STAUNTON — With less than a week until the deadline for action, the city is stepping up efforts to persuade Gov. Glenn Youngkin to veto legislation on the proposed Augusta County courthouse referendum.
Last week, the Staunton Downtown Development Association sent a message to the city's business community encouraging the merchants to send messages of veto support to the governor's office. House Bill 902 and Senate Bill 283 "put the fate of our historic courthouse on the ballot this November with a very one-sided set of facts," the message from SDDA executive director Greg Beam read.
"He needs to hear about the role the courthouse plays in our economic development, our tourism initiatives, and the preservation of our history," Beam wrote in the email "He needs to know that the citizens and businesses within the city want to be part of the solution. He needs to hear that the business community supports a veto and pledges to work with the city and county leaders to find a solution that is the best use of taxpayer dollars."
Asked in an interview Monday afternoon about the email, Beam said the SDDA board is of the mind that "we'd like to see the courthouse stay." However, instead of just hearing from city leaders about the issue, Beam said SDDA wants everyone, regardless of their support or opposition, to share their opinions with Youngkin.
The memo included the email address of Jesse Lynch, Youngkin's director of legislative affairs.
The memo's first line said the city of Staunton "is requesting our support." Beam confirmed the request came from Staunton City Council.
The location of the Augusta courthouse is a long-simmering political battle between Staunton and Augusta County leaders that got reheated in the 2022 General Assembly session.
Del. John Avoli, R-Staunton, and Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, both pushed bills that would set up a new referendum on whether a new courthouse should be built in Verona or the existing location be renovated and expanded in downtown Staunton. Augusta has accused Staunton of blocking efforts to expand the East Johnson Street property, and Staunton has fired back by saying the proposed referendum ignores Augusta voters wishes from six years ago when they overwhelmingly rejected building in Verona.
Since that time, the 25th Circuit Court district, which encompasses both Staunton and Augusta, has ordered the court to immediately remediate the ongoing issue of expansion. Avoli and Hanger both said the new referendum is a direct result of that court order.
Youngkin suggested amending the bills to put the referendum off for a year and bring in a second architectural firm to draw up plans and estimate costs for both construction and renovation. During last month's reconvened session, both the House and Senate refused to adopt the amendments. That put the original issue back before the governor.
By 11:59 p.m. Friday, May 27, Youngkin must either sign or veto the bills without his amendments. He also has the option of not acting on the bills by the deadline, If that happens, the bills would be passed.
Bill Atkinson (he/him/his) is an award-winning journalist and daily news coach for USA TODAY Network's Atlantic Region which includes Virginia. He is based in Petersburg, Virginia. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Staunton News Leader: Staunton group calls on businesses to push veto on courthouse vote