COVER- Year in review: The good, the bad, the horrible

Have we bottomed out yet? 

Bankers say yay; job seekers say nay. For the most part, Charlottesville escaped the massive layoffs faced in places like neighboring Waynesboro, but then, we didn't really have much of an industrial base to begin with. 

National economic unease has changed us.

And locally, the October 17 disappearance of Morgan Harrington has changed how we see ourselves and where we live. In best-place-to-live Charlottesville, a cruel truth is that it's not unusual for young women to get raped. But for them to disappear off the face of the earth, that simply doesn't happen here. We like to think Katie Worsky's 1988 disappearance an anomaly, but Harrington's vanishing has burst the security bubble of this community. 

Hundreds turned out to search for her, and two months later, we're left to come to grips with a gaping wound of the sort found in other, less desirable places to live. Harrington is the most tragic example of missing this year, but there were other disappearances.

Former Glenmore Country Club prez Mike Comer went missing July 1, as did over $600K in homeowner association funds.

Completion of a luxury hotel in the middle of the Downtown Mall is missing after a year, and it remains a hollow shell of once grand dreams.

Jobs went missing, as did salary increases for government and university employees– but at least they retained their paychecks, unlike so many others. For some, salary parts went missing with pay cuts, and downward mobility is a trend we really hate.

State funding went missing– again– creating even larger deficits in city and county budgets.

And quite often missing in homes is the working photoelectric fire detector that could save lives in smoldering fires. 

Still missing is consensus– and funding– for a workable longterm water plan, and a sense of accountability to taxpayers from the boards of the local water and waste authority.

But hey, 2009 wasn't all grim. U2 found its way to Scott Stadium for a mega concert. The Jefferson Theater found its way back as a renovated music hall. And Charlottesville's first Restaurant Week (organized by the Hook) found great deals at upscale eateries.

For your convenience, here are the best– and the worst– of 2009:

Biggest brick-and-mortar project: The Downtown Mall is ripped up in January and new brick is laid sans mortar, a $7.5 million project that moves vendors to the east end of the mall, makes for a jack-hammery start of the year, and is finished by Memorial Day.

Biggest blight on the Downtown Mall landscape: The skeleton of the mired-in-litigation Landmark Hotel celebrates its first anniversary as an unfinished eyesore.

Next biggest blight: The empty storefronts along the mall. The Hook counted 12 in February.

Biggest RICO suit: Rivanna Solid Waste Authority sues Fluvanna trash pioneer Peter Van der Linde for $3.5 million under federal racketeering law for allegedly lying about the origins of trash to avoid tipping fees. 

Toughest break for the plaintiff: The waste authority's star witness, Richard Wade Kendrick, is convicted of attempted extortion December 10.

Easiest recycling: Van der Linde gets a permit to take household trash November 23 at his Fluvanna facility, where it's sorted and recycled, and local haulers like Time Disposal and Dixon pick up all-in-one-can recycling.

Most old-school recycling: Charlottesville citizens continue with separate recycling bins and trash cans after the city signs a five-year contract with Waste Management.

Biggest changing of the guard at UVA: President John Casteen announces he'll step down August 1, 2010, after a 20-year run helming Virginia's flagship university.

Biggest buyouts at UVA: Basketball coach Dave Leitao resigns March 16 after a 10-18 season and heads out the door with a $2.1 million check in his pocket. He's followed in November after UVA's inglorious defeat by Tech in an otherwise dismal season by head football coach Al Groh, who takes home $4.33 million.

Freshest head coach faces: Tony Bennett comes from Washington State to take over UVA's hoops program for $1.7 million; Mike London gets the football golden ring, also at a $1.7 million starting salary.

Angriest: Grassroots "tea parties" spring up around the country, and the local Jefferson Area Tea Party holds a tax day event at the Pavilion, organized by Bill Hay, with tea bags to invoke an earlier revolution against taxation. Local tea partiers draw the line at burning 5th District Congressman Tom Perriello (D-Ivy) in effigy, as a Danville group proposed in November.

Most vulnerable: Perriello has seven Republicans lining up to take him on in 2010 for his vote on health care reform, and he's on a national list of targeted House Dems.

Best sign "purple" Virginia is tilting red: Republicans take the top state offices, with Bob McDonnell trouncing State Senator Creigh Deeds (who serves a Charlottesville-area district) for governor– even though Deeds practically tied McDonnell for the Attorney General job four years ago.

Biggest turnover on the Board of Supervisors: Conservatives take a majority position on the Albemarle BOS when four-term supe Sally Thomas announces she won't seek reelection. Republicans Duane Snow wins her Samuel Miller District seat in November, and Rodney Thomas unseats Democratic incumbent David Slutzky in the Rio District. 

Biggest turnover for city Dems: The party ditches its nominating convention and tries a firehouse primary to pick City Council candidates. Incumbent Julian Taliaferro (despite a career spent in a firehouse) does not receive his party's nomination. That goes to Kristin Szakos, who goes on to win with Mayor Dave Norris.

Boldest independent run for Council: Bob Fenwicks runs on a reservoir-dredging, save-McIntire platform, and garners 20 percent of the vote in the five-person race.

Best landing on one's feet: Former city councilor/Schilling Show host Rob Schilling gets the boot from his one-hour WINA show last December 19. Outraged listener response prods WINA into hiring Schilling back a month later to host a two-hour talk show..

Old media woes: In February, debt-laden Media General, which owns the Daily Progress, tells employees to take 10 days off– without pay. At the end of March, six Progress staffers and 59 Richmond Times-Dispatch employees get the boot. And Hook staffers see cuts in their paychecks. Ouch. 

Oddest bedfellows: The Progress and nonprofit growth-watchdog Charlottesville Tomorrow team up to provide more coverage to government meetings.

Biggest copyright infringement suit: Daily Progress photog Matt Rosenberg sues former cVillain owner Kyle Redinger for $350K for twice using a thumbnail of a Rosenberg shot of arts/music space the Garage.

Smallest copyright infringement settlement: The suit is settled for $750 at the end of June, right before Redinger pulls the plug on cVillain, which he sells. It's up and running again less than two months later.

Biggest defamation suit: Buckingham publicist-to-the-stars Tommy Garrett sues the Hook December 22, 2008, for $10.7 million, and subpoenas the IP addresses of anyone who commented or looked at a story about the suit on, which was founded by ACLU-defended Waldo Jaquith. That civil liberties organization, as well as Public Citizen and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression sign up to help Jaquith fight the subpoena. By April 14, Garrett's lawyer, James Creekmore, begs off the case, and a month later, the suit is dropped. 

Most anticipated defamation suit: Litigation-prone millionaire Halsey Minor puts the Hook in his sights for covering his financial woes and threatens to sue the paper into oblivion.

Biggest free speech controversy, part 1: Blogger Elisha Strom is jailed July 16 for a month for publishing the address of a Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement task force member– a no-no under the Code of Virginia– which draws the interest of the ACLU. Strom ultimately pleads guilty to two counts of obstruction of justice and avoids further jail. 

Biggest free speech controversy, part 2: The location of U.S. Representative Tom Perriello's office in the Glass Building irks his neighbors when they find their pricey parking spaces filled with protesters, and the protesters, who demand Perriello move his office to better accommodate their right to petition. The Rutherford Institute urges Perriello to relocate his office, and MSNBC's Keith Olbermann leaps into the fray December 14, labeling Rutherford founder John Whitehead "the worst person in the world."

Biggest "right to petition" scandal: D.C. lobbying firm Bonner & Associates sends out fake letters to Perriello that purportedly come from constituents like the local NAACP chapter in an attempt to influence his Cap-and-Trade vote.

Most banned books: Virginia's Department of Corrections nixes gifts from the volunteer, 20-year-old Books Behind Bars program, started by Quest Bookshop owner Kay Allison, that's provided over a million books, quite often dictionaries, to 11,000 inmates. The Department reverses after public outcry and a Rutherford Institute inquiry, but its banned books list still spans 25 pages, according to a Daily Progress report, including issues of the Progress.

Most banned Hooks: A September photo montage of UVA students appearing in "Girls of the ACC" through the years in Playboy launches a firestorm. A number of people let the Hook know that it is very wrong to publish photos of naked ladies.

Favorite headline from the Newsplex: "Has the Hook gone too far?" 

Best deathbed confession: Staunton closes the book on its notorious April 1967 High's Ice Cream slayings of two young women when terminally ill Sharron Diane Crawford Smith, a coworker of the victims, confesses 41 years later to pulling the trigger, is charged with murder, and then dies on January 19. She also reveals that she told Staunton investigator Davie Bocock she'd committed the crime a few days after the murders, and that they buried the murder weapon on his farm, leading to unconfirmed speculation that he might be her father.

Oldest murder to go to trial: Alvin Lee "Butch" Morris faces a jury for the 1988 murder of Roger Lee Shifflett, who was gunned down at the now-defunct Southwind Gas and Grocery and whose widow Morris married. After a weeklong trial, the jury evenly deadlocks, and Albemarle Commonwealth's Attorney Denise Lunsford decides to not try the case again.

Oldest and coldest: Meriwether Lewis' October 10, 1809, death still leaves questions about exactly how he died, and his family seeks to have his body, buried on National Park Service land, exhumed.

Longest sentence for assaultive havoc: I-64 shooter Slade Woodson gets 15 years in Albemarle County for firing at occupied vehicles and homes during a beer-soaked rampage starting March 26, 2008, that closed the interstate and county schools the next morning.

Longest sentence for murder: Roderick McDowell is charged in the April 2007 Wood Grill Buffet slaying of William "Billy" Godsey, who came to meet his wife Sarah, the night manager there. McDowell is convicted of first-degree murder and robbery May 28, and the jury recommends a 60-year sentence.

Rarest suicide: Using helium, which is officially the ruling in the deaths of Don and Valerie Slater, whose farewell note said they had lost their own money and that of others. The couple were found at their Stony Point mansion January 21.

Saddest losses: Longtime UVA Dean of Admissions John Blackburn dies January 21 from cancer. Dr. Vito Perriello, 68, longtime pediatrician and father of Congressman Tom, dies February 22 after two strokes. Carol Whitehead, 60, wife of Rutherford Institute founder John, dies unexpectedly June 3. UVA intramural and recreational sports director Mark Fletcher, 57, dies June 8 after his morning run. Judge Herbert Pickford III, 75, dies June 7 of pancreatic cancer. UVA athletics media relations guy Michael Colley, 46, dies July 11 while walking on the beach. UVA's largest benefactor/Weather Channel founder Frank Batten dies September 10 at age 82. Carson Raymond, 9, succumbs to complications related to the H1N1 virus October 10. Musician Johnny Gilmore, 45, dies October 22 in a fire in his apartment bedroom. Farmer/activist Kathryn Russell, 54, is thrown from her truck in an accident on U.S. 29 south. Virginia Book Fest co-founder Cal Otto passes away November 23 in Colorado Springs at age 79. Dr. Latham Murray, a surgeon at Martha Jefferson Hospital, 58, is killed in an accident November 25 at Panorama Farm. 

Biggest epidemic: H1N1, a.k.a. swine flu, hits the U.S. in late April. By December, officials call the epidemic "mild"– except for people like Carson Raymond.

Latest in a tragic death: Kenneth Barbour, the truck driver who ran a red light and plowed into 16-year-old Sydney Aichs last year on U.S. 29 at Forest Lakes South, gets two years jail time July 28 for reckless driving and involuntary manslaughter. In November, a jury awards the teen's family $5.25 million in a civil suit against Barbour and two trucking companies.

Boldest legislative action against red-light runners: Albemarle's Board of Supervisors approves photo-red cameras in August for three of the county's most congested intersections: U.S. 29 at Hydraulic and Rio, and at Route 250 and Stony Point Road.

Biggest birthday: UVA bad boy Edgar Allan Poe turns 200 January 19.

Loudest bark: A longstanding neighbor dispute and Maremma Sheepdogs in Free Union have the county consider– and reject– an ordinance July 8 that would have extended Albemarle's 30-minute barking ban to the rural area.

Most surprising arc: UVA law prof Jon Cannon resigns from the Albemarle Planning Commission in January to take the #2 job at the Environmental Protection Agency under President Barack Obama. Cannon, described as a "straight arrow" by the former Law School dean John Jeffries, withdraws from the EPA position in March when America's Clean Water Foundation, on whose board he once served, comes under scrutiny. 

Most surprising recommendation: A Rivanna Reservoir task force suggests January 26 that dredging not be studied for the area's rapidly silting water supply except to preserve the reservoir for rowing. 

Biggest decline: Water consumption decreases 22 percent– from 4.03 billion gallons annually to 3.2 billion gallons from 1999 to 2009– while customers' water bills, ironically, double.

Best news for county water drinkers: The Albemarle County Service Authority implements new pricing that dramatically increases the more water is used, rewarding water misers and punishing water guzzlers.

Latest tab on dam studies commissioned by the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority: $12 million.

Latest tab on legal fees spent by the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority: $118,900 for July and August, compared to $70K spent on recycling and $62,000 for the Ivy transfer station. By December, the attorney bill is $340K.

Best sign the real estate bubble burst: Albemarle home assessments decline 2.5 percent in 2008 after years of spiraling up, with condos dropping 7.7 percent.

Best sign that not everyone got that memo: Patricia Kluge lists Albemarle House for $100 million.

Biggest break-ups: Jefferson Theater owner Coran Capshaw and the Ash Lawn Opera Company were best buds as the 108-year-old theater underwent renovation until February, when Ash Lawn announced it was pulling out of plans to use the Jeff for its summer season. Former Landmark Hotel developers Halsey Minor and Lee Danielson file suit and countersuit.

Best break-up: GE and Fanuc, which employ 500 as GE Fanuc, go their own ways, but thus far have not announced layoffs.

Worst closing: The Hyosung tire cord plant in Scottsville gives out 106 pink slips before Christmas.

Biggest change in technology: Local broadcast companies make the change from analog to digital broadcasting February 17, and bunny ears become a thing of the past.

Biggest crowd lined up for event you could see on TV: The January 20 inauguration of Barack Obama had people lined up in front of the Paramount (as well as the John Paul Jones Arena and countless restaurants) to share the moment.  

Worst alleged embezzler, part 1: John Donnelly swindles friends and racing buddies out of $11 million in his Ponzi scheme, pleads guilty, and is sentenced November 6 to 7 1/2 years. 

Worst alleged embezzler, part 2: Former Glenmore Country Club prez Mike Comer disappears from his family's Wintergreen getaway house July 1, the same day an audit is scheduled of the Glenmore homeowner association, of which he's been treasurer since 1994. Comer turns up scruffy July 27, is arrested and charged with five counts of embezzlement. Married to the daughter of the late Glenmore developer Frank Kessler, Comer's in-laws pledge to repay the missing $647,000. He's back in court in January, either for a trial date or a plea.

Best place for homeless people: Director Tom Shadyac's The Haven, the former First Christian Church on Market Street, nears completion as a day shelter. Charlottesville City Council buys a primo Region Ten parcel on Fourth Street NW for $1.6 million as the future site of a single-room facility for the homeless and working poor. 

Not so great for the homeless: Cash-strapped Region Ten now only takes those diagnosed with a serious mental illness.

Bumpiest ride: Two gigantic speed bumps at the Second Street Mall crossing continue to scrape cars and defy logic, topping the city's previously most controversial calming project, the so-called bump-outs that have turned Park Street into a driving derby.

Newest invasive species: The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries confirms the fact that coyotes have arrived, something well known by hunters and farmers. 

Newest obnoxious crime: A brief spree of stealing all four tires from parked Hondas in the city in the spring, a type of theft not typically seen here.

Newest green spaces: State Farm donates 10 acres along the Rivanna that connect with Darden Towe Park and ultimately, the county hopes, to Monticello. Out past past Brown's Cove on Route 810, the Patricia Ann Byrom family donates 600 acres for a county park.

Most controversial green space, part 1: McIntire Park inspires "Save McIntire" signs all around its boundaries after the beleaguered park is threatened by the Meadowcreek Parkway, the YMCA, and loss of softball players and golfers.

Most controversial green space, part 2: After years of sucking county manpower and time to approve the massive Biscuit Run "neighborhood model" subdivision in a growth area south of town, developer Hunter Craig signals a wish to donate the $46-million, 1,200-acre parcel to the cash-strapped Commonwealth as a park.

Most tragic anniversary: August 19 marks 40 years since remnants of Hurricane Camille slammed into Nelson County and killed 125 people, 33 of whom were never found.

Most endangered historic landmark: Hatton Ferry gets dumped by VDOT because of the aforementioned state budget shortfall. Albemarle County steps up for a little while, and the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society shoulders responsibility for hand-poled James River transport.

Most trains: On October 1, Amtrak (and Virginia taxpayers) add a long-awaited, twice-a-day train providing an extra option for direct travel as far as Boston.

Most surprising ranking: Car and Driver names Charlottesville a Top 10 Drivers' City in December.

Biggest threat to college students: Moving off campus to housing with an ineffective or nonworking ionization smoke alarm. UVA is now installing the more-reliable-in-a-smoldering-fire photoelectric detectors, which were tested by the Hook last year in cooperation with local fire departments.

Most suspicious fire: An unoccupied Stony Point mansion on the market for two years for $3.5 million-plus burns to the ground August 16. Owner Darren Kady, who lives in Charlotte, says he turned off the sprinklers because of a leak.

Most rabid: Two people are bitten by a sweater-stealing fox August 26 in the UVA/Rugby Road area. A gray fox is captured and euthanized September 2– but the test for rabies is inconclusive.

Least successful hitman scheme: Former Keller Williams realtor Patrick Shemorry is convicted of hiring Michael Allen Terry to kill his wife and sentenced to 9 1/2 years December 9.  

Likeliest to be asked to urinate in a cup: Employees at Monticello queue up with cup in hand as the Thomas Jefferson Foundation institutes random drug testing, despite a lack of evidence of a drug problem at the home of the man who penned that line about "liberty" as an inalienable right.

Most melancholy reunion: On Halloween morning in Crozet, sole survivor Phil Bradley holds a memorial service commemorating the 1959 crash of Piedmont Airlines Flight #349, whose crash killed 26.

Hottest pursuit: A high-speed chase down Rugby Road August 7 reaches speeds of 85mph and scalps a house at Preston Avenue.

Biggest miracle: No one is killed, including the 17-year-old alleged auto-thieving perp, who lands nearly 50 feet down, seemingly unscathed.

Best video: The pursuing officer's dashcam recording of the chase is the wildest police video since an officer cranking the Black Eyed Peas' "My Humps" knocked down wheelchair-bound Gerry Mitchell two years ago in a crosswalk.

Least surprising lawsuit: Gerry Mitchell, struck and then ticketed while he's still in the hospital, files suit June 16 for $850,000.

Best sign this isn't your great-great grandfather's Old Dominion: The state founded on tobacco 400 years ago bans smoking in bars and restaurants on December 1.


1 comment

Thank you for this summary. It's great for those of us who let the local news of the year slip by.