, navigating federal grants, urban-wildlife management, a VML legislative update, sewer relining, elections, infrastructure financing, preparations for emergencies and disasters, recycling and the Virginia Green Initiative.
After a speech by Gov. Northam later that morning, there was a presentation titled “Journey from the Epicenter of the Opioid Epidemic to the Epicenter of Recovery – the Story of Huntington, W.Va.,” which was followed by an annual business meeting and a luncheon with an awards ceremony.
The opioid presentation “was very moving to me,” said Vienna Mayor Laurie DiRocco, who said she was surprised to learn that Huntington, as well as localities in southwest Virginia, had been struck by the drug crisis 15 years ago.
“This has been going on for a long time,” she said. “You realize that this is something that is going to affect generations. It’s not just something that’s immediate and can be fixed.”
DiRocco’s interest also was piqued by the cable-franchising workshop, which included a section on 5G wireless equipment that’s being installed in localities. Vienna officials will consider requiring smaller, more attractive cellular-equipment cabinets and infrastructure for redeveloping sections of Maple Avenue, she said.
The presentation also featured information about radiation impacts from 5G equipment.
“According to the General Assembly, they are considered safe,” DiRocco said of the wireless gear. “That is not the position of localities, necessarily, but that is what the General Assembly is saying.”
The public-safety workshop provided tips from Virginia Beach officials on how to prevent mass shootings like the one committed May 19 by a disgruntled city employee there, who killed 12 people and wounded four others before being fatally shot by police.
“I don’t know if there are things we can always prevent, but there certainly seem to be warning signs and [the need for] making sure people, if they see anything unusual, say something about it,” DiRocco said.
The workshop also stressed that local governments should ensure people who are struggling with anxiety, depression and anger management get the help they need, she said.
Springsteen attended at least six workshops and said he especially enjoyed the ones pertaining to recycling challenges, affordable housing, sewer relining and public safety.
Council members, who must enact regulations or a pilot program for electric scooters and/or bicycles before a state deadline that takes effect Jan. 1, 2020, availed themselves of the opportunity to ride Lime scooters at the conference.
“It was fun and I wore a helmet,” Springsteen said. “However, these scooters can be accidents waiting to happen if you go over 10 mph or hit any bumps or potholes.”
“I thought it was really fun,” DiRocco agreed. “I think it would be safer to have a helmet when you ride. That may be a preference for people. But yes, [the scooter] was fairly easy to ride.”
DiRocco currently serves on VML’s executive committee and Council member Douglas Noble is vice chair of the group’s Transportation Policy Committee.
Springsteen said he was struck at the conference by the common interests and concerns – such as recycling challenges and infrastructure funding – expressed by elected officials in other localities, as well as their desire to do what was best for their constituents.
“Vienna clearly runs a very fiscally responsible operation with a good tax base,” he said.
“Many rural towns and cities would love to be in Vienna’s position.”