Cronyism Is Back in Virginia Beach

by Kerry Dougherty

You know what they say, it’s easier to say you’re sorry than ask permission.

That’s especially true in Virginia Beach. If you’re a well-connected developer, that is.

Some of us had such high hopes that city officials would stop acting like poodles for the developers now that elections had given us a new mayor and knocked a couple of cronies off city council. They, in turn, had hired a city manager from Ohio with no local connections.

We were naive.

Looks like the owners of the Cavalier Hotel are once again enjoying Favored Developer Status.

(Anyone else remember when Cavalier Associates were ordered by the Army Corps of Engineers to rip up the palm trees he planted too close to the seawall and the city marched into battle for director Bruce Thompson, against the feds? Something the city had never done for the scores of ordinary, decent property owners who had been hassled by the Army Corps? The city and developer eventually lost because the Army Corps doesn’t play. But the Beach tried its best.)

Back in March a keen-eyed citizen noticed construction underway at the top of the lawn of the Cavalier Hotel. She reported the activity to Councilman John Moss, who remembered that the city had signed a “Cavalier Lawn Scenic Easement” with Thompson’s company several years ago. That legal agreement cost taxpayers a cool $2.37 million. Moss says that was in addition to the $36 million in city and state incentives that were showered on the developer to restore the old hotel.

Terms of the agreement were simple: The developer could not modify the green space of the Cavalier Hotel lawn without permission.

Yet anyone paying attention could see that was clearly happening.

Moss quickly set things in motion. The city secured a stop-work order to halt the construction, which turned out to be some sort of “catering pad” for the hotel. Concrete had already been poured, Moss said, and work was well underway.

The city manager asked council members what he should do, so the issue was aired at a council workshop a week ago. A few days later City Manager Patrick Duhaney sent a letter to the entire council letting them know that he planned to approve the project because six council members (out of 11) had secretly told him they were in favor of the catering pad.

This is what’s known as “daisy chaining.” It used to happen all the time on this city council. Members of an elected body, who cannot gather without prior notice and in public, speak individually to each other or city staff, to reach consensus and circumvent open meeting laws.

It needs to stop. Conduct the city’s business in public, Virginia Beach. Every last bit of it.

In Duhaney’s letter to council members last Friday, the city manager said he talked with Bruce Thompson, director of Cavalier Associates, and that Thompson told him it was an oversight and apologized, reported The Virginian-Pilot.

Duhaney also said that Cavalier Associates did not want to pay a fine.

The hotel owners did not want to pay a fine. So naturally there will be no fine.

It’s nice to have friends — or rather, cronies — on city council.

This column is republished with permission from Kerry: Unemployed & Unedited.