The Virginia Municipal League (VML) is pleased to announce the winners of its annual awards for excellence in local government. The statewide competition recognizes innovative problem-solving, excellence in management, citizen participation, and improved services to citizens. VML received nearly 70 entries, from which a panel of judges selected one winner in each of six categories. The panel also selected one of the winners to receive the President’s Award.
This year’s winners are:
Category: COMMUNITY HEALTH and PRESIDENT’S AWARD
Winner: City of Lynchburg
In 2012, Lynchburg was named one of the most obese cities in the Nation. Mayor Joan Foster and two local pediatricians took that dubious honor as a challenge, forming Live Healthy Lynchburg to encourage healthy citizens. Rather than creating new entities, the program taps into existing resources and organizations and compiles them under a central umbrella website and campaign. They also signed up Lynchburg for the Let’s Move! campaign to reduce childhood obesity. After four years, in 2016, the city had earned a gold medal in each of five Let’s Move! focus areas. They are one of only 78 communities nationwide to earn this distinction. The campaign also has helped residents lose more than 12 tons of weight.
Category: WORKING WITH YOUTH
Winner: City of Danville
Otters in the Dan River point are a positive sign of the ecosystem’s health. The perception of the river by residents of Danville was not favorable — partially due to a coal ash spill three years ago that made national headlines. Staff decided to change the community’s view through a children’s book with two otters as the main characters. In January, Danville Parks and Recreation and the Danville Public Library released “The Dan River Twins” and distributed a copy to every fourth-grade student in Danville Public Schools. They also coordinate lesson plans, programs, and field trips around the book and plan to install signs along the river. The project was funded by a grant from the Danville Regional Foundation.
Winner: Town of St. Paul
The Town of St. Paul had a forty-year-old wastewater plant compromised by age and accumulated sludge. For a town with less than 1,000 residents, replacing the facility on its own was out of the question. Instead, the town promoted the need for a new plant to its neighbors, Russell and Wise Counties, as a regional improvement. The water and sewer authorities in those counties were receptive, as they faced expansion and upgrade needs as well. St. Paul secured grants and loans for the project and designed and constructed the plant, which it owns and operates. An inter-municipal agreement shares the debt service and cost of operations. Thinking as a region rather than individual localities allowed an affordable debt service for each entity.
Category: PUBLIC SAFETY
Winner: Town of Ashland
In 2014, half of the hotels and motels in the Town of Ashland, population 7,500, were catering to long-term residents. Several ranked in the top-5 for the highest calls for emergency service, usually the result of criminal activity. The town also understood that families and children lived in these blighted motels and were victims of the conditions around them. Town staff, faith leaders, human service providers, and citizens worked to develop a local ordinance restricting long-term residences in motels and improve the health, safety, and welfare of people living in them. The ordinance reduced calls for service to the smallest percentage from motels in over a decade. The town recouped 244 hours of police time. A non-profit organization, Ashland Open Door, found apartments or single-family rental homes for 32 families (119 individuals) who had been living in motels. The town also has commitments for two new hotels to be built on the site of three currently blighted structures.
Category: ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Winner: Roanoke County
In 2013, Roanoke County acquired the property of a failed living history museum adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The county re-opened Explore Park as a passive recreation facility but saw greater opportunity. After significant community outreach, Roanoke County developed a master plan to spur economic development through adventure- and recreation-based tourism on the property. In addition to a business plan and an environmental study, the plan has maps, renderings, and conceptual placements of desired attractions. A phasing report depicts a timeline for planning, design, and construction of amenities within the park over the next 20 years. These efforts have already yielded positive returns for Roanoke County. A request for proposals to develop the park generated substantial interest from local and national businesses.
Winner: City of Danville
Communication with citizens is a necessary and challenging part of every government entity’s operations. The City of Danville has achieved success live-streaming events on the Facebook page of River City TV, its government access channel. In addition to covering city meetings, Danville employs Facebook LIVE for economic development announcements, ribbon-cutting ceremonies, police incidents, and severe weather events. They also hosted a LIVE interview with the city manager on the FY2018 budget and share recordings with local media. Views per video can number in the thousands and higher. In the year since adding Facebook LIVE to its communication strategies, the number of followers to the City’s page has grown to 11,000 followers, one-fourth of the city’s population. The page also has received 2.7 million video views.
VML congratulates each of these local governments for demonstrating innovation in service to its citizens.
The awards were presented Monday, October 2 at the 2017 VML Annual Conference in Williamsburg. VML President Dr. Patricia Woodbury, councilmember of Newport News, and Past President Robert Coiner, mayor of Gordonsville, announced the awards.
Economic Development Award AND President’s Award
The Town of Bridgewater for Generations Park
Bridgewater’s Generations Park is an example of a small town thinking bigger than its size. Completed just last year, the park provides a first class destination for visitors and locals – the Shenandoah Valley’s only public ice skating rink. In warm weather, the rink is used for farmers’ markets, concerts, movies and other events. The town provided space for a restaurant which is projected to generate enough meals tax to nearly pay for the park. More retail spaces are in the works. Generations Park has given this small community a great place to gather while also drawing crowds from beyond its borders.
The City of Norton for Community Gateway and Walking Trail
The City of Norton turned a community threat into an opportunity when an abandoned mining highwall began to deteriorate. In the process of replacing the wall, the city not only ensured a safe route between schools and downtown, but also created a beautiful entrance to the city and added a multi-use walking and biking trail.
Public Safety Award
The City of Newport News for the Summer Training and Enrichment Program
As part of the city’s Youth and Gang Violence Prevention initiative, the STEP program has provided summer employment training and placement for hundreds of at-risk youth ages 16-24. The city budgeted general fund dollars to secure all of the wages and partnered with 64 private sector businesses, non-profits and other groups to provide the summer jobs for youth.
Working with Youth Award
The Town of Warrenton for the Student Postcard Project
Warrenton’s Student Postcard Project was based on the simple principle that students of today are the community leaders of tomorrow. Through the project, the town meaningfully engaged children from kindergarten through high school in planning for its future as part of the public input process for its comprehensive plan. In civics, art and English classes, students were asked to identify their favorite places in town and what they hoped their town could be like in 25 years. More than 1,000 students contributed to a stunning display. The project succeeded in educating the next generation about their role in local government and gave them a voice in planning for its future.
City of Harrisonburg for the Safety Sally Campaign
Creative minds within the Harrisonburg Fire Department capitalized on the popularity of the “Elf on the Shelf” holiday tradition and introduced Safety Sally last December. In 24 days of mischief, Sally was featured on social media showing the troubles she had gotten into along with tips on how to avoid danger and prevent injuries. The campaign targeted children and their parents with these fun safety lessons. In addition to the social media sensation, Sally was interviewed by all of the local media and captured a following among young and old alike.
President’s Award (top honor)
The Town of Halifax for the Banister River Gateway Project
Population under 5,000
The Town of Shenandoah for its Community Computer Center
Population 5,000 – 10,000
The Town of Marion for Pop Up Marion – a downtown economic revitalization program
Population 10,000 – 35,000
The City of Fredericksburg for its Gun Give-Back Program
Population 35,000 – 90,000
The Town of Leesburg for Dept. of Utilities customer service enhancements
Population 90,000 +
The City of Portsmouth for an Area Report Card
The Communications Award
The City of Virginia Beach for rebranding of the Virginia Beach Landfill and Resource Recovery Center