By Charlotte Rene Woods | Government & Climate Reporter
Scottsville resident and defense attorney Michael Hallahan wants to add supervisor to his résumé and bring “a different perspective” to Albemarle County’s Democrat-dominated board.
“We have zero representation on the board,” Hallahan said of the Republican Party. “We don’t even have an independent. There’s no voice from the center or the right, and I have a problem with that.”
Hallahan said he always has wanted to serve Albemarle through some elected position and considered where he felt he could fit best without compromising his law practice.
“Right now, with the way my career is, I’ve got a successful law practice and running for sheriff or commonwealth’s attorney would close it down,” he said. “So, Board of Supervisors seemed to be the best fit.”
As a fiscally conservative Republican, he said he will look at areas of local government where he can trim positions and save money. He does not support tax increases and suggests lowering the county’s business tax to attract more businesses to the area. Specifically, he hopes further development on the southern portion of U.S. 29 can bring career-fostering jobs in manufacturing and technology.
“Business brings jobs. Jobs bring revenue. Jobs bring employed people,” Hallahan said.
On dissatisfaction with the current board, Hallahan calls for more transparency and a change to how the budgets are handled. When the time comes for the Board of Supervisors to set annual budgets, Hallahan said he would rather hear suggestions and needs from base-level employees in government departments rather than department heads as he contributes his vote.
“I’ve had a lot of issues with the way they [the Board of Supervisors] work their budgets, the way they capriciously raise taxes without even asking the citizens,” Hallahan said. “When you raise someone’s taxes, you’re taking from them involuntarily. They’re already taking so much.”
As an alternative to raising taxes, Hallahan said he will look for where funding may be wasted to divert it to other things.
“I want to find all the waste in county government. I want to talk to the people who actually do the work — the people that drive the buses, that mow the grass, that teach, that cook the lunches in schools,” Hallahan said. “I want to talk to those people and find out where is the waste in the department? We don’t need all these multiple layers of supervision. We need the people who actually do the work to get the majority of the money.”
Hallahan said that employees can “find their own waste” and alert the board what could be cut or trimmed.
“Employees always want a pay increase and the board always says, ‘The budget doesn’t allow it.’ Well, the budget will allow it if you quit wasting money,” Hallahan said.
He said that examples could be allocated funds that went unused or positions that may not have been needed.
“When people find the waste and report it, as we work the budget, we could take half of that and apply it to an across-the-board pay raise for your baseline employees, and the other half can go back to the county,” Hallahan said.
Originally from the area, Hallahan attended county schools (as his children do now) and he attended the University of Virginia to study environmental science, a subject of interest that grew with his love of spending time outdoors. He went onto work as a police officer in the county. He then went on to study for and pass the bar without going to law school and has operated his own practice since 2000. Virginia is one of four states that allow people to practice law without attending law school, permitting they have apprenticed in the office of a practicing attorney or judge. When Hallahan studied law, he apprenticed for Dayton Haugh for three years prior to his exam.
While most of Hallahan’s cases are involved in criminal defense and traffic violations, he also serves as guardian ad litem to represent children who impacted by neglect, abuse or custody and visitation violations.
As an attorney, Hallahan said he believes strongly in the Fifth and Sixth amendments, which support due process and the rights to an attorney. As such, he takes on any client the court appoints to him and any client who approaches him — including Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler.
“As attorneys, we’re not friends with these people. We represent them, and I represent anyone who walks through my door.”
Hallahan says he wonders if people who take issue with his having represented Kessler have also vetted the clients of his opponent and fellow attorney, Donna Price.
“Do they believe that some people have a right to an attorney, and some don’t?” Hallahan said. “The U.S. Constitution gives everyone that right. When you start picking who is worthy and who is not, that’s when you start cutting it away, and that’s a dangerous road.”
“As supervisor, you’re not just representing the people who align with your politics or interests. You’re representing your whole district,” he added.
As Election Day approaches, Hallahan said he’s enjoyed canvassing around the Scottsville District and participating in forums and debate with Price. In his spare time, Hallahan usually is spending time on the James River or doing other outdoor activities.
Hallahan is the Republican candidate for Scottsville District supervisor. Election day is Nov. 5.
What inspired you to run for supervisor?
I have lived in this county since 1978, and have observed the County becoming more regulated, and seen the taxes continue to rise; while turning away good business and home building opportunities. The mentality of the current Board is that we (the citizens) should feel lucky that our taxes aren’t higher. I believe that the people should feel that their local government is there to assist them and encourage them, not to dissuade and discourage them from following their dreams. The consensus of the people I’ve talk to feel that the current Board of Supervisors acts as if we work for them and are there to serve them, but it is really the opposite; the Board of Supervisors works for us, and serves at our pleasure. I think that they forget this when they raise taxes without asking the voters, and do many other things that show a blatant disregard and lack of respect for many citizens of this district. I am running because our local government has gotten way too complicated, way too intrusive, and completely unhelpful. It is hard to find someone who had had a pleasurable experience in trying to get something approved or accomplished in county government. I was inspired to run to restore common sense and financial responsibility to the Board of Supervisors, while making day to day dealings with the local government a more enjoyable and rewarding experience. I am tired of complaining about the many issues that upset many of the members in my district; it is time to do something about it. When I am elected, we will have a transparent local government with no more secret, closed door meetings. I want to bring some balance to the Board, where currently there is a 6-0 Democrat monopoly; with no conservative or independent voices. I know so many people from all corners of my district and can relate to all of them. I am comfortable in any and all settings. I’ve been a lawyer for 19 years, but never went to law school. I worked as a cop, nights and weekends, while I apprenticed during the day to become a lawyer. When I get inspired to do something, I do it. People told me I could never become a lawyer that way, and I did. People tell me that I’ll never walk from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean in 2033, but I will, because I cherish the outdoors and our country, but what is so encouraging, from when I announced this run in January, there are no nay-sayers; everyone that I encounter across this district says that I will win!!
What do you see as your top three priorities should you be elected?
I regularly work in over a dozen local counties and I have noticed that Albemarle County is probably the most desired destination for ONE reason; and that it our great schools. I have fought for abused and exploited children over the last 25 years as a cop and a Guardian ad Litem. 1) My top priority is to maintain and improve the excellence in the basic services provided by the Albemarle County government, specifically, the Albemarle County Public Schools by focusing on the teachers and guidance counselors because they are the most important resources, as they actually are the ones that our children depend on to teach them and counsel them; and maintain and improve excellence in public safety (police, fire, and rescue), and I believe that public safety also includes more cell towers, more broadband access, and wider roads, and to maintain and improve excellence in all other basic county departments that are essential to county government, (especially our many county parks in which I am very happy we have). 2) My second priority is the budget. I feel that the current Board too quickly raises taxes, without asking the voters first, and without looking for the money elsewhere, while simultaneously turning down good business opportunities, disregarding the vast new revenues that new business, new homes, new jobs, and all the other related revenues that would come to the county without raising taxes on existing residents. I would propose two new budget ideas; 1) no new taxes unless approved by a referendum 2) allow county departments to identify waste in their own departments ( either in unnecessary management positions, unspent or wasted money, or unnecessary equipment) and in the next budget year, half is applied directly to the county employees as a pay raise and the other half comes off the budget. I will review the county budget as carefully as I review my own budget and will not waste tax dollars. Also, on a state level, if we can get the practice of cities annexing county lands banned, we can turn off the 16 million or so dollars a year that the county pays the city as a ransom, not to be annexed by them. The city has annexed the county lands multiple times over its history and In the early 1950s, 5 cities in Tidewater annexed the entirety of the 5 counties that surrounded them and instantly, those 5 counties ceased to exist and Virginia went from having 100 counties, down to 95 counties. finally 3) My third priority is the boost the morale of the average county resident in dealing with county government. This would include all Board meetings and work sessions to be open to the public, not necessarily all for public comment, but they should all be public because the Board works for us and should answer to us. This also would include putting time limits on permits and other inspections to be approved and completed. I want the people to feel like the county government is really fighting for them to succeed and I want the people to view the county as their ally in their endeavors and not an obstruction.
Given your background, what do you think you can bring to the table if elected?
I am a Virginia native and moved into Albemarle County in 1978, where I have lived continuously, for the last 41 years. I attended Murray Elementary School in Ivy, K – 5th, Henley Middle School, in Crozet, 6th – 8th, and Western Albemarle High School in Crozet 9th – 12th, class of 1990. I was raised by two great parents , Col. Thomas J. Hallahan, USAF Ret., and Barbara J. Hallahan, the owner and operator of Jefferson Engraving & Awards, Inc. in Woodbrook Shopping Center, a business she and my father started in 1983. I attended the University of Virginia for 4 years and received a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science in 1994. I was hired after college by the Albemarle County Police Department, and between 1994 and 2000, I served as a law enforcement officer in Albemarle and Greene counties. In the late 90s I apprenticed with local attorney L. Dayton Haugh for 3 years, and took the bar exam in 2000. I opened my own law office in December of 2000, and since then I have served over 11,000 clients in over 50 jurisdictions around Virginia. I primarily do traffic and criminal law, but also represent children as their Guardian ad Litem in abuse/neglect or custody situations. I purchased my farm along the James River in the Scottsville District in 2003 and built my home there in 2008 where I live today. My two older children attend Albemarle County Public Schools and my youngest will be enrolled in Kindergarten next year. My roots in Albemarle County go back to the 1970s and I have a stake in its prosperity as it is where I have chosen to remain and I am raising my family! I am extremely responsible with my money and I will be just as responsible with yours…. because tax money comes directly out of the pockets of the people. I have a deep connection to the rural voter and the rural community, because I am a rural voter, while maintaining good relationships and many contacts in the more urban areas of the district. I am the perfect candidate for this position because I have operated a very successful law firm for 19 years in downtown Charlottesville, with a degree in Environmental Science from UVa; all while living on a 135 acre farm that is used for raising beef cattle, growing soy beans, and growing corn. I am the perfect candidate for Scottsville District Supervisor because I want to bring some balance to the Board; where currently there is a 6-0 Democrat monopoly; with no conservative or independent voices. I know so many people from all corners of my district and can relate to all of them. I am comfortable in any and all settings. I’ve been a lawyer for 19 years, but never went to law school. I worked as a cop, nights and weekends, while I apprenticed during the day to become a lawyer. When I get inspired to do something, I do it. People told me I could never become a lawyer that way, and I did. People tell me that I’ll never walk from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean in 2033, but I will, because I cherish the outdoors and our country, but what is so encouraging, from when I announced this run in January, there are no nay-sayers; everyone that I encounter across this district says that I will win! and I am what this county needs!
What do you think of Albemarle’s new project-focused high school center model? Would you support a bond referendum to build additional high school centers beyond what is currently budgeted?
My number one priority is the students’ best interests. My priority is to pay the most we can afford to be competitive to lure the best teachers. That is where I will focus. Let’s have all the teachers and the base level staff give their opinions on how the current money should be best allocated; remember, let’s let them find waste, and apply it to an across the board pay increase and a budget cut. Once we get the budget fine tuned, and no one knows how to do that better that the actual educators that know where money and resources are needed most, then we can look at new projects. Once we begin looking at the new projects, we need to consider current county property and buildings before we consider acquiring new lands or new construction, because I would rather spend the money on teacher pay raises, more teachers, and more equipment, than a new construction, unless it is absolutely needed. A bond referendum would be the best way to decide a potential tax increase because it should be the decision of the people, and NOT the decision of six members of the Board, and any tax increase for a particular purpose should always have a sunset provision.
Do you think Albemarle should invest in affordable housing? If so, would you support a permanent affordable housing fund (i.e. with more dedicated funds than the end-of-year-surplus)?
I support the notion of affordable housing, but the local government is what makes housing not affordable. The materials to build a house costs the same whether you build that house on a million dollar lot, with ten million in proffers, or whether you build the house on a $1,000 middle of nowhere lot, off the grid, with no building permit. The local government puts so many strings on new construction that runs the costs so high, the builders pass those costs on to the home buyers and since new construction costs so much more with all these regulations, it drives up the costs of pre-built houses too that go up for sale. This is what causes the shortage of “affordable housing”. The local government has zoning laws that require minimum lot sizes, and many other zoning issues, as well as the builders are often required, in the form of proffers, to spend much additional monies on infrastructure, on green space, and sometimes additional low-income units, that the cost of constructing a single unit goes up and up. I’m not saying its all wrong, but what I am saying is that the government regulations (again, whether they’re right or wrong) cause the “affordable housing” issue, so there is no fund that can help this situation, unless the government simply pays a percentage of the cost of each house for new home buyers, whether it is new construction or the purchase of a pre-built home, which would bring down the price of the house to levels of similar homes in areas that aren’t as regulated. The Board just voted again to raise the real estate taxes of all county homeowners, so once again, the Board is making these houses less affordable because they are getting more expensive to own. We need to stop this never ending cycle.
What do you see as the future of transportation in Albemarle?
Albemarle County is a mostly rural county, by square mile, and I don’t believe the personal vehicle can ever practically be replaced because some people commute up to 20 or 30 miles (one-way) each day, all within the county. In our more tightly populated areas, we could get more buses (biodiesel) routes, and more dedicated bike lanes, and all over the county, we could create more park and ride lots so people could carpool. This county is way too spread out for rail travel to be practical. If you look up and down the RT. 29 corridor, all major population areas have a by-pass. We do have a by-pass, but it was built in the 1960s, and we are in need of a new solution. We need more roads that lead in and out of Charlottesville, we need wider and safer roadways in the rural areas of the county, and we need either a by-pass or an elevated highway, that gets all the pass- through traffic off our local roadways. An overpass at Rio and US 29 does not suffice to take the place of the by-pass. I would like to see SR 20 a four-lane highway, I would like to see all our county roads paved, and many of our smaller country roads made safer with hard shoulders. We also encourage large employers to stagger shift times to cut down on the amount of traffic on the roadways at any given time.
What do you think of the county’s new economic development plan? Which of the office’s recent activities (deals with WillowTree, Perrone Robotics, Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, and Potters Craft Cider) do you think are most successful and why?
Look around the county at the various shopping centers and you will see empty storefronts, or empty mega-stores. What this county needs is some manufacturing, blue collar and tech jobs, that will be around decades into the future. Look at Zion X Roads and Augusta County as they set the example and are leaders in attracting manufacturing and big business, employing thousands, where Albemarle is known for UVA and its retail shopping. We need more career jobs, factories and plants, not more retail space. Albemarle County and Charlottesville have the same business tax at .0058/$100, where Augusta County is nearly half .0030/$100. Look at the difference in the number of manufacturing jobs and big business in the contrasting jurisdictions. Albemarle County doesn’t need to spend money to attract and prop up new business, we need to welcome new business and make them feel welcome; welcoming the new residents that would be needed to fill these jobs, and not obstructing and turning away good business opportunities. Our local government needs to stay out of the private sector and stick to the basics. We need to welcome the private sector in to create new jobs, and spread that broadband.
Do you think Albemarle County should commit to “net zero” emissions in the county by 2050 as the staff has proposed?
This is a global issue that requires a global solution, and when I am on the Board of Supervisors, I will be responsible for making sure that essential government services be funded such as the schools, first responders, and many other essential county departments. I want each dollar spent to actually make a difference. I have a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from UVa (1994) and our environment is as important to me as anyone, but I want to go about this in reason. First, about half of the problem is from transportation, and with the wide spread need for personal vehicle commuting in this 740 square mile county, I don’t see that changing unless we had a significant increase in the number of non-gas cars. I believe in small tax credits for non-gas cars. I also believe that recycling should be encouraged and we should educate the public on how to do so properly. I am for any initiative that would lower the greenhouse gases, within reason, but we are a county, and this problem needs a global solution. Realistically, even if the county was “net zero”, unless a majority of the world followed suit, it would make no real difference. We need a realistic balance between achieving this goal and balancing the financial costs and rewards.