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Panny Rhodes pushes for a primary... Where is News 6 reporter Tonya St. Romain?...Spare political signs rile gas-station owner...Nonprofits find a communal space on the Web.

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Rhodes Pushes Primary ConcernWhere in the World Are Tonya and Matt?Site Will Connect Area's NonprofitsStubborn Signs Irk Station Owner

Rhodes Pushes Primary Concern

Del. Anne G. "Panny" Rhodes sits back in her chair at a Grove Avenue coffee shop and spoons raspberry sherbet between smiles. For the first time in ages, the only interruption she expects is a call from her daughter. This appears to delight her.

Two days before, while out of town, Rhodes had announced she wouldn't seek re-election to her 68th House District seat in the General Assembly.

She has endorsed former Vice-Mayor John A. Conrad over conservative lawyer Brad Marrs for her 68th District seat.

But, as has happened many times in Rhodes' tumultuous time in the General Assembly, Rhodes may be stymied by her own party.

In most cases, the incumbent selects the method of nomination. Last month, Rhodes announced that she has chosen a primary, in which voters would pick their candidate. Clearly, Rhodes is hoping a primary in August will help get Conrad elected to her seat.

But a primary may not be in the offing. Instead, the Republican contender for the House seat could be chosen at a party convention. A convention would be run by party loyalists who feel little incentive to back Rhodes' hand-picked successor.

Ed Matricardi, executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia, says legislative district committees in the city and counties making up the 68th District are now picking a committee of party members to decide whether to use a convention or primary to determine their candidate.

The State Board of Elections has set a July 2 deadline for choosing the method of nomination.

While the news of Rhodes' departure came as a surprise to many Richmonders, those close to Rhodes knew it was a move she had considered with every one of her five elections to Virginia's House of Delegates. "It's ridiculous to think of yourself as indispensable," she says. "There is that other life out there."

There have been rumblings that Rhodes, known for her middle-of-the-road conservatism, was the likely victim of redistricting by her own Republican Party in an effort to push her out. But Rhodes insists the newly drawn district lines have little to do with her decision.

Instead, she says, it has more to do with party lines, which she says have become increasingly inflexible during her decade-long tenure at the Virginia Capitol.

"I am more socially progressive than my party is, and that has caused some conflicts," says Rhodes, referring to her stance on tax relief, abortion rights and state funding for education.

Still, Rhodes says she's a committed Republican, just one who is more centrist than most.

Sounds like the plight of one recently ex-Republican senator from Vermont. Sen. Jim Jeffords' defection from the GOP recently gave Democrats control of the Senate.

"He had to make a very difficult decision and I can empathize with him," Rhodes says. " … When you are a Republican who thinks independently it can be very difficult within the party structure." — Brandon Walters.

Where in the World Are Tonya and Matt?

Two WTVR TV-6 news reporters have vanished from the airwaves — saying goodbye to colleagues but keeping mum about their plans.

Tonya St. Romain, a reporter known to many viewers for her sultry looks, and her husband, Matt Stark, a sports reporter/photographer, left Channel 6 in May without telling co-workers where they were going. News 6 made no public announcement of their departure.

"It's not unusual in this business to move on," says Mark Pimentel, the CBS affiliate's general manager. "It is unusual not to know where you're moving on to."

Their departure was amicable, a source says. According to some people at News 6, the couple left town last weekend.

St. Romain has an unlisted phone number and could not be reached. There is no record of Matt Stark in local telephone listings.

An Internet search on St. Romain returns only one reference to her, on a Richmond Web site where local radio insiders trade news and gossip. In January, someone writing under the name "walking encyclopedia" wrote: "By the way, speaking of Channel 6, I've noticed that new reporter Tonya St. Romain, is she HOT or what?"

That is little help.

News Director Mark Neerman wishes the couple well but says he is baffled: "Where in the world are Tonya and Matt? I have no answer."

Neither do sources at other local stations, where few secrets about local media types stay that way.

Stark started at Channel 6 in the summer of 1999. Then last summer, he and St. Romain got married in Las Vegas. (Apparently, St. Romain's mother is from that area.) That was about the time St. Romain landed a job at Channel 6.

Their stint here was short-lived. At the beginning of May, the two met with news executives to say they were leaving. Stark broke the news to his boss, Sports Director Lane Casadonte.

Casadonte, whose wife, weekend anchor and reporter Deborah Cox, also works at the station, says he has no idea where Stark and Romain are going. "They said they feel that they're doing what's best for them," Casadonte says. "I haven't even talked with them since they left here, actually."

The station, of course, is moving on too. "We're looking for Matt's replacement now," Casadonte says. About 200 applicants have already sent résumés and videotapes.

Neerman figures the two will surface sometime. "You can't just disappear in TV," he notes dryly. "It just doesn't work that way. We're gonna know. It's a rather public business." — Jason Roop

Site Will Connect Area's Nonprofits

All Nancy Stutts wants to do is change the world.

Of course, that takes small steps, says Stutts. So she came up with one of them: creating a kind of online conference center for Richmond-area nonprofits to trade ideas, share community research and develop closer relationships.

"My dream is that it will strengthen organizations and ultimately strengthen the community," Stutts says.

The idea for the Web-site project, called Connect Richmond, came from a meeting last year of representatives from 55 local nonprofits. The meeting was organized by the Campus Community Partnership, an informal consortium of J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, the University of Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Union University.

During one group discussion the nonprofits expressed interest in getting access to some of the community-based research by faculty and students at the consortium's schools, says Stutts, co-director of the consortium.

Nonprofits also sought better ways to communicate with each other about their own news, research and service programs. So Stutts came up with the idea for a Web site that could act as an electronic clearinghouse.

She worked up a first-year budget of $170,000 for the site, landed grants from UR, VCU, the Community Partnership and the Junior League, and set up a group of college students at UR to build the site this summer.

"I think it will be a valuable tool for funders as well," says Susan Davis, director of programs for the Community Foundation. For example, she says, philanthropists can use the Web site to learn more about community needs.

For the nonprofits, Stutts says, the site will be a way to put to use research that otherwise might be sitting on shelves. "It's very much about democratizing information," she says.

Stutts hopes to launch the site this fall, then keep it self-supporting, perhaps with income from research and analysis that local college students perform for corporate or other philanthropies around town.

The office overseeing the creation of the new site is seeking input from area nonprofits. It can be reached by calling 287-6583, or online at — J.R.

Stubborn Signs Irk Station Owner

For six months, five red-and-white banners, remnants from Sen. Chuck Robb's failed re-election efforts, have flapped like flags against the telephone poles around Quincy's Texaco at the corner of Staples Mill Road and West Broad Street.

It's easy to miss the signs if you're not looking for them. But they sure stand out to Gus Fulleborn, owner of the service station. He's so bothered that he's been on a mission to find out just who is supposed to pull down the signs, which are posted about 12 feet up on five telephone poles.

The thing is, few seem to know — or care.

In December, Fulleborn says, he called Robb's office. He was told to call the Democratic Party of Virginia. He did that and left several messages about the signs. No result. Fulleborn says he then called a street-maintenance number for the city of Richmond. He couldn't get help there, either, he says.

Recently, Fulleborn says, he ran into Mayor Tim Kaine at an event and mentioned the problem to him. After that, he says, he was sure the pesky placards would come down.

But still they remain, still flapping, impervious even to the deluge that nearly washed out parts of the city last week.

If the signs bug Fulleborn so much, why doesn't he simply remove them?

Principle, he says. "Even though they're just stapled up there, I haven't felt like pulling out a little ladder, going up there and tearing them down," he says.

Fulleborn concedes that the fading signs are hardly a huge problem. But he insists that whoever is responsible for them should yank them off the poles.

Mary Broz, spokeswoman for the Virginia Democratic Party, says she understands Fulleborn's frustration. Campaign signs often linger long after elections. It's understood, says Broz, that signage — the posting and the removing of it — is the responsibility of the candidate and his campaign.

Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Tamara Neale is looking into the matter. Signs are not supposed to be tacked to telephone poles or any other piece of public property. But VDOT's concern with sign placement, she says, is strictly for safety reasons.

Finally, Billie Raines, with the city's Department of Public Works and coordinator for the Clean City Commission, offers to take care of Fulleborn's problem. She'll have the signs removed soon, she promises.

Raines adds that illegally placed signs — and not just political ones — are a bigger problem than many people realize. In the fall, the city plans to dedicate a cleanup day specifically for their removal. — B.W.

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