Mar 2, 2010

Concerns voiced at City Council meeting

by Amanda Sullivan

The Lynchburg City Council decided Liberty University’s polling place fate on Tuesday, Feb. 23 during a special hearing for Lynchburg residents and Liberty students. The council voted 7-0 to leave the Ward III-4 polling place at its original location of Heritage Elementary School rather than moving the location to Lynchburg First Church of the Nazarene on Wards Ferry Road, which presented several safety issues.

Over 250 students showed up at the event via bus or carpool, filling the city council chambers and pouring into the overflow room located right outside.

The university’s mascot Sparky also made an appearance, stopping for a photo op with Mayor Joan Foster. Liberty’s Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. was not in attendance.

Falwell was not in attendance, but he still lent support to his students.

“I watched the public hearing on the city’s Web site and had never been more proud of (Liberty’s) students,” Falwell said. “In my opinion, the students demonstrated to the local community that they are independent thinkers and exemplary citizens of the city who represent Jesus Christ and (Liberty) well.”

The meeting began by hearing from the electoral board, which was unable to make a recommendation concerning a polling place. Council also heard from the Lynchburg Center for Individual Living, which advocated for persons with disabilities. Additionally, the Greater Lynchburg Transit Center General Manager Mike Carroll spoke to the council about the safety issues concerning bus transportation.

“Given the choice, Heritage Elementary is marginally better,” Carroll said at the hearing.

Foster opened the floor to hear from students and Lynchburg residents. Each person was given three minutes to voice his or her concerns and five minutes if the person was representing a group or organization.

Liberty’s Student Government Association President Matt Mihelic attempted to clarify a common misconception between the City of Lynchburg and Liberty concerning voting.

“We don’t want Liberty students to take over Lynchburg,” Mihelic said during the open forum. “We just want our fair voice.”

Almost three-dozen people aired their opinions on moving the polling place, pulling in other concerns as well. Of the several Liberty students who advocated for the university’s positions, only two students dissented.

After the citizens had exhausted their opinions, Foster closed the public hearing and allowed for Council to address the gathered community.

Each council member took his time to enforce or confront the claims and suggestions made during the public hearing.

Councilman Ceasor Johnson quoted the chorus of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” to students, at which point Director of Community Affairs Larry Provost booed.

“You don’t talk down to my students,” Provost said afterward.
Provost was not alone in his defense of the students.

“It angered me to hear Mike Gillette’s and Caesar Johnson’s comments. Not only did Gillette talk down to our students in a condescending manner, he inaccurately claimed that there was not enough time to relocate the polling place when Jeff Helgeson suggested it in 2008,” Falwell said.

Falwell went on to support Provost’s “boo.”

“I can fully understand why Larry Provost booed when these two councilmen were spewing their hatred toward (Liberty),” Falwell said. “I told my wife that I would have had a hard time keeping silent if I had been there and I texted Larry and several others not to let the statements go unchallenged so I am probably to blame for Larry speaking out. Larry, like me, sees it as his responsibility to protect and defend LU and its students. I tend to become a little combative in that role sometimes.”

At the meeting, Johnson went on to say that he would continue to support the city, differentiating between citizens and students.

“I’m gonna vote when you’re here, when you’re not here,” Johnson said at the meeting. “I’m here for the citizens of this city.”

Several people from the city who spoke during the open forum had also suggested, like Johnson, that students are not considered citizens of Lynchburg.

“If I don’t deserve to vote here, then I don’t deserve to vote in my hometown because I’m only there two months out of the year,” Craig Storrs said. “I’m in Lynchburg 10 months out of the year.”

Falwell encourages students to not become disheartened by some of the council’s comments.

“Students should not be discouraged that some council members were unsympathetic to the sincere concerns of our students.” Falwell said. “Some will never be convinced by reason. That is what elections are for.”

Contact Amanda Sullivan at

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