Category Archives: Government workers and pensions

Hey, Virginia State Workers, Take Off Your PJs

by Kerry Dougherty

Hey, Virginia state employees, it’s time.

Time to close those laptops, take off your pajamas and head back to work.

I know, I know, it’s been fun sitting home with your cats since early 2020, when Gov. Ralph Northam shut down the commonwealth to slow the spread of COVID-19.

And we all know how successful THAT was. In fact, we’ll never know just how many lives were saved by prohibiting loud music on the beach and volleyball.

The fun is over. Time to get into the 9-to-5 routine again. Governor Glenn Youngkin is graciously giving you until July 5th to ease yourselves back into the office. Those with legitimate health needs or other concerns can apply to continue to telecommute, but the expectation is that state government will soon be functioning as it did prior to the pandemic: in-person and five days a week.

Is that too much to ask? Continue reading

Deja Vu, All Over Again

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

As reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Governor Youngkin “wants state employees back in their offices under a new telework policy that will take effect July 5 to guide executive branch agencies out of workplace restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

To that effect, he has announced a policy that will let state agencies determine which jobs will be eligible for remote work and how often employees will be allowed to perform their duties outside of their government offices.

That is a reasonable-sounding approach.  In fact, it is so reasonable that it was the state’s policy before COVID-19 resulted in most state employees working from home.

The big difference now, of course, is that so many state employees have experienced working from home and many of them like it. The pressure will be on agency heads and supervisors to determine which jobs are suitable for remote work and to deal with those employees who will be unhappy that they will not be allowed to continue to work from home as often as they would like.

Statewide Teacher Shortage: 2,500 Vacancies and Counting

by James A. Bacon

Virginia’s public schools had 2,500 teacher vacancies in October 2021, according to Virginia Department of Education data, reports Capital News Service.

That number is likely higher today, as burned-out teachers quit their jobs in the middle of the school year in unprecedented numbers.

Despite hiring 700 to 900 teachers per year on average, Prince William County has 453 vacant positions. Richmond City Public Schools lists 90 open teacher vacancies. Fairfax County Public Schools has about 200 vacancies, although because it is so large, the county is only 1% shy of being fully staffed.

Schools are filling open positions by hiring teachers with provisional licenses, which means they have not yet completed teacher preparation programs. “Recruiting pools of people and making it easier for them to enter doesn’t actually solve the crisis. I equate it to filling a leaky bucket,” Adria Hoffman, president of the Virginia Association of Colleges and Teacher Educators, tells Capital News Service. Continue reading

FOIA Council Response on Open Meeting Requirements in Discussions of Local Government Contracts with Public Unions

Courtesy collectivebargaining.com

by  James C. Sherlock

I submitted questions to the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council concerning FOIA open meetings requirements applicable to local government sessions discussing contracts with unions.

I received a very prompt and thorough reply.  

The following is the response of Alan Gernhart, Esq., Executive Director. Continue reading

Negotiating with Public Sector Unions in Virginia

Courtesy negotiations.com

by James C. Sherlock

Some Virginia local governments will be negotiating this year for the first time with public sector unions.

There is a lot of experience and recommendations documented in other states upon which those governments can draw.

Recommendation #1 is that cities, counties and towns hire:

  • law firms with proven experience representing municipal governments in negotiations with public unions; and
  • an independent auditor with experience in contract negotiations to assess the fiscal impacts of proffered terms and conditions.

The unions will show up with seasoned contract negotiators. It is not a game that favors rookies.

Always remembering recommendation #1, we’ll take a look at Virginia law and then at what the professional literature suggests are some of the ways for governments to prepare for first-time union negotiations. Continue reading

Richmond, Its Unions and Taxes

by James C. Sherlock

Richmond residents should note that:

The number of employees at City of Richmond in year 2020 was 4,140.

Average annual salary was $56,410 and median salary was $50,001. City of Richmond average salary is 20 percent higher than USA average and median salary is 15 percent higher than USA median.

Median per capita income in Richmond in 2020 dollars was $35,862. Median household income was $51,421. Approximately 21% of Richmond citizens live below the poverty level.

The City of Richmond’s FY 2023 total General Fund budget is estimated to be $836,015,828, an 8.18% increase when compared to the FY 2022.

The increases in spending represent a projected balanced budget based on estimated increases in revenues. Those in turn are driven by a projected increase in General Property Taxes – notably a 13.13% increase in real estate tax collections; increases in Sales Tax (9.27%); and increases in Prepared Meals Taxes (15.95%).

Those increases in tax collections are largely from Richmond taxpayers. How many got double-digit increases in income in 2022? Just asking.

Now the Richmond City Council is about to approve negotiations with its unions on pay and benefits. The RPS, of course has gone much further than the City Council in putting everything on the table.

Those costs are not in the budget. Continue reading

Richmond Parents and Taxpayers, Welcome to Chicago Public Schools

by James C. Sherlock

The gulf between what the City of Richmond School Board (RSB) and the Richmond City Council (RCC) on what will be negotiated with their public unions is actually an ocean.

The RSB has authorized the negotiation of virtually everything about how the schools are run. It leaves nothing off the table except the right to strike and the right to negotiate a closed shop (Virginia is still a right to work state), both of which state law still prohibits. But the unions can negotiate what are essentially the work rules of a closed shop.

In contrast, the City Council is poised to pass an ordinance on May 5th from two candidate drafts, one from Mayor Stoney and the other from three Council members. The Mayor’s version states what will be negotiated — pay and benefits. The other states what will not be negotiated with an eleven-point description of the City’s Rights and Authorities.

The City Council drafts, especially the Mayor’s, have it right. They note the City Council’s duties under the laws of Virginia and to the citizens of their city.

Not so the school board. The RSB resolution acknowledges only one stakeholder: its unions.

Unmentioned in the RSB resolution is exactly who is going to represent the city in its negotiations with its unions. Ideally it will be a team composed of City Council (finance) and School Board subject-matter experts. If so the city reps will be operating under two sets of negotiating rules in direct opposition to one another.

I’d buy a ticket, but maybe under the sunshine laws negotiations will be on TV. Continue reading

Know the Terms of Surrender in Negotiating With Teachers Unions

Courtesy of Show Me Institute

by James C. Sherlock

Franklin Roosevelt thought collective bargaining agreements incompatible with public sector work.

Today’s left, unburdened by the public interest, finds FDR’s principles at best quaint.

Since May of last year collective bargaining is legal in Virginia for local government employees by local option, but for not state employees.

The issues most people think of being negotiated by unions are pay and benefits and, in blue collar unions, on-the-job safety. For teachers unions, we need to be sure negotiations are limited to pay and benefits, or they will take over the running of the schools.

Such a takeover is now policy in Richmond Public Schools. Continue reading

Causes of the School Funding “Crisis”

Courtesy Wise County Public Schools

by James C. Sherlock

Read the story, “House and Senate lay out dueling visions for education funding in Virginia,” in the Virginia Mercury this morning by the reliably thorough Kate Masters.

If you follow it, you, like everyone else in Virginia, can pick a side or pick provisions from both houses that you prefer.

What you won’t find in either budget version is an attempt to tackle the massive amounts of money that are wasted in plain sight. Much of the waste is attributable to faulty or non-existent assessments of need and misplaced local priorities.

The rest is traceable to the self-serving inputs of the schools of education, which have owned and operated the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) for years. Continue reading

“Frozen” Property Taxes

by James C. Sherlock

I admit my fascination with how newspapers present various issues. It is an important window into the information their readers are getting.

City manager and county executive proclamations that property tax rates are “frozen” are meant to sound like fiscal constraint. Consider this headline from The Washington Post:

“Fairfax County executive proposes budget with tax-rate freeze, less pandemic austerity”

First paragraph:

“Fairfax County Executive Bryan Hill proposed a budget Tuesday that would freeze the residential property tax rate while spending more on county services — part of a push to end fiscal austerity in Northern Virginia amid signs of economic stability”

End “fiscal austerity” in Fairfax County. Seriously?

“Hill was able to present a $4.85 billion spending plan that focuses on some key areas of growth for Virginia’s most populous jurisdiction while keeping the residential property tax rate at $1.14 per $100 of assessed value.”

Where do we get such men? Everybody wins, right? Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Public Servants in Action

Robert Bobb to the rescue. Robert C. Bobb, a former Richmond city manager turned public-sector turnaround artist, pulled the City of Petersburg back from the brink of bankruptcy. Now he will endeavor to manage the City of Charlottesville, which has been hobbled by racial tensions and interpersonal conflicts. After debilitating turnover in the administration — seven executive-level positions are vacant or filled by acting supervisors — City Council has hired the Robert Bobb Group to provide city manager services for the next six months, according to Virginia Public Radio.

Bobb salvaged Petersburg, but can he save Charlottesville? Petersburg suffered from simple incompetence. But the People’s Republic of Charlottesville is prone to militancy, ideological fracture, absolutist judgments and cancel culture. Bobb, who stabilized Detroit public schools, is an administrative superman. Will Charlottesville be his kryptonite? 

Faking DNA results to fake out suspects. The Virginia Beach Police Department used forged documents linking peoples’ DNA to crimes on at least five occasions to get them to confess, the Attorney General’s Office has found. The fake documents bore a seal and letterhead from the Virginia Department of Forensic Science and the signature of a fictitious employee, reports CBS NewsIn one instance, a forged report was presented to a court as evidence. After its own investigation, the VB police ended the practice earlier this year. “This was an extremely troubling and potentially unconstitutional tactic that abused the name of the Commonwealth to try to coerce confessions,” said AG Mark Herring. Continue reading

What’s the Matter with Charlottesville?

Charlottesville City Council. Photo credit: The Daily Progress

by James A. Bacon

In his bestselling book of 2007, Thomas Franks asked the question, What’s the Matter with Kansas? Why do blue-collar inhabitants of the Sunflower State, he wondered, so consistently vote for Republican politicians who pursue policies supposedly antithetical to their material self-interest? Perhaps the answer is that level-headed Kansans could see where the progressive policies of the Democratic Party would take them.

In Washington, D.C., progressive policies are diluted by our republic’s system of checks and balances. But there are places where the end game of progressivism has been revealed in all its unadulterated glory. One such place is San Francisco,  with its homeless encampments, open-air drug use, fecal-strewn streets, people lying passed out on sidewalks, flash-mob shoplifting, and shuttered stores.

Fortunately, Virginia has no analogue to San Francisco. That’s not for a lack of emulation. Progressives here just haven’t held the levers of power as long. But Virginians can get a close-up look of progressive political culture at work in Charlottesville. The home-town newspaper, The Daily Progress, has just published an analysis — “Charlottesville faces major challenges following mass departure of city leaders” — that might aptly have been headlined, “What’s the Matter with Charlottesville?” Continue reading

Now EMT Workers Are in Short Supply

Image credit: News & Advance

by James A. Bacon

Bedford County, an 800-square-mile county in Central Virginia, is theoretically staffed to operate six medic units. Based on call volume, the county could justify maintaining eight units, reports the News & Advance. But on most days one or two of the six are out of service because of insufficient staff to fill them. One day recently, the county had only one paramedic on duty.

The result: longer response times. Delays are potentially a matter of life and death.

The likely root causes of EMT shortages are overwork and insufficient pay, although COVID-related disruptions to training programs have also been a factor in the past year. It is not uncommon for emergency services personnel to work more than 100 hours of overtime a month, sometimes in 72-hour shifts. EMT Jason Morgan says he has not seen a merit increase or cost of living increase since 2004 or 2005. Nationally, shortages are most acute among paramedics, who require more years of education and training.

The chronic teacher shortages in Virginia have gotten considerable media attention, as has the shortage of police officers. It should surprise no one that emergency service personnel are in short supply as well. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: People’s Republic Update

How’s this for irony? The only thing saving the City Council of the People’s Republic of Charlottesville from increasing dysfunction in the future is dysfunctional governance today. City Council wants to draft an ordinance that would outline collective bargaining rights for employees, enabling them to negotiate for higher salaries and changes to working conditions — creating new spending pressures, new labor tensions and new areas for conflict. In August Council directed the city manager to research how much money would be needed to support the human resources department in such an endeavor. Trouble is, Charlottesville can’t hire a city manager. The announced interim city manager just resigned. And it turns out that City Hall has no human resources director either. So reports the Daily Progress.

The cultural cleansing shall continue. City Council has approved the sale of Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee statue to a group that will melt it down and turn it into new artwork. After the city took down the statue of the Confederate hero over the summer, it received six proposals from arts groups, historical societies and individuals” with offers up to $50,000 for the bronze sculpture, reports The Washington Post. City Council chose instead to give the statue to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center to advance a project to “allow Charlottesville to contend with its racist past.” I’ve only got one question: If the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center is so distraught about the racism embodied in statues and memorials, why is it still named the Jefferson School?

The no-solar solar capital. No part of Virginia outdoes the People’s Republic when it comes to enthusiasm for renewable energy, at least in the abstract. Charlottesville and Albemarle County are home to numerous renewable energy companies — Sun Tribe, Hexagon Energy and Apex Energy among them, not to mention the Clean Virginia pro-renewables advocacy group. Charlottesville/ Albemarle is an ideal location for solar projects in at least one way: proximity to high-capacity electric transmission lines. But the Department of Environmental Quality’s “environmental data mapper” shows only two utility-scale solar projects in Albemarle — and neither are producing. Continue reading

Bill LaVecchia: Model Public Servant

Bill LaVecchia

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Bill LaVecchia died recently at the age of 95. He was an example of the best in professional public employees.

He was a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War. He earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Virginia Tech, and, subsequently,  a master’s in municipal engineering and public administration, as well. After working in municipal government in Tennessee and the town of Blacksburg, he was hired as Henrico County’s second planning administrator in 1959. He was to be an integral part of the management team that guided Henrico County over several decades from a largely rural county to one of the state’s large urban counties. His career culminated as county manager from 1984 until his retirement in 1992.

One of his most consequential actions occurred soon after he came to work for Henrico. He persuaded his boss, county manager Ed Beck, to attend hearings on the location of then-planned Interstate 64. They were the only administrators from the region attending and were ultimately successful in lobbying for a northern route for I-64 that brought it through Henrico.

Bill’s was not a household name, nor did it appear a lot in print. He probably preferred it that way. He was content to let others take on the public roles.

In addition to being a highly competent professional, more importantly, he was a genuinely nice person and had a humble air about him.

I was fortunate to have known and worked with him.