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Henrico County names Meghan F. Coates new Finance Director after leading county through budget shortfall negotiations

Coates joined the county staff in 2019 as deputy director of Finance and most recently served as acting director of the department. She will succeed Edward N. “Ned” Smither Jr. in the position. Smither had led the department since 2017.

RVAHub Staff

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Henrico County has appointed Meghan F. Coates director of the Department of Finance, effective Saturday, August 1st.

Coates joined the county staff in 2019 as deputy director of Finance and most recently served as acting director of the department. She will succeed Edward N. “Ned” Smither Jr. in the position. Smither had led the department since 2017.

Coates was key to the county’s efforts this spring to navigate a $99 million shortfall — brought on by the sudden economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic — as Henrico was beginning its budget process for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

As director, Coates will head an agency with more than 160 employees and a budget of $13.7 million for the 2020-21 fiscal year. Finance comprises the divisions of real estate assessment, treasury, management and budget, accounting, purchasing, and revenue. Among its scope of duties, the department prepares and administers the county’s operating and capital budgets and Comprehensive Annual Financial Report; reviews, assesses, bills and collects taxes, licenses, and fees; assesses real estate and certain personal property, and purchases goods and services for general government departments and Henrico Schools.

Coates also will serve as commissioner of revenue and treasurer for the county, as prescribed by the Code of Virginia.

Prior to coming to Henrico, Coates held several positions with Chesterfield County, including budget analyst, budget manager and director of budget and management. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Roanoke College and a Master of Science from Virginia Commonwealth University. Coates is the mother of two daughters.

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Police, prisons, and protests: recent poll sheds light on the opinions of student voters

Voters are more divided now than they were in the 2016 election, according to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center. Many young Virginians believe the passion could translate to the polls on Election Day.

Capital News Service

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By Hunter Britt

Voters are more divided now than they were in the 2016 election, according to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center. Many young Virginians believe the passion could translate to the polls on Election Day.

Rickia Sykes, a senior at Norfolk State University in Norfolk, said that her political views have grown stronger since protests erupted globally in late May. The death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis Police Department officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly 8 minutes, inspired months of protests.

Sykes said that her political views line up with her faith. She considers herself pro-life, believes in advocating for the working class, and supports law-enforcement.

“The protests have shown me we need to keep God first, but it has also shown me that good cops are important to help keep law and order,” Sykes said in a text message. “I do realize that there are bad cops, but in order to make a change, I believe we need to work together with the good cops.”

Sykes said that now she researches politicians more thoroughly before deciding which candidate gets her vote. She looks at voting records to see if they vote in a way that “will help us middle and lower-class families.”

Erik Haugen, a junior at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond who considers himself a Libertarian, said his political views haven’t changed much since the protests started.

“I just see the stronger push for equality, and I think it’s a good step in our nation so long as it proceeds peacefully,” Haugen said.

Equality is at the center of issues that student voters are concerned about this election. From racial injustice to prison reform to healthcare concerns, many students say they want to enact positive change.

Students have varying opinions on whether or not the importance of voting has become more significant in recent years. Sykes said that she has always found voting significant, but she believes the importance of it has grown for others. Haugen said that while his political views haven’t changed, he believes voting has become more important in general and especially for the younger generations as tension in the U.S. grows and protests become more prominent.

Sarah Dowless, a junior at William & Mary in Williamsburg, said that voting has always been important, but the protests have made voting more prominent, “like people encouraging folks to vote and making information about voting accessible, especially among young people.” Dowless said the recent protests have reinforced her progressive beliefs.

“If anything, the protests have only amplified my concern for racial injustice in America and my concern about police brutality,” she said. “It’s a fundamental issue about freedom and it calls into question the very principles on which this country was founded and continues to claim.”

The protests also influenced a host of legislation in the recent special legislative session of the General Assembly that ended last week. Virginia legislators passed numerous bills focused on police and criminal justice reform.

According to the United States Census Bureau, voter turnout among 18 to 29-year-olds jumped 15.7% between 2014 and 2018. This was the largest percentage point increase for any age group. Turnout is expected to be high this year as well, but there are no final numbers for age groups. Voter registration in Virginia set a record this year with almost 5.9 million voters  registering. During the last presidential election a little more than 5.5 million people registered to vote.

Sykes is also concerned about the economy and health care.  She wants a political leader who will increase the odds that people have a stable source of income to afford medical treatment.

“As a graduating senior, I want and need a good paying/stable job for when I graduate,” she said. “I need someone who will make sure we have a strong and reliable economy.”

Dowless wants U.S. prisons, which she describes as currently being “more punitive than rehabilitative,” to undergo major reform. Haugen would like police academy programs to be longer and implement de-escalation training.

“I first and foremost care about the safety of the American people,” Haugen said.

Early voting and no-excuse absentee voting are currently underway throughout the state. The deadline to request to vote absentee by mail is Oct. 23. Early voting ends the Saturday before Election Day, or Oct. 31.

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Virginia lawmakers pass legislation to make Juneteenth a state holiday

Juneteenth has officially become a state holiday after lawmakers unanimously approved legislation during the Virginia General Assembly special session.

Capital News Service

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By Sam Fowler

Juneteenth has officially become a state holiday after lawmakers unanimously approved legislation during the Virginia General Assembly special session.

Juneteenth marks the day news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Texas, which was the last state to abolish slavery. The companion bills were introduced by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, and Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Richmond. Gov. Ralph Northam signed the legislation on Oct. 13.

“Juneteenth is the oldest celebration of the end of slavery in the United States,” Northam said during a press conference held that day. “It’s time we elevate this, not just a celebration by and for some Virginia, but one acknowledged and celebrated by all of us.”

Del. Joshua Cole, D-Fredericksburg, introduced a bill in the legislative session earlier this year to recognize Juneteenth, but the proposal didn’t advance.

Northam proposed making Juneteenth a state holiday in June during a press conference that included musician and Virginia-native Pharrell Williams. Northam signed an executive order that gave executive branch employees and state colleges the day off. Some Virginia localities, such as Richmond and several places in Hampton Roads, also observed the holiday this year.

“I think it is overdue that the Commonwealth formally honor and celebrate the emancipation and end of slavery,” Del. Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, a co-patron of the bill, said in an email. “It was a step towards fulfilling the promise of equality contained in our founding documents.”

The Elegba Folklore Society, a Richmond-based organization focused on promoting African culture, history and arts, is one of the groups that has been celebrating the holiday for decades. The celebration usually is a three-day weekend event that looks at the history of Juneteenth. A torch-lit walk down the Trail of Enslaved Africans in Richmond is also held, said Janine Bell, the society’s president and artistic director.

“We take time to just say thank you to our ancestors, their contributions, their forfeitures, their trials and tribulations,” Bell said. “We invite people to Richmond’s African burial ground so that we can go there and pay homage from a perspective of African spirituality.”

Juneteenth should not be used as another holiday to look for bargains in stores, Bell said. It should be a time for reflection about liberty, as well as for celebration and family strengthening.

“It’s a time for optimism and joy,” Bell said.

The Elegba Folklore Society broadcasted its Juneteenth event online this year due to the coronavirus. Although there were still around 7,000 views, Bell said that it is usually much larger and has international influence.

Cries for police reform and social justice continue to increase, Bell said. More attention is being drawn to the racial disparities across America. With this, people have been changing their priorities concerning issues such as discrimination.

“This was a step towards equity,” Bell said about the bill. “A symbolic step, but a step nonetheless.”

State workers will be off during Juneteenth. If the job requires individuals to come in to work, then they will be compensated with overtime or extra pay, said Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, a patron for the bill.

The General Assembly wrapped up the agenda last week for the special session that began Aug. 18. Northam called the session to update the state budget and to address criminal and social justice reform and issues related to COVID-19.

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Stoney administration proposes surplus funds to address three public health needs in city

The Stoney administration, working alongside Richmond City Health District, has proposed $500,000 of special-purpose reserves from the projected FY2020 budget surplus go to funding three distinct public health efforts in the city.

RVAHub Staff

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The Stoney administration, working alongside Richmond City Health District, has proposed $500,000 of special-purpose reserves from the projected FY2020 budget surplus go to funding three distinct public health efforts in the city.

The mayor is proposing the following:

  1. $200,000, Resource Center Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Pilot, partnering with Richmond City Health District, Richmond Behavioral Health Authority. The yearlong pilot will fund a full-time clinician, a licensed substance use disorder counselor, and a peer recovery specialist to work out of RCHD’s resource centers and provide necessary services to residents in their communities.
  2. $150,000, Richmond Doula Fund, partnering with Richmond City Health District. The Doula Fund will reimburse doulas for services and fund doula training with the goal of decreasing racial disparities in maternal and infant health outcomes.
  3. $150,000, Gun Violence Prevention Framework, partnering with Richmond City Health District. These funds will support the development of a hybrid gun violence prevention model based on national best practices and community input. With this funding, the model will be finalized in early 2021.

“The pandemic has highlighted a troubling network of health disparities that threaten the quality of life for many Richmonders,” said the mayor. “With these three proposed allocations, Richmond City Council has the opportunity to support our effort to address these disparities, building a healthier city for all.”

The Richmond City Council will discuss the potential allocations at the informal meeting on Monday, October 12. The council will have the opportunity to reach a consensus on using surplus funds to support these three innovative and detailed public health efforts.

Mayor Stoney indicated on September 15, 2020, that he would propose special-purpose reserves be allocated in part to address health disparities in the city. All three of the above projects aim to allocate more resources to historically underserved communities.

For more details on the three efforts this allocation would fund, click here.

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