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Up to 3,000 Henrico students would be affected under initial options for redistricting

Up to 3,000 students in Henrico County schools could see their school zones shift for the 2021-22 academic year under two redistricting plans that got their first public review this week.

A committee of parents and county residents vetting the proposals from consultant Cropper GIS already is hearing conflicting ideas about what Henrico’s priorities should be, from maintaining neighborhood schools to boosting diversity or reducing concentrations of poverty.

Matt Cropper of the Ohio-based Cropper GIS stressed at two community meetings this week that the company’s drafts are sure to change before the Henrico School Board votes to adopt a redistricting plan in May. The firm, which Henrico has agreed to pay about $230,000 for its work, has worked with the county before and also is drafting Richmond’s rezoning plans.

The firm’s initial goals were to limit the number of affected students while alleviating overcrowding. As the population in the county’s western portion continues to outpace development in the county’s eastern part — with new multifamily apartments and planned developments popping up and older housing stock providing affordable options for renters and first-time homebuyers — an influx of new residents across a wide band of income levels has driven up enrollment at some schools.

At Wednesday’s committee meeting for members focused on Henrico’s secondary schools, a group of about 10 parents who live near Deep Run in the Three Chopt District, in the western part of the county, said they opposed an option that would rezone their neighborhood for Glen Allen High School instead of Deep Run High School, which is closer to them.

The parents said they would like their kids to be able to walk, bike or drive to a school that’s near their home, particularly after working with county officials to lower speed limits and create new bicycle lanes.

“The proximity is important. All of that will become more or less useless if we do that option,” Prasanna Narne said of his neighborhood’s advocacy. “And I’m not saying that Glen Allen is bad or that Deep Run is better, but at the same time ... it feels like it doesn’t make sense for us.”

Narne said that his 4-year-old daughter is still years away from attending high school, but that he and his neighbors, some of whom also have young children who won’t be immediately affected by the proposed change, are putting down roots and planning for their future there.

“It’s not just for me,” he said. “It’s about our whole community’s concern.”

School officials say they must make changes.

At Holladay Elementary, which is at 113% of its capacity this year, the Henrico school system is preparing to begin building an expansion that will increase its capacity from 506 students to 1,100. The draft rezoning options show Holladay could pull students from Johnson, Dumbarton and Trevvett elementary schools to relieve buildings nearing their maximum capacity.

The rebuilt J.R. Tucker and Highland Springs high schools will see a small increase in their overall capacity, with the latter increasing from 1,788 students to 2,006. Tucker’s building plan shows only a small increase in its capacity, from 1,958 to 1,990.

Alice Thompson, a committee member with a son in the fourth grade at Ward Elementary and a 4-year-old who will attend Arthur Ashe Elementary next year, said being on the committee has also made her realize that the population growth there is why the county has appeared to put more focus on building and rezoning schools in the western portion, which many consider to be more affluent and cared for by county leaders.

“When they had that discussion about building a new high school in the east end several years ago, that may have helped a little bit. But looking at these maps, I would say that the west end needs more schools than the east end,” she said. “I’m sorry to say that — at first I said the opposite — but looking at the numbers, they definitely need a [new] school in the west end.”

Henrico officials announced plans to rebuild the two high schools last September, pivoting from previous plans to just modernize Tucker and build a new technical education center near Highland Springs.

As residents in the western part began calling on the county to consider rebuilding Tucker instead, Henrico officials determined that it would be possible to upgrade plans for the two aging schools on opposite ends of the county, after a county meals tax adopted in 2013 drew more revenue than initially expected.

Jaime Petrasek, the parent of a third-grade student at Crestview Elementary, said she’s committed to improving equity and diversity in the county’s schools as a member of the committee. She said one of the things that concerns her the most is that people may oppose certain redistricting plans out of concern that it will hurt their home values, particularly in the county’s western portion, where most of the changes will likely take effect.

“From a personal standpoint, I wonder what if we all didn’t worry about that,” she said. “What would happen to the world if we didn’t?”


Washington
AP
Whistleblower accuses White House of Ukraine call cover-up

WASHINGTON — White House officials took extraordinary steps to “lock down” information about President Donald Trump’s summertime phone call with the president of Ukraine, even moving the transcript to a secret computer system, a whistleblower alleges in a politically explosive complaint that accuses the administration of a wide-ranging cover-up.

The whistleblower, in a nine-page document released Thursday, provides many new details about the phone call in which Trump repeatedly spoke of how much the U.S. had aided Ukraine and encouraged new President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to help investigate Joe Biden and his son.

Accusations of efforts to pressure the leader of a foreign nation to dig for dirt on a potential 2020 Trump rival are now at the heart of a House impeachment inquiry against the president.

The whistleblower’s official complaint alleges a concerted White House effort to suppress the transcript of the call and describes a shadow campaign of diplomacy by the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani that worried some senior administration officials.

The New York Times, citing three people familiar with his identity, on Thursday reported that the whistleblower is a CIA officer who was detailed to work at the White House at one point but has since returned to the agency.

The CIA referred questions to the inspector general for the intelligence agencies, the Times reported. A spokeswoman for Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, said protecting the whistleblower was his office’s highest priority.

“In the days following the phone call, I learned from multiple U.S. officials that senior White House officials had intervened to ‘lock down’ all the records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced as is customary by the White House situation room,” the complaint says.

In response, Trump threatened “the person” who he said gave information to the whistleblower as he spoke at a private event in New York with staff from the U.S. mission to the United Nations.

“I want to know who’s the person, who’s the person who gave the whistleblower the information? Because that’s close to a spy,” Trump said. “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”

The remarks were reported by the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.

Under pressure from House Democrats, the White House a day earlier released a rough transcript of the phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president. In it, Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential 2020 election foe, and Biden’s son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

But the complaint released Thursday offered a broader picture of what was happening in the White House and the administration at the time. In the aftermath of the call, according to the whistleblower, White House lawyers were concerned “they had witnessed the president abuse his office for personal gain,” the complaint says.

The complaint has revived questions about the activities of Giuliani, who it says alarmed government officials by circumventing “national security decision making processes.” Giuliani, a Trump loyalist who represented the president in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, repeatedly communicated with advisers of Ukraine’s president in the days after the phone call.

The House intelligence committee released a redacted version of the whistleblower complaint Thursday ahead of testimony from Maguire, the acting intelligence chief.

Maguire told the House intelligence committee during three hours of testimony Thursday that he consulted about the complaint with officials at the Justice Department and the White House, but was not able to turn over the document until it was resolved whether it contained material protected by executive privilege.

Democrats hammered Maguire for his decision, arguing that the law explicitly demands that the director of national intelligence “shall” transmit whistleblower complaints to the intelligence oversight committees.

Republicans in turn largely focused on questioning the veracity of the whistleblower’s allegations, much of which is secondhand but sourced to U.S. officials. Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the committee’s ranking Republican, derided the complaint as “fake news” and accused Democrats and journalists of a conspiracy to gin up baseless allegations against Trump.

Maguire — who praised the whistleblower as having acted honorably — acknowledged that the complaint alleged serious wrongdoing by the president but said it was not his role to judge whether the allegations were credible or not. He said he recognized the complaint as immediately sensitive and important and insisted the White House did not direct him to withhold it from Congress.

“I believe that everything in this matter here is totally unprecedented,” Maguire said.

In the complaint, the whistleblower says that he or she was not present for Trump’s Ukraine call — rather, multiple White House officials shared consistent details about it.

Those officials told the whistleblower that “this was ‘not the first time’ under this administration that a presidential transcript was placed into this codeword-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive — rather than national security sensitive — information,” the complaint said.

In this case, the complaint said, the officials told the whistleblower they were “directed” by White House lawyers to remove the electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored for coordination, finalization and distribution to Cabinet-level officials.

“This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call,” the official complaint said.

The complaint also says multiple U.S. officials reported that Giuliani traveled to Madrid one week after the call to meet with one of Zelenskiy’s advisers, and that the meeting was characterized as a follow-up to the telephone conversation between the two leaders.

House Republicans largely steered clear of discussing the substance of the call during Thursday’s hearing, spending more time criticizing Democrats than Trump. One exception was Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, who said, “Concerning that conversation, I want to say to the president, This is not OK. That conversation is not OK. It’s disappointing to the American people.”

The whistleblower submitted the complaint to Michael Atkinson, the U.S. government’s intelligence inspector general, in August. Maguire then blocked release of the complaint to Congress, citing issues of presidential privilege and saying the complaint did not deal with an “urgent concern.” Atkinson disagreed, but said his hands were tied.

The House and Senate intelligence committees have invited the whistleblower to testify, but it is uncertain whether the person will appear.


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Republican leaders accuse Northam of breaking deal on Medicaid work rules

The political deal that allowed Virginia to expand its Medicaid program could be falling apart over a promised work requirement less than six weeks before voters decide control of the General Assembly.

While expansion of Medicaid is not imperiled, Republican legislative leaders said Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, is breaking faith with the political bargain they made with him last year by telling President Donald Trump’s administration that Virginia’s commitment to the work requirement depends on the federal government paying for services to help people find jobs.

Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dan Carey told the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Tuesday, “Without the full federal funding for the employment supports, we would be unable to commit to move forward with implementation of the TEEOP work and community engagement requirement at this time.”

Carey has estimated that it would cost the state more than $50 million a year to carry out the program by itself and declined to say whether Northam would include the funding in the two-year budget he will propose in December.

Republican legislators say his cost estimate is far too high and ignores a fiscal analysis done last year by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission — the assembly’s watchdog agency — that concluded Virginia could use money from existing federally supported workforce development programs to help pay for the additional services.

The Training, Education, Employment Opportunity Program, known as TEEOP, was part of a compromise that House Republican leaders reached with Northam last year in return for supporting Medicaid expansion after blocking it for five years.

“This is breaking the deal on what we had agreed to do,” said House Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, the main architect of the budget agreement. “It was never predicated that we have federal funding for that to happen.”

Senate Finance Co-Chairman Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, who guided the budget deal through a closely divided Senate, said the General Assembly will find money to pay for work support services that are critical to helping people get jobs without jeopardizing their health care coverage under Medicaid.

“We have a commitment and we’re going to honor that commitment, whether we get the federal dollars or not,” Hanger said Thursday.

“This really is the wrong signal to send to the people who are coming into the program, and to those of us who worked to put the pieces on the table,” he said.

House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, worked personally with Northam on a compromise last year that included a state commitment to seek federal approval of a requirement that Medicaid recipients under the existing and expanded program find work, seek education or training, or engage in community services.

“I get the feeling the administration is playing games,” Cox said in a statement on Thursday. “We’re not going to let those games cost people health care coverage.”

“The administration knows what the legislature intends for it to do,” he said. “They can either fix it themselves, or we will fix it for them come January.”

Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said the budget language approved last year “directs the state to negotiate with the federal government” on a waiver of Medicaid rules to allow the work requirement.

“That is what we continue to do,” Yarmosky said. “We encourage Speaker Cox and Chairman Jones to work with their Republican counterparts in the Trump administration in securing a good deal for Virginia.”

Virginia policymakers tried to fashion a work requirement that wouldn’t punish people by dropping them from the program if they can’t find jobs. Federal judges have blocked Medicaid work requirements adopted by three states — Kentucky, Arkansas and New Hampshire — for doing just that. Indiana is implementing a work requirement but hasn’t begun to enforce it.

The state already has enrolled more than 314,000 Virginians in Medicaid under expanded eligibility requirements in the Affordable Care Act, but Carey estimates that as many as 14,000 people in the program could lose coverage if required to meet the proposed work rules without services to help them do it.

Those services could include treatment for mental health or substance use disorders, as well as education, training, job coaching, housing and other supports to enable them to get jobs. Without federal money to help pay for those services, the state plan “would leave Medicaid beneficiaries without the support they need to obtain employment,” he said.

Carey, a former cardiologist and hospital administrator, told the assembly money committees almost two weeks ago that the Trump administration would not pay for the state’s proposed work support services but promised to continue to fight for federal funding.

His letter to CMS Administrator Seema Verma fulfills that pledge, but he told her, “Without federal funding for employment supports, we are concerned that implementation of TEEOP will cause tens of thousands of Virginians to lose their health coverage.”

Republican budget leaders said the work rules never depended on federal funding because it would be in the state’s best interests to give people “a hand up” so they can qualify for jobs.

“We need to do this no matter who pays for it,” Hanger said. “It’s just good policy.”

The dispute arises as all 140 members of the General Assembly face elections that will determine partisan control of both the House of Delegates and Senate, both of which the Republicans currently govern with slight majorities.

“I’m not surprised by their position, given that it’s an election year,” Jones said, “but I’m disappointed with the administration’s approach.”


Business
Developer: Whole Foods store at The Sauer Center slated to open early next year

Whole Foods Market at The Sauer Center development off West Broad Street near the Fan District should open in 2020, the project’s developer said Thursday.

The 40,700-square-foot store is slated to open sometime during the first quarter, Bradford B. Sauer, executive vice president of Sauer Properties Inc., told more than 100 people attending a tour Thursday afternoon sponsored by the Greater Richmond Association for Commercial Real Estate.

Sauer didn’t have a specific opening date, saying the grocery chain will determine that. Whole Foods representatives have repeatedly said a date hasn’t been set.

Construction on the two-story, brick-façade grocery store began in spring 2018. Exterior signs were installed last month and the sign for The Sauer Center development — with Whole Foods’ name and logo — was added this month to the parking lot entrances on West Broad Street and on Hermitage Road.

Sauer gave tour participants a sneak peek inside the Whole Foods.

“It is going to be a fabulous experience,” Sauer said.

The mezzanine level is where Whole Foods plans to have 10 craft beers on tap, he said. A second floor open-air patio will look out onto West Broad Street. The grocery store and a restaurant will be on the first level.

The Whole Foods store is a key part of The Sauer Center urban mixed-use development on West Broad Street near Hermitage Road that the development and property entity of the Sauer family is doing.

The grocery chain announced in May 2014 that a Whole Foods Market would anchor the proposed development, which is on the site of the former Pleasants Hardware building adjacent to C.F. Sauer’s corporate headquarters. The Pleasants Hardware store was demolished in late 2017 and early last year.

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Another key piece of The Sauer Center is the redevelopment of the Putney Building at 2220 W. Broad St. The building fronts West Broad Street and is between the main offices of the Department of Motor Vehicles and a Lee’s Chicken restaurant.

Sauer Properties is in the process of renovating the Putney Building, which originally had been used as a Putney Shoe factory when it opened in 1906. It renovated the exterior façade on the building earlier this year.

Automotive retailer CarMax Inc. announced this month that it signed a lease for 80,000 square feet in the Putney Building for offices, or about 60% of the unoccupied building.

Sauer said he expects it could take between 18 and 24 months before the renovations are completed.

Plans also call for renovating the three-story building that is attached to the rear of the Putney Building. A rooftop deck would be added.

A five-story parking deck for 800 vehicles will be built next to it.

Also, Sauer said plans call for constructing a four-story office building with about 52,000 square feet on vacant land behind the Putney Building.

The Putney Building had been used by the Virginia Department of Taxation for years until 2011. Sauer Properties bought the building along with its 4.85 acres from the state for $4 million in 2012.

Two other buildings near the Whole Food store also are being renovated for office space. One tenant is lined up for the one-story building, but Sauer declined to say who is leasing it.

Carports have been added in the parking lot. The carports have solar panels on them, and the electricity generated from those panels are used to power the lights in the parking lot, Sauer said.