What the Heck Did Norfolk’s Planning Director Say?

George Homewood

by James A. Bacon

Norfolk’s planning director, George Homewood, has left his post, and city officials aren’t saying whether he resigned or was fired. But The Virginian-Pilot says the parting of the ways occurred after the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) Ethics Committee suspended him for violating the group’s ethics code.

Reading the headline immediately set off my woke-o-meter. Was Homewood, a city employee since 2011, guilty of truly horrendous behavior, or was his career tarnished because he offended someone with a “micro-aggression?”

We’ll probably never know.

In a letter published on its website, the AICP declared that Homewood had violated Rule of Conduct #6, which states that a certified planner “shall not deliberately commit any wrongful act, whether or not specified in the Rules of Conduct that reflects adversely on our professional fitness or the planning profession.”

The letter goes on to mention “vivid descriptions of inappropriate conversations” during meetings of the Virginia Chapter cited by AICP’s ethics officer. The alleged “wrongful acts” reflected on both the planning profession and Homewood’s “professional fitness,” the AICP statement said, adding that “many” planners withdrew from Virginia chapter activities as a result.

Update: An updated Pilot article states that the charge against Homewood was sexual harassment. Apparently, Homewood had appealed the finding of wrongful acts. The Pilot obtained a letter from AICP to Homewood explaining that three character witnesses who testified on his behalf added now new evidence to refute the charges.

The phrase “professional fitness” resonated with me. It reminded me of the fate that befell University of Virginia medical student Kieran Bhattacharya who publicly called into question assumptions underpinning the concept of “microaggressions.” A participant in that event took offense and filed a “professionalism concern card” with the medical school, precipitating a tangled series of events that eventually led to Bhattacharya’s suspension and departure.

Norfolk city officials refused to elaborate on the charges, and The Virginian-Pilot was unable to contact Homewood.

Ralph Willmer, the AICP’s ethics officer

The AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct requires members to pursue the public interest with integrity, safeguard the public trust, advance the public understanding of planning, and “work to achieve economic, social, and racial equity.” Among other topics, the rules address “discrimination/harassment.”

The term “harassment” in this context usually refers to comments or actions of a sexual or racial nature.

We don’t know what Homewood said, so we don’t know how egregious his statements were. If they were of a sexual nature, was he crudely misogynistic? Did he tell off-color jokes? Was he unartfully trying to complement women for their appearance? 

If his remarks were of a racial nature, were they akin to something that a Neo-Nazi might say? Did he commit a series of mildly offensive microaggressions? Or did he just espouse views that don’t blame every ill befalling the Black community on white supremacy?

These are fair questions to ask because American institutions are becoming more aggressive in policing “inappropriate” language even as the definition of “inappropriate” is continually mutating and advocates of “equity” classify an increasingly broad spectrum of thought as sexist and racist.

No one knows the rules anymore. Anyone, at any time, can offend without meaning to. As the AICP itself says, words and behavior can been declared harassment “whether or not specified in the Rules of Conduct.”

Additionally, one might ask if Homewood was ever given a chance to defend himself, either before the AICP or in the City of Norfolk There is no indication in either the AICP statement or The Virginian-Pilot article that he was (although the silence of those two sources does not constitute proof that he was denied an opportunity to do so).

In any case, Homewood has been pilloried by his professional association, his employer, and his community newspaper. Perhaps his remarks were so horrendous that he deserves this fate. But maybe, just maybe, he was unfairly vilified. I can understand his desire to remain mute and hope the controversy will go away. But Mr. Homewood, if you wish to tell your side of the story, feel free to contact me at jabacon@baconsrebellion.com.

Update: New information provided by the Pilot indicates that Homewood had an opportunity to defend himself but his three character witnesses provided no evidence to refute the charges. The balance of evidence now suggests that my conjecture that Homewood might have been unfairly vilified was unfounded.

I stand by my statement that the rules governing acceptable discourse are continually changing. However, that larger point, as true as it might be, may not apply in this instance.

Jim Bacon is executive director of The Jefferson Council. The views expressed here are entirely his own and do not reflect the position of the Council.


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Comments

34 responses to “What the Heck Did Norfolk’s Planning Director Say?”

  1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “Was Homewood, a city employee since 2011, guilty of truly horrendous behavior, or was his career tarnished because he offended someone with a “micro-aggression?”

    We’ll probably never know…”

    “…but that won’t stop this “journalist” from speculating wildly…”

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Not really. It was a crappy job of transparency by a government agency and a lackluster job of reporting by the Virginia Pilot.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        you’re right, much better facts on social media!

        Sounds like yet another thing for AG Miyares to do!

        Maybe he can go after the agencies that are not responding to FOIAs while he is at it?

        1. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar
          f/k/a_tmtfairfax

          Did you catch the number that Bob Woodward and the Columbia Review of Journalism did on the Times, Post, et al. on their reporting of Trump & Russiagate? You don’t have to like Trump one little bit to appreciate the level of bias, incompetence, sloppiness, lack of professionalism, etc. on the part of the “best” media outlets in the nation, indeed, the world. What is the trust level for journalists?

    2. When I speculate, I am absolutely explicit about what I’m doing.

      1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        Of course, you give commenters grief for doing the same thing….

    3. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      The person in question would be wise to ignore Jim’s invitation to air it all out here. Bert Ellis shows that! Interesting, though, if the city allowed the outside group to drive its personnel decisions. That’s just chicken-s&^t and long term a very risky idea. Even if the job description requires membership in good standing in that outside group, which I doubt.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        I think Mr. Ellis played a big role in creating his own “problems”.

        Who knows what is really going on with this one but apparently JAB fancies himself as a “Woke” Bloodhound these days! 😉

        He “sniffs” then bays…

      2. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        I dunno. If the ABA disbarred a city attorney, how smart would the city be if they retained his services?

        1. Okay, but a lawyer must be a member of the bar to practice law.

          Planners are not required to be certified by AICP in order to “practice planning”. Certain job descriptions may require it, but a planner can get a planning job without it.

          The PD for this guy’s job includes this under qualification requirements:

          American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) certification desired.

          1. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            So, you’re prone to engaging persons who are removed from their professional organizations for ethics violations?

            Okay, so say the City Attorney isn’t disbarred, just reprimanded for ethics violations, is it still a good idea to retain his services?

            City government has a hard enough time looking legitimate without employing persons with ethics charges.

          2. No. Just pointing out the difference between an attorney being disbarred and a planner being, what, disowned?

            If this guy’s actions/words were egregious enough to be banned by the main organization associated with his profession, he probably violated some part of the city’s personnel policy as well.

            And based on the PD for his job, if they fired him (as opposed to him resigning) they probably did not use the ban by AICP as justification.

          3. No. Just pointing out the difference between an attorney being disbarred and a planner being, what, disowned?

            If this guy’s actions/words were egregious enough to be banned by the main organization associated with his profession, he probably violated some part of the city’s personnel policy as well.

            And based on the PD for his job, if they fired him (as opposed to him resigning) they probably did not use the ban by AICP as justification.

  2. Apparently the AICP thought pretty highly of him at some point:

    https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?161+ful+SR68ER

  3. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Give the guy a break and at least don’t align with the fellow whose own girlfriend suggested he needed and should seek professional help or she would not see him anymore. And find someone who won their subsequent lawsuit, oh say, that microaggressive coach in Loudoun.

  4. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Instead of speculating, why not ask around the planning community? I am sure they know what happened.

    1. We’re doing just that.

      1. Not Today Avatar

        I expect you’ll discover this case doesn’t fit the ‘woke’ crusade.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          but… what about the important work of the woke warriors?

          1. Not Today Avatar

            Silly and overblown. I’m currently reading ‘Aftermath’ by P. Bump and it neatly summarizes everything I’ve ever thought/known about this seismic generational change and its impact on the US. Boomers are a dying breed and the self-absorption/might-makes right mentality the nation indulged among them is being transferred to a new and much more diverse/differently motivated cohort. What Boomers consider ‘woke’ is non-misogynistic/racist policy and rhetoric to younger Americans.

  5. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    How hard can it be?
    https://planning-org-uploaded-media.s3.amazonaws.com/document/40b0a856-98de-449d-add8-a30213e94f78AICP-Code-of-Ethics-Certificate-2021.pdf

    Quo duro est?

    And of course, ain’t y’all the ones freaked out over Honor Codes at YooVee, eh? And Vee-Ahem-Aye?

    Maybe he posted a sign that read “FAICP”?

    Which, or how many, of these would you want your employees violating? Pick all that apply.
    OUR RULES OF CONDUCT ADDRESS THE FOLLOWING:
    ■ Quality and integrity of practice
    ■ Conflicts of interest
    ■ Improper influence/abuse of position
    ■ Honesty and fair dealing
    ■ Responsibility to employer
    ■ Discrimination/harassment
    ■ Charges of misconduct

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      I was expecting a 404 and was pleasantly surprised it exists. On the other hand, now I wonder if I was the first to visit the page. No clear evidence around here that I wasn’t.

      https://www.spj.org/pdf/spj-code-of-ethics-bookmark.pdf

  6. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Is unresolved a word?
    https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?161+ful+SR68ER

    BTW, his Twitter account went poof.

    1. As Twitter accounts are wont to do, eh?

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        One way or t’other…

  7. mysoginistsrus Avatar
    mysoginistsrus

    Jim, I have not read your blogs in years and I am sad to see you lack integrity on this one and spit some far right ideology and conspiracy theories. Your blog used to be a purveyor of justice and you were for the little guy, not the government employee found guilty of wrongdoing. The only person who vilified George Homewood is George Homewood. You glossed over the whole “wrongful acts” and was biased by assuming a micro-aggression. It must have been more than that to be fired from government. Anyone will tell you it is hard to get fired there. You should know this. I hope you were not put up to this by one of Homewood’s buddies. Note, you invited him to speak without extending the same invite to his many victims.

    You should rephrase your title to ask what he did, not what he said.

    1. mysoginistsrus Avatar
      mysoginistsrus

      Article updated to say “sexual harassment.” You probably just defended a Harvey Weinstein type:

      https://www.pilotonline.com/government/local/vp-nw-credentials-revoked-20230201-7odmziw5jrdxtjzhjie7meukke-story.html

      1. Thanks for the reference to the amended Pilot article. I have updated my post.

        “Update: An updated Pilot article states that the charge against Homewood was sexual harassment. Apparently, Homewood had appealed the finding of wrongful acts. The Pilot obtained a letter from AICP to Homewood explaining that three character witnesses who testified on his behalf added no new evidence to refute the charges. …

        “New information provided by the Pilot indicates that Homewood had an opportunity to defend himself but his three character witnesses provided no evidence to refute the charges. The balance of evidence now suggests that my conjecture that Homewood might have been unfairly vilified was unfounded.

        “I stand by my statement that the rules governing acceptable discourse are continually changing. However, that larger point, as true as it might be, may not apply in this instance.”

        1. Sexual harassment is also what the people I know from the “planning world” told me last night. No specifics yet. I have not yet heard from the one who was actually there.

          1. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            I doubt seriously that Mr. Hyde shows up only at the regional and Statewide meetings of AICP and the good doctor at his office. HR has probably been working on this when AICP dropped a golden ticket in their laps.

          2. Could be.

      2. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Well now, that’s enlightening. Sort of. Not to worry, the anti-wokeness slant about here will just assume his statements were directed toward LBGTQ+ persons, e.g., pronoun usage, and the allegations of wokeness will continue.

        “ Avoid stereotyping. Journalists should examine the ways their values and
        experiences may shape their reporting.”

        Like your alias, BTW. Leaves a lot to the imagination

    2. C’mon, man, I’m not exonerating Homewood. As I made abundantly clear, I don’t know what he said (or did). I’d like to know what he said or did. What I am saying is that the disciplinary action could match a pattern I’ve seen many times before. I conjecture — and I make it explicit that I’m conjecturing — that he may have committed a series of microaggressions or other affronts that have been portrayed as harassment.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        but probably not “journalism” ?

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