Category Archives: Transparency

Leave Arlington’s Confederate Memorial Intact

Cherry trees bloom in Jackson Circle around the Confederate Monument in Section 16 of Arlington National Cemetery, April 7, 2015, in Arlington, Va. The Confederate Monument was unveiled June 4, 1914, according to the ANC website. (Arlington National Cemetery photo by Rachel Larue)

by Phil Leigh

Arlington National Cemetery’s Confederate Memorial should remain intact. Although four of the first seven cotton states arguably seceded from the union over slavery, they did not cause the Civil War. They had no purpose to overthrow the federal government. After forming the seven state Confederacy in February 1861, they promptly sent commissioners to Washington to “preserve the most friendly relations” with the truncated Union. Instead of letting the cotton states depart in peace, the North’s resolve to force them back into the Union caused the war.

With half of the military-aged white men of the eventual 11-state Confederacy, the four states of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas only joined the original seven after President Lincoln called upon them to provide volunteers to force the first seven back into the Union. In response to a telegram from Lincoln’s Secretary of War Edwin Stanton directing that Virginia provide her quota of such volunteers, Governor John Letcher replied that his state would not comply and concluded: “You have chosen to inaugurate Civil War….”

On the eve of the war, Northerners and Southerners differed on their relative loyalties to the federal and state governments. According to historians Edward Channing and Eva Moore, Northerners had

the general opinion that the Union was sovereign, and the states were part of it…. The idea that the people of the United States formed one nation had been reinforced by the coming of immigrants from abroad. These people had no conception of a ‘state’ or a sentimental attachment to a ‘state.’ They had come to America to better their condition….

By mostly settling in the North, they reinforced the Northerners’ belief that they owed their loyalty to the Union first and only secondarily to the state. Continue reading

The Alumni Rebellion Spreads to JMU

by James A. Bacon

A group of James Madison University alumni has organized a new group, the Madison Cabinet for Free Speech and Accountability, to promote “freedom of  expression, intellectual diversity, and academic freedom on campus.”

The JMU group marks the fourth university in Virginia to organize in protest of the takeover of an institution by woke administrations and campus cultures. The others include The Jefferson Council (at the University of Virginia), The General’s Redoubt (at Washington & Lee), and The Spirit of VMI PAC. Virginia can claim more dissident alumni groups than any other state.

In the spirit of James Madison, the nation’s fourth president and primary author of the Constitution, the organization has two broad goals: (1) to maximize transparency, open government, and accountability from the university Board of Visitors and executive leadership; and (2) to increase tolerance, academic freedom and diversity of expression from and among students, faculty, staff and university leadership. Continue reading

Freitas Introduces Higher-Ed Transparency Bill

Delegate Nick Freitas

by James A. Bacon

Delegate Nicholas J. Freitas, R-Culpeper, has introduced a bill, HB 1800, that would bring much needed transparency to the governance of Virginia’s public higher-ed institutions. The bill was cited in a list of priority legislation backed by Attorney General Jason Miyares.

The bill contains several elements:

  • Governing boards of public colleges and universities must report the number and salaries of diversity officers and government-relations officers employed by their institutions;
  • Governing boards must report the total value of contracts with outside individuals engaged in lobbying on the institution’s behalf;
  • Boards must record videos of their meetings and post them prominently on their websites on a timely basis;
  • Boards must hold public meetings to solicit public input before approving the renewal of a university’s chief executive officer;
  • Boards must post an annual report on university-affiliated foundations that detail expenditures on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, lobbying, and CEO compensation.

One can only surmise what incidents gave rise to the Freitas bill. However, some informed speculation is in order.

With no public input the University of Virginia Board of Visitors approved an extension of UVa President Jim Ryan’s contract years before it was due to expire. The Freitas bill would have required a public hearing. Continue reading

RVA 5X5: Enrichmond and the City’s Radio Silence

Photo credit: Flickr

by Jon Baliles

I won’t do a “Top Stories of 2022” list for this newsletter, but if I did, one of them would surely be the collapse of the Enrichmond Foundation and the radio silence on all fronts concerning its finances, the groups that depended on it, their assets, and the two historic Black cemeteries in its portfolio — Evergreen and East End Cemetery.

The important question is not so much what happened in 2022 (although that is important); the critical next steps — should anyone decide to take them — are what will happen in 2023?

A brief recap from the October 14 newsletter: “The Enrichmond Foundation was founded in the early 1990s and had grown to support more than 80 small, local, all-volunteer groups that worked to help Richmond in various ways, many of which focused on keeping the City green and clean. Enrichmond allowed the groups to use their insurance coverage and raise tax-free donations, served as a fiduciary for the funds each group raised, and distributed those funds as directed by the groups.

Suddenly in June, the Foundation announced a cessation of operations, leaving no transition plan. The Board voted to dissolve the Foundation but left no accounting of the funds it had in its accounts, and then within weeks the lawyer representing the Board stepped away from his role as counsel.

None of the “leaders” at City Hall has said anything about this. Not. A. Word.

The City’s Parks & Recreation Department has been able to assist some of the organizations, but there are so many they can’t do it all themselves. That’s why the Foundation existed. It is known that the amount of money held in trust for the various “Friends Of” groups is anywhere from $300,000 to $3 million, though I have been told recently that it is closer to the lower estimate.

While the City dawdles, how are these small “Friends Of” groups to do the important work they do (much of it is environmental) if they can’t access their donations? How can they raise money if they have no place to put it? The more this drags out, it is a safe bet those groups will lose volunteers, who will put their time toward other causes. 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

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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