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Where responsibility lies / May 05, 2016

(Editor’s note: This is the speech that Jack Dunavant read at the Monday night meeting of the Board of Supervisors before he was cut off by presiding vice-chair J.T. Davis, who said the contents were out of order. Dunavant submitted the full text of speech as a letter to Viewpoint.)


I am Jack Dunavant, chairman of We the People of Virginia Inc., (WTP) a non profit, 501-(C)3 corporation based in Halifax, Va. Our proud heritage goes back to the early 1980s. We have fought many environmental and civic battles over the years to promote and protect Halifax County and Southside Virginia. Our goal is clean air, clean water and clean government.

After carefully studying the events regarding Halifax Elementary School it is my studied opinion that the process was tampered with and effectively rigged by one individual. An evaluation form with 12 laughably biased and ambiguous criteria was used to convince board members to reject a superior offer from a local group of investors. The process was further corrupted when Echelon Inc. was invited to increase its bid by $10,000 and that same invitation was not offered to the local investment group.

Were any laws broken? We do not know — yet. However, the laws of common decency, fairness and all the tenets of a free and open democratic society were breached. That is completely unacceptable. And while it may be the norm in other places, it is not the norm in Southside Virginia.

It is my studied opinion that the individual responsible for this is our new Board Chairman Mr. Dennis Witt. This is not the first time WTP has had a run in with Mr. Witt. The first occurred soon after Mr. Witt came to Halifax County as Superintendent of Schools and proposed to close several elementary schools. That plan would have been devastating to our small struggling communities and WTP took up the cause and initiated a number of meetings with Mr. Witt.

(1) (This is the paragraph J. T. Davis would not let me read)

Each time he advised us, “Keep on doing what you’re doing and everything will be O K.” Well, we took him at his word and everything was not O K. Eventually at a School Board meeting in the High School cafeteria attended by hundreds the school board went into executive session (Dennis loves to operate behind closed doors) and when they came out they voted 5 to 4 to close the schools.

Our only alternative was to replace the school board members and that is exactly what we did. In a little over two years we replaced them all and when Mr. Witt asked the new board if they had confidence in his leadership he got a negative response. A former school board member informed me at that point Mr. Witt resigned rather than face the possibility of being fired.

I have known, worked with and respected every Chairman of the Halifax County Board of Supervisors for the past 50 years from Frank Booker to John Tate, Fulton Conner, Joe Satterfield, William Fitzgerald and Tom West. They were all men of stature and integrity who had the interests of our county at heart. Dennis Witt’s actions over the years trouble us: 1. His apparent proclivity to do things behind doors. 2. His vindictiveness and down right meanness in refusing to meet with me or my group about our plans for Halifax Elementary-and he is our representative on this Board. 3. His curt refusal to move the discussion of Halifax Elementary School from last to first on the agenda, a common courtesy extended to large groups by all previous chairmen. His refusal forced a large crowd of over 100 to wait 40 min. to be heard. During that time 20+ supporters had to leave for personal reasons.

Dennis Witt’s mean streak reared its ugly head again after the vote was taken to award the contract to Echelon Inc., when he personally attacked a convestor who had offered to invest millions in the project. Mr. Witt slammed that gentleman by saying that he was not a local resident and basically the county didn’t want his money. Well, unbeknownst to Mr. Witt, that convestor owns his old family farm just across the line in the Pittsylvania County and the newly remodeled farm house is their summer home. They love Halifax and are (or were) looking to move here permanently. I would suggest that this gentleman has far greater ties to Halifax County and Southside Virginia than does Mr. Witt who has been here a scant 12+ years. Additionally, this gentleman just sold a 5th generation insurance and brokerage firm in Manhattan for a princely sum. He loves the town of Halifax and WAS willing to invest a large sum of money into historic development here. Mr. Witt’s snide remarks probably killed that.

Question: After the gridlock of the past two years is this board now willing to blindly follow anyone? WTP would like to thank supervisor Bryant Claiborne for refusing to drink the Kool Aid.

We the People of Virginia respectfully asks the BOS to do the honorable thing and end this charade by putting Halifax Elementary up for public auction, no strings attached except that it be refurbished and put to it best use.

(2 (I was not given time to read this paragraph)

WTP would like for Dennis Witt to explain why he would not offer to Dunavant Engineering the same advantages offered to Echelon, Inc. Why would he want to deny a local business this opportunity in an area that has such economic challenges? Could it possibly be because he is carrying a personal vendetta against Mr. Dunavant because he worked to replace all of his sidekicks on the School Board, which ultimately lead to his resignation? Do we want someone leading our Board of Supervisors that is preventing the success of local businesses? If local businesses fail in Halifax, who will the residents work for? Where will the county and town get their tax revenue? Do we want someone in our local politics that does not listen to the will of the people?

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