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Sixty-three days after Mike Mullin was elected Delegate for the 93rd District of the House of Delegates, Mullin has introduced legislation to the General Assembly that will fulfill two very different requests from the City of Williamsburg and James City County.
One of the proposed bills will allow James City County to address its ongoing battle against derelict vehicles on private property. The other proposed bill will amend the charter of Williamsburg to address the City’s desire to expand the Williamsburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority Board of Commissioners from five-members to seven-members.
“Williamsburg and James City County came to me and said they have a problem they need fixed,” Mullin said in an email.
Amendment to the Charter of the City of Williamsburg
The requested amendment to the City charter was one of the highest priority issues in Williamsburg’s 2017 legislative agenda. The requested charter amendment would expand the WRHA Board of Commissioners from five members to seven members. Currently, the City’s five Council members serve as all five members of the WRHA Board of Commissioners.
The requested legislation will allow City Councilors to continue to serve as five of the seven members of the WHRA Board of Commissioners and allow the appointment of one housing authority resident member and one citizen, according to the City of Williamsburg 2017 Legislative Agenda.
City Councilor Benny Zhang said he is in favor of the proposed legislation, because it brings the general public into the governing process.
“I support it,” Zhang said. “I think the more citizens that participate with our boards and commissions the better. It would make sense that we’ll return to having more citizens serve on the board.”
The proposed legislation allows the City of Williamsburg to decide who can be appointed to the board, so long as no more than five members of the board are members of the City Council. The proposal does not bind the City to appoint an authority resident member and a citizen to the board. The change in the composition of the board is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to information released by the City of Williamsburg.
The WRHA was created by the state legislature at the City’s request in October 1970 as a nonprofit public agency. Since then, it has been governed by a five-member Board of Commissioners appointed by City Council, which had always named one of its own members to the board, until the Board of Commissioners dissolved and City Councilors served on both political bodies.
WRHA is tasked with providing safe, decent and affordable shelter for “those of the greatest need,” according to its mission statement. This entails operation and maintenance of 104 public housing units, where rent is based on a tenant’s income. WRHA’s housing includes the Sylvia Brown Apartments on New Hope Road, the Katherine Circle Apartments on Dunning Street, the Mimosa Woods Apartments on Mimosa Drive and the age-restricted Blayton Building on Scotland Street, according to past WYDaily coverage.
After the Board of Commissioners was dissolved in 2012. City Councilors assumed the roles of the board and the City, in conjunction with the WHRA, created a transition plan to change the organizational structure to make it more efficient. Williamsburg began providing in-kind assistance with purchasing, payroll, accounts payable, information technology and landscaping to the WHRA in 2012, according to past WYDaily coverage.
“The City stepped in at the request of the then-board of commissioners, which asked the City to assist the City in keeping the housing program afloat both financially and programmatically,” said the City’s Director of Human Services Peter Walentisch.
Walentisch also serves as the permanent executive director of the WRHA, according to past WYDaily coverage. He said three years into the transition plan, the WHRA managed to earn high-achiever status with the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development in February 2016.
“I think we’re very proud of having done that, and I do think it’s largely because we came up with a creative solution,” Walentisch said. “We’re still working on other things organizationally. The plan is to have a full-time executive director for the housing authority, that means I transition out, but continue to be in a support role. That’s going to be posted shortly, and I will continue in this role until a full-time executive director is chosen.”
James City County requested legislation to address derelict vehicles
James City County requested legislation from its area delegation to the General Assembly to address abandoned and derelict vehicles throughout the county. Currently, the county cannot authorize the removal of these vehicles by order of state law.
“We’ve had citizen complaints throughout the county about abandoned and derelict vehicles, and the owners of these abandoned vehicles found ways to skirt the ordinances,” James City County Board of Supervisors Chairman Kevin Onizuk said. “Basically, our ordinances only allow us to do certain things, and the new legislation would provide more comprehensive enforcement options for us.”
Mullin’s proposed legislation will add James City County to a list of 20 other localities that are allowed to remove inoperable motor vehicles, except those within fully enclosed structures or otherwise shielded from view.
“The goal is to improve quality of life for everyone in our community and to protect property values for our homeowners,” Mullin said. “The nice thing about being a local delegate is that you see your friends and people you know at the grocery store and they come to you with problems in need of solutions. If someone has a neighbor who has been leaving a rusty old truck in the front yard for a year and a half, that affects their lives, and that is something I want to help with.”
County Administrator Bryan Hill said that progress on the county’s legislative agenda benefits the community.
“It’s just another thing that we need to do to protect our community character in James City County. As our strategic plan continues to be unveiled, it’s another piece of legislation to move our strategic plan forward,” Hill said.