By Peter Galuszka
In a bizarre case for a small Virginia locality, 14 former and current local leaders of Warren County and Front Royal — including the entire Board of Supervisors — have been charged with misdemeanors relating to a major embezzlement case that involves the local economic development authority.
The Sept. 24 charges by the State Police follow the indictment in May of Jennifer McDonald, the former head of the local EDA, on 28 felony charges related to embezzling funds in a deal involving a promised new data center and office park.
Although he was not charged, Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron killed himself with a self-inflicted gunshot wound a few days after McDonald was indicted. He had been involved with an $8 million scheme to build a regional law enforcement training center at the project.
This could be the largest-ever public fund embezzlement scheme involving a single locality in Virginia’s history. To be sure, the state recently has had its share of schemes and scams. They include a $1.4 million state grant to a bogus Chinese company in Lynchburg. The executive director of the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission was caught siphoning away public funds some years ago. Continue reading
Back in 2015, the City of Richmond was a managerial mess. Accusations flew of incompetence, conflicts of interest and revolving chair style management. One big problem was the deeply flawed installation of a financial computer system crucial to keeping the municipality functioning.
Then-Mayor Dwight Jones’s solution was to hire a ringer, Selena Cuffee-Glenn, who had earned a reputation for efficiency and competence as Suffolk’s city manager. She had a pair of degrees from the University of Virginia and a personable manner. When Levar Stoney succeeded Jones as mayor in 2017, he kept Cuffee-Glenn as the city’s chief administrative officer.
Then, reports circulated that relatives of Cuffee-Glenn seemed to be getting prize positions. Her daughter got a job at the city’s human resources department. A niece didn’t even have to formally apply for her $70,000 a year position.
An Inspector General’s report showed that as many as six Cuffee-Glenn relatives were working in some city capacity. On Sept. 18, Stoney fired her.
She says that her hiring policies did not violate any rules. She says she had no role in helping relatives get jobs. Her husband, for example, works for the city Sheriff’s Department, which she does not oversee. On the other hand, one relative got a Public Utilities job at a higher than average hourly rate. Continue reading
by Peter Galuszka
Jerry Falwell Jr. is hitting the news big time following a Politico investigation that alleges self-dealing and sexual misconduct by the powerful head of the evangelical Christian school Liberty University.
More than two dozen Liberty officials and Falwell associates working for Falwell as a “dictatorship” where people are afraid of discussing issues involving him and the school. One allegedly said, “we’re not a school, we’re a hedge fund.”
Personally, I would not really care much about the inner workings of a private, religious school.
What makes this different is that the Falwell family has been major force in conservative, Christian politics for decades. Liberty’s phenomenal growth from a small bible school to a $3 billion operation with more than 100,000 students is a remarkable story.
Falwell’s and the Lynchburg school’s support of Donald Trump is curious given its intensity and contradictions due to Trump’s serial adultery and taped recorded admissions of sexual abuse. Liberty is so strict it hands out demerits or even expels students for what it considers sexual misconduct. Continue reading
VCU President Michael Rao
by Peter Galuszka
There’s long been the “Virginia Way” of ruling oligarchs making decisions in backrooms while leaving the public out of the picture. But then there’s also the “Richmond Way,” which is the same thing on steroids.
The key focus today is the so-called Navy Hill District Corporation, a group headed by Dominion Energy chieftain Tom Farrell that wants to replace the aging Richmond Coliseum and build a $1.4 billion mixed-use project on 10 blocks just north of Broad Street downtown.
With Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney complicit, the group which involves some of the city’s biggest movers and shakers has worked mostly in secret and has gone to great lengths to keep the public as far away from planning as possible.
Richmond has had its share of flops when it gets into top-down, centralized economic planning somewhat reminiscent of Moscow, where I used to live and work. One was the 6th Street market, a failed project not far from Navy Hill. The city, which has a poverty rate of about 25%, is paying millions to the Washington Redskins, one of the richest firms in the National Football League, to train at a city facility for three weeks every summer.
Navy Hill also had an inauspicious start. When the city sent out requests for proposals for replacing the Coliseum a few years ago, it got exactly one proposal – from Farrell’s group. Continue reading
by Peter Galuszka
It’s been a very long goodbye. Faced with billions of dollars in health-related lawsuits and huge public relations problems in 2008, cigarette giant Philip Morris split itself in two very different companies.
It reminds me of the scene in Stanley Kubrick’s brilliantly sarcastic war move, “Full Metal Jacket.” A colonel stops Private Joker and demands to know why he has born-to-kill and peace symbols on his helmet at the same time. “What does it MEAN?” growls the Colonel. “I dunno, Sir,” replies Private Joker, “I guess it’s the Jungian thing, you know, the duality of man.”
Duality of cigarette making is more like it. Back in 2008, Philip Morris split itself into a Swiss-based international firm while Richmond got Philip Morris USA and its holding company, The Altria Group. The latter is still a potent force with 3,750 local workers and a big honey pot of largess.
Philip Morris International boosted sales by creating such nicotine laden smokes as “Marlboro Wides” and Marlboro Max 9,” which sold in Third World countries that didn’t have the bucks or the court systems to challenge cancer causing products. Continue reading
by Peter Galuszka
Virginia farmers are paying a big price for President Donald Trump’s chaotic trade war with China. If anything, it’s likely to get worse as Trump vows even bigger tariffs, drops the idea and then comes back to it.
There’s no question that Trump’s peculiar negotiating behavior and questionable logic are having their effect.
China had been Virginia agriculture’s number one export destination with soybeans leading the list, along with apples, livestock and other products.
In 2017, China bought $671 million worth of farm goods from state farmers. Then, Trump became president and quickly imposed a series of tariffs against China about a year and a half ago. Exports to China dropped precipitously to $235 million. Canada is now Virginia’s biggest export partner for agriculture. Continue reading
by Peter Galuszka
Imagine the coincidence. On Friday I was reading business writer Christopher Leonard’s excellent “Kochland” book on the hard-right, billionaire industrialists, Charles and David Koch. I put my Nook down for a moment to check the news. David Koch had died at age 79.
He, his brother, the rest of the family and their sprawling, secretive business empire based on oil trading and petrochemicals are fascinating topics. And, the Kochs, especially Charles, have had a huge influence in Virginia as they spread their gospel of free market libertarianism.
David Koch, who lived in New York City rather than Wichita, the headquarters of Koch Industries, had been known as a man-about-town.He was a bachelor until later in life and gave freely to medical research and the arts.
Gifts include $100 million for cancer research art his alma mater, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he still held the record for the most points ever scored in a school basketball game. He also gave $100 million to underwrite a ballet theater at the Lincoln Center in New York.
When he died, David and his brother were each worth about $50 billion. They got their money by running the family business, which buys and sells oil and distributes it through pipelines. They also have petrochemical plants where they make plastics used in windows, clothing and a lot more.
With Charles taking the lead, they developed a tough corporate control system that involved loyalty, secrecy and tough discipline. According to Leonard’s even-handed book, they Kochs were accused of making millions by cheating oil producers by under-reporting the amount of crude oil they received. The company settled the case. That and smart business led to success. Continue reading
by Peter Galuszka
U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-7th) has drawn lots of attention for her Rural Broadband Summit at Louisa County High School in Mineral on Aug. 17, which got plenty of comment from primarily rural residents unhappy that they can’t get access to quick, reliable Internet service.
Good for Spanberger, who beat Republican Dave Brat in last year’s hotly contested election. But this all brings questions: after so many years why are we still facing this?
I am now in my second decade of writing about the lack of broadband access in rural and inner city areas.
A piece I did for Chief Executive magazine about 10 years ago explored how mostly minority business owners in inner Philadelphia couldn’t afford broadband because the big providers, which would include Comcast and Verizon, cherry pick their locations. The firms wanted to boost margins so they pushed “triple play” (Internet, telephone and television) access in wealthier areas. Those not so privileged had to struggle with higher costs and access issues. “I don’t need 400 channels,” an inner city business owner told me. Continue reading
Fifty years ago, when I was 16 years old, a classmate from my high school in suburban Washington, D.C., called and asked if I wanted to go to Woodstock.
I wasn’t exactly sure what it was about but I had some time off since I had just finished a summer journalism course at a D.C. college and wasn’t due back at school until the first of September. I packed my sleeping bag. I was less than transparent with my parents, telling them I would be gone for a few days to a camping outing in New York State.
Seven of us connected and rode in a station wagon borrowed from a friend’s mother. We knew the line up of music was phenomenal but we didn’t know what to expect.
As we approached Bethel, N.Y. and Max Yasgur’s farm we were overwhelmed by car traffic. We had to park seven miles from the entrance. By the time we reached the gate, it had been crashed open and the event was free. I naively paid $20 for a ticket anyway.
An unimaginable number of kids wandered everywhere. The designation was a huge stage at the base of a half-moon shaped side of a grassy hill. Continue reading
Stephen S. Fuller
For decades, Stephen S. Fuller has been regarded as a regional asset.
His study of the state’s economy as a professor at George Mason University has been praised as insightful, especially his idea that Virginia needs to diversify from its traditional reliance on federal government spending.
So, it seemed odd that Fuller, who plans to retire in the near future, would get mired in a minor controversy over the ethics of an opinion piece he wrote for a local business newspaper.
One couldn’t ask for a more loaded sense of circumstances. Retail giant Amazon, which is building its second headquarters near Reagan National Airport with a payroll of thousands of people, wanted Fuller to write and pitch a story extolling the virtues of the multi-billion dollar project.
Amazon’s public relations people wanted the article out before the Arlington Board of Supervisors was due to consider $23 million in incentives for the plan in March.
Fuller agreed and made one bad mistake. He showed a draft of the work to Amazon and asked for their comments. He got some, rejected them and then tried to pitch it to the Opinions Section of The Washington Post. Continue reading
A little less than three years ago, Richmond author and analyst Jeff Thomas shook up the state political elite with a densely research account of how “The Virginia Way” actually works and how major players schemed to benefit from it.
Thomas’s book was brilliantly timed, arriving after the state’s first major corruption trial involving from Gov. Robert McDonnell and his wife Maureen spectacularly portrayed before a global audience just how widespread and tawdry Virginia’s systems of political gift giving were.
The irony, of course, is that “The Virginia Way” paints a myth that public officials are so upright and high-minded that the usual ethics rules that other states might require regarded gifts and favors are not needed. After all, we have the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), which duly collects and reveals millions worth of perfectly legal donations and gifts that major politicians and corporations, notably Dominion and cigarette maker Altria proudly bestow.
Now, Thomas has written a sequel — “The Virginia Way. Democracy and Power After 2016” (The History Press) – which updates us after some of the most remarkable years in the state’s political history.
Here are a few points: Continue reading
Bacon’s Rebellion is pleased to add two contributors to its line-up, one a familiar face… and one a familiar face but from a totally different context.
Long-time readers will recognize Peter Galuszka, a free-lance writer and researcher based in Chesterfield County. Peter, a frequent contributor to the blog at one time, has rejoined us after a hiatus of a few years. A former executive editor of Virginia Business magazine, reporter at the Virginian-Pilot and Richmond Times-Dispatch, and correspondent and editor for Business Week, he brings an in-depth knowledge of the Virginia political, business, and public-policy scene. Peter, whom I fondly refer to as the Rebellion’s resident “left-wing maniac,” will inject a left-of-center perspective into the blog.
Even longer-time readers will remember the name of Philip Shucet, known in Virginia public policy circles as commissioner of the Virginia Department of Transportation during the Warner administration and as a turn-around artist for troubled transportation projects in Hampton Roads. Upon reaching retirement, the Norfolk resident began reinventing himself as a documentary photographer. He fits perfectly the Bacon’s Rebellion profile of a cranky old man (and the occasional cranky old woman) willing to contribute the fruit of his labors without pay. We look forward to publishing his photography on the blog.
More than 70 people strong, a small caravan made its way through the quiet streets of Farmville July 27 to protest a private jail for undocumented immigrants being prepared for deportation.
“We were offering prayers for the detainees. We have lost our moral compass,” said Elena Ceberio, a protestor and member of the Pullen Memorial Baptist Church of Raleigh, N.C. Its pastor, Rev Dr Nancy Petty, led the protest.
The target was the Farmville Detention Center, a facility owned by Immigration Centers of America, a Richmond-based firm formed a decade ago to cash in on a rising wave of anti-foreigner fervor.
It is part of a trend towards private prisons that started around the 1980s. By the end of the 2000s, a number of firms saw a market in undocumented immigrants and smelled opportunity.
In the Farmville case, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contracted with the City of Farmville to house immigrants who are to be deported. In turn, the city has a deal with ICA, which built a 772 –bed facility on the industrial outskirts of town. The city has been getting a dollar a day per prisoner, plus taxes and other benefits that reach about $250,000 a year. Continue reading
by Peter Galuszka
A few days ago, Bacon’s Rebellion featured a tribute to the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy. The critically important invasion opened up a second front against Nazi Germany, leading to its defeat and the end of its terror.
This weekend, I propose another commemoration – that of the 75th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Saipan in the Pacific Ocean. It is also a Father’s Day tribute of sorts that has links to Bacons Rebellion.
Saipan is in the Mariana Islands in the Central Pacific. Admiral Chester Nimitz wanted to seize the islands for air bases from which aircraft could bomb the Japanese mainland and. The Marianas also could serve as a staging ground for the eventual invasion of Japan.
On June 15, 1944, an invasion force led by the U.S. Marine Corps attacked Saipan after days of bombardment. The campaign would run until July 9 and would cost the lives of more than 29,000 troops on both sides. Continue reading
by Peter Galuszka
Virginia Democrats were on a roll politically until a story broke Friday that a photograph on Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) 1984 medical school yearbook page showed a man in blackface and a man in Ku Klux Klan garb.
Democrats had seemed to be in a good position to win control of both the state Senate and the House of Delegates in this November’s General Assembly elections.
A strong anti-Trump spirit showed up in last year’s congressional elections in which three moderate Democratic women won. A court recently ruled that the latest Republican-led redistricting disenfranchised African Americans. Demographic changes seem to be making make the state less conservative. Continue reading