By Steve Haner
I am no longer with the Division of Legislative Services. If you need assistance, please contact…”
That is the message you get back if you send an email today to one of the key players in all the energy debates down at the General Assembly, perhaps the key player during the actual session. That would be former senior staff attorney Frank Munyan, who calmly stood up and walked out of a House of Delegates committee meeting, went upstairs and filed his retirement papers.
As the staff person for both the House and Senate committees and the author or editor of most energy-related bills, Munyan has been considered an honest craftsman and adviser by all the various contestants for years. As far as I know, everybody trusted him. He certainly kept all the legislators’ various secrets well, but if I asked him “do this bill do what I think it do?” he would answer. He was also helpful with amendments.
He is a shining example of the uncounted cheerful professionals around that building in various jobs who keep the rest of us looking a bit less dumb. If he comes back, many will cheer. Perhaps his Vontae Davis moment was enough and some apologies will come his way.
I was in the committee meeting as this played out, and probably saw him leave without knowing what was up. As the story was being emailed and texted around Thursday evening, I assumed it had happened later, after I’d left. But it happens at about 1:17:20 p.m. in the video of Labor and Commerce’s Thursday afternoon session. It was during discussion of a Delegate Lee Carter (D-Manassas) bill on tips and wages, and apparently Frank had done his job and added a new definition of “tip” to the bill for clarification. The provision was later deleted.
As that language was debated by Carter and Del. Mike Mullin, D-Newport News, questions and comments were directed to Munyan and he was referred to as “staff.” Now that I’ve listened closely, there was a bit of a dismissive tone to their voices. But if, as rumored, those exchanges were the trigger, my guess is they were the final straw dropped into a full basket. Perhaps there have been other issues, and no question the 2020 workload on Munyan on energy issues was enormous already. There is another specialist on those issues, whom I know less well, and his workload just doubled.
Former delegate Chris Saxman, now head of the business group Virginia FREE, said to his members that during the bill discussion Munyan “closed his bill book and quietly said to committee Chair Del. Jeion Ward, “You’ll have my resignation tomorrow.” Mr. Munyan proceeded to go to his office, sign his Virginia Retirement System paperwork and then promptly left the Pocahontas Building.”
We’ve all had those “take this job and shove it” moments, and long years of service under the older, more generous state pension plan makes them harder to resist. If indeed there were legislators who wanted this to happen, who are glad he is gone, that just damaged the institution to satisfy their pique. They didn’t appreciate what they had. If they confused fairness and honesty to their opponents as a sign of favoritism, they need therapy.
This marks a bad start to a year which may be the most significant ever for bills on energy regulation and workplace law. It will be even worse news for Virginia if the partisan wars have invaded the halls of Legislative Services.
Update: House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert mentioned the incident on the House floor during the Morning Hour, citing it as a sign of general morale issues with a staff dealing with the deep crush of legislation. Apparently the effort is just now being made to find a new Director of Legislative Services, to replace the previous director who is now in the House Clerk’s staff. The House members (so far) have beaten the previous bill number record by 40 percent.