by James C. Sherlock
I consider campaign finance reform the foremost issue facing representative government in Virginia.
We are one of only a few states with no campaign donations limits at all. We pay for that in legislation enacted and not enacted because of the preferences of huge donors. And in the stink of legal public corruption.
It also drives way up the cost of running and keeps good people from participating.
The new governor will have to lead. Continue reading
by Kerry Dougherty
I was on the elliptical at the gym yesterday, flipping through cable news. It was all Cuomo, Cuomo, Cuomo. Even on the networks that once treated the New York governor as if he tinkled perfume.
One after another, New York politicians called for Cuomo’s head and predicted that he’d be gone soon. A month at most.
“There is no way Andrew Cuomo survives this,” one declared. “Every Democrat in the country has called on him to resign.”
Hah, I thought. Does Ralph Northam ring a bell? Continue reading
Mayor Levar Stoney
by James A. Bacon
A special prosecutor has closed his investigation into Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s awarding of a $1.8 million statue-removal contract to NAH, LLC, set up by a former campaign contributor. Timothy Martin, Augusta County’s Commonwealth Attorney who was assigned to the case when Richmond’s chief prosecutor recused herself because of a conflict of interest, said he will not seek charges against Stoney. Authorities found no evidence of public corruption. “It’s over,” Martin said, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
“This is exactly what we said in July 2020; that there was no evidence of anything. The mayor had nothing do with the choice of this contractor,” said Stoney’s attorney Jeff Breit.
However, Martin said it is “still debatable” (the RTD’s words) whether the administration violated emergency procurement rules or the state’s law on war memorials. He would not consider charges based on those allegations because the scope of his investigation was focused on public corruption. Pursuing charges on the technicalities of procurement policy, he said, would be a “misuse of resources.” Continue reading
Roanoke City Councilman Robert Jeffrey. Photo credit: Roanoke Times
Roanoke City Councilman Robert Jeffrey, 52, has been indicted by a grand jury on two charges of felony embezzlement. The case arose from a complaint from the Northwest Neighborhood Environmental Organization, an affordable housing organizations, reports The Roanoke Times. The charges did not specify the amount of money or value of property involved, but noted that the sum is “substantially above” the $1,000 threshold for felony charges. Jeffrey called the charges meritless, and the Roanoke Circuit Court did not judge him a flight risk. He took office in Roanoke City Council Jan. 1.
It looks like John Marshall Higgins, former superintendent of the Rockbridge County Regional Jail and former member of the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors, will himself be heading to jail. He was convicted Sunday on multiple charges of failure to protect inmates, denial of medical care, and accepting money for favors.
According to WSLS, Higgins accepted at least $3,000 in payments and other items from family and friends of an inmate in exchange for special treatment. The money was funneled through a scholarship fund operated by Higgins and his family. In turn, he allowed the inmate to have unsupervised contact visits, ice cream deliveries, unfettered access to jail facilities, and, at the inmate’s request, an upgraded cable package for the jail.
Leah Dozier Walker. Credit: www.leahdozierwalker.com.
On Sept. 10, 2019, the Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) received a hotline complaint. The complaint alleged that the Virginia Department of Education’s director of equity and community engagement, Leah Dozier-Walker, was “using state resources to establish a consulting company” performing “many of the same job functions” she performed for her job, according to a redacted summary report released under the Freedom of Information Act.
Additional allegations claimed that Dozier-Walker did not report the side business in her conflict-of-interest form, and that “state time” was being used for the business without Dozier-Walker signing a form for an approved outside business.
The OSIG report concluded that Allegation #1, alleging an unethical consulting business, was “sustained,” and Allegation #2 was “largely substantiated.”
Dozier-Walker is still listed in the Virginia state employee directory as Leah D. Walker , an employee of the Virginia Department of Education-Central Office Operations. Continue reading
The good guy: Virginia Inspector General Michael C. Wesfall
by James A. Bacon
Bacon’s Rebellion has not given the biggest scandal of the Northam administration (since Blackface) the attention it deserves. In fact, we have given the matter little attention at all. Sorry, folks, we don’t have the resources to do it all. And there’s no need when the mainstream media is doing a perfectly good job. But at some point, we have to acknowledge that the scandal is ongoing.
I’m talking about the parole board scandal, in which Adrianne Bennett, chairwoman of the Virginia Parole Board, allegedly violated state law and the board’s own victim-notification procedures for releasing murderers from prison. After receiving complaints on the state’s waste-fraud-and-abuse hotline, the State Inspector General conducted an investigation and documented the allegations. Senior members of the Northam administration got wind of the report and heavily redacted it for release to the public. Republicans got wind and raised a stink. Team Northam berated IG Michael Westfall and his staff, one of the staff resigned in protest, and Governor Ralph Northam called for an investigation of the investigators.
The heavy: Northam Chief of Staff Clark Mercer
For once, the mainstream media has been doing its job and covering the scandal, which shows how the Northam administration does business. (If you think this is the only time Team Northam has thrown its weight around, you’re deluding yourself.)
One outlet I give credit to is the Virginia Mercury. I have taken the independent online publication to task for some of its environmental and social-justice reporting, but it has been in the forefront of covering the parole-board scandal. Continue reading
When you’re hot you’re hot. How hot is the data center industry in Northern Virginia? It’s so hot that vacant land in parts of Prince William County is nearing $1 million per acre. “They are just building like crazy,” said Tim Leclerc, Prince William County’s assistant finance director, as reported by the Prince William Times. “We’ve seen land purchases on a per acre basis up in the Loudoun County area that are approaching $2 million. We’ve seen them approaching $1 million here.” The surge in real estate assessments in parts of the country where the data-center use is allowed by right is “being driven principally by developers and speculators who are scooping up land as fast as they can because they know data centers are willing to pay just about any amount for it,” he said.
When you’re not you’re not. Virginia’s eight public mental hospitals for adults are operating at 96% capacity, prompting them to delay admissions and straining the ability of law enforcement officers to maintain custody in psychiatric crisis, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The COVID-19 epidemic has triggered an exodus of employees from state hospitals, which are “overwhelmed” and operating at only 60% to 75% full staffing. The staff shortage has spillover effects. Sheriffs deputies have to stay with patients for hours or days at a time before beds become available.
You can explain it all down at city hall. The State Board of Elections voted Tuesday to ask the Richmond Commonwealth Attorney to look into accusations that City of Richmond electoral officials violated state law in the November 2020 election. Republican election watchers said Democrats improperly opened sealed envelopes on election night and completed the vote count at a board member’s home a few days later. Denying wrongdoing, Democratic Party officials have counter-charged that Republicans were unhappy with a decision to replace former Richmond Registrar Kirk Showalter, who had run-ins with Democrat officials during her 25-year tenure. Claiming a lack of resources to investigate the conflicting claims, the electoral board asked Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin to get to the bottom of the dispute, reports the Virginia Mercury.
Jerry Reed composed the funniest lyrics of the past half century (maybe ever). When You’re Hot You’re Hot was a classic.
by Kerry Dougherty
Justin Fairfax is a deeply unserious man with an inflated sense of his own importance.
On Tuesday night, as he shared a Virginia State University stage with four other Democrats who are competing for the nomination for governor, Fairfax demonstrated that he has no sense of proportion and little understanding of history, and will say almost anything to boost his chances of becoming Virginia’s next governor.
Fairfax is apparently still smarting over the fact that most of his fellow Democrats demanded his resignation after two women — one a Duke classmate of his, another a political science professor — accused him of sexual assault.
Following Democratic tradition begun by Ralph Northam and continued by Andrew Cuomo, Fairfax proclaimed his innocence and stubbornly stayed in office.
But on the debate stage he lashed out at all of his opponents, especially Terry McAuliffe. Continue reading
by Kerry Dougherty
Drunk with power.
That might as well be the Northam administration motto.
Those three words reportedly appear in a chain of internal emails among parole board members and staff that was obtained by WTVR CBS-6 Richmond.
CBS claims it obtained internal Virginia Parole Board emails detailing their deliberations.
“Dated April 2020, one showed then Parole Board Chair Adrianne Bennett telling a parolee his early discharge certificate was “not normal protocol.”
Another instance showed an email chain between Bennett and board employee Laura Hall, who at the time was going through a report of everyone in the Commonwealth on parole supervision. Continue reading
by James C. Sherlock
I ask the employees of the Commonwealth of Virginia to be agents for its positive change. I will address you directly.
The issue is state readiness, or rather lack of it, for the COVID epidemic. You are in the best position to know that your agency was surprised and overwhelmed when COVID struck.
It did not need to be that way.
I have written here extensively of the failure of state departments to prepare for a pandemic flu emergency as they were directed to do by the state emergency operations plan published in 2012. Those directed preparations included planning, training and exercises that involved you, the professional staff of state agencies.
Many of you know that none of that happened in your organizations.
I filed complaints with the Office of the State Inspector General who is employed specifically to investigate such issues. But I think the complaints of an outsider will go nowhere.
The fault for lack of preparation lies with so broad a swath of the executive department of the state that only a high volume of inside complaints will drive the investigation and thus the changes that are necessary.
I am going to ask you as employees to engage to fix the system from within. Continue reading
by James C. Sherlock
State Inspector General Mike Westfall
I decided last week in a paroxysm of good citizenship to contact the Virginia Inspector General (IG) to report wrongdoing by state officials.
I have a considerable list centered around the failure of many state officials to carry out their longstanding, formally-assigned duties pre-COVID to plan for a pandemic emergency and exercise those plans to mitigate the effects of such an occurrence.
My complaints are based on Virginia Executive Order No. 42 Promulgation of the Commonwealth of Virginia Emergency Operations Plan and Delegation of Authority. It was issued by Governor McDonnell and reissued by Governor Northam.
An actionable component of that Order is Hazard-Specific Annex #4 Pandemic Influenza Response (Non-Clinical) was published in August of 2012 (the Annex). It contained prescient predictions about the course of a pandemic and directed specific agencies to prepare and exercise specific plans. Despite the clear language of the Annex, the plans were not written, personnel were not trained, exercises could not be conducted and systems were not tested under simulated stresses of a pandemic.
Those failures cost unnecessarily severe losses of life, suffering and economic distress among the citizens.
Number of cases opened by OSIG’s Investigations Unit.
by James A. Bacon
The Northam administration is embroiled in its biggest scandal since the blackface blunder: a flap over an Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) report into the allegedly improper release of prisoners by the Virginia Parole Board.
Here’s what went down: OSIG wrote highly critical draft findings of the parole board… which were leaked to the Attorney General’s Office… which allegedly redacted and watered down the report… which was released to the public… inspiring senior Northam administration officials to summon Inspector Michael Westfall and investigator Jennifer Moschetti for a round of allegedly hostile questioning… which prompted Moschetti to file a lawsuit alleging that the meeting “was intended to intimidate the State Inspector General and the investigators tasked with making fact findings related to members of the Parole Board.”
I hope I got that right. Read the Associated Press summary here.
That got me to thinking. What does the OSIG do? Continue reading
by James C. Sherlock
As we suspected, Virginia did not exercise its Pandemic Emergency Plan from the time it was published in 2012 until COVID-19 struck.
I received the following response today to a FOIA request I sent to the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Emergency Management:
The Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) received your February 13, 2021, email regarding a document request. In that request, you seek:
“Existing VDEM records of Virginia state, regional, and local participation in the National Exercise Program since 2012 at every level of training and exercises that addressed Infectious Disease and Biological Incidents.”
VDEM does not have any documentation that meets the requirements of your request. As a result, pursuant to Va. Code § 2.2-3704.B.3, VDEM notes that no records or data exists in response to your request.
Is “oops” a good enough response for the Governor? It appears so.