Former State Senator blasts Augusta Co. supervisors over courthouse rhetoric

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STAUNTON, Va. (WHSV) - A former Virginia state senator has accused some members of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors of being non-transparent in their discussion of the upcoming courthouse referendum.

Frank Nolen blasted the board members in favor of moving the courthouse on Tuesday, November 1, in front of the current facility in Staunton.

Those advocating against the Nov. 8 referendum stood by his side.

"I take no pleasure in challenging or chastising the board," Nolen said. "But from time to time, it's necessary."

Nolen raised issue to the supervisors' framing of options the county has if the referendum were to fail (meaning if the majority of voters vote to keep the courthouse in its current location).

In particular, he pointed to a portion of Virginia law that gives local governing bodies permission to delay improvements to court facilities that are mandated by a judge.

Nolen feels the board members in favor of the referendum are intentionally giving voters the impression the county would be forced to make improvements to the current building on E. Johnson St. due to the mandate of a judge if the referendum were to fail.

"The Board of Supervisors here have not been totally transparent about that situation," said Nolen. "The courts can make some suggestions and can pass some orders that certain things need to be done, but the Board of Supervisors has the option of delaying anything that the court orders."

The addition to Virginia Code §15.2-1643, allowing municipalities the ability to postpone a judge's request to improve a court facility, is voted on every two years by the General Assembly.

In regards to the referendum itself, Nolen said the money proposed to build a new courthouse could be used on other projects in the county.

"I love Augusta County and I want [the county] to continue to succeed. But if we're going to continue to succeed, we must be frugal with our money and we must make sure that Staunton does not go downhill," said Nolen.

Supervisor Carolyn Bragg issued the following statement to WHSV in response:

"We are all aware that there is a budget moratorium in effect until 2018. This would allow us to delay any action required by the Virginia State Supreme Court in regards to making our Court facilities safe, secure and adequate. Exercising this delay is up the the discretion of each locality.

A delay in a Court ordered action does not dissolve our legal and moral responsibility to our judicial system, nor solve problems related to safety, security, accessibility, ADA compliance, space or functionality. The needs of our courts do not disappear because we have the opportunity to delay funding a project required by the Supreme Court of Virginia. Furthermore, we do not anticipate a decrease in construction costs with the addition of time allowed for compliance.

It is Augusta County’s duty to provide safe facilities to our public, our officers and court staff, and the incarcerated. It is our obligation to make our judicial system accessible for the handicapped and elderly, and it is our responsibility to provide for efficiencies and functionality within the operation of the Courts."

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You can learn more about the courthouse referendum in the Related Stories section of this article.