Category Archives: Efficiency in government

The Mailman Did It

by Jon Baliles

They say bad news comes in threes, and this week is no exception for news from the City of Richmond’s Finance Department. This week wasn’t just raining; it has been a monsoon when it comes to sloppy administrative work, penalties, interest, and deflecting blame.

Madison McNamee with NBC12 filed a story last night that says a number of residents in the West End, all in the same area/street, never received their real estate tax bills and were fined with penalties and interest by the city for untimely payment. The residents on a street just off of Grove Avenue never got their bills and never knew about it until they were sent a hefty late fee with interest, and the residents were told it was the fault of the Postal Service.

Resident Ken Davis is a former Deputy Attorney General who said he always pays his city taxes and has lived in the neighborhood for decades, but got hit with $800 in fees and fines, which he paid immediately. He said under Section 58.1 3916 of Virginia Code that “penalty and interest for failure to file a return or to pay a tax shall not be imposed if such failure was not the fault of the taxpayer.” Continue reading

Stuck in the Secretary’s Office

Andrew Wheeler, Director, Office of Regulatory Management

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Youngkin administration is sitting on regulations needed to implement important legislation enacted by the General Assembly in 2020. The delay constitutes a violation of that law.

In its 2020 Special Session, the General Assembly expanded the grounds for decertifying law-enforcement and jail officers. The background of this legislation was described in detail on this blog in a previous article, so there is no need to repeat that information here.

The legislation required the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), under the direction of the Criminal Justice Services Board (CJSB), to adopt statewide professional standards of conduct for law-enforcement and jail officers. The timeline set out in the legislation would have required the standards of conduct to go into effect by mid-December 2021, two years ago. DCJS missed the deadline. The CJSB approved the regulations on June 16, 2022. The Attorney General certified the regulations on Aug. 2, 2022. The Department of Planning and Budget completed its review of the economic impact of the regulations on Aug. 22, 2022. The regulations have been under review in the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security’s office since then—470 days, more than a year and a quarter. Continue reading

The Incomplete Case for Higher Tuition at UVa

by James A. Bacon

As the Board of Visitors ponders how much to raise tuition & fees in the next two academic years, the University of Virginia is grappling with strong inflationary pressures and a long-term shortfall in state aid, senior university administrators said Wednesday.

Even so, administrators told the Board’s Finance Committee, UVa offers a great “value proposition” compared to other Top 50 universities. Its in-state tuition is lower than that of top private universities, and its four-year graduation rate is the highest of any public university in the country.

The Finance Committee meeting yesterday marked the beginning of a two-month decision-making process. The purpose of the initial meeting, said Committee Chair Robert M. Blue, was to provide “context” for the discussion. A November hearing will allow students and others to express their views about college costs. The Board is scheduled to adopt a new tuition structure in December. 

Although university officials did not say explicitly that a tuition increase is justified, the “context” presented was geared to supporting such a conclusion. Board members offered no pushback during the one-and-a-half-hour session, asking only a few questions for purposes of clarification. They did not drill into the data proffered by administrators, nor, despite assurances that UVa was working assiduously to achieve efficiencies and reduce redundancies, did they ask for specifics. No one addressed faculty productivity, administrative overhead, or other drivers of university costs. Continue reading

UVa Spending on Staff Surges, Spending on Students Trails

Inflation-adjusted percentage increase of UVa E&G expenditures (in millions of dollars) compared to those of all 15 Virginia public four-year higher-ed institutions.

by James A. Bacon

Always alert for opportunities to arm the University of Virginia Board of Visitors members with statistics they don’t see in their board presentations, The Jefferson Council presents the table above, compiled from data published by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).

The takeaway: UVa boosted overall E&G (educational & general) spending faster than Virginia’s other public four-year colleges and universities between fiscal 2011-12 and fiscal 2021-22, but UVa funds were more likely to flow to faculty and staff and less likely to go to student instruction, student services, or research support.

E&G expenditures represent spending on an institution’s core educational mission. Under SCHEV’s accounting methodology, E&G strips out spending on athletics, dormitories, food service, and auxiliary enterprises. The Council’s data portal adjusts for inflation over the 10 years displayed above, so these figures reflect real spending, not funny money.

SCHEV breaks down E&G expenditures by seven broad categories so the public can get a clearer idea of where the money is going. The data are consistent with the interpretation advanced by The Jefferson Council in previous posts that UVa has experienced excessive growth in administrative overhead. Continue reading

Loudoun Supervisors Defend Exorbitant Junkets

by Ram Venkatachalam

Until recently, members of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors haven’t tried to sell themselves as international diplomats and business development experts. They aren’t.

Nor do we have a long history of waste, fraud, and abuse when it comes to how members of local government spend our tax dollars, especially for money budgeted for constituent services.

But now four Democrat members of the Board have been caught red-handed in the biggest local government scandal in decades. This is what Entitlement looks like.

This year alone, Chair Phyliss Randall, and Supervisors Juli Briskman, Sylvia Glass, and Koran Saines have violated their oath of office by diverting nearly $100,000 in taxpayer money (that we know of) for first-class travel for themselves and others to Ghana and Uruguay. They even purchased a pricey camera to take pictures of themselves because it wasn’t enough to use their taxpayer-paid cell phones.

That money could have been spent to hire another elementary school teacher, firefighter, or deputy sheriff this year. Instead, it was wasted.

Our taxes paid for these four to travel with their aides, a political campaign donor and others under the guise of “sister city” partnerships – without a compelling reason, and with no return on investment.

The four supervisors did this out of a sense of entitlement, and Loudoun taxpayers paid 100% of the bill. Then, after being confronted by an investigative reporter for WJLA-TV7, they doubled down, and Chair Randall defended their actions. Many of their political allies have done the same, including Laura Tekrony, my opponent in the contest for Supervisor, Little River District. Ms. Tekrony is Chair Randall’s chief legislative aide, and her prolonged silence about the abuse is telling.

Instead of an apology or accountability from the four elected supervisors, Loudoun is being fed lies that more than $1.37 billion in investments and 2,500 local jobs resulted from these and similar “sister city” trips. In fact, the trips have produced absolutely nothing in economic benefits – zero dollars and no jobs, as documented by the county’s own records. Continue reading

RVA 5×5: Referendum Waiting In The Wings

by Jon Baliles

Three weeks or so ago, the regurgitation of the casino referendum got a round of approval from almost everyone on City Council in a meeting that was filled with unearned righteousness about how it was going to save the city (kudos to Councilwoman Katherine Jordan for the lone no vote).

Richmond BizSense reported that:

Councilmembers contended that misinformation about the project the first go-round warranted putting it to the voters a second time. They stressed that the development (no longer being referred to as a casino), would not involve funding support from the city and would create jobs and economic opportunities for Southside and the rest of the city.

Of course, most people knew this the last go-round because the advocates of the casino spent $2.5 million on billboards, mailers, and ads telling us ad nauseam about the “benefits” of a casino and how it wouldn’t cost the city anything. Now, they want to pretend we were too stupid to know that the real reasons they were pushing the first time around weren’t what they spent $2.5 million promoting.
Continue reading

Scandal in Plain Sight – Virginia’s Failed Regulation of Law-Avoiding Nursing Home Owners

by James C. Sherlock

One of the most important and heart-wrenching decisions families make for their elderly loved ones is whether they are able to keep them in their homes as they get older and sicker.

Sometimes that is not feasible for a long list of reasons in each case.

More than 30,000 Virginians live in nursing homes.

Both the federal government and Virginia regulate them.  The Virginia Department of Health, for both the Commonwealth and the federal government, inspects.

We should be able to expect patients to receive at least basic standards of care. A high percentage in Virginia have not .

In a five-star system, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) rates 98 of Virginia’s 289 nursing homes at one star – defined as much below average. More than a third.

Nationwide, only the worst 20 percent receive a one-star rating.

The last time I reported, in October of 2021, those figures were 54 one-star facilities out of 288. Nineteen percent.  So some of our nursing homes have gotten precipitously worse.

The ratings are backward-looking a couple of years, so the measured declines discussed here did not start recently.   By definition of the way that Medicare compiles records and assigns scores, some have been bad for a long time.

People have suffered and died from the lack of proper care and effective oversight. Continue reading

The Song’s Not New Just Because You Haven’t Heard It Before

by Joe Fitzgerald

When I was a younger man and indulged in that lowdown southern whiskey, I would sometimes sum up the next day by saying, “I don’t remember church bells.”

Astute observers will immediately recognize literary allusions to Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken,” one of the great rock-and-roll story songs.

Now, 41 years sober, I hear the song differently. It’s the story of someone finding out that an experience may have been unique to him, but wasn’t unique.

Which leads me back, to the surprise of no regular reader, to Bluestone Town Center. BTC is an ill-advised development based on empty promises, misguided good intentions, and governmental obtuseness. Those wishing to know the other side of the story are welcome to Google it.

I was struck during the discussions of the project by how often supporters of the project fell back on baseless accusations of racism and privilege or answered objections that hadn’t been raised. I also noticed things in the city’s deeply flawed housing report that had little to do with building or selling housing.

Come to find out, any discussion of housing faces an underlying set of assumptions. And as any student of left-leaning politics knows, many of those assumptions lead to the expectation that anyone opposing any housing issue must prove their motivations and intentions are not racist, classicist, ageist, or ableist. Continue reading

Major Actions to Reduce Corporate Overhead Offer Lessons and Opportunities to Virginia Government

Courtesy Wall Street Journal

by James C. Sherlock

The chart above shows that management and administrative overhead growth has been a trend not limited to government. The difference is that corporations are making quick and decisive strides in reversing the trend.

It is axiomatic that government should minimize overhead to maximize efficiency in delivery of services. And to lower its costs.

Efficiencies need to be found:

  • to maximize value for citizens;
  • to speed decision-making;
  • to minimize administrative consumption of the time and attention of front line workers; and
  • to restore freedom of speech suppressed by government bureaucracies assembled for that purpose.

All senior government managers would sign up for those goals — as theory. But execution is hard. Internal pressures against change are seldom exceeded by external ones that demand it.

An excellent report in the Wall Street Journal makes an observation that they may wish to consult for inspiration.

Companies are rethinking the value of many white-collar roles, in what some experts anticipate will be a permanent shift in labor demand that will disrupt the work life of millions of Americans whose jobs will be lost, diminished or revamped partly through the use of artificial intelligence.

‘We may be at the peak of the need for knowledge workers,’ said Atif Rafiq, a former chief digital officer at McDonald’s and Volvo. ‘We just need fewer people to do the same thing.’

Continue reading

As U.S. Teeters On the Brink of Recession, Virginia Beach Hikes Taxes

Clouds gather over Va Beach. (Bob Rayner)

by Kerry Dougherty

Do you mind if I’m brutally honest for a minute? Good. Because there’s no stopping me today.

Any member of the Virginia Beach City Council majority who voted Tuesday to approve an obscene $2.5 billion budget as the country teeters on the edge of a recession is a liar if they try to tell you they didn’t raise taxes.

I mean it. Join me in calling them LIARS.

While it’s true these politicians left the tax RATE alone, assessments jumped an average of 9%, with some of us seeing much sharper increases.

That means almost every homeowner in Virginia Beach just got a big fat tax hike. Combine that with an inflation rate of about 5%and the average working family trying to stay above water in the resort city is drowning.
Continue reading

Critical Staff Vacancies at Central State Hospital

By James C. Sherlock

This space has offered the opinion previously that it is unwise to build a new Central State Hospital (CSH) on the site of the old one.

A follow-up FOIA request to the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services has yielded current “jobs filled” data to compare to “jobs vacant” data reported earlier to enable us to examine significant personnel shortfalls by percentages.

They make a discouraging point about the current status and the future prospects of CHS in Dinwiddie County.

Continue reading

Tuition, Room, Board and Fees Up 7% Next Year at Tech – Zero Cuts in Massive Administrative Overhead

Letitia “Tish” Long

by James C. Sherlock

From The Roanoke Times

Faced with inflationary pressures and state budget uncertainty, the school’s Board of Visitors voted unanimously to markup overall student costs by about 7%, increasing tuition and fees, plus room and board.

It was not an easy decision, said Rector Tish Long.

”This is one of the most important and most difficult decisions that this board has had to make,’ Long said. ‘This is a very difficult decision, and we did and continue to take everyone’s comments into account.’

Rector Long did not mention how easy it was to not cut administrative overhead:

  • No data required;
  • No difficult discussions;
  • No strained decisions;
  • No dispirited looks from the University President;
  • Let’s break for lunch. Early.

Tech’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, who would be the one to recommend cuts, is enthusiastic about that school’s “Administrative Transformation” project.

He notes that he has an Administrative and Professional (A/P) Faculty job architecture project underway. Alas, the obstacles include:

Currently there are over 2,400 A/P faculty positions with over 1,800 unique titles. This lack of structure creates inconsistent pay and titling practices — which can unintentionally create pay equity issues — as well as makes it difficult to benchmark salaries to the external market.

It makes it quite difficult to make cuts when the University COO has no idea what all those people do. Continue reading

Sens. Warner, Kaine Visit Roanoke To Tout New Bridge But City Council In The Dark About Scope of Project

by Scott Dreyer

On a picture-perfect April 12 with a backdrop of the sparkling Roanoke River and dogwoods and redbuds in bloom, Virginia’s Senator Mark Warner (D) and Senator Tim Kaine (D) visited the Roanoke Greenway at Roanoke City’s Smith Park.

The occasion was for the two senators to present a cardboard poster representing a check to Roanoke City for $2.5 million for the replacement of the low water bridge on the popular Greenway just a few yards downstream from Smith Park. The senators stated the funds came from the roughly $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.

An email invitation from the City to reporters claimed the new, higher bridge will not only allow kayakers to travel under the bridge unimpeded (at low water levels) but also help the endangered Roanoke logperch swim up and downstream more easily.
Continue reading

Virginia Very Low Income Housing Voucher Waiting Lists are Closed

SeaView Lofts apartments in Newport News

by James C. Sherlock

Some things don’t change that should.

Or don’t change fast enough to keep up with markets.

Which means they will fail.

From Virginia Housing’s discussion of the Housing Choice Voucher Program

The Housing Choice Voucher Program is the federal government’s major program for assisting very low-income families, low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to decent, safe, and affordable housing in the private market.

Housing assistance is provided on behalf of the family or individual, and allows you to find housing (single-family homes, townhouses, mobile homes, and apartments) that that [sic] fits your needs.

Or not.  From the Housing Choice Voucher Waiting List Portal

We are sorry, but none of Virginia Housing waiting lists are currently open.

That is the list for the entire Commonwealth.

The program is broken. So, what is going on? Continue reading

A More Appropriate Management Model for State Mental Health Facilities

Central State Hospital Petersburg

by James C. Sherlock

I always find it disturbing when state agencies operate institutions that they are also responsible for regulating and inspecting.

It almost cannot work.

I have brought this up with regards to the VDOE operation of a virtual learning program when that same agency oversees private providers of the exact same services.

That is small ball compared to the issues at the state’s mental health facilities.

Now we have a very recent tragic example at Central State of decades-long problems at state-run mental hospitals including overcrowding and inadequate staffing.

A 2021 Associated Press article used Central State as the leading example of overcrowding. The reporter wrote, prophetically:

Virginia sheriffs are reporting being stretched thin after responding to psychiatric emergencies that require them to hold people and transport them for treatment.

‘I’ve had deputy sheriffs tied up for days at a time,’ John Jones, executive director of the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association, told the newspaper in an interview on Tuesday. ‘We’re at a crisis point.’

Now seven sheriffs deputies and three Central State staffers are charged with murder in that same scenario.

I view the current management model in which a single state agency oversees, operates and inspects its own facilities as untenable.

There is a proven alternative. Continue reading