The Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday passed a resolution supporting the fair and equal treatment of African Americans and condemning systemic violence toward members of the black community.
The resolution, presented by Supervisor Karl Roulston, was unanimously approved by the board on the same day that George Floyd, the Minneapolis, Minnesota, man whose death while in police custody on May 25 sparked nationwide outrage and protests, was laid to rest.
The resolution, as read by Roulston during Tuesday’s meeting, states the county government's belief that every black person is entitled to the “social, economic and political opportunity to thrive,” condemns violence inflicted on black individuals and communities by “any state, community, individual or police bodies,” and expresses the county’s commitment to “acknowledging, respecting, and celebrating differences and commonalities” among all of its citizens, the county’s desire to “continue to work towards a fully integrated community that respects and values the diversity of all our citizenry” and its belief that all citizens deserve “freedom, justice, dignity, compassion, understanding and protection under the law regardless of race, gender, religious beliefs or disbeliefs, economic status, abilities or disabilities, sexual identity, gender identity, or immigration status.”
The resolution closes by stating “Shenandoah County hereby issues this official resolution of support of black lives and condemning the systemic violence, both overt and institutional, towards black communities and individuals.”
Public comments issued prior to Tuesday’s vote offered mixed responses to the proposed resolution, which originally was titled “Resolution in Support of Black Lives Matter.” Roulston explained in the minutes prior to the board’s vote that he’d changed references in the resolution to BLM to simply “black lives” in order to avoid misconceptions that the board was endorsing the BLM organization itself rather than the broader movement against violence and systemic racism toward African Americans.
Two people, both in favor of the resolution, spoke during the public comments portion of the virtual meeting, and nearly 25 others offered written comments that were read aloud by Shenandoah County Administrator Evan Vass.
Maurertown resident Dennis Atwood stated that “it’s way past time for Virginia to stop having to be told by courts how they should treat each other with equal respect and enjoy equal rights in dealing with government at all levels” and added that the Board of Supervisors could make that declaration by approving the resolution.
Jeff Rudy, president of the Shenandoah County Education Association, spoke on behalf of the SCEA when he commended the board for presenting the resolution.
“The SCEA condemns in the strongest possible term the murder of and marginalization of members of the African American community and calls on all people of moral character to stand with our brothers and sisters of color in demanding an end to the hate and oppression created by racism. From underfunded public schools and the lack of social, emotional, health and economic resources, to the murder of unarmed African American men and women in our American streets, ours is a society in crisis,” said Rudy, who added that the SCEA is committed to the “necessary actions to ensure all marginalized students and their families are treated with dignity and respect, and that their lives are secured by a system of justice that provides for their equal protection and enriched by our fair and equitable education system.”
Most written comments critical of the resolution opposed not the document’s general stance in denouncing racism and unequal treatment of black Americans but what the writers perceived to be an endorsement of the Black Lives Matter organization, with some noting that such an alignment would create further racial divide. One comment noted that the resolution “panders to national politics.” Others expressed a desire for an “All Lives Matter” resolution and offered their own revised versions to reflect those changes.
Roulston said later in the meeting, and before the board’s vote, that he wanted the resolution to be “unifying” across the county.
“I think that we all understand that racism is an evil thing and we don’t want to have it, but what I didn’t want to have happen is actually what seems to be happening with the distinction between the Black Lives Matter movement and the Black Lives Matter organization,” Roulston said. “People were reading it thinking we were endorsing that organization and that’s not the truth. There are tenets in that organization that I personally don’t believe in and it wasn’t a call to endorse an organization. That point was made and the point was well taken.”
Roulston added further that the resolution was not intended as an attack on local law enforcement, a statement reiterated by Supervisor Timothy Taylor, who said the board will continue to support local law enforcement “in any way possible.”
Supervisor Dennis Morris commended Roulston for the edits he made to the language of the resolution, stating that he had received some calls Tuesday morning from citizens concerned about an endorsement of the Black Lives Matter organization.
Supervisor Brad Pollack, a defense attorney, stated that while he was sympathetic to the issues at hand and supported the resolution, he didn’t see “what great relevance it has here in Shenandoah County” and noted that in 45 years as a county resident he was “not aware of any violence inflicted” against black individuals in Shenandoah County.
After going into closed session at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve a resolution authorizing the disposition of the historic bank building on W. Court St. in Woodstock to Echelon Resources Inc. The firm had made an unsolicited proposal in October to purchase the property, soon to be vacated by the investigations division of the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office, from the county in order to renovate and repurpose the building as a commercial space and residential apartments.
Also on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors:
• Approved an appropriation from the Shenandoah Community Foundation Grant.
• Approved reappropriations for the second half of fiscal year 2020.
• Approved a zoning map amendment rezoning certain properties zoned A-1 and R-2, comprising approximately 51.3 acres in Maurertown, to R-4.
• Approved an ordinance expanding the Toms Brook-Maurertown Sanitary District.
• Approved an ordinance amending landfill fees.
• Approved an ordinance to adopt state law pertaining to traffic and vehicles.
• Approved Roulston’s appointment to the CARES Act - Coronavirus Relief Fund Committee.
• Discussed amendments to the fiscal year 2021 budget.
• Held a public hearing regarding the adoption of an ordinance establishing a tourism zone in the county.
Supervisors Morris, Pollack, Roulston and Taylor, Chairman Dick Neese and Vice Chairman Steven Baker all attended the virtual meeting.