Category Archives: Governance

Virginia Should Enforce Threat Assessment Laws. Noting Lack of Compliance Not Enough.

by James C. Sherlock

I have written about the Threat Assessment Teams (TAT’s) of two state universities, the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech.

I assessed Tech to be compliant with state law. I reported that UVa is not. That of course raises the issue of the rest of Virginia’s colleges and universities.

The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) in 2014, with far more resources and access than I, found the state of the TAT’s serving the commonwealth’s fifteen four-year state institutions of higher learning (IHL), its community colleges and private IHLs to be as a group a hot mess (my term).

I will follow this article with an assessment of the compliance of the current policies of Virginia’s fifteen public IHLs.

The 2014 report did not have the intended effect of standardization and professionalization of threat assessment and intervention in Virginia. Preliminary reviews of the policies of each IHL show them still to be all over the map in terms of compliance.

I am reasonably sure that if DCJS redid its survey tomorrow, it would result in similar findings and recommendations. Perhaps at this point the government should actually enforce the law rather than just reporting on the lack of compliance.

One wishes that had occurred years earlier. Continue reading

Afghan Immigrants and Their Children in Virginia – Part 1

Courtesy of Virginia Department of Social Services

by James C. Sherlock

The flow of Afghan refugees into Virginia has been at a much higher volume than is generally appreciated.

I have data on Virginia resettlements of Afghanis from 2016 through the middle of 2021, when the total was 8,560.

The current total is far higher as a result of the Kabul airlift. A government survey reports that 41,000 of that group admitted to the U.S. settled in Texas, California and Virginia.

A significant majority of the Afghanis admitted between 2016 and the middle of 2021 have been granted Special Immigrant Visas and are lawful permanent residents.

Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) have been issued to those who took significant risks to support our military and civilian personnel in Afghanistan, were employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government or our coalition forces in Afghanistan, or are a family member of someone who did.

I think I speak for all Virginians when I welcome them and thank them for their service.

I have embarked on an effort to understand the numbers and impact of those refugees on our institutions, especially our public schools.

And our impact on them. Continue reading

Richmond Slashes Permit Backlog and Delays

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The city government of Richmond has often taken a beating on these pages, usually deservedly so. Now, there is some good news to report.

David Ress of the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that the city has significantly improved its permit processing times. For example, the time to process a building permit application dropped to five days in April and to about a day since July. The delay in getting approvals for a mechanical, plumbing, or electrical permit was 50 days at the beginning of the year, but dropped to 20-25 days by spring, and has been one to three days since August. The total number of permit applications awaiting review and approval dropped from around 1,200 in January to 100 or fewer since August.

Furthermore, the time taken to review and approve site plans and special use applications is less than the internal targets set by the applicable departments.

Several actions led to the improvements. Among them were the hiring of 71 additional employees since July 2021 and contracting with a third party to help with plan review. In addition, management examined the entire process “looking for bottlenecks” and eliminating unnecessary steps.

This may seem rather mundane and unexciting, but it is the type of everyday “government stuff” that the city has sometimes not been very good at. Delays in processing permit applications can cost contractors and businesses significant time and money and discourage them from doing business with the city. The long processing times have long been a source of complaint within the business community in the area. The city administration deserves some credit for taking steps to improve its services.

Double-Standard Bonds

by Jon Baliles

One of the eternal mysteries of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s governing structure is the separate treatment of counties and cities. We are the only state in the country that has the screwy system of independent cities that are not part of a county government or structure. But that’s not where the screwiness stops.

For some reason, the state treats bond referendums for cities differently than those for counties. A county can issue bonds for major projects (usually for schools, roads, fire stations, libraries, etc.), but it has to be put to a voter referendum for approval. The state doesn’t want localities to spend what they don’t have, and then come to the state for a bailout.

Cities, however, can authorize major bond issuances with just the approval of the governing body (i.e., City Council). State code section § 15.2-2636 states: “The governing body may authorize and issue bonds in accordance with the applicable provisions of this chapter, without submission of the question of the issuance of the bonds to the voters for approval.”

So what? It is important to remember that this different “standard” allows cities to make bond referendums much more susceptible to politics (and shenanigans) because you only need a majority of votes of the governing body. That’s a much easier bar to clear than having to convince voters.

I bring this up only to point out the difference in referendums and what localities use them for. What we saw this week in our region were two huge referendums pass overwhelmingly: Henrico ($511 million); and Chesterfield ($540 million). Continue reading

Transparency and Accountability at VMI… and Every Public University

by James A. Bacon

Virginia Military Institute Superintendent Cedric T. Wins was awarded a $100,000 bonus after his FY-2022 performance review, and the Spirit of VMI PAC (SOVP) wants to know what criteria the Board of Visitors used in granting him the award.

The bonus, which was four times his previous $25,000 award, lifted Wins’ total 2022 compensation to $725,000. The bonus was paid with private contributions.

“SOVP questions what performance metrics the BOV used to make such a generous award and sharp increase,” stated the organization in a press release last week. “FY-2022 was an academic year that generated major concern among alumni and friends about VMI’s direction, and included large increases in attrition from the Corps. Also notable was a sharp drop in applications, which triggered the elimination of the application deadline and the SAT requirement, and led to a 25% drop in New Cadet Matriculation. This failure occurred the first year after General Wins asked for the resignation of the most successful Director of Admissions in VMI’s history.”

While the Spirit of VMI’s differences with Wins reflect issues unique to VMI, the press release raises a matter of broader concern: what criteria do the boards of Virginia’s public universities use to award bonuses, and shouldn’t those criteria be part of the public record? Continue reading

That Transparency Will Cost You

Robert Barnett, President, Virginia NAACP.   Photo credit: Richmond Free Press

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Attorney General Jason Miyares promised “to increase transparency” in regard to elections. In fact, this was one of the motivations behind the creation of the Election Integrity Unit. However, it seems that this transparency comes with a price.

As reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Virginia NAACP filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records related to the establishment of the Election Integrity Unit, its expenditures and activities, and for records of documented cases of election fraud in Virginia. The AG’s office responded that the cost of providing the records requested would be $20,000.

The FOIA statutes authorize an agency to “make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred” a condition of providing the material requested. I do not know what material the NAACP requested nor the basis upon which the AG’s office calculated the cost, but $20,000 seems pretty high. It has been my personal experience that agencies pad these estimates as a way of discouraging requests. The NAACP could have challenged the reasonableness of the cost in court, but that would have taken time. Therefore, the organization paid. Continue reading

Election’s Over; Time to Govern

Dan Gecker, President, Virginia Board of Education

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The fall in the NAEP test scores of Virginia fourth-graders is alarming. A decrease itself is not surprising; in fact, it was expected in the wake of the disruption in schools caused by the pandemic. It is the magnitude of the decrease that is surprising and alarming.  That it was the largest decrease in the country is also embarrassing.

Governor Youngkin declared it “catastrophic” and proceeded to blame his predecessors.

It should be pointed out that the Northam administration and the “mainstream media” had begun sounding alarms several years ago. The Richmond Times-Dispatch, much criticized on this blog, declared in 2018 that “Virginia’s failing grade on reading SOLs must not be tolerated.” The administration began to take steps after the release of the 2019 NAEP scores to address the problem.  James Lane, then Superintendent of Public Instruction, expressed his dismay over the widening gap in the reading scores and declared the Department of Education (DOE) would examine the methods used by divisions in which students had scored well with an eye to determining whether those methods could be replicated in other divisions.  He also scheduled a statewide literacy summit in early 2020 in Charlottesville to address the problem. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and whatever was decided at that summit took a back seat to the efforts just to keep schools operating at some level during the crisis.  As the pandemic eased and schools re-opened to in-person instruction, it was recently pointed out on this blog that the Northam administration’s outgoing budget “prioritized reading initiatives for 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders.” Continue reading

Oops! Look What We Just Found!

Susan Beals, Commissioner of Elections Photo credit: Virginia Mercury

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Youngkin Department of Elections just recently began processing more than 107,000 voter registration applications dating back to last spring. This is after early voting had begun.

These applications involved residents who had registered through the Department of Motor Vehicles. The snafu is blamed on a computer “glitch” that caused “intermittent network issues within the Department of Elections” that resulted in the Department of Elections not picking up on the applications. No one in that office seemed to notice the sudden drop-off in “motor voter” registrations that began in May.

The result is that local registrars had bunches of new registration applications dumped on them during their busiest part of the year. The Chesterfield registrar suddenly had about 5,000 applications to process, for example; Henrico had about 4,500; and Hanover, 1,100. Continue reading

Progressive Initiatives in Virginia to be Blocked by Environmental Laws?

by James C. Sherlock

Sometimes we are too clever for our own good.

American environmentalists have been hugely successful and have done a great deal of good. We have them to thank for cleaner water and air.

But traditional environmentalists, supported by legal interests, incorporated two features in America’s environmental laws that may prove as fatal to progressive goals going forward as they were to major polluters in the past:

  1. They required environmental reviews by regulators; and
  2. They allowed (encouraged, actually) citizen lawsuits to challenge in federal court the findings of regulators they thought they could not always trust to shut down “bad” projects. Laws permitting citizen lawsuits include, among others, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

Traditional environmentalists — those who sought clean water and air and protection for endangered species — did not foresee the trouble that would come from both government bureaucracies and the courts to threaten modern-day progressive climate-change projects.

The legal interests foresaw spectacular profits in the lawsuits, regardless of outcomes. These were civil cases, in which attorneys billed not-for-profit plaintiffs by the hour regardless of outcome, because there are no civil damages available. But, unsurprisingly, attorneys fees are recoverable.

Now Virginia is ground zero as those features for traditional environmentalists have turned into bugs for progressives. Continue reading

To Be Elected Or Not

Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham in “Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.” He was unaccountable, too.

by Jim McCarthy

The exploits of Robin Hood and his band of merry men in the cover of Sherwood Forest have been colored heroic as they engaged in a redistribution of wealth from one class of Englishmen to another. The Sheriff of Nottingham was a spoiler, though his mission was one of law and order as a minion of the king or royalty charged with maintaining peace and order while collecting taxes and rents (usually produce or farm animals) from the feudal estate and its serf residents. The sheriff (shire reeve) transplanted to the colonies morphed into an elective position and, in many instances to the present, is the sole and primary law enforcement officer in a jurisdiction.

The Virginia Sheriffs’ Association (VSA) counts 123 members responsible for the management of 8,000 to 9,000 deputies and staff. Most residents are familiar with the broad range of duties performed by sheriffs, from law enforcement to supervision of county and regional jails (with about 28,000 inmates), to service of process (over 3 million events), and security for city and county courts. Just over half of the sheriffs identify politically as independent; 29% as Republican; 15% as Democrat. Of the thirty city sheriffs, nine identify as independent, nine as Democrat, six as Republican, and six with no affiliation.

Whether a political party can represent a more appealing choice or prospect for enforcement of the law is debatable and likely irrelevant to voters. In the nation’s contemporary hyper-partisan environment, however, political intrusion into every electoral office has become the norm. At the end of 2019, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors announced plans to create a county police department, in part it said, related to asserting civilian authority over the jurisdiction’s policing. The county’s sheriff proclaimed that the move was unnecessary because his office was held responsible and accountable every four years at election time. Besides, he offered, the proposal was a mere power grab by political opponents. Continue reading

Transformation to Achieve Effectiveness and Efficiency–Again

Eric Moeller, Chief Transformation Officer

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Amid great fanfare as one of his Day One actions, Governor Glenn Youngkin issued Executive Order No. 5, establishing the position Commonwealth Chief Transformation Officer within the Office of the Governor.

The Governor identified the responsibilities of the position to be “to help build a culture of transparency, accountability, and constructive challenge across our government; ensure employees at all levels of government are reminded that our government works for the citizens of Virginia; drive changes improving the effectiveness and efficiency of our government through tracking key performance metrics; identify, coordinate, and lead targeted transformation efforts.”

Leaving aside the questionable implications that there is currently not a culture of transparency, accountability, etc. and that state employees are not aware that they are paid with taxpayer money, the primary thrust of the position would be “improving the effectiveness and efficiency of our government.” Continue reading

What Leadership Looks Like – Teacher Shortages, Learning Losses and Gov. Youngkin

by James C. Sherlock

Sometimes you just have to let leaders speak for themselves.

This is one of those times.

Faced with critical teacher shortages and learning losses, I publish here the Governor’s Executive Order 3 and Bridging the Gap: Learning Loss Recovery Plan

I don’t just congratulate the governor, but everyone involved, especially including the fifteen school divisions who agreed to try to become part of the solution in learning losses. Continue reading

Taking on Workforce Development — Again

Regional Center for Workforce Education and Training, Woodbridge Campus, Northern Virginia Community College,

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Richmond Times-Dispatch (RTD) reports that Governor Glenn Youngkin plans to present a major restructuring of Virginia’s workforce development efforts to the 2023 General Assembly. I commend the Governor for taking this issue on. It is the sort of “good government” initiative that needs to be done, but requires a lot of work for which there is little political payback, even if it is successful.

“Workforce development” is a broad term. From one perspective, one of the primary functions of all the public education programs supported by the state from kindergarten through graduate school is to provide Virginians the skills and knowledge they will need to enter the workforce. However, in the context being discussed in this article, the term refers to smaller, specifically targeted programs.

These programs are spread throughout state government in a myriad of agencies. The RTD article describes it as spanning “12 state agencies and 20 outside groups and some 800 programs.” The existence of local workforce investment boards and the availability of federal funding adds to the complexity. Another complicating factor is the activity of some state agencies in this area that is likely not included in the traditional list of workforce development programs. Continue reading

A Chance for Petersburg

Credit: Urban News Weekly

by James C. Sherlock

The Youngkin administration is doing an unalloyed good thing the exact right way. In partnership with two Democrats.

The Governor, in an extraordinary joint presentation with his cabinet secretaries and Democratic Mayor Samuel Parham, laid out a plan for broad state help to Petersburg.

Standing on the stage with Democratic State Senator Joe Morrissey.

Parham, speaking to reporters, said

Governor Youngkin is the first to step down here and say that he is going to put all of his resources in a city to move the dial to create prosperity here in the city of Petersburg. Democrats and Republicans working together — that’s what makes Virginia special.

Occasionally. Continue reading

Uh, Governor? This is How It Works

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Someone needs to tell Governor Youngkin or his Secretary of Finance how things work in the state’s financial structure.

According to a recent report in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Governor said that he has directed Randy McCabe, the Comptroller, or director of the Department of Accounts, to “to set aside $397 million for a taxpayer relief fund that the governor will ask the General Assembly to create in its next legislative session.”

That sounds impressive. The only problem is that it cannot be done legally. The Comptroller cannot just “set aside” general fund revenues. As Randy McCabe had to remind us in the Department of Planning and Budget on more than one occasion, there has to be some legislative authority to move general fund revenues to a special fund. Therefore, that $397 million has got to sit in the general fund, earning interest, by the way, until the General Assembly authorizes the creation of the special taxpayer relief fund.

There is another factor. There is already a Taxpayer Relief Fund on the state’s books. It was authorized by the 2019 General Assembly for the receipt of “excess” general fund tax collections resulting from the significant changes in federal tax law. The General Assembly authorized tax rebates to Virginia taxpayers from that fund. In FY 2020, more than $425 million was distributed to taxpayers. Continue reading