Winners of the 2020 Local Champion Awards
In 2020 VML created the “2020 Local Champion” awards to highlight the hard work that our localities are doing to keep their citizens safe and healthy during the COVID-19 outbreak. These champions met a myriad of challenges posed by the pandemic with compassion, determination, and creativity. All were presented at the 2020 VML Annual Conference which was conducted virtually.
Winners of the 2019 Innovation Awards in Local Government
Richmond – 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 more than 50 entries, from which judges selected one winner in each of six categories. One of the category winners will be chosen by VML president and Roanoke council member Anita James Price to receive the President’s Award.
This year’s category winners are:
Working with Youth & President’s Award for Innovation Winner: City of Danville
Four years ago, the City of Danville adopted a new credo, “Danville: Reimagine That.” The motto captures the spirit of the city’s progress and sends a clear message to those within and outside the community that the city will adapt to changes and challenges by reimagining the established ways of doing things to see if there’s a better path to success.
One of the clearest examples of the city’s new credo in action is Project Imagine – a program which acknowledges that young people mired in gang activity or being lured to join gangs often can’t imagine a different way to live their lives. Robert David, who was hired as the city’sgang violence prevention and youth services coordinator, knows this truth well, having worked with youths for most of his career. Implemented through a partnership with the Virginia Workforce Center and the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, the nine-week training and employment program designed by David gives youths with gang connections a future off the streets by providing them with paid work experience as well as mentoring while on the job. Not only do the participants learn valuable skills, they learn the satisfaction of getting paid to do a job that benefits the community. Most importantly, they come to appreciate that the pride that comes with these things can be stronger than any gang membership.
Since October 2018, two groups have completed the program. The first group was assigned jobs within the Public Works and the Parks and Recreation departments. The Danville Redevelopment and Housing Authority provided jobs for the second group.
A community can help its young people be their best by involving them in meaningful work for the community! Entry video link >
Environmental Quality Winner: City of Fredericksburg
In 2016 the Fredericksburg City Council’s 20-year vision for their city included language to expand sustainability efforts and prevent littering – both of which affect the long-term quality of life for residents of the Rappahannock River community. Several initiatives begun since January 2018 have already resulted in significant improvements. Even better, these initiatives take a common-sense approach that motivates Fredericksburg’s citizens to be part of the solution. For starters, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department initiated a “Clean as you Go” program along the riverbank walking paths. As part of the program, the department set up several stations where hikers can obtain bags and trash grabbers to collect litter during their outings and deposit the full bags at the end of their walk. To discourage littering, a new policy requires that those caught littering be given a bag to pick up trash for an hour instead of being arrested.
Another new policy seeks to reduce the graffiti commonly found on rocks and surfaces near the river. Violators are now required to pay the $1,000 cost for one gallon of the environmentally friendly cleaner that must be used in proximity to the river.
The city also partnered with several organizations to install cigarette butt collectors in city-owned parks so that the butts can be recycled into compost and park benches. Finally, new brochures distributed by Public Works encourage city residents to begin composting to reduce organic waste sent to the landfill.
That’s a lot of smart initiatives to improve Fredericksburg’s natural environment in just two years! Entry video link >
Communications Winner: City of Richmond
Many people think of their municipality’s animal control shelter as “the pound” – a jail for dogs and cats. In fact, animal control shelters are places where lots of great animals are cared for by compassionate staff until they find a new home. For a homeless pet, however, a shelter is a stressful environment full of unfamiliar sounds, smells and people. As a result, visitors don’t get to see the animals at their best. The staff of the Richmond Animal Care and Control (RACC) wanted to find a way to give the animals in their care a break from the shelter. They also wanted a way to educate the public about what RACC does to help animals. The solution: Casual Friday – a program that places dogs in area business each Friday to interact with the employees and customers.
Since the program began in September 2018, businesses ranging from small stores to corporations to the Senate of Virginia have participated in a Casual Friday. Everybody wins on Casual Fridays – the adoptable animals get a break from the shelter, the businesses get a furry friend for the day and the RACC shows the community that they are a place that goes above and beyond to help animals. In fact, many of the pets that have been part of a Casual Friday have been adopted by an employee of a participating organization or by friends or family who see their picture on social media.
It tuns out that animal ambassadors are a great way to communicate RACC’s mission! Entry video link >
Economic Development Winner: Town of Warsaw
Many small towns grapple with the high commercial vacancy rates in their downtown. But the town council and staff of Warsaw decided to do something about it. With a vacancy rate well over 50 percent their community risked becoming a residential area with little to no businesses. To turn the tide, the town council implemented several policies including reduced water and sewer hookup rates, beautification grants and successfully applying for a DHCD Downtown Revitalization Grant.
While these were great steps, the town quickly realized it wasn’t enough to “jump start” the local economy to the extent needed to begin revitalizing their downtown. So, the council shifted into high gear by budgeting for and passing a resolution authorizing the Warsaw Economic Incentive Grant to provide 2 forms of financial assistance to new or relocating small businesses.
The results have been tangible – and delicious – with the town’s first ice cream shop, a gourmet popcorn shop, a fine jeweler and a custom granite provider all opening shops downtown in the past year alone. Without the decisive positive actions of the town, none of these businesses – or the ones sure to follow – would have been able to open.
A big win for a small town! Entry video link >
Public Safety Winner: James City County
Currently, more than 24 percent of the residents of James City County are over 65 years old. This population, which is the fastest growing segment in the locality, puts strains the county’s Fire/EMS department through an increase in mobility emergency calls (i.e. instances in which an individual has fallen or is unable to perform an essential task due to mobility issues). In FY2018 James City County’s Fire/EMS personnel responded to over 3,500 mobility related calls (roughly 16 percent of the total calls). In many of these instances the individual needed help but did not have an actual emergency. However, the Fire/EMS teams knew that eventually these individuals would experience a real medical emergency if they did not receive assistance to meet their needs. So, James City County created the CONECT (Community Outreach Network Educate Care Thrive) Program which allows Fire/EMS personnel to refer at-risk seniors directly to the Department of Social Services (DSS) so that residents can be connected to appropriate services.
Previously, Fire/EMS personnel who responded to a call from an elderly resident in need of additional services, or whom they suspected was a victim of abuse or neglect, would report this to the hospitals who would then contact DSS. Now, thanks to CONECT these reports are sent directly to DSS staff. Even if these individuals do not take advantage of the DSS services, at least now they know that they are available.
Since the program began in March 2018, over 300 referrals have been made, with an average of 20 referrals per month from Fire/EMS and the Police Department. Amazingly, over 70 percent of those referred were previously unknown to DSS.
A great way to make life better for the elderly residents of James City County and those who care for them! Entry video link >
Community Health Winner: City of Falls Church
Since 1973, the City of Falls Church had owned a parcel of land with a house donated by the Miller family which was used as a group home for adults with disabilities. In recent years, however, the “Miller House” has stood vacant and fallen into disrepair. An inspection by city staff concluded that it needed to be demolished. But just because the original group home was unfit for habitation did not mean that there wasn’t a need in the community for such a place. In fact, many parents of adult children with disabilities had contacted city staff with the concern that they were getting too old to properly care for their children.
Lacking funds to establish a new group home on the site, the city awarded Community Havens, Inc., the property affiliate of CRi (a non-profit organization providing quality services to help empower individuals with disabilities and mental health needs) with the deed to the property for $1.00 with a restrictive covenant on the use of the land to design, construct and deliver services for the operation of a group home. Many community partners worked together to make the new “Miller House” group home a reality. Today, the Miller House is home to five young adults with disabilities, three of whom have never lived outside of their family’s homes.
This is a fantastic example of how a city can meet the specific needs of a segment of its residents using existing resources. Entry video link >
VML congratulates each of these local governments for demonstrating innovation in service to its citizens.
The awards were presented at the October 8, 2019 VML Annual Conference in Roanoke. VML President Anita James Price, council member of Roanoke, presented the awards. Additionally, the President’s Award winner – was selected by Price from the winners in each category.
2018 Award winners
Environmental Quality and President’s Award Winner: City of Falls Church
On August 2017, the City of Falls Church launched Virginia’s first curbside collection program targeting the “last frontier” in recycling: food and organic waste. Data shows that 25-30% of the items in an average Falls Church resident’s trash is food and organic waste and the EPA estimates that this type of waste comprises 22% of all waste in landfills nationwide. Thanks to Falls Church’s initiative – which expanded access to all city households and made food waste composting as convenient as regular trash – participation rose to nearly 20% of all households (and continues to increase). This example shows how local governments can drive community and environmental improvement with the right design and leadership.
Lifelong Learning Winner: Town of Leesburg
Every city has a story to tell, but the town of Leesburg has taken its storytelling to the next level by creating a walking tour app for residents and visitors who want to immerse themselves in the town’s history. Prior to the app, demand was high but regular tours were sparse; tourists were often unable to participate or had to crowd together on downtown’s narrow sidewalks. Now, with the walking tour app, individuals or small groups can guide themselves through “Highlights of Historical Leesburg” and the “African-American History Tour” at their own pace while enjoying everything Leesburg has to offer.
Communications Winner: City of Fairfax
The TV/video team for the City of Fairfax was discouraged that not too many residents were watching their programming. Worse, the programming they did offer was happening after-the-fact and couldn’t be used to raise awareness about coming events. However, during the development of their new municipal website, the team noticed that most people were coming to the site via mobile and that the city’s social media traffic was increasing. Inspiration hit and the FAIRFAX CITY MINUTE – a daily, one-minute (of course), informative, entertaining video about events, issues, happening and programs in the city – was born. The approach is smart and friendly (it is embedded on Twitter and Facebook) and conveys the voice and brand of the city. The FAIRFAX CITY MINUTE has proven popular with residents and officials alike proposing story ideas and its success can be measured most tangibly by the increase in attendance at city events promoted on the program. This is a fantastic example of using existing staff and resources to engage and inform the community in a new way.
Community & Economic Development Winner: Town of Clifton Forge
To make way for a new facility and bring new jobs and business into the area, the town of Clifton Forge needed to remove old buildings and hazardous materials from a former CSX-owned property owned by the town since the 1990s. However, the vendor that had originally agreed to do the demolition at no cost backed out of the deal because they believed the recyclable materials onsite had been significantly depleted over the years by theft. The vendor’s decision came at a crucial point for the project with a lease/purchase agreement from a national brand signed that included a requirement for the removal of the buildings. Not wanting to lose the opportunity so close to being realized, the Town Manager worked with the Public Works Director to chart the best use of local resources to get the buildings removed on time. After prodigious effort from all involved parties, 82 truckloads of recyclable materials were sold which came very close to offsetting the cost of the entire operation. Best of all: the new tenant has invested infrastructure and created jobs in the community. A wonderful case of local government striving and succeeding when it counts.
Quality of Life Winner: City of Lynchburg
Recognizing a rise in distrust in minority communities across the country, the Lynchburg Police Department (LPD) created the Community Action Team (CAT) to develop and nurture working relationships with the local government agencies, businesses and citizens of Lynchburg. CAT officers are uniquely positioned to address these issues because they do not answer radio calls and can focus on community policing. The creation of CAT did not require any budget allocations, instead it relies upon existing community resources to accomplish its mission of addressing citizen concerns while maintaining positive relationships and building trust in the community it serves. In one instance, following a shooting in a neighborhood, CAT officers canvassed the neighborhood and provided support to the LPD. This engagement resulted in the improved understanding of the citizens’ needs and resulted in dramatically lower crime-related activity in the area. Lynchburg’s CAT is truly an example of local law enforcement putting the community first.
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.
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.
Infrastructure 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.
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.
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.
Communications Award 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.
Economic Development Award AND President’s Award
The Town of Bridgewater for Generations Park
The City of Norton for Community Gateway and Walking Trail
Public Safety Award
The City of Newport News for the Summer Training and Enrichment Program
Working with Youth Award
The Town of Warrenton for the Student Postcard Project
The City of Harrisonburg for the Safety Sally Campaign
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 City of Virginia Beach for rebranding of the Virginia Beach Landfill and Resource Recovery Center