Author Archives: Dick Hall-Sizemore

Driving While Black

Photo credit: Pope County Tribune

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

If anyone ever doubted there was a need for society to address the problem of police officers stopping Black drivers, a recent event in the town of Windsor should dispel those doubts.

The incident is reported in today’s on-line Virginian-Pilot. Like incidents at Virginia institutions of higher education that have been recently discussed on this blog, the narrative is based on side’s story. In this case, the description comes from a lawsuit filed in federal court by the Black driver. Unlike those other incidents, however, there is graphic police body camera footage that backs up the Black driver’s story.

For those who do not have access to the Virginian-Pilot with the accompanying body cam footage, I will summarize the incident: Continue reading

The New Normal

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

We are used to hearing and seeing weather temperatures reported as being some number of degrees above or below normal. The definition of “normal” has changed this year.

The National Weather Service defines “normal” climate conditions as a 30-year average. New Climate Normals are calculated every 10 years. Before this year, the 30-year time frame was 1981-2010. Now, the “normal” time frame is 1991-2020. As a result, “normal” temperatures have shifted upwards.

Because we are in an era in which climate conditions are shifting, the National Weather Service is adjusting its reporting by providing alternative definitions of “normal.” In response to user groups, it is releasing monthly “Supplemental Temperature Normals.” These reports show averages over 5-, 10-,15-, and 20-year periods, in addition to the traditional 30-year normal. They also show “normal” calculated differently from a straight average. These alternative methods are called “Optional Climate Normal” and the “Hinge Fit.”

Therefore, when it gets hot in the coming months and some folks on this blog, who are not overly concerned about climate change, say that temperatures are not that different from the norm, just remember that normal ain’t what it used to be.

One of the Good Guys

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Former Del. A.R. “Pete” Giesen died last Friday. He was one of the good ones.

He served in the House of Delegates from 1934-1974 and 1975-1996, representing the Staunton-Waynesboro area. He was a moderate Valley Republican.

I have somewhat of a bias. He chaired the first legislative committee I staffed when I joined the Division of Legislative Services. Back in the those days, the major study committees ran through something called the Virginia Advisory Legislative Council, comprised of the leadership of the General Assembly. It was the Study Committee on the Needs of Young Children that he chaired that year.

Pete was smart and a savvy politician. But, most of all, he was a nice person who had a kind word for everyone he came into contact with, including staff. He also had a great sense of humor and a great sense of perspective.

After he retired from the legislature, he lobbied some for Harrisonburg and Rockingham County and taught political science part-time at James Madison University.

The General Assembly could use a lot more Pete Giesens.

Democrats Expand Worker Protections

Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Many commenters on this blog seem to view Virginia Democrats as elitists (the “Plantation Elite”) who either ignore or look down on the needs of most Virginians or elitists who are absorbed in advancing critical race theory and other woke ideas. While battles against these perceived threats have been raging on Bacon’s Rebellion, Democrats in the General Assembly have passed, over stiff Republican opposition, a raft of legislation during the past two sessions that benefit ordinary working stiffs.

Some of this legislation has been high profile and has drawn fire on these pages, but most have gone largely unnoticed here and in the press. The best-known bills are those that increase the minimum wage and that authorize localities to engage in collective bargaining with their employees. These have been debated extensively on BR and I have no interest in resuming those debates here. (For the record, I support the minimum wage increase, but have strong reservations about public employee collective bargaining.) Continue reading

Big Brother Has Been Curtailed

Photo credit: New Castle News

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

A recent TV series, Person of Interest, centered on the ability to use large databases of personal information coupled with extensive audio and video surveillance to identify any individual and pull up extensive data on that individual. A small team of good guys used this capability to identify threats to individuals and help the threatened individual escape harm. An extensive network of bad guys seized upon the technology to dominate the world. The good guys, of course, tried to stop the bad guys.

That may sound a little futuristic, but it exists today. The Chinese government has built an extensive facial recognition system which it uses to persecute minority populations and intimidate its general population.

The United States has not gotten to the level of the Chinese, but law-enforcement agencies have made extensive use of face recognition technology. For example, police departments in the state of Florida have been using it for a couple of decades. Continue reading

Unthinkable–a Tax Decrease!

Patrick Duhaney,City Manager, Virginia Beach

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

According to a report in the Virginian –Pilot, the city manager of Virginia Beach will be recommending that city council reduce the city’s real estate tax rate. He is also recommending that the city delay a previously approved storm-water fee increase.

Last year, the city cut $67 million out of its operating budget in anticipation of COVID-19’s impact on the economy. The impact was not as bad as anticipated and revenues have stabilized. Even with the proposed cut in the real estate tax rate and the delay in the storm-water fee, resulting in a loss of about $9.3 million, the manager projected enough revenue in the budget to recommend 3% salary increases for city employees and the approval of 54 new positions, primarily firefighters and emergency responders.

The fiscal condition of the city of Virginia Beach is not typical of that of other Virginia local governments and there are probably few, if any, others who could afford to take these steps. However, the city is an example for most of the contributors and commenters of Bacon’s Rebellion that governments are not always trying to get as much out of the taxpayers as they can.

VEC Gets the Booby Prize

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

There has been considerable discussion on this blog as to which agency has been the biggest failure in the face of the pandemic. Many have placed the heaviest blame on the Department of Health. I would award the prize for the being the biggest failure to the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC).

The Department of Health certainly has had its problems and failures, but it has had to face a complex environment. For examples, it was dealing with a disease about which little was known at first, including its major method of transmission; the most vulnerable citizens were those in nursing homes, which are controlled by private owners; and it is dependent on other actors, such as hospitals and local health departments, for its data.

On the other hand, VEC has one primary mission—get out checks promptly to people who have lost their jobs. It largely failed at that job. Continue reading

Our Throw-Away Society

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

I use a certain brand of medium-priced walking shoe. The model that I use has a wide toe box and is the most comfortable for my foot. The top of the shoe is all leather and the sole is rubber.

Several years ago, when the heels had worn down considerably (this is where the term “down at the heels” comes from, presumably), I took the shoes into my local shoe repair shop and had the soles replaced. The cost was $20-30 cheaper than what it would have cost to buy new shoes.

Recently, I took several pair that were down at the heels in to have the heels replaced. This time, the shop manager kindly explained that I might want to check the price of buying new shoes because the cost of getting new soles would likely be close to, or more than, buying new shoes. I knew the cost of replacing the shoes, which seemed to be less than it was several years ago. I thanked him for his honesty and left. Continue reading

On the Naming of Buildings

Freeman Hall, University of Richmond
Photo Credit: Sandra Sellars, Richmond Free Press

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The University of Richmond has taken a nuanced, or ambivalent, position, depending on your perspective, in the kerfuffle over building names honoring slaveholders, Civil War generals, or supporters of segregation.

Before discussing its position, it may help to provide a brief profile of the school for readers who may not be familiar with it. UR is a small (3,147 undergraduates), private university situated on a beautiful, secluded campus in Richmond’s tony West End. In 1969, it was transformed from a financially-troubled,  local college into a well-endowed institution with a national presence when E. Claiborne Robins, chairman of the A.H. Robins pharmaceutical company, gave it $50 million. At the time, that was the largest amount a living benefactor had ever given an American university.

A large segment of its student body is from the Northeast; only 18 percent of the students are from Virginia. It is pricey: the annual cost of tuition, room, and board is $72,500. (Disclosure: My daughter is a graduate of the school. She had a generous scholarship; I could not have afforded it even back then when tuition was much more reasonable.) Continue reading

Analysis of State Use of Federal COVID Funds

Design credit: Atlantic Cape Community College

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

(Note:  All of the data presented in this post is based on the author’s analysis of raw expenditure data from the state’s accounting system (CARDINAL) for FY 2020 and FY 2021 through 2/22/2021.)

As of February 22, state agencies had spent or disbursed $11.9 billion in federal COVID funds.

Two major categories of expenditures accounted for about 86 percent of that total.  The Virginia Employment Commission had paid out $8.8 billion in unemployment claims.  Secondly, in accordance with federal law, the state had transferred $1.4 billion to local governments.  The remaining $1.7 billion was spent directly by state agencies or disbursed by them as grants to local or regional government agencies or to private entities. Continue reading

Virginia GOP–The Party that Couldn’t Shoot Straight

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The conservatives on this blog have been spending a great deal of time lamenting what the Democratic majority and progressives are doing to the state’s universities, public schools, and life in general. However, there has been very little mention of the Commonwealth’s other major political party.  Frankly, I do not blame them for doing everything they can to distract attention away from the Republicans. That party cannot agree even on how to select its candidates for the upcoming gubernatorial election.

First, there was the usual fight in the State Central Committee over whether to have a convention or a primary. As in prior years, the proponents for a convention won out. There was one major problem with that decision, however. There is a pandemic and a large convention would violate the prohibition of large gatherings. Of course, the party could probably ignore that Governor’s executive order and go ahead with a mass convention. I doubt if the police would try to shut them down. But, doing that would be a public relations disaster. Continue reading

COVID Vaccination Report

The vaccination pace is picking up.  My wife and I had our first round of shots last Sunday at CVS.  Ironically, my daughter in Northern Virginia scheduled them for us. She had been checking the CVS website and saw that they were scheduling for two days in Richmond. (I had checked the day before and nothing in the state was available.)

Furthermore, I just got a call from Henrico County about scheduling our shots for tomorrow. This was a week or so after I registered on the main state website.

The Future is Now

Seen in my neighborhood on my morning walk.

Help for Small Businesses–One State Use of CARES Funding

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

I owe the Dept. of Small Business and Supply Diversity (DSBSD) an apology. In an earlier post, I questioned whether the agency would be able to quickly distribute $120 million in grant funds. It turns out that its first checks went out in mid-August and it had to stop accepting applications on Dec. 9 because the amount of money designated for the program had been exhausted.

The program is called Rebuild VA. Approved applicants received awards of three times their average monthly recurring eligible operating expenses plus COVID-related expenses, up to a maximum grant of $100,000. To be eligible for an award, an applicant could be a corporation, pass-through entity, nonprofit organization, recognized tribe, sole proprietor, or individual contractor who met the following criteria:

  • Principal place of business in Virginia
  • 250 or fewer full-time employees
  • Operating prior to 3/12/2020
  • Currently in good standing with State Corporation Commission (if applicable), and
  • Engaged in legal activity.

Continue reading

More Money, Same Level of Service

Photo Credit: Richmond Times Dispatch

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

There are often cries of anguish or outrage on this blog and elsewhere over the increases in spending proposed in budget proposals and then authorized by the General Assembly. Some of this criticism of increased spending is justified, but, sometimes, the increase is the result of circumstances beyond an agency’s control. Sometimes, stuff just costs more.

Replacing State Police cruisers is a good example of this quandary. For many years, the State Police used the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. When Ford stopped production of that model in 2011, the State Police began using the Ford Taurus Police Interceptor.  (It took me a little while to get used to seeing the State Police in those smaller cars.) Next, Ford discontinued production of the Taurus in 2019. After testing Dodge and Chevrolet vehicles as potential replacements, the State Police selected the Ford Police Interceptor Utility. (This is a modified SUV and it explains why I have been seeing local police driving SUVs, which was a little disconcerting.) Continue reading