The Commonwealth Iconoclast

A site dedicated to covering issues relevant to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and nation at large, plus other interesting things too, as I see fit...

Saturday, January 28, 2006

New Town Manager making same mistakes in Elkton

This post was submitted by Anonymous 2:

Will you're completely right when you said that a good government is one you never see at work. Apparently Elkton isn't Mr. Donachy's first crossover from administration into politics. In the previous blog entry anonymous 8 inspired me to do a two-minute Google search, which revealed that Donachy was, first, tangled up in council politics in Bowling Green, and then fired. He left under a cloud of controversy.

His mistake there, I suppose, is probably the same one he's repeating in Elkton, and that is to confuse being an administrator for an elected body with becoming involved in the politics. He should not have taken sides. Elkton's first town manager, Ted Costin, did the same thing, and his activities sparked a "throw out the bums" movement. He offended half the council and most of the citizens, but he was allowed to finish out his contract with the town. It left a bad taste in everyone's mouth, and left everyone suspicious of town managers.

What's going on now in Elkton is that a few people on Council believe they know better than the citizens what they want. One of your posters on the previous blog entry rants about the "old lady block" but he has forgotten that they are actually the voters. All of this sneering and mudslinging online is, I believe, the actions of only a few people, some within town government and some others.

When people feel like they're being ignored by their officials, they get vocal and disrespectful. But in this case, they're just acting in public the way their officials have behaved towards them. I'll be Anonymous 2, and I hope others will adopt pseudonyms, so we can keep track of the posts. Thank you, Will, for providing a forum for discussion, and for being so patient with your readers.


Note: Anyone who would like to contribute a piece for this blog in regards to this issue is welcome to e-mail what they would like posted. I can site the piece to your name, or to an anonymous source (which I will clearly state). I only ask that your tone be civil, and your points be well reasoned. If you have any souces (for instance a past article from the DNR), please include the full link of the article in your e-mail, and I will include it in the piece. You can e-mail me a submission to this blog at commonwealthiconoclast@yahoo.com - WV

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Elkton’s Printz puts on a show for the media, again….

The Town of Elkton made headlines in the Daily News Record this morning, again! You might recall a previous post in which I documented some of the recent controversies that have unfolded in this small Town (population 2,800) located in the eastern part of Rockingham County. According to the piece in the News Record the current mayor, Wayne “Little Richard Daley” Printz, used his regal authority to call a special meeting of the Town Council in order to have a public hearing to discuss the town charter, electric rates, and expenditures.

Call me crazy, but these issues hardly sound pressing enough to warrant a special emergency meeting of the Town Council. I could see where a special meeting might be warranted in order to make an emergency allocation of funds for a major unanticipated public works project, or something of that nature. But to discuss potential changes in the town charter, electric rates, and expenditures? Huh?

It’s no secret that Mayor Printz is upset that several members of the Town Council have floated the idea that they’d like to do away with a directly elected Mayor, and instead have the Mayor be chosen from one of the sitting members of the Town Council. Translation: A majority Elkton’s Town Council members are tired of Mr. Printz’s antics. It appears that Mr. Printz would prefer that he run the day to day operations of the town, instead of a professional Town Manager, and this is evident in the fact that Mr. Printz always seems to be at odds with whoever is the Town Manager at any given time.

But the problem for Mr. Printz is that there isn’t a single Town in the Commonwealth in which the Mayor runs the day to day affairs of a Town. The only exceptions to this rule (that the Mayor does not run the day to day operations of a Town) are in Towns that have extremely small populations (see Mt. Crawford, population 250). Also important to note, Elkton’s proposed charter changes introduced by Delegate Landes in the General Assembly (HB 1188) does not remove or change language about the direct election of the Mayor in the Town. So why is Mayor Printz calling a special meeting of the Town Council to discuss changes to the town charter?

As I have previously mentioned, I don’t have an opinion in regards to how Elkton should elect its Mayor. That’s an issue for the citizens of the Town to decide. If they are happy with a directly elected Mayor, and it happens to be Mr. Printz, then great. But what I do find funny is Mr. Printz’s incessant opining to the media. I tend to believe that had all of the five missing Council members chose to attend last night, but the media didn’t attend, Mr. Printz just might have cancelled the emergency meeting.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Is the SCOTUS becoming the next Congress?


By now you have probably heard plenty about the Jack Abramoff scandal that is rocking the U.S. Congress. You might even know that Virginia's Congressional Represenatives have some very, very close ties to Mr. Abramoff - this is old news, and still evolving.

As long as there has been a Congress, there has likely been corruption, and it's not exclusive to one particular political party either (but it does appear that Congressional Republicans have perfected the art of corruption as of late). Until some meaningful reform is enacted (e.g. term limits) we will likely continue to see Congressional leaders with their hands out looking for cash, and favors (like a golf trip to Scotland) in return for legislative "consideration".

But what happens if a sitting member of the Supreme Court of the United States decides they too want to act like a member of Congress? After all, presently there are no ethics rules - that I know of - that forbid a sitting Justice from receiving gifts from "close friends". It appears that Justice Scalia is so fond of some of his "close friends" - in this case the Federalist Society - he chose to skip the swearing in of Chief Justice John Roberts last September in order to get in some R & R time with members of the Federalist Society at an exclusive resort in Colorado. I mean how could Justice Scalia refuse? After all the Federalist Society footed the entire bill, and the swearing in of Chief Justice Roberts is just a silly formality anyway!

Of course this is not the first time Scalia's ethical conduct has been been questioned. Who can forget the time that Justice Scalia took a hunting trip with his pal Dick Cheney, just three weeks after the SCOTUS agreed to hear a case involving - of all people - Dick Cheney! (I do take comfort in the fact that I'm sure ethical concerns prevented the two from talking about the pending case during their hunt. Let's be fair!)

So what's the difference between Justice Scalia taking an exclusive trip funded by the Federalist Society and Justice Ginsburg doing the same but funded by the ACLU? To me, there is no difference. Here's an interesting quote from the ABC article linked above:

An examination of the Supreme Court disclosure forms by ABC News found that five of the justices have accepted tens of thousand of dollars in country club memberships. And Justice Clarence Thomas has received tens of thousands of dollars in valuable gifts, including an $800 leather jacket from NASCAR, a $1,200 set of tires, a vacation trip by private jet, and a rare Bible valued at $19,000.

Therefore, I guess I'm back to my orginial question, is the SCOTUS becoming the next Congress? Since the SCOTUS does not appear have "clear cut" ethical rules (see Scalia and Cheney), it's then the responsibility of the individual Justices to determine what is indeed ethical and what is not. Consider this: Jack Abramoff wouldn't be facing prison time if he had chosen to lobby the SCOTUS instead of the U.S Congress!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Buckingham County: The Battle of the Boards


In my travels across the Commonwealth to visit friends and family, now and again I find myself crossing the beautiful James River at Scottsville and traveling south through the woods on the Constitution Route (U.S. Route 20) to points beyond.

This is Buckingham County, a very large and sparsely populated rural county that probably looks today a lot like it did 20 years ago, or 50 years ago. The main community within the county is the little railroad Town of Dillwyn. Dillwyn is a quaint little village with little shops and an old train station that looks like a scene from that old favorite TV series “The Walton’s.”

But time has not passed by Buckingham County nor have the problems and challenges that always confront a changing society.

In the recent months, there has been a fair amount printers ink spilt in The Farmville Herald on what appears to be a power struggle between the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors and the Buckingham County School Board over how to spend limited financial resources for public education. Both Boards are comprised of members elected by the same voters.

This is an interesting situation. The Board of Supervisors has control of the county budget and can, within certain state guidelines, control what funds are spent for education. But the School Board was elected to broadly oversee the entire county school division and how it meets the various educational mandates.

So who is in charge of education in Buckingham County? What happens if the Board of Supervisors and the School Board don’t agree on what to do? Answers to these questions are still elusive.

Presently it seems that the control of the purse strings by the Board of Supervisors may be trumping the School Board’s more direct responsibility to guide the county’s public education programs. To borrow the words used by one citizen, critically needed improvements to school facilities are being “held hostage” by the Board of Supervisors.

Apparently, things have gotten so contentious between the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors and the Buckingham County School Board that the School Board recently began exploring the possibility of hiring a professional mediator to help resolve differences between the two Boards. (see linked article above)

However, the idea of bringing in a mediator has been not been enthusiastically embraced by the Board of Supervisors- or at least some members. For example, Supervisor John Kitchen recently made it very clear that he thinks a mediator would be a waste of money and that the School Board needs to just “…do what they have been asked to do…”

Asked? Do they really have a choice?

It is important for all elected officials to remember that when the voters elect them to office, they are elected to do a job, to find answers, to find solutions and to serve the public interests. Normally, those solutions are worked out through discussion, listening to different perspectives and compromise. Mmmm...compromise... Why is this idea so difficult to understand?

While I do not want to take sides on this struggle to find common ground, I do know that public education is just too important to be “held hostage” or worse, to be sacrificed to the egos of a few elected officials who may have forgotten what they were elected to do.

Therefore, I would urge the elected officials of Buckingham County to stop taking unilateral actions. Instead, start talking. Start listening. Find common ground. Get a mediator if you have to. If a few bucks invested in a mediator allows the County to move beyond this current impasse, it will be money well spent.

Both Boards are elected by the same voters and serve the same public interests. Public education is important. So, wouldn’t it be nice if the two Boards could find a way to work together.

Readers from Buckingham County (if indeed there are any), tell me what you think....

Monday, January 23, 2006

Obenshain's Positioning

Frequently mentioned as a possible candidate for Attorney General (at least here in the Valley), Sen. Mark Obenshain takes on crime and judicial issues his second session in Richmond. Sen. Obenshain toes the party line and does not make waves when he introduces legislation. Whether these bills are enough to increase his "law and order" street cred, I don't know. It still appears that one must be a former prosecutor to make a serious run for AG. While that makes no sense considering the AG does very little criminal work, it does force those interested in the office to "take a bite outa crime."

Bills Sponsored.

Bills Co-Sponsored

Well, Sen. Obenshain has taken a lawyer's approach to legislation. Good bacth of bills combined with bills that will raise his profile among the Republican activists. Let's see what he does next year.

Friday, January 20, 2006

No Bill Left Behind

Next up is Delgate Steve Landes. Del. Landes has sponsored 46 bills this session. Quite an output for a limited government Republican. Rather than list all the bills as I have for the past profiles, I am going to do a greatest hits list.

Bills Sponsored.

Bills Co-Sponsored


Del. Landes is certainly taking on a lot of clean-up of the Virginia Code. Good idea, indicates a working legislator.

Gilbert Takes On Crime

Today I am looking at freshman Delegate C. Todd Gilbert. Del. Gilbert was elected to replace retiring Del. Louderback. As a former Commonwealth's Attorney Del. Gilbert appears to be taken on the issues that he knows, law and order.

Bills Sponsored.

Bills Co-Sponsored
Good start for Del. Gilbert. Makes you think that Page County has got a serious crime problem though.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Saxman takes on the Taxman

I have been out of commission for a week. The worst flu I have ever had. Today I am going to profile the bills sponsored by Delegate Chris Saxman of Staunton. Del. Saxman is a member of the Cost Cutting Caucus and the only local politician to actively blog. His blog, VACostCutting, seeks to find ways to cut costs of government services. I give him kudos for his willingness to take on a typically unpopular issue and to make such an effort to communicate to and with the blogging community. Even if Staunton does become the next Charlottesville, Del. Saxman may be well served by his openness to other's ideas.

Bills where Del. Saxman is listed as the Chief Sponsor.

Selected Bills where Del. Saxman is listed as a Co-Sponsor.


These are the bills of a mature legislator. Nuts and bolts legislation meant to actually accomplish something. I don't always agree with Del. Saxman, but I do respect him.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

"Out to Lunch"

Prince Edward County "Out to Lunch" according to Town of Farmville!
Readers of the Iconoclast may recall the ongoing drama going on down in Prince Edward County, in the Heart of Virginia. Because I grew up in this small college community, and have family and friends that still live there today, I take an active interest in what goes on in the County. Also, the local paper of record, The Farmville Herald, has done a fairly good job of covering the recent controversial events that have taken place, but I feel that this blog can "fill in the gaps" where the local paper dares not to tread. (After all, isn't this what blogging is all about?)

Prince Edward County is a small rural county about 70 miles southwest of Richmond, Virginia. Prince Edward County includes the Town of Farmville and proudly boasts of being the home of both Hampden-Sydney College and Longwood University, two well respected institutions of higher learning. It is a nice little community and a good place to live. However, there are dark clouds building on the horizon for the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors and its indomitable leader Chairman William "Buckie" Fore.

In a way, those brewing dark clouds on the horizon are a reminder of dark chapters of past events and a glimmer of hope for the future.

This drama all started innocently enough this past fall when citizens began to urge the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors to reorganize the County Planning Commission. The problem appeared to be the result of a dysfunctional planning process and allegations that the Planning Commission was stagnant, mismanaged, unfairly organized and dominated by a Chairman and Vice Chairman who had unresolved ethics questions hanging over their heads. After a summer and fall of mistakes and embarrassing disclosures involving County planning officials, citizens were calling for change. (Note: Something can be legal in a technical sense, but still be unethical)

Perhaps the most significant development this fall were the questions concerning the organization of the Prince Edward County Planning Commission. In response, County officials were hard pressed to explain how the Planning Commission was organized. Eventually, it was revealed that the Planning Commission was loosely organized on the basis of a 40 year old County resolution that was obviously too vague and outdated to serve present circumstances. At least one member of the Planning Commission did not even know he was on the Planning Commission. Some districts and interests were over represented on the Planning Commission. The one district experiencing the most severe planning and zoning controversy was not represented at all.

Ok. So fix it!

To fix it was exactly what Supervisors Pattie Cooper-Jones, Sally Gilfillan and Lacy Ward planned to do: restructure the Planning Commission and get it back on track. One would have thought that this would have been a simple task and one that would likely help to restore citizen confidence in a process that was falling apart at the seams all summer and fall.

This, however, did not happen.

Instead, for reasons unknown at this time, the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors voted to approve a new policy that would make matters worse yet. The new policy would, in effect, remove over SIX THOUSAND citizens from eligibility to serve on the Prince Edward County Planning Commission. All of these citizens who were excluded from eligibility to serve on the County Planning Commission happened to live in the Town of Farmville, the undisputed center of development activity.

So far, Chairman William "Buckie" Fore and the four other Supervisors who passed the new policy have chosen not to explain their reasoning for this seemingly unfair and inappropriate new policy.

In an editorial piece on January 4th, The Farmville Herald bluntly criticized the Board questioning both the wisdom of the policy and its fairness to the citizens of the County. Given the Herald's, normally cheerful and polite style, this editorial position was an unusually blistering indictment of the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors.

If that were not bad enough, in response to a maelstrom of complaints, the Farmville Town Council took the stage to further condemn the Board's ill-advised new policy. That action occurred on January11th, when the Town Council voted unanimously to approve a resolution to urge the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors to "appoint representatives to serve on the County Planning Commission from each of the eight (8) voting districts, of which three (3) include the town of Farmville..." This resolution would effectively gut the very essence of the County's new policy.

While several Council members were critical of the new County policy, one Council member seemed to sum up the overall sentiments. Town Council member David Whitus was quoted as describing the County's policy decision as "clearly out to lunch." He went on to point out that while Americans are dying in Iraq for the principles of democracy, those same principles do not apply in Prince Edward County.

Ouch!

During the past several months citizens have filed formal grievances against both the Planning Commission Chairman and Vice Chairman alleging bias and appearances of conflict of interests. So far, Chairman Fore and four other Supervisors (Moore, B. Jones, Simpson, and McKay) have chosen not to hear citizen grievances. A recent report in the Herald seems to suggest that the Board of Supervisor's will accept as a standard of public accountability anything short of criminal charges. Ethical questions are of no interest to the Board of Supervisors so long as there are no criminal charges.

Ouch again!

With this as the backdrop, the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors continues to struggle to maintain control of an increasingly out of control situation. This is a classic case study in political science...albeit bad political science: Citizens complain; government fails to respond; citizens get increasingly disenchanted; the cycle repeats with ever increasing discontent until something breaks. As someone once said: "the natives are getting restless." We can probably predict where this story is going.

But in the broader sense, there may be a silver lining to this depressingly predictable story.

About 50 years ago, the then leaders of this same pleasant rural community experienced a similarly bad lapse of judgment when they decided to take the "principled position" of closing the public schools rather than to integrate. While it may have seemed "principled" at the time, this incredibly bad lapse of judgment eventually led to the famous U.S. Supreme Court decision now popularly known as "Brown vs. Board." Those who lived through those bad times would probably attest to the extreme unpleasantness of the situation back then. However, that case eventually led to a better, more enlightened and more civilized America.

Out to lunch? Yes. But we can always learn from our mistakes. The specific details are different but the issues of fundamental human rights are similar. Perhaps, the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors is preparing to make history again.

Maybe this is progress.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Democratic spin doctor not impressed with Mark Warner

Yesterday former Governor Mark Warner, appeared on ABC's "This Week" program hosted by George Stephanopoulous. I missed the first portion of Mr. Warner's conversation with Mr. Stephanopoulous, but the interview covered a wide-variety of domestic and international issues (Alito nomination, Iraq War, wiretapping, etc.) and for the most part the interview appeared to be fairly mundane. Everyone knows Mark Warner will run for President in 2008, therefore even a "lazy Sunday morning" interview with Mr. Stephanopoulous gives Virginia's popular former Governor a chance to expose himself to the larger general public, and this is a good thing.

But it appears that Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist/spin doctor, wasn't impressed. Apparently Ms. Brazile took umbrage to Mr. Warner's comments that his Presidential role model is the progressive reformist Republican Teddy Roosevelt. (Gasp!) One would think that since it has been over 100 years since Teddy first took office, the "sting" of a modern day Democratic Presidential hopefull choosing a Republican - who Warner claims would be a Democrat today, for whatever that's worth - as their favorite former President would have worn off. Obviously not to Ms. Brazile, who said she wouldn't have picked Roosevelt as a Presidential role model.

I guess Brazile would have prefered for Warner to have chosen one of her former clients as his favorite Presidential role model. Ms. Brazile has served as a influential policy consultant on numerous Presidential campaigns. For example, Ms. Brazile had an influential hand in determining the poltical fates of Walter Mondale, Jesse Jackson, Dick Gephardt, and more recently Al Gore. The only successful Democratic Presidential campaign in the last 25 years, Bill Clinton's campaign, appears to be the only campaign in which Brazile had very little hands on contact, serving only as a low-level policy advisor. Lucky for Bill.

It appears that Mr. Warner's "sensible center" style of leadership/politics will be challenged by certain players in the Democratic Paty (surprise, surprise). If Ms. Brazile's opening salvo is indicative of the criticism that will be leveled against Mr. Warner, the former Governor will have an easy road to the nomination. With enemies like Donna Brazile, the future looks very bright for Mark Warner.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Raising the minimum wage in the Commonwealth: Opponents use loopy logic

Virginia's business lobbies are gearing up this winter to defeat Delegate Vincent Callahan (R-Fairfax) and state Senator Charles Colgan (D-Prince William) attempt to increase Virginia's minimum wage requirement above that of the presently Federally mandated rate of $5.15 per hour. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch this morning, Senate Bill 480 (sponsored by Colgan) and House Bill 539 (sponsored by Callahan) "would raise the minimum wage to $6.15 this July, $7.15 on July 1, 2007, and $8.15 a year later. In subsequent years, the minimum wage would be adjusted annually for inflation."

As to be expected pro business lobbies - such as the National Federation of Independent Business, Va. Chamber of Commerce - are getting their "ducks in a row" in order to defeat Senate Bill 480 and House Bill 539. Delagate Callahan acknowledges in RTD article that increasing Virginia's minimum wage rate above the the Federally mandate is "An uphill battle.."

Though $5.15 per hour is the Federally mandated wage (per the 1938 Fair Labor Standard Act) a few states, thanks to former President Clinton, have set minimum wage rates "above and beyond" the Federally mandated minimum rate. Presently there are 12 states that have a minimum wage higher than the Federally mandated rate. Of course those states with minimum wage rates higher than the Federally mandated rate are the "usual suspects" and Florida.

The article in the Times-Dispatch points out that of the 3.8 million workers in Virginia, roughly 43,000 earn minimum wage. If you do the math - which I hope I did correctly - minimum wage earners account for approximately 1.1 percent of the total labor force in the Commonwealth. Therefore I believe this segment of Virginia's labor force could be viewed in either one or two ways: Too insignificant in size to mandate an increse in the minimum wage above Federal standards, or too insignificant in size not to mandate an increase in the minimum wage above Federal standards.

Since the inception of of the Fair Labor Standard Act there have been 20 (I could be off by one or two) increases in the Federally mandated minimum wage. Also, the last increase - to $5.15 - was seven years ago, the second-longest stretch since the minimum wage was enacted in 1938. As expected each time an increase in the Federal minimum wage is proposed pro business lobbies flex their political mussle in order to kill an increase. Sometimes they win, sometimes they loose - though it appears these pro business lobbies have been doing a great job as of late.

Generally, pro business lobbies use the same arguments/talking points to argue against increases in the minimum wage. I really don't believe that even pro business lobbies expect the minimum wage to stay the same indefinately, but I do think that they are obligated to put up a good fight to any proposed increase in order to satify their constituency. (Ok, that's stating the obvious).

But Gordon Dixon's - a lobbyist for the National Federation of Independent Business - logic for not increasing Virginia's minimum wage probably isn't the result of research conducted by the CATO Institue. Mr. Dixon states, "If employees making the minimum wage get an automatic raise becaue the law is changed, other employees making more than minimum are going to ask where their raise is." Now had Mr. Dixon instead quoated one of the thousands of pro business funded research talking points in order to argue against the merits of increasing the minimum wage, I think we all could agree that it would be fairly debatable. But the idea that increasing salaries of one of the smallest segments of Virginia's labor force is going to be the impetuous for mass salary increases throughout the Commonwealth, and cripple Business, is fairly halarious. Let me make it clear to my employer, if the janitor in our office gets a bump from $5.15 to $8.15 (that's over a 60 percent increase) I'll be expecting the same! I don't know if this sort of logic would persuade my employer to give me an increase in salary? But according to Mr. Dixon it would be grounds for a raise! (How much does the NFIB pay Mr. Dixon to make such insightful an thought provoking comments? For their sake, hopefully not a penny over $5.15 an hour.)

Regardless, you can count on Senate Bill 480 and House Bill 539 being killed quitely in committee without too much fuss. It will be interesting to see if Virginia's "pro family" lobbies (Family Foundation, Valley Family Forum, et. al) will use their political clout to attempt to advance these Bills based upon moral grounds? Could you see a pro family lobby making the case that an increase to the Commonwealth's mimimum wage would increase earnings to some of Virginia's most economically distressed families? Oh, on second thought these pro family lobbies are probably too busy focusing their attention and resouces on issues that really matter to econonomically distressed families, such as banning gay marriage.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Robertson cut out of Evangelical Disneyland deal


This morning the New York Times reported that Israel's Tourism Ministry will renege on a joint tourism center/Evangelical Disneyland with Virginia Beach entrepreneur/radical cleric Pat Robertson. Unfortunately for Pat, the deal will still go through, but due to his recent inflammatory comments about ailing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Robertson will not be reaping any of the divine profits.

Now, its been well documented that Pat Robertson will do nearly anything for the all mighty dollar. Whether it's mining diamonds in Africa, selling diet shakes, or developing real estate in Virginia Beach, Pat loves looking for different avenues to increase his net worth. Therefore, I wasn't surprised to hear that Pat Robertson, and Israeli Tourism Officials had planned to develop a 35-acre Christian theam park (pilgrimage center, or whatever you want to call it) near the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus once lived and preached.

Call me crazy but if I were a Christian making a pilgrimage back to the Sea of Galilee, I would prefer to see this area in its pristine state, not paved over for an Evangelical Disneyland, but that's just me. Israeli Tourism/Government Officials view the 35-acre development as a great way to increase tourism in a remote area of the country, and Pat Robertson sees it as a great way to make money. Therefore it appeared to be a match made in heavan. That is until Pat made disparaging comments about the ailing Israeli Prime Misister Ariel Sharon, who Robertson claims is one of his friends.

Therefore Israeli Tourism Officials chose to punish Pat - in the worse way someone can punish Pat Robertson - they completely cut him out of the Evangelical Disneyland deal. Wow! Finally Pat has to literally pay this time for saying something stupid! Instead of having the whole nation (and world) think he is an idiot, this one is going to cost him! Now that really hurts!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

General Assembly Opens

The 2006 Legislative Session begins today. I will try to keep track of our local delegation's work (Dels. Gilbert, Landes, Lohr and Saxman and Sen. Obenshain) as well as interesting pieces of legislation that work their way through committee to the floor. Today I am going to look at the legislation sponsored by one of the Valley's newest legislators Matt Lohr.

Pre-Filed Bills where Matt Lohr is listed as the Chief Patron

Pre-Filed Bills where Matt Lohr is listed as a Co-Patron

Well, pretty good start for Del. Lohr. Although I did read in today's DNR that he was going to also push for repeal of the estate tax. While creating exemptions for family farms makes sense, repeal of the entire tax is ridiculous. Less than 1% of estates are subject to the tax. Even Teddy Roosevelt believed that the passing of great amounts of wealth was contrary to the American work ethic.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Will Dick leave Bush?


Yesterday it was widely reported that Dick "I'm with stupid" Cheney went to a D.C. area hospital complaining of shortness of breath. All kidding aside, Dick Cheney's health has always been an issue, especially when you consider that Cheney had his first heart attack at the ripe old age of 37.

I would venture to guess that most folks who have heart attacks at the age of 37 most likely have a family predisposition to heart disease (which I believe Cheney does), and this is unfortunate. Also, I'd imagine that Cheney's 1 a.m. binges on greasy pizza chased down with a tall cold glass of Texas crude (ok, probably milk) hasn't exactly helped his situation either.

As I recall, a few months ago Cheney ruled out the possibility of running for President in 2008. Not only would Cheney's poor health be an issue if he were to run for President, but his miserable (almost to the point of being funny) approval ratings just might have prevented him from being nominated anyhow.

This puts the Republican Party in the unique sitution of not having a logical successor to President Bush. Therefore, when you consider Cheney's long history of heath problems is it likely that Cheney will step down soon and allow Bush to "hand pick" his successor? The theory of Cheney departing before 2008 isn't new, I can recall several blogs discussing this possibility almost immediatly after the 2004 elections. So if you buy into the idea that Cheney is indeed departing the adminstration soon, I guess the next question would be who would replace him?

I'm not aware if a sitting VP has ever voluntarily departed office before? Yes, Spiro Agnew did resign, but it wasn't voluntary. The constitutional procedure for replacing a departed VP allows for the President to nominate a successor "Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress." Therefore, Bush would be allowed to "hand pick" Cheney's successor, and this individual would then go through a confirmation process.

Ok, so back to my original question: Who would replace Cheney? If I had to bet I'd put my money on Condoleeza Rice. Rice is a Bush confidant, and has been mentioned as a possible Presidential candidate. Can you think of a better way to groom Rice for the Presidency - and give her an inside track to the Republican nomination - by allowing her to serve as VP for 2 years? Also, I wouldn't think that Dr. Rice would have too much of a problem being confirmed either, after all Dick Cheney has been the VP for almost 6 years!

So there we have it, another log to throw on the fire that will soon turn into one of the most exciting and likely important Presidential races in modern times. Thoughts?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Next Stop Seattle!

Hail to the Redskins!
Hail Victory!
Braves on the Warpath!
Fight for old D.C.!
Run or pass and score -- we want a lot more!
Beat 'em, Swamp 'em,
T
ouchdown! -- Let the points soar!
Fight on, fight on 'Til you have won
Sons of Wash-ing-ton. Rah!, Rah!, Rah! Hail to the Redskins!
Hail Victory!
Braves on the Warpath!
Fight for old D.C.!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

ICONOCLAST SCOOPS RTD IN PRINCE EDWARD!?

Back in November, the Commonwealth Iconoclast first broke a developing story in Prince Edward County involving fundamental questions regarding local government accountability to its citizens. This story evolved from ongoing controversies with the County's mishandling of certain land-use and zoning matters.

Today (January 8, 2006), that developing story continues to evolve in the pages of the Richmond Times-Dispatch in the form of a story entitled "Housing bid creates divide."

While it is impossible to know if the Iconoclast is on the regular reading list of RTD editors or writers (maybe wishful thinking), it is kind of cool to see that the same story first broke here in the Iconoclast back in November is now emerging in the "big time" state-wide, printed media.

Of course, I should hasten to add that this story has been covered since last summer by the local news papers including The Farmville Herald and The Crewe-Burkeville Journal and that they have contributed valuable background for the Iconoclast posts over the past several months. But while traditional local news outlets have focused on the basics of who, what, and when, the Iconoclast has tried to focus on the "why" and analysis part of the story. In doing so, the Iconoclast has exposed some of the more unseemly aspects of Prince Edward County government. The idea here is to expose bad government practices so that improvements will be made.

But in any event, the Richmond Times Dispatch is breaking new ground by adding some interesting "nuggets" of insight. The most amazing insight comes from new quotes from Prince Edward County Planning Director Jonathan L. Pickett. In the past, citizens have complained loudly that County officials have failed to provide accountability for seemingly illogical decisions. Well... Planning Director Pickett now seems to be the vangard spokesperson for Prince Edward County trying explain things so that citizens will finally understand what is going on in the minds of Prince Edward County leadership.

In one quote Planning Director Pickett explains that "It's the fact that they [Farmville residents] would be voting on things that don't directly affect them..." as the reason why Farmville residents would be banned from Planning Commission membership in a newly adopted County policy. Oh! That clears things up nicely! How could citizens of the Farmville portion of Prince Edward County have been so confused to have thought that the approval of a $50 million dollar development deal located literally in their back yards could possible have anything to do with their interests? Citizens are just so goofy at times...

Also, just because Farmville and environs is the "epicenter" of nearly all significant development in Prince Edward County there is certainly no earthly reason for Farmville area citizens to think that the County Planning Commission might have any effect on their lives. No, no, Director Pickett implies; these citizens must be confused.

But seriously, this incredibly stupid quote by the top paid official for Prince Edward County's planning program is just another example of what citizens of Prince Edward County have been complaining about for months: Prince Edward County government officials are out of touch with citizen concerns and unaccountable for their actions.

It should be obvious that the leadership in Prince Edward County government should be scrupulously protecting the concept of fairness and equal treatment for all citizens within their jurisdiction. So, why are County bosses so intent on denying basic rights of fair representation to a sizable segment of Prince Edward County's population? What is the motive for this obviously ill-conceived idea? I suspect that time will reveal the answers to these questions.

My compliments to Jamie Ruff of the Richmond Times Dispatch for his important contributions to this expanding story. The Iconoclast will continue to follow the story and, as always, welcomes reader contributions. I would be especially interested in hearing from County bosses in Prince Edward County who can explain why democracy has been suspended for certain County residents who live in the Town of Farmville.

Happy new year to my friends in Prince Edward County! Stay tuned!

Chairman Fore's Train in Vain


Trouble continues to brew in the Heart of Virginia as the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors continues on a course that seems destine to produce a political train wreck. At the controls of one of those locomotives “headed for glory” is Chairman William “Buckie” Fore of the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors. For now, everything in the way is mercilessly swept away underneath the iron wheels of the speeding train. But, somewhere down the tracks, there is a fast moving freight train on a collision course with Chairman Buckie and his runaway train.

The problem, it seems, is rooted in growing division on the Board of Supervisors involving two opposing factions, one including a minority of three Supervisors (Pattie Cooper-Jones, Sally Gilfillan, and Lacy Ward) in pursuit of fundamental reforms in County government facing a majority of five Supervisors (William "Buckie" Fore, Bobby Jones, Charles McKay, James Moore and Howard Simpson,), led by Chairman Buckie, which continues to charge ahead with an agenda of sorts that seems focused on maintaining absolute control and the status quo.

The faction seeking reform of County government has become increasingly concerned and vocal in its views that citizens of Prince Edward County are not getting the quality of County government they are entitled to and that County government has become unaccountable to those citizens it is supposed to be serving. These three Supervisors are demanding a lot more accountability than the Courthouse bosses are accustomed to providing.

On the other hand, the majority faction led by the indomitable Chairman Buckie, is determined to maintain control and to resist any threat to the status quo.

Discontent with Prince Edward County government started to boil over this past summer and fall with week after week of local news headlines, op/ed pieces, and numerous letters to the editor railing against Prince Edward County’s mishandling of local planning, development policy and zoning issues (The Farmville Herald and The Crewe Burkeville Journal).

The firestorm of discontent was sparked back in September when the Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of a controversial $50 million dollar townhouse development after a brief public hearing where citizens objected to the project and in spite of the revelation that County planning personnel had not lifted a finger to perform the expected project impact assessments that are normally considered a good idea before major land use decisions are made. Citizens who attended the meeting were aghast at witnessing such an arbitrary and capricious exercise of official power.

While zoning controversies are not uncommon, such controversies are normally handled with aplomb by professional technical personnel and elected officials who make sure to follow carefully designed procedures, document their facts and findings, and justify their actions. None of this happened in Prince Edward County this summer and the consequences of these failures was an immediate crisis of confidence in the leadership of Prince Edward County government.

Lacking plausible justification for the questionable Planning Commission zoning vote, speculation surfaced that key County officials were turning their backs to the public interests and were inappropriately “rubber stamping” lucrative zoning deals for favored developers, land speculators and realtors.

In October, citizens filed a formal grievance against Planning Commission Chairman William Porterfield alleging a lack of impartiality, bias in favor of developers, and undue influence on other members of the Planning Commission.

Worse yet, was the discovery in early December that the most vocal champion on the Planning Commission in favor of the controversial $50 million dollar townhouse zoning request was Vice Chairman Samuel Coleman who coincidentally happened to be the father of one of the consultants who represented the developer’s zoning request before the Planning Commission. It seems, the Vice Chairman forgot to declare his relationship until he was outed by citizens.

County records indicate that both Planning Commission Chairman William Porterfield and Vice Chairman Samuel Coleman have held their leadership positions and have wielded almost unquestioned authority on planning and zoning matters in Prince Edward County for nearly two decades. To be fair, it should be noted that citizens have not accused these two long serving County officials of having direct financial interests in the questionable zoning deal. Citizens are, however, raising legitimate questions and are challenging the motives for public policy decisions.

In response to these grievances, Chairman Buckie has made it abundantly clear that he personally does not put much stock in a few disgruntled citizens complaining about alleged improper motives of County officials
. Thus, both citizen grievances, the first one against Chairman William Porterfield filed in October and the second against Vice Chairman Samuel Coleman filed in December of 2005, remain unaddressed and unresolved. This action, or more acurately inaction, has got citizens openly asking the question: "Can he do that?" The short answer is: "Chairman Buckie can do whatever he wants."

Adding insult to injury, the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors, again led by Chairman Buckie, adopted a new policy on December 13th effectively banning citizens of Prince Edward County who live within the Town of Farmville from ever serving on the Prince Edward County Planning Commission. Mind you, these "banned" citizens are actually county citizens, tax payers and voters. This new policy came about after three months of evasive maneuvers designed to avoid having to accommodate Supervisor Gilfillan’s request for fair representation on the Planning Commission.

As it stands today, Chairman Buckie is in firm control of the situation. The dysfunctional County Planning Commission seems to be now safe from any outside attempts to reform it. Citizen grievances against the Planning Commission Chairman and Vice Chairman have been nullified by imperial decree. But most importantly, citizens from the Town of Farmville who might ask too many questions and upset the delicate balance between County bosses and their friends in real estate development are officially banned by County policy from ever serving on the Prince Edward County Planning Commission.

Chairman Buckie has his hand firmly on the throttle. So far as he knows, the tracks are clear and that light at the end of the tunnel is a signal to pour on the coals for of four more years of unquestioned political dominance in Prince Edward County.

Will Chairman Buckie recognize the warnings of danger before it is too late? Or is it already too late?

Train wrecks always bring out the voyeuristic instincts in people. Unless Chairman Buckie slaps on the brakes pretty soon or otherwise changes tracks, the situation in Prince Edward County promises to be one heck of a political train wreck.

Go Buckie go!!!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Corruption, Cash, and Congress


I found this interesting - half of of the respondents to a recent Gallup poll believe that most members of Congress are corrupt. Also, 55 percent of the respondents indicated that corruption will be a "very important" or "the most important" issue to consider when voting this November.

When you consider that super Republican lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, is getting ready to roll on potentially dozens of members of Congress (mostly Republican) this could get ugly. It's important to point out that this same poll does not indicate that people feel that Democratic members of Congress are exactly choir boys either, Democrats are viewed as being only slightly less corrupt than their Republican counterparts.

Will this affect Virginia's Congressional races this November? Maybe. Just today an article appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch in which Eric Cantor (7th District) is dumping off $10,000 of Abramoff tainted money to a Richmond area charity. Of course, for several months we've been reading about Virgil Goode's (5th District) dubious involvement with a defense contractor which will likely cost one of Goode's Congressional colleagues, Duke Cunningham, a few years in Club Fed. Like Cantor, Goode donated these questionable campaign contributions to a charity in his District too. (Increased corruption among our Congressional leaders may not benefit the average voter, but at least it does appear to be a boon for charitable giving.)

You might recall that a few months ago I pointed out that all of Virginia's Congressional Republicans had accepted generous donations from Abramoff confidant Tom Delay (via ARMPAC), with Randy Forbes (4th District) being the "high roller" by accepting $30,000 in campaign cash. Also, don't forget that Bob McDonnell, the recently elected Attorney General in the Commonwealth, benefited from a hefty sum of campaign cash that apparently came from an Abramoff campaign cash shell game.

Unfortunatly corruption and influence peddling are not new to politics. But I believe part of the public perception of unbridled corruption among our Cogressional leaders is fueled by the two-year Congressional election cycle. The two-year Congressional election cycle means that members of Congress are always on the campaign trail trying to raise funds for the next election.

When you consider that a competitive Congressional election can cost anywhere from 1 million to 10 million dollars (I'm taking a guess here), there is no wonder why member of Congress always have their hands out looking for cash, and it's apparent that there are plenty of Abramoff type characters willing to dole cash out for something in return.

It will be interesting to see if Virginia's Republican Congressional incumbents (especially Cantor and Goode) will be able to convince their constituents that their apparent shady cash dealings are not emblematic of deep rooted corruption, but instead a necessary evil in order to maintain power in a cash fueled political environment.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Baby You Can Drive My Car


Transportation funding will be all the rage this legislative session. Virginia roads are overflowing with cars and trucks. A quick trip to Northern Virginia (or Harrisonburg Crossings for that matter) will provide amble evidence that things are getting desperate. Millions, if not billions, of dollars are wasted because of gridlock

Clearly poor planning and almost no investment in mass transit are to blame for the current debacle. The gist of the problem is that there are too many entities that do not work together to solve problems. Poor land-use planning on the local level leads to traffic congestion. The lack of a national plan and investment in rail continues to push commercial transportation onto the roads in the form of tractor-trailers. SUVs and cars continue to grow in size which only adds to the problem. So, how can the Commonwealth solve the problem when it can only control one portion of the solution?

Leaving aside, the fact that the Commonwealth only controls one portion of the solution, what ever is done is going to cost money. So the General Assembly will be considering raising revenue for the second year in a row. Already the House Republicans are splitting over how to pay for the states long overdue transportation needs. The funding options are fairly simple. The more interesting thing is who will carry the burden of these choices.

  • General Tax Increase - raising income and/or sales tax
    • Who pays - All Virginia taxpayers including businesses
    • Who doesn't have to pay - Out of state commuters and businesses that use Virginia roads and thereby make money from Virginia without paying anything.
    • Likelihood of passing - same as the Winter Olympics being held in Tahiti
  • Fuel Tax Increase - adding to the gas tax which hasn't been raised since 1986
    • Who pays - anyone who pumps gas in Virginia
    • Who doesn't pay - anyone who pumps gas outside of Virginia
    • Likelihood of passing - same as the Skins going to the Super Bowl.
  • Regional Tax Increase - not sure how this work, but I think it would raise income taxes in the regions where transportation improvements are
    • Who pays - the people who use the roads the most
    • Who doesn't pay - anyone not living in the defined region. This excludes businesses that use the roads in transit as well as those who commute to the region.
    • Likelihood of passing - tough call pits moderate Republicans and Democrats from the urban and suburban districts against the conservatives from the Valley and rural areas. Since the conservatives lost last year, the chances are as good as the chances that the Republitarian gets the Republican nomination for, well, anything.
  • Tolls - if your reading this blog you know what tolls are
    • Who pays - anyone on the road
    • Who doesn't - bicyclists
    • Likelihood of passing - same as George W. Bush being impreached
  • GA punts and localities pay through proffers from developers
    • Who pays - developers and those who buy houses in developments
    • Who doesn't - everyone else
    • Likelihood of passing - same as the Colts winning the Super Bowl (the GA loves to make someone else solve their problems.
This was the basic rundown. There are probably other options that I haven't thought of. Tolls and the fuel tax are the fairest but are highly unpopular so hard to see it happening. Although one can vote for tolls and still claim they didn't vote to raise taxes. Its going to be interesting January.