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Ziglar commended for years of service to city
Former Martinsville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joan Ziglar (third from left) receives a symbolic key to the city from Mayor Kim Adkins (second from right) during the Martinsville City Council meeting Tuesday night. Also pictured are (from left) Councilman Danny Turner, Vice Mayor Gene Teague and Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge. (Bulletin photo by Mickey Powell)
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Martinsville City Council on Tuesday presented former city commonwealth’s attorney Joan Ziglar a symbolic key to the city in recognition of her 16 years of service as chief prosecutor.
Officials have said crime in Martinsville is at a 30-year low. Speakers during the presentation credited Ziglar’s aggressiveness in fighting crime for that reduction. However, she said it was a team effort of her staff and police.
In the Nov. 5 election, Ziglar lost her bid for a fifth term as chief prosecutor to Clay Gravely, who once was an assistant commonwealth’s attorney under her but most recently had a private law practice in Martinsville.
Gravely started his tenure as commonwealth’s attorney Jan. 2. He was at the presentation — which attracted a nearly full-house audience in the council chambers — but did not speak publicly.
During her re-election bid, Ziglar acknowledged being criticized by some for her aggressiveness, but she vowed that she would not change.
When Ziglar took office in 1998, retired police chief Mike Rogers said, “she sent a strong message” that she would be tough on crime, such as by being reluctant to use plea bargains, “and she kept her promise.”
“Crime was out of control at the time,” Rogers recalled. He said he heard Martinsville referred to as “Little Chicago” and “Little New York” due to its high crime rate and that people who had moved to the city from big cities moved back because they thought Martinsville was too violent.
Now, he said, Martinsville is “one of the safest places in the state ... to live, work and raise a family.”
Criminals used to tell undercover officers they would not commit crimes in Martinsville because they knew they would be handed stiff sentences under Ziglar’s prosecution, Rogers said.
State and federal law enforcement officers were astonished to hear such remarks, he said.
Having witnessed Ziglar stand up to “vicious criminals,” Rogers added that she is “the toughest, strongest lady I know.”
Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge said she admires Ziglar’s work ethic.
William Eggleston, a resident of Martinsville’s west side, credited Ziglar with basically eradicating an illegal drug problem in that part of the city.
“I’m very proud of you,” Eggleston said.
“You always did a fantastic job for our citizens,” Vice Mayor Gene Teague told Ziglar.
City residents should “thank God for you every day,” Ziglar’s sister, Donna Murphy, told her.
Martinsville has had Virginia’s highest unemployment rates essentially since Ziglar first was elected, Councilman Danny Turner pointed out. Officials have said they think the unemployment problem contributed to crime.
It is “unheard of” for a city with as many economic problems as Martinsville has had to see its crime drop so much, said City Attorney Eric Monday.
He joked that “one of the pleasant things about being city attorney is that I didn’t have to deal with her (Ziglar) in the courtroom.”
Some criminal defense attorneys have said Ziglar was difficult to work with, Monday continued, “but that’s exactly what you want someone to say about your prosecutor.”
“You’ve got some pretty big shoes to fill, Clay,” Turner told Gravely.
Area resident Chad Martin said he knows people who have been inspired to go to law school because of their admiration of Ziglar.
“She is a role model for all of us and our children,” Mayor Kim Adkins said, calling Ziglar her “role model from afar.”
“I predict you will be back” (elected as commonwealth’s attorney again) in the future, Adkins said.
Ruth Easley, the city’s revenue commissioner, called Ziglar a role model for herself and other constitutional officers.
After accepting the key from Adkins, Ziglar said she loved “being a bureaucrat” because it meant she was a servant of the people.
She called her former employees — some of whom Gravely has hired — to stand with her in front of the council.
In terms of fighting crime, “I didn’t do anything myself,” Ziglar said. “A very, very big debt of gratitude goes to these people.”
Ziglar also credited the Martinsville Police Department for its involvement in reducing crime. She mentioned Rogers, former chief David Edwards and the current interim chief, Capt. Eddie Cassady, by name.
“Martinsville has the best police department anywhere,” she said, adding that the Henry County Sheriff’s Office is “a close second.”
She also credited a higher authority for helping her to do her job.
God “has always walked with me,” Ziglar said. “I will not walk away without acknowledging ... my love for him.”