Category Archives: Transparency

Just Report It… Unless You’re a Conservative Parent


by James A. Bacon

The Washington Post is still fulminating about the Youngkin administration’s “toxic” school tip line. By inviting parents to send “reports and observations” on divisive material taught in schools, writes the editorial board today, the administration could intimidate teachers and send “the message they should tread carefully, particularly on instruction involving race, or avoid such topics altogether.”

Hmmm. I wonder where the Youngkinites got the idea for a tip line?

Maybe everywhere they turn.

Mechanisms for reporting bias, discrimination and harassment are ubiquitous in Virginia education. I’ll throw out examples from the first two institutions I checked.

First, the Fairfax County Public Schools: The FCPS human resources department website instructs people on how to file “a complaint of discrimination.”

To file a complaint of discrimination, you may contact the Office of Equity and Employee Relations (EER) directly at 571-423-3070, email us at EEO@fcps.educomplete a complaint form, or put your concerns in writing. A complaint should be filed immediately following the event giving rise to the complaint but no later than one year after. Once completed, the form or letter should be forwarded to: Office of Equity and Employee Relations.

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Can’t Buy Me Dirt

by Joe Fitzgerald

For a while, you couldn’t get dirt in Harrisonburg.

The developer who was helping bankroll city council candidates in 2000 told us about the dirt shortage. The city was buying up all the topsoil in town and using every city dump truck to put it somewhere near the then-proposed golf course.

Opponents of the golf course filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking how much had been spent on the project. The dirt was not included in the costs. I remember referring to the quarter-million dollars worth of dirt although I think it may have been only $240,000. But that didn’t include the cost of the trucks to load it and move it and pile it and stack it – whatever you do with dirt.

Three golf course opponents, including me, won the May city council election. We were scrounging for ways to stop the project before we took office and the lame duck council was justifying the bond commitment they were about to vote for. One of their arguments was how much had already been spent. When they listed the amounts they included the cost of the dirt. Continue reading

New Fed Policy Would Hide CMS Data on Patient Safety Records of Hospitals

by James C. Sherlock

One of the most disturbing commentaries I have read in a long time relating to federal efforts to improve hospital patient safety reports a major step backwards in that program.

I have written here many times of the power of the hospitals over Virginia’s politics. A proposed new federal rule shows that power at the federal level. It would negatively affect your ability to understand and compare the patient safety records of hospitals.

The Biden administration Centers for Medicare/Medicaid Services (CMS) proposes to hide from the public a CMS rating that helps consumers view relative patient safety grades of hospitals. As important to the hospitals, perhaps, no one would be able to report on that information.

It also proposes to waive $350 million in fines for hospitals that violated existing regulations.

CMS for the Secretary of Health and Human Services is, with this rule, exercising the extraordinary powers the Secretary gives himself by constantly extending the Declaration of Public Emergency for COVID.  And yes, that is legal.

Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA) submitted a 17-page letter of comment. It of course supported the waiver of fines.  On the issue of suppressing patient safety data, the VHHA wrote, unsurprisingly:

“VHHA and its members are supportive of the proposed suppression (of data) in the HVBP program.”

The letter also encouraged CMS to also suppress pneumonia mortality measure because of the potential overlap with COVID- related pneumonia.

The only way that could happen since CMS is already suppressing data with a primary or secondary COVID diagnosis is if there was no reported COVID indication in pneumonia cases.

The proposal itself represents a major scandal.  A total of 1,533 comments, now closed, were submitted on the proposed rule.

They comments from doctors and patient safety groups were unsupportive.  Hospitals were very supportive.  The Virginia Department of Health sent a short letter on the larger rule, but did not comment on data suppression.

The result: political healthcare rules courtesy of the Biden administration and the hospital lobby.

The following article is reprinted by permission of Kaiser Health News. Continue reading

Who Needs the General Assembly? Let the Budget Conferees Do It.

Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax), chair of Senate Finance and Del. Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach), chair of House Appropriations. Photo credit: Richmond Times Dispatch

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Although legislating through the budget, a practice that used to be frowned upon, is not new, this year’s budget conferees are taking the practice to a new dimension.

The amendments released by the budget conferees include the following new provisions in the “General Provisions” section. In most cases, the Code of Virginia is amended. The remaining cases involve just language in the Appropriation Act.

  1. Changes to the tax code. These have become a standard practice.  This year there are provisions to increase the standard deduction, eliminate the state portion of the sales tax on groceries, increase income tax credits for military benefits, and make significant changes to the statutory  language regarding housing opportunity credits.
  2. University housing. To the extent that institutions of higher education operate student housing during breaks, requires them to allow eligible foster students to stay in them free of charge.
  3. Casino referendum. Prevents the city of Richmond from having a second referendum on casinos until November 2023.
  4. Private school. Exempts a private school from licensing requirements.  (The school was previously exempted until repeal of the applicable statutory provision in 2020.)
  5. Games of skill. Changes the definition of games of skill.
  6. Marijuana and hemp. Establishes a criminal penalty for possession of four ounces to one pound of marijuana. Changes requirements for labeling of products including industrial hemp. This is the first time that I remember the budget bill being used to amend the criminal code and impose a new criminal penalty.

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Miyares Wins Partial Transparency Victory

Jason Miyares, Attorney General of Virginia

by Steve Haner

Attorney General Jason Miyares (R) was partially successful in his efforts to challenge much of the secrecy shielding key data in Dominion Energy Virginia’s application to build its planned offshore wind facility, with some useful precedents set for the future.

Just before the hearings on the application began last week, a State Corporation Commission hearing examiner accepted the Attorney General’s office’s motion in part and rejected it in part. As a result, several portions of the SCC staff testimony have been filed again with dozens of previously redacted sections now open. Continue reading

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. 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