April 9, 2009

Virginia Soldier sees dream to fruition

By Sgt. Andrew H. Owen
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

RICHMOND, Va. — Sgt. Charles Jones, a Soldier currently overseas, recently received great news when he was informed that Virginia Governor Tim Kaine signed Senate Bill 817 into law, which will create three new license plates to be sold throughout the commonwealth. This news is especially near to Jones’ heart since he has been working on the initiative for one of these plates for two years.

  Sgt. Charles Jones

Sgt. Charles Jones poses with a mock of the proposed Northern Neck license plate he developed with the Northern Neck Land Conservancy. (Contributed photo)

On March 30 the Governor signed the bill that will create a special license plate for the Northern Neck area of Virginia, a victory for Jones, a Virginia Army National Guard Soldier currently deployed to Iraq with the 180th Engineers Company out of Powhatan, who came up with the idea for the Northern Neck License Plate after coming home from his first deployment to Iraq back in 2004. Jones noticed different license plates for the Eastern Shore and Virginia Beach on vehicles. He wondered why there wasn’t a license plate for the Northern Neck. 

When Jones decided to pursue his license plate idea, he first pitched the proposal to (then) Delegate Rob Wittman.

“I had pitched the idea around in my head for awhile, but didn’t know who specifically should benefit from it should it pass a revenue sharing venture,” said Jones. “Upon listening to Mary Louisa Pollard talk about the mission of the Northern Neck Land Conservancy, I knew then that this organization was worthy of the funds. All I had to do then was write up the proposal and send it.”

"In some cases, the General Assembly has allowed the assessment of an extra fee above the added cost of the specialty plate itself and transferred the money raised by the fee to the organization supporting the plate's message,” said Kaine.

With the proposal in the hands of Wittman it was passed along to State Senator Richard Stuart. Stuart then carried the bill all the way through the State Senate where it was passed with no hold-ups.

Eventually, the bill did hit a snag in the House of Delegates Transportation committee, according to Jones. The House requested that the Northern Neck Land Conservancy present the required 350 applications up front before they would pass the bill. With the bill tabled for the year, Sergeant Jones and the Northern Neck Land Conservancy got to work acquiring the applications.

According to the Governor, the message conveyed on specialty plates must be approved by the General Assembly and are only issued after at least 350 motorists pay the necessary fee.

Susan McFadden of Open Door Communications in Kilmarnock offered her services to the project. With her help, the Land Conservancy was able to draw up a concept of the license plate to sell to the public. With the financial backing of the local banks in the area, the group was able to advertise on the radio and in the local papers, as well as set up application displays at several businesses. Their effort resulted in over 430 applications.

“I was able to stay in touch with Senator Stuart, as well as Delegate Albert Pollard, who represents the Northern Neck, and Delegate Ed Scott from Culpeper, who sits on the House Transportation Committee through e-mail,” said Jones, who began his deployment in October 2008. “They all assured me of the success of the bill.”

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles will begin accepting applications for the new license plate July 1. Individuals already applied through the Northern Neck Land Conservancy should see their plates sometime near the end of the fall or early next year.

“I just thought it would be a simple endeavor when I first started.  But very little in government is as simple as it seems. But in the end, when I finally get back from deployment and I see the license plates on the road, it will all have been worthwhile,” said Jones.

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