Category Archives: Transparency

Some Basic Transparency Education Needed

Eric Moeller, Commonwealth Chief Transformation Officer

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

One of Governor Youngkin’s “Day One” actions was the establishment of the Commonwealth Chief Transformation Officer as a member of his cabinet, along with the Office of Transformation within the Office of the Governor.  Executive Order Number Five lays out the functions of that official and his office:  “The primary responsibilities of the Commonwealth Chief Transformation Officer will 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….”

Eric Moeller was appointed the Commonwealth Chief Transformation Officer.  In building “a culture of transparency,” I suggest that Mr. Moeller start on the fifth floor of the Patrick Henry Building where the Office of the Governor and offices of cabinet members are located.  The first order of business should be a class on the basic requirements of Virginia law regarding transparency and accountability. Continue reading

Miyares Challenges Secrecy in Dominion Wind Case

The Luxembourg-flagged Vole Au Vent is seen here installing one of Dominion Energy’s two experimental wind turbines 27 miles off the Virginia coast.

by Steve Haner

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares (R) has moved to open to public inspection much of the secret data and analysis about Dominion Energy Virginia’s proposed Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project. His petition filed with the State Corporation Commission April 29 comes about two weeks before formal hearings on the application begin in mid-May.

Dominion is seeking SCC approval to build the 176-turbine project off Virginia Beach, and to begin billing customers for it with a new monthly charge. Authorized and all-but-mandated by the Virginia Clean Economy Act of 2020, the current estimated capital cost is $9.8 billion, including the required transmission upgrades but not including financing costs and utility profits.

The liberal use in the initial application of claims that data were confidential or extraordinarily sensitive obscured much of the cost and risk the project imposes on the company’s customers. Once designated as secret, only parties who have signed non-disclosure agreements can see the data or be in the room when the data is discussed in a hearing. Continue reading

The Latest Wrinkle in the Law-Enforcement-for-Rent Saga

by James A. Bacon

The Office of Attorney General (OAG) under former AG Mark Herring failed to adequately conduct a search for documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act by climate-change skeptic Christopher Horner, a Richmond Circuit Court Judge has found. The court ordered the OAG, now under Attorney General Jason Miyares, to conduct a new search.

The issue arose from communications between Herring’s OAG and the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center (SEEIC) backed by billionaire Michael Bloomberg. Under an arrangement agreed to by the OAG, SEEIC would fund the hiring of an OAG attorney to “advanc[e] progressive clean energy, climate change, and environmental positions.” Horner, a Keswick resident and senior fellow with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, exposed the communications but hit a dead end in further inquiries when the OAG claimed an exemption for working papers.

The larger legal issue is whether Virginia’s Attorney General is allowed to strike deals with private parties to fund positions on his staff that the General Assembly has not approved in its budget. Although Herring negotiated a deal to pursue a left-leaning cause, his action could have created a precedent for a successor to collaborate with conservative groups to harness the power of the OAG to pursue conservative causes. Continue reading

SCC Asked for Hearing on Secret Renewables Costs

by Steve Haner

Appalachian Power Company has asked the State Corporation Commission to schedule a separate hearing on Attorney General Jason Miyares’ motion to break the seal on exhibits in its application for new renewable energy sources.

Miyares’ April 6 motion was first reported by Bacon’s Rebellion, in a story on Appalachian’s pending application for approval of the projects and of its overall plan for complying with the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA). Appalachian’s response motion was filed April 13, claiming irreparable harm to its stockholders if the actual line-by-line project cost projections were revealed to its customers.

Although some of these discrete items may appear innocuous on their own, collectively they would enable a savvy party to discern the price paid for the facility, which is competitively sensitive.

What do they say in swanky restaurants? If you have to ask the price, you cannot afford it. Revelations could be politically sensitive, as well, given the partisan divide on the VCEA itself. Continue reading

Exploding Requirements and Workforce Shortages – An Existential Threat to the Public Schools

by James C. Sherlock

The hottest buzz around many of the public schools, including my home area of Virginia Beach, is around the very real hardships posed by unprecedented staff shortages.

On return from COVID, it seems that our schools faced record shortages of personnel to deal with students that were traumatized and afflicted with massive learning losses.

I said “seems” because there is no accurate count. The new online report VDOE has recently published shows billet vacancies as of October 1 2021 to be 2 1/2 times a similar count it provided me two years ago.

A compelling and disturbing trend. Yet the personnel problem is even worse than we presently have documented.

The new, comprehensive VDOE report of public school personnel shortages is false because some of the inputs were false. The real numbers were higher.  In some cases much higher. Lies were told. I will demonstrate that in this article.

Other well-documented data show both an outsized number of pending retirements from the schools and the ongoing and rapid collapse of the new teacher pipelines.

And we don’t have a sufficient number of professional support specialists — school psychologists, social workers, school counselors and others. That also cannot be quickly remedied.

So the trends are all going in the wrong direction. For the schools, supply is decreasing. Demand, driven by programmatic decisions at VDOE as well as the strain of remediation of COVID learning losses, has been increasing.

This word for the crisis is existential. With a tip of the hat to Herb Stein, things that cannot continue will stop. Continue reading

Not the Normal Governor Means Not the Normal Ethics

Matt Moran, Deputy Chief of Staff, aka Special Advisor
Photo credit: Creative Direct

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Glenn Youngkin recently declared, “I guess I’m maybe not the normal governor. I think one of the differences is that I am an outsider and I come in with ideas on how we communicate.”

We are beginning to find out how true that is. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that one of the Governor’s top policy aides is not a state employee, but a lobbyist on the payroll of a lobbying company. Matt Moran is on a paid leave of absence from Creative Direct, a political consulting firm, and LINK Public Affairs, an offshoot from Creative Direct. When Youngkin first announced his appointment, he listed Moran’s title as “deputy chief of staff and director of policy and legislative affairs.” A sign on his door in the Patrick Henry Building bore the title, “deputy chief of staff.” The statement of economic interest he filed upon taking office listed his position as “deputy chief of staff.”   In appearances before legislative committees, he identified himself as “deputy chief of staff.” He is now labeled “special advisor” and the January 21 news release announcing his appointment has been “corrected.” Continue reading

UVa Free Speech Committee Could Use Some Transparency

UVa President James Ryan

by Walter Smith

In February of 2021 University of Virginia President Jim Ryan appointed a committee to articulate the university’s commitment to free speech and free inquiry. With great fanfarethe Board of Visitors “unequivocally” endorsed the tepid, politically correct statement on June 4, 2021.

On June 7, 2021, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to see all documents used by, or submitted to, the Committee on Free Expression and Free Inquiry. “I would expect this to include, without limitation, submissions from faculty and students, the agendas and minutes from the meetings of the Committee, any submissions from Committee members and any outside groups,” I specified. “Essentially, if any document was before the Committee, from any source, I would like it produced.”

To make a long story short, it is nearly eight months later and I have seen only a fraction of the documents. UVa has withheld them on the grounds that, even though Ryan was not a member of the Committee, they are the president’s “working papers.” Continue reading

Emil Faber Weeps

by Walter Smith

The statue of Emil Faber, founder of Faber College (of Animal House fame), bears a quote, “Knowledge is good.” The reigning philosophy at the University of Virginia, by contrast, seems to be, “Only some knowledge is good.”

By way of introduction, let us note that the University of Virginia Alumni Association this fall conducted a survey that gauged the opinions of UVa alumni on a wide range of topics relating to the university. Of the approximately 25,000 alumni solicited, 1,319 responded. Among other highlights, the survey revealed that respect for university founder Thomas Jefferson and the Honor System has waned among younger alumni. The association published the findings in Virginia magazine.

Now consider a previous survey. In March 2018, in response to a request from a working group of UVa’s deans, the Board of Visitors approved the expenditure of $80,000 to conduct the 2017-18 University Climate Survey. “Climate Survey,” for your edification, has no connection to global warming. It is an academic term of art for measuring how schools are doing in their core missions. Many universities conduct similar surveys and publish them on their websites. Here is the University of Richmond’s. Here is Wake Forest’s. Here is UVa’s 2015 survey conducted shortly after the infamous Rolling Stone rape story.

You will not find a copy of the 2018 survey. The UVa administration has suppressed it. I tried to obtain the summary document through the Freedom of Information Act. UVa denied my request. I filed suit in Henrico County General District Court. I lost the initial round, but the fight is not over. Continue reading

Why Is UVa Hiding Its Campus Climate Survey Results?

… but you can’t see them! (Image credit: scwgl.org.uk)

by Walter Smith

Jim Bacon recently posted an article urging Governor-elect Youngkin to take full advantage of his higher-ed Board of Visitors appointments if he wishes to remain true to the education reform momentum that played a big part in his election. Bacon’s bits (pun intentional!) on the Boards as political plums with a go-along-to-get-along chumminess seemed dead on to me. In truth, academia is a different world. A far different world.

I came out of the corporate world. I worked as counsel in an NYSE company and a private equity company for large insurance brokerages. Governance in the academic world is something I intend to address in a complete, and fair, manner later, after gathering a great deal more info. In the meantime, permit me to share one example of how governance works — or doesn’t work — in academia.

After the 2017 Unite the Right riot in Charlottesville, the University of Virginia took many actions in response. One result was the Racial Equity Task Force report. Another was the formation of the Deans Working Group, headed by Risa Goluboff of the law school. Goluboff made four proposals to the Board in March of 2018, all of which were approved.*

One of those approvals allocated $80,000 to a “university-wide campus climate survey.” This survey, paid for with public money, has never been released. Why? Given the BoV approval, does it not belong to the public? Continue reading

Virginia Beach: Will Cronyism Make a Comeback?

by Kerry Dougherty

Do you ever find yourself longing for the days of rampant, in-your-face, shameless cronyism in Virginia Beach?

Ever wish the Three Amigos were still on city council fetching water for their favorite developers?

Ever miss the days when the city’s business was conducted in secret with public votes just for show?

You may be in luck. Virginia Beach City Council is picking a replacement tonight for long-time Councilman Jim Wood who suddenly quit last month because of business demands.

Among the candidates is Linwood Branch, one of the Three Amigos, a trio of council members who were exceptionally developer-friendly. In fact, my former column-writing colleague, Dave Addis, once referred to Branch as a “goat boy” for the developers. Continue reading

In Fairfax, Illegal-Alien Rights Trump Citizen Rights

by James A. Bacon

Apparently, protecting illegal aliens from U.S. immigration authorities is more important to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors than safeguarding the transparency of police blotters, which have been a mainstay of local media crime reporting and public information about crime in the community.

The Fairfax County Police Department has stopped publishing its weekly arrest blotter. Immigrant rights and civil liberty groups had been pushing for the change, arguing that the weekly compilations, which includes arrestees’ records and other details, could help U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) target immigrants for deportation, reports the Associated Press.

Remarkably, Diane Burkley Alejandro, executive director of ACLU People Power, said she has no evidence that ICE is actually using the blotters to track down immigrants. Rather, she says, the information provides a “road map” that might allow ICE to locate them as it employs new data-mining tools.

Citizens can still obtain the arrest data, but only by filing a Freedom of Information Act request subject to a month-long response time and possible fees. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Reality Sucks Edition

Bye, Bye, Brackney. The City of Charlottesville will not renew the employment contract of Police Chief RaShall Brackney, who took on the job in June 2018, the City announced on its website yesterday. No explanation was given. However, the announcement follows less than two weeks after publication of a survey of Charlottesville police officers showing the morale was in the dumps, that toxic city politics had prompted many to scale back on traffic stops, arrests and community policing, and that few officers felt that Brackney had their back. Among other actions as the city’s first Black female police chief, who came on shortly after the tumultuous Unite the Right Rally, Brackney had dissolved the SWAT Team after allegations of misogynistic and other inappropriate behavior.

Speaking of employment contracts… University of Virginia President Jim Ryan was awarded a $200,000 bonus during a closed session of the June 3 Board of Visitors meeting, The Cavalier Daily student newspaper has revealed. The university froze salaries for all employees during the early months of the COVID-19 epidemic, and Ryan and other senior officials took a 10% pay cut. Said Rector Whittington Clement: “When the situation this year became clearer and we had a highly successful handling of COVID-19, we think the University did as well as, if not better, than any institution of higher learning in making the adjustments necessary to COVID-19, we thought that it was appropriate to give him a bonus.” Continue reading

Unequivocal Support for Free Speech… but Not Transparency

by Walter Smith

To the tune of “Unforgettable”…

Unequivocal you’re not at all
Unequivocal nowhere this fall
Like an empty phrase that runs from me
How your illusion does things to me
Never before has something been less
Unequivocal in every way

The University of Virginia formed the Free Expression and Free Inquiry Committee in February 2021. In May the Board of Visitors “unequivocally” endorsed the work of the Committee. Personally, I think the statement is a disgrace to Jefferson’s free speech legacy – I was hoping for more than the Chicago Principles and got a lukewarm, turgid, academic, PC jargon, kinda sorta saying UVA believes in free speech..

Does UVa really believe in free speech? We have seen that F— UVA is vigorously protected on the Lawn, but what about in the classrooms and on the Grounds? Are students and professors free to express their beliefs without fear of recrimination? Anecdotally, I don’t think they are. I have heard stories. and I have seen true harassment and shaming and threats for the “crime” of not agreeing with current woke ideology du jour. Continue reading

Challenging JMU with a Slingshot

by Joe Fitzgerald

The reasons Jake Conley might win are moral and the reasons he might lose are legal.

Jake Conley is the Breeze editor suing JMU over FOIA requests the student newspaper made for the location of Covid cases on campus. Call it the Dorms to Avoid suit.

JMU declined to provide the info, citing privacy laws that allow it to withhold health information about issues involving 10 or fewer of its 21,000 students.

It’s worth noting that for 10 or fewer of the 697 cases among on-campus students last year to be in one dorm, there would have to be 70 dorms. Or the 25 dorms the school actually has would have 28 cases each, but never 10 at the same time.

Also worth noting, the Breeze isn’t suing JMU, because the paper is part of JMU and can’t sue itself. So the editor is acting as a citizen of Virginia, and is technically on his own unless someone joins the suit or decides to represent him for free. JMU on the other hand can send its staff attorney or, in a pinch, call in the state Attorney General’s office. Continue reading

Loudoun School Board Flouts Law, Constitution

Loudoun County School Board meeting… before the restrictions. Photo credit: Loudoun Times

by Emilio Jaksetic

According to The Virginia Star, the Loudoun County School Board has issued new procedures for its public meetings that improperly restrict the right of Virginians to comment at public meetings.

Citing “ongoing security threats” the school system website declared: “Only people signed up to speak to the School Board will be allowed to enter the building. For everyone’s safety, no public viewing area will be open during the public comment portion of the meeting.” Also: “Although the School Board is committed to public input, there remains concern about the safety of all participants in the public-input process. The safety and security of all staff, students and visitors remains our highest priority.”

Any School Board rules or procedures limiting speech at public meetings must comply with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. (See the Attorney General Opinion of April 15, 2016.) Further, criticisms of governmental officials — including personal attacks — are protected speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Accordingly, public criticisms of Loudoun County Public Schools and the Loudoun County School Board are protected by the First Amendment and cannot be impeded by the School Board. Continue reading