The Virginia Way Rides On

the virgiia wayThere you go again.

 Yesterday, Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms was charged with five counts of violating the state’s Conflict of Interest Act. The Virginian-Pilot’s article on the matter can be found here. Mayor Sessoms is accused of casting votes to benefit the borrowers of the bank where he served as president. To state what is hopefully obvious, Mayor Sessoms is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. As of now, the mayor has been accused, not convicted.

A rap on the knuckles. One stunning aspect of the accusation is the minimal penalty it carries. Prosecutor Michael Doucette said that the maximum penalty for these misdemeanor offenses would be $500 each. So, Mayor Sessoms faces a “worst case” scenario of paying $2,500 if convicted of abusing his office on five occasions. Less than the cost of a Rolex watch. Given “the Virginia Way,” it is probably needless to say that Mayor Sessoms will not need to step down from elected office even if he is convicted on all five counts. Why should a politician be asked to step down from elected office if all he or she has done is abuse that office for personal gain?  While five charges have been filed, the Virginian-Pilot thinks there is more to this story:

  • “The state’s criminal investigation ended about a year after The Virginian-Pilot first reported that Sessoms, 61, a former TowneBank president, had voted dozens of times on issues that benefited clients of the bank.” 

The song remains the same.

 Assuming the charges against Mayor Sessoms are sustained this puts yet another nail in the coffin of Virginia’s political integrity. We now have Phil Hamilton (former member of the Virginia House of Delegates) doing nine and a half years in the big house, John W Forbes II (former Virginia Secretary of Finance) serving ten years in the pokey for embezzling $4M from the tobacco indemnification fund and the former governor and his wife hoping that the US Supreme Court will keep them out of the federal pen. Amazingly, these convictions come from a state that has essentially no ethics laws or regulations against elected politicians lining their pockets while in office. Imagine how lonely the next General Assembly session would be if Virginia actually legislated against political graft!

— D.J. Rippert

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9 responses to “The Virginia Way Rides On”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    yet another victim of political zealotry!


    you know… all that honest services fraud fru fru!

    first,,,, poor old Bob McDonnell now this poor fella…!


  2. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    I’m so glad you told us he is innocent until proven guilty. From the rest of the text I can tell you really believe that.

    A member of the General Assembly votes for a budget that includes raises for teachers, and he is a teacher. Corruption? Or he opposes a toll on a road that he often drives, or votes for a bill that benefits a company where his college friend works. Conflict of interest? One benefit of being around way to too long is this just reminds me of the big debate over conflict of interest that took place about 30 years ago, when some of these current statutes were drawn. How do you run government with volunteer legislators – state or local – who have real jobs on the outside? That’s a tougher question than you might think.

    Draw the line too tight and most votes on a local governing body or in the Assembly will be dotted by abstentions. Lots of people have lots of conflicts of interest. One thing the law calls for is disclosure. Conflict of interest is not graft, not even close. Graft involves personal gain – a bribe, a direct financial benefit. Hamilton and McDonnell received major financial benefits. If there were evidence of that in this case, evidence the mayor or his employer got a direct financial payoff, other charges might be involved with greater penalties.

    This is an important case, but it is not graft or corruption. I don’t see that. But the prosecution deserves a chance to make its case, too.

    1. The issue was more about Virginia than Mayor Sessoms. Why should the mayor of Virginia Beach simultaneously hold the position of president of a bank?

      I am not sure what Mayor Sessoms makes for his work as mayor. However, Virginia Beach is hardly stingy with its government workers ….

      “The biggest perks go to the city manager, James Spore. His salary is more than $234,000. Add to that $20,500 in deferred compensation and a $12,000 yearly car allowance. Plus, the city pays the health-insurance premiums for the manager and his family. The two-percent raise will add another $4,600 to his salary.”

      Why should the mayor of Virginia’s largest city be allowed to remain as a bank president while serving his or her term? Why should the Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors be allowed to vote on a real estate matter that directly affects the property value of his “other employer’s” buildings? Why are active attorneys who are also state legislators allowed to vote for the judges in front of whom they will argue cases? Why is Virginia one of only two states in America to allow this without ant kind of independent judicial review and recommendation committee? Why is Virginia one of only four states that have no restrictions on political contributions of any kind?

      In January 2012 Virginia was given a grade of “F” for corruption was ranked the 4th most corrupt state in America. Needless to say, the proponents of “The Virginia Way” came out of the woodwork to condemn the study. One absolutely precious quote was from the governor (in reference to the Phil Hamilton affair):

      “Governor Bob McDonnell agreed. “Virginia has long been a state marked by honest, transparent and ethical governing by both parties. Today’s judgment is a reminder that no one is above the law.”

      However, the most telling comment came from John McGlennon, a professor of government at the College of William & Mary …

      “Here, instead of rules, we have this concept that suggests that people who hold political power …have a right to make a comfortable living even if part of that living is coming from their public office.”

      And if that isn’t the definition of graft and corruption, I don’t know what is.

  3. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Interestingly, prosecutors never took interest when then-chairman of the Fairfax County BoS (and then-SAIC vice president) Gerry Connolly voted to add an additional Silver Line station directly in front of SAIC’s HQ complex on Route 7. Indeed, the then County Attorney opined, right before he left the job to enter private practice, there was no conflict of interest. Judged by this standard, Bacon ought to leave the pols alone, as should prosecutors.

    1. You are right on Connolly. He clearly should have abstained from that vote.

    2. However, the most telling comment in the January 2012 state corruption study came from John McGlennon, a professor of government at the College of William & Mary …

      “Here, instead of rules, we have this concept that suggests that people who hold political power …have a right to make a comfortable living even if part of that living is coming from their public office.”

  4. Have to agree with the blogger. Put all this out in the open where the people vote on his or her actions. Let the people decide. I’m sure when politicians have to answer to the people and not rich, corporations, lawyers, etc. we’d get better govt.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    Virginia does require from each elected – and some appointed – a Statement of Economic Interests –

    now try to find the one for Mr Sessoms…

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    can anyone here point me to where the state provides access to statements of economic interest?

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