City gets good news about shelter pets; Council praises Baugh for his service (then appoints him to do more)

By Randi B. Hagi, assistant editor

In its last meeting of 2020, the Harrisonburg City Council bid farewell to Richard Baugh, the veteran council member and former mayor who will be replaced by newly-elected member Laura Dent starting in January. 

Mayor Deanna Reed opened Tuesday’s meeting by presenting Baugh with a plaque recognizing his service on the council since 2009. 

“We are all here, Richard, to give you the honor and the respect and the gratitude that you have given the city of Harrisonburg,” Reed said. “Thank you for being a calm voice … you never wavered. We always knew what we got with you.”

Other council members acknowledged the guidance Baugh has provided through his many years of experience in local government.

Council member Richard Baugh speaks at a Harrisonburg City Council meeting on Sept. 24, 2019. (File photo)

“I … have always been amazed at the institutional knowledge Richard was able to hold over the years,” Vice Mayor Sal Romero said. 

Council Member George Hirschmann called him “one of the rocks of the council.” 

“I love you brother, you are fantastic as a leader and as a representative of the people of Harrisonburg,” council member Chris Jones added. “You’ve created strong pillars and you’ve created a strong standard … [that] anyone serving now and anyone serving starting in January will have to live up to.” 

Baugh sought another four-year term but didn’t finish in the top three during the Democratic primary in May. In last month’s general election, Reed, a Democrat, and Hirschmann, an independent, won second terms and Dent secured the third spot up for election. The seats Romero and Jones hold are up for election in 2022. 

Later in Tuesday’s meeting, Jones asked Baugh to share one of the funniest or most memorable moments from his tenure. 

“Boy, when I think of city council, the word ‘funny’ is not …” Baugh began before the council erupted in laughter. 

And while he wouldn’t give details, he said a moment he’d never forget “had to do with watching the sausage get made that ended up with us having Hotel Madison.”

But wait, Baugh’s not quite done

Baugh’s public service to Harrisonburg didn’t end at Tuesday’s meeting. The council appointed him to the city planning commission to replace Gil Colman, along with reappointing Kathy Whitten to that commission, which vets development requests and makes zoning recommendations. 

The council also reappointed Alexander Gabbin to the Harrisonburg Electric Commission’s board and selected Mark Hanna, president and CEO of F&M Bank based in Timberville, from a slate of three options to replace Daphyne Thomas on the board. Thomas has served this year as the HEC board’s chairwoman. 

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley had written to the council asking them to hold off on appointments to the Harrisonburg Electric Commission, with the hopes that a full slate of options for Gabbin’s spot would include other candidates with more experience in “sustainability planning” or “renewable energy policy.” The council members, however, didn’t discuss the request and moved forward with the appointments Tuesday. 

In a third round of appointments, the council reappointed Chance Ebersold to the Parks and Recreation Comissission and appointed Carol Mills-Rooker, an adjunct instructor in psychology at EMU, to an open spot on that commission. 

Danielle Geisert holds a four-month-old young cat that she will be fostering for a week until it can be transported to another shelter. The R-H SPCA works with other out-of-state shelters that have available space for adoptable cats and dogs. Geisert said she has been fostering animals for 17 years. (File photo)

A good year for dogs and cats

The council also heard an update on the Rockingham-Harrisonburg SPCA from director Huck Nawaz, who said the animal shelter’s live release rate has reached a new high of 86% in 2020. This year, 99% of dogs who found their way to the shelter were ultimately adopted, returned to their owners or transferred to another facility, while that rate was 78% for cats. In comparison, only 32% of the cats who came to the shelter in 2018 were adopted, returned or transferred.  

Nawaz, who has been working to decrease the shelter’s euthanasia rate since taking the helm of the shelter last year, said the shelter has helped more cats this year through a four-fold increase in foster families — a silver lining of the pandemic keeping more folks at home. 

Another surprising side effect was a 20% decrease in dog intakes, which Nawaz said might have been a result of “more people being at home and having the chance to work through challenges” with their pets that might have otherwise led to surrender. 

Baugh said a few years ago, many in the community didn’t think such low euthanasia rates were achievable. 

“That’s tremendous, and we really appreciate everything you guys are achieving in that area,” he said. 

Also in the meeting: 

  • City Manager Eric Campbell announced that the planned Middle River Regional Jail expansion, which would create additional housing areas for workforce release programs, would likely come before the council in February. The council must approve Harrisonburg’s portion of the costs, which are shared by the city, Rockingham and Augusta counties and the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro. 
  • The council unanimously approved a $23,000 grant from the state that Harrisonburg Electric Commission received to assist residents who have fallen behind on electricity bills because of the pandemic.
  • The council unanimously approved an ordinance to allow cameras on school buses to capture the license plates of vehicles that illegally pass a stopped bus. The owner of the vehicle could then be liable to pay a $250 fee for a civil violation.

The new city council will hold a reorganization meeting Jan. 4, which will include formally deciding on who will serve as mayor for the next two years, and the next meeting will be Jan. 12, 2021.

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