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...

Friday, June 30, 2006

Nepotism In Prince Edward County?

Nepotism and Cronyism ...A grand old tradition?

Friends and family enjoying privilages of office?

Unanswered questions lead to more questions.

The gentleman in the picture is the Honorable Howard F. Simpson, Supervisor and Vice Chairman of the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors. This man is a mover and shaker in Prince Edward County government and indeed a man who knows the world of politics, of making deals, doing favors and receiving favors.

As they say… there are privileges of office and Vice Chairman Howard F. Simpson knows perhaps better than most how to get the most out of the office he holds in Prince Edward County government.

For those not familiar with the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors, suffice it to say that the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors has had its "issues" over the past few years. Vice Chairman Simpson is one of the leaders... second in command on the Board if you will... and seems to be aligned with a majority of five Supervisors who form a solid cabal which exercises almost absolute control over all county business. Thus Vice Chairman Simpson is perhaps, more than most, directly responsible for all of those same "issues" for better or worse.

This is the backdrop for our new story… a story that is as old as government and government service.

Where shall we begin?

This story begins to unfold during the regular June 13th, 2006, meeting of the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors. During this routine meeting, there came an unexpected series of questions concerning the proposed $42 million budget that was subsequently approved on a split vote.

Those questions seemed to provoke awkward tension between several of the Supervisors.

County Administrator Mildred B. Hampton (on left) and Chairman William "Buckie" Fore (on right).

But those questions... interesting as they were... elicited little substantive response from County Administrator Mildred B. Hampton. After a brief exchange, those questions came to an abrupt end when Chairman William “Buckie” Fore declared the Supervisor who was asking those questions “out of order.” The justification for this ruling was not offered.

As an Iconoclast editorial observation, accepted parliamentary procedure does indeed allow a ruling of “out of order” if a discussion appears “dilatory, incorrect, frivolous or rude.”

However, given that personnel costs are such an important component of any county budget, the Iconoclast is inclined to think that Chairman Fore’s call in this case may not have been appropriate. The questions were anything but frivolous. Nor did they seem dilatory or rude. Just hard questions on what was perhaps a sensitive subject.

But let us not dwell on this technical issue. There are bigger issues.

So… what is the big deal?

The big deal is that the questioning involved certain personnel actions which resulted in a questionable promotion of an individual to a significant supervisory position in Prince Edward County Government. That personnel action was a part of the County budget paid for by the good citizens of Prince Edward County.

More remarkable is that the beneficiary of this questionable promotion happens to be a close relative of Vice Chairman Howard F. Simpson. This perhaps explains the awkward tension betweem the Supervisors and Vice Chairman Simpson's conspicuous silence on the matter.

The direct beneficiary of the questioned personnel action, one Mr. Billy Coe (as reported in The Southside Messenger), was installed in a supervisory position with Prince Edward County government without the benefit of any public offering of that position. This position is paid by the taxpayers of Prince Edward County. It is a budget issue. It is a public issue. It is an issue of fairness.

While confidential personnel records are indeed protected, It seems clear enough that the questions involving the process of implementing personnel actions and how public funds are spent is a fair topic of public discussion.

It seems that a supervisory position was somehow created and that Mr. Coe was initially appointed on a temporary basis and subsequently, without a public offering, made permanent. Other more senior personnel and similarly qualified personnel appear to have had no opportunity to compete for the position. These circumstances create the impression that the position was just magically created and filled by an individual who happens to be closely related to Vice Chairman Simpson.

How close?

Sources familiar with the particulars have confirmed that Mr. Coe is, in fact, Vice Chairman Howard F. Simpson’s step-son.

According to video footage of the meeting, when pressed for answers, Administrator Hampton could or would not explain how Mr. Coe was installed in a newly created supervisory position without any public notification of the job opportunity.

Is this a privilege of office?

Is this a case of nepotism?

Dear readers, the Commonwealth Iconoclast has no problem with a dad doing favors for his kid. Nor do we really want to get involved in petty local politics. However, if the circumstances in question involve the use of public funds, yes it is indeed a concern.

Perhaps we can learn something useful from these circumstances.

According to, nepotism is defined as “Favoritism shown or patronage granted to relatives…”

Nepotism is closely related to cronyism, Cronyism is just like nepotism (favors to relatives), except cronyism is more generic. Cronyism is more like granting favors to your friends and associates. You know the stereotype… these are the people you hang out with at the local watering hole or on the golf course. You get the picture?

Also, nepotism and cronyism is not limited to only employment practices. It can be seen in other relationships between County officials and private interests. Perhaps readers of the Iconoclast will remember "The Dunn Deal: A Family Affair?"

Nepotism and cronyism is also related to the concept of the so called “spoils system" the term coming from the expression "to the victor go the spoils.”

Whether it be nepotism, cronyism or the spoils system, all of these terms usually imply inappropriately granting of favor to less qualified, or unqualified or unworthy beneficiaries based on relationships, friendship, or other associations.

While nepotism and cronyism is widely practiced in the private business world, often with predictably disasterous results, these practices are universally viewed as inapproprite in the public sector.

The reason: Taxpayers should not pick up the tab for self dealing public officials.

The Iconoclast is hesitant to jump to unfair conclusions concerning Vice Chairman Simpson’s role in landing a good job with the County for his step-son. But the unanswered questions create an appearance of inappropropriate favoritism in County personnel practices.

Basic questions should be answered openly. How did the position in question get created and how did Simpson's step-son end up in this position? Did Simpson use his influence with the County Administrator to effect favoritism? Why was this new supervisory position never publicly advertised? Were any other existing County employees who were qualified offered the opportunity to apply for this new supervisory position?

One final question: Is this an isolated example, or is there a systemic pattern of nepotism and cronyism in Prince Edward County government?

Perhaps there is some plausible explaination of these circumstances. Perhaps if the Chairman would have allowed some answers to come forward, there wouldn't be so many new questions.

In government, appearances of propriety and fairness are important... in fact, almost as important as the reality of propriety and fairness. That is what this is all about... trust, transparency and fairness in government.

Note: Thanks again to our friends in Prince Edward who continue to bring these good discussion issues to light. As always, the Iconoclast appreciates confidential tips and further information on topics discussed in these pages.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Old Glory… What does it mean to you?

Is it wise to tinker with the Constitution?

Thoughts to consider as we celebrate the 4th of July.

Enforcing patriotism through Constitutional Amendment… a patently dumb idea!

I don’t know about you folks, but I will admit it. I am counting down the hours leading up to my badly needed long 4th of July week-end. Four glorious days of sun and fun, grilling grandma’s famous barbeque chicken recipe, and probably knocking back a few cold ones.

Ah! I can see it now!

But first I have a few more jobs to work on and a few loose ends to tie up with the Iconoclast… before taking off to hopefully soak up some sun … weather permitting.

So… what does the 4th of July mean to you?

More to the point of this discussion, what does Old Glory mean to you? You know... the American flag?

It is perhaps by design that on Tuesday of this week, the United States Senate took up the matter of a Constitutional Amendment effectively banning the desecration of the American flag. The measure failed to pass by the slimmest of margins… falling only ONE VOTE short of necessary two thirds majority required for a Constitutional Amendment to move ahead.

This is not a new issue. The whole idea goes back at least to the 104th Congress with House Joint Resolution 79 and Senate Joint Resolution 31, both having had votes in 1995… eleven years ago. But the fundamental debate probably goes back much further. A detailed discussion on the Flag Desecration Amendment can be examined here.

The House passed a similar measure last year 286 to 130, comfortably above the required two-thirds.

Presuming both houses get the required two-thirds affirmative votes, a proposed Constitutional Amendment still is not valid until ratified by three-quarters of the of the several States. The specific process for Amending the Constitution is set forth in Article 5 of the Constitution.

Both of Virginia’s Senators, John Warner and George Allen, voted in favor of this proposed Constitutional Amendment. Details of this vote can be seen in The Richmond Times Dispatch.

Before going further, I want to make something perfectly clear. I love the American flag and believe I understand what it stands for. It is a visually beautiful banner that still and always will inspire in me great emotions of pride in our great Nation. I know what the flag means to me and I don't really have to explain my views or try to sell them to anyone else.

I will admit, however, it kind of riles me up when somebody desecrates my flag.

But… and this is a big but… I have got problems with the idea of tinkering with the Constitution to effectively impose government policed “respect for the flag” through an Amendment of the most fundamental law of the land.

If this Constitutional Amendment were passed by both houses and ratified by the States by the necessary margins, it would just be the starting point for all kinds of new laws at the federal and state levels to spell out the exact details of how we are going to enforce the new Constitutional Amendment.

For example…what exactly constitutes desecration of the American flag? Are we going to prosecute people who wear American flags on their clothing? Also… and this is really important …how are we going to punish people who don’t show enough respect for the flag? If this Amendment comes to pass, all of the details will be sorted out by Congress and the various State legislatures in due time.

Does this prospect make you comfortable?

Something about this idea just rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it seems to be just a little bit too "Taliban-like" and a bit unbecoming of American sensibilities.

Most of the critics of this Constitutional Amendment to ban the desecration of the flag argue that First Amendment rights of freedom of speech would infringed. I tend to agree with this concern.

But this is not my biggest concern.

My biggest concern is what impact a Constitutional Amendment to ban the desecration of the American flag says about our core beliefs in the basic idea of freedom.

Do we really want to be passing laws to force people to respect the American flag and all that it is supposed to stand for?

Or would it perhaps be better if we left the people to respect the American flag out of the convictions that they hold in their hearts?

Bottom line: In my view, a Constitutional Amendment to ban desecration of the flag is unnecessary tinkering with the Constitution and a patently dumb idea! So long as those who would desecrate the flag don’t stand in my way while I fly Old Glory, let them peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights.


Let Old Glory long fly high over the home of the brave and the land of the free... but only so long as we really believe in freedom.

Happy 4th of July.

PS: This Constitutional Amendment will be back… Oh yes… It will be back. It is the season of politics.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Katrina Relief Leads to Billions in Waste and Fraud

The smell of money leads to abuse.

There has got to be a better way!

Several weeks ago, a contributor to the Iconoclast commented on the waste and mismanagement associated with Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast states. So, naturally, I was curious to see what The New York Times had to say on the subject in an article that appeared this morning (see “Breathtaking Waste and Fraud in Hurricane Aid” by Eric Lipton).

Wow. I guess I knew it was bad. I just didn’t know how bad it was.

Who is responsible? Why did this happen?

The initial temptation is to blame somebody and to exact retribution. Somebody has got to be punished!!!

Well… maybe yes but this is a much more complex issue than meets the eye.

Frankly, I have very mixed feelings about the whole mess along the Gulf Coast… and I do mean mess. I was there a few weeks before Katrina and several months later. I can assure you, the devastation is unbelievable.

Accordingly, I am glad our government is throwing money at the problem. Our government needs to help these people out.

I don’t like to see waste and fraud but I would be far more concerned if our government got so hung up on financial accounting that distressed citizens were left suffer any longer than they already have. People are still suffering.

It is my view that a little waste can be expected but let us take care of the needy citizens first.

But today’s report in The New York Times is sobering. One of the big facts that hit like a slap in the face is the estimated magnitude of the problem… $2 BILLION in fraud and waste. Also, government auditors estimate that as much as 21 percent of all direct aid to victims was improper.

Some of this waste was the result of sloppy management of government programs but a lot of it was intentional. The worse cases involved intentional fraud by public officials. It is comforting to know that thousands of abusers of these assistance programs will be looking over their shoulders before the five-year statute of limitations expires.

Yes, we should go after the bad guys and prosecute the abusers.

Without droning on and on… suffice it to say there has got to be a better way.

There is indeed a better way.

Disasters do happen. Disasters can be anticipated. They can be mitigated and they can be managed. Hurricane Katrina was not the first disaster to ever hit the United States and certainly will not be the last. As we learned from the 9/11/01 attacks on the WTC /Pentagon, we probably were not as prepared for disaster as we should have been.

Hopefully, today, our disaster managers and policy makers in Washington and in our state capitols are better positioned than they were a few years ago. But we know from news reports that there are huge gaps in our disaster response capabilities...some places worse than others.

Let’s hope that we learn from Katrina and from similar experiences.

It is not a question of “if” it is only a mater of “when.”

Are we ready?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

ACLU: A Surprising Threat to American Civil Liberties

ACLU leadership threatens its own ideals!

Are the civil liberties of Americans safe when even the protectors of civil liberties fail their own mission?

The thing about America that is so great is our freedom. This freedom is guaranteed by our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Our American freedom is very special. Not only do we have great personal freedom; we also have the freedom to criticize and question our government when it gets out of line... for example when it starts trampling on our basic rights as human beings.

This freedom works at every level of government from the White House, through the halls of Congress, to the State Capitols, and down to the littlest County Courthouses and the quaint Town Halls that dot the landscape across the Commonwealth.

The government belongs to the people.

While most people in government in America are good people trying to do a good job, I think we all know that public service in America is not immune to the problems that arise from human frailties of judgment and character. Unfortunately, not everyone in governemnt turns out to be particularly honest, ethical or even competent.

The biggest threat to American civil liberties is usually seen in the behavior of public officials, both elected officials or bureaucrats, who get a little too big for their britches and let their positions go to their heads.

These are the public officials who harbor secret dreams of self-importance and the privileges of power. These are the ones don’t like to answer questions, who evade accountability, and who are not afraid of stepping on a few civil liberties if people start getting in the way of their misguided ambitions.

Readers of the Commonwealth Iconoclast know that we frequently find good examples of these kinds of bad public officials in all regions of Virginia, in every state in America and in our great nation’s capitol just across the Potomac River.

In the end, the final line of defense of our civil liberties is made up of the good people of America who challenge and question their government at all levels. We can do that in America because we don’t have to worry about the Gestapo peeping into our windows, kicking in our doors in the middle of the night and carrying us away to never be seen again.

That is the beauty of America. We the people are the real political power in America.

Now, with this backdrop out of the way... our story.

Helping us little people to keep our civil liberties safe is the American Civil Liberties Union, otherwise know as the ACLU.

The ACLU is an organization dedicated “to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and the laws of the United States.”

The ACLU is a sometimes controversial organization because it is known for taking on the unpopular causes of the “underdog” and others who may be outside of the mainstream of accepted behavior or thought. Gays, atheists, minorities, criminals… these are some examples of the kinds of people that the ACLU has been known to speak up for.

I don’t always agree with certain aspects of some of the ACLU causes. I am also somewhat critical of the ACLU in its apparent unequal concern for all of the Bill of Rights (some of those rights get scant attention).

But I do understand and appreciate that the ACLU practice of taking on the unpopular causes is a way of underscoring the basic message that everybody has rights in America even unpopular people.

For the most part, I support the ACLU as a legitimate champion for the protection of civil liberties in America. They are, in my mind, usually the “good guys” who stand up for the basic civil liberties for all Americans.

So, you may imagine my shock and horror at the recent report in The New York Times concerning the proposed new standards by the ACLU leadership that would fundamentally censor its own Board of Directors and employees.

Going further, USA Today provides additional details of the new standards in an OP/ED piece by Michael Meyers, Executive Director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition and former member and vice president of the ACLU board of Directors of New York.

The new standards include limiting media contact with the ACLU to its official press office, limiting what can be publicly said to only approved “talking points,” limiting what ACLU Board Members are permitted to say internally and externally to anyone, the imposition of a new draconian “official secrets policy” that goes beyond normal professional standards on all ACLU employees, and the monitoring of ACLU employee emails.

There are even reports that ACLU leadership withholds information critical to organizational governance from ACLU Board Members and restricts questioning by ACLU Board Members of the ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero without a vote of the Executive Committee as to whether the Director’s question is suitable.

Incredible! What good are Board Members who can't have information needed to govern and who can't ask questions?

Of course reasonable policies and professional standards are needed in any organization… even the ACLU. However, given the nature of some of these new standards combined with the loud cry of protests coming from individuals who are normally considered ACLU insiders and supporters, it seems that the current ACLU leadership may have taken a head-long dive down a slippery slope of hypocrisy or worse.

If Joseph Goebbels were here today, he would no doubt smile approvingly at how easy it still is for the "thought police" mentality to gain a foothold... even in America and even in an organization supposedly so dedicated to the protection of civil liberties.

Please, tell me it isn't so...

Is a Toyota Manufacturing Plant Coming to Augusta County?

The scuttlebutt in the Shenandoah Valley for the past few months has been that Toyota is seriously eyeing the Valley as the potential location for a large-scale manufacturing facility. Depending on the source, the plant would employ between 2,000 and 3,000 folks and pay top dollar (I've read an average of something like $25 an hour for assembly workers, sounds reasonable...)

Today, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that Augusta County's Board of Supervisors will hold a "closed door" session this coming Monday with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. According to the article, the VEDP will pitch a 500 to 1,600 acre site located in the northeastern portion of the County to the Board as the potential location of a manufacturing plant. Of course - because this is a "closed door" meeting - it is impossible to determine exactly where or who is interested in this site, but I think it's safe to assume Toyota is indeed behind this inquiry.

Additionally, a few months ago the Roanoke Times reported that Toyota has been carefully examining multiple East Coast destinations as the potential location of a manufacturing plant, but Augusta County appears to be the favorite.

Of course, if a site is selected in Augusta, the real fun will then begin. Public hearings, opposition groups, and so forth. Just think of the economic impact that such a facility would have on the Valley. Not only would 2,000 - 3,000 high paying manufacturing jobs be absorbed into the region, but likely an additional 5,000 - 15,000 service industry jobs as well (I believe this is refered to as the "multipler effect"). There is no doubt, Augusta County would be a different place. (Think Elkton and Coors, which by the way was opposed by many folks. Could you imagine Eastern Rockingham without Coors?)

It will be interesting to see how or if this actually develops. Obviously I - like many others - would like to first look at any proposal before formulating a final opinion, but I must admit it will be difficult to sway me from believing that such a proposal would be anything but a positive for this region. Any thoughts?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Delegate Saxman (Sort of) Touts Privatization of Roads...

Is this a reasonable compromise, or an evasion of governmental responsibility?

There has been much discussion concerning the future of transportation funding in the Commonwealth. I think we can all agree that improving/maintaining Virginia's transportation infrastructure will cost money, and likely lots of money at that. This puts politicians in a difficult situation. I mean who really wants to raise taxes? Even for something as essential as transportation? Therefore our political leadership often find themselves in the classic "rock and a hard space" - politicos recognize the need to increase funding for certain programs (e.g. transportation) but hate the idea of having to increase/raise taxes in order to do so...fair enough. I'm sure every elected official despises the thought of having to make a difficult decision. After all, don't we elect folks to office exclusively for ceremonial purposes like cutting ribbons and pushing a shovel in a ground for the first time? Geez!

Recently, I've started hearing some elected officials here in the Commonwealth discuss the idea of turning some major road projects over to private contractors as a potential solution to the transportation conundrum facing the Commonwealth (think Haliburton Highway!)...but really, I guess the idea is that the private sector could efficiently provide for future transportation needs, and all we as the citizen would be required to do is pay a toll in return. I think the story ends somthing like this "we lived happily ever after...."

Today in the Daily News-Record, Delegate Chris Saxman (R-Staunton) discusses the potential pros and cons of creating private toll roads (on I-81) as a potential soultion to cronic traffic problems. Delegate Saxman states:

"In California," he said, "they have a private company who guarantees your trip time. If you don’t make it from point A to B in a certain amount of time, you get your money back."

But toll roads would have significant negative effects, too, he said.

Retailers like Wal-Mart, as well as local poultry businesses, would have to change their cost structure and possibly move elsewhere to cover the increased cost of moving goods, Saxman said.

"If you had to pay 40 cents per mile per truck for 1,400 trucks, that adds up," he said.

Although previously suggested, expanding a railway system adjacent to the interstate for the trucks’ cargo, he said, is an unlikely option.

"Unless we give those companies $8 billion, you’re not going to see a lot of that idea gaining ground," he said.

Fortunately, Delegate Saxman doesn't seem to be completely sold on the idea of privatization as a "cure all" to transportation problems in the Commonwealth. Also, an anonymous poster - discussing a related issues on the Iconoclast - provided what I thought was a good analysis of private roads as it relates to our elected officials:

I think what the politicians are talking about with these public private partnerships and creative financing is a scheme to divert public attention for the high cost of transportation away from themselves and redirect it to to the private sector so that voters won't take it out on them on election day. It is hard to beat tough open competitive bidding. If VDOT has to charge tolls, so be it. I agree with the earlier comment- there is no free lunch. If we want to keep moving and have a modern transportation system, it is going to cost us consumers. Let's give VDOT the responsibility and make it as efficient as possible

So let the debate continue! Is it the duty of our elected leaders to provide the citizens (and taxpayers) basic services - such as transportation - without having to outsource them to private entities? After all aren't private entities in the business of making money? In theory would this mean that the citizens of the Commonwealth would be paying more for roads in order to return profits to stockholders of some company?

Or - in the case of transportation - would privatization be the most efficient and effective solution to a complex problem? Also, if privatization is the "wave" of the future, could politicians in Richmond (Delegates & Senators) eventually be replaced by more effective and efficient members of a private sector too? Like a Board of Directors? Maybe then our elected officials could spend more time concentrating on cutting ribbons and shoveling dirt?

Tell me what you think!

P.S. Thank you Will for inviting me to join this blog. I do hope to contribute as time permits!

Open Government?

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Term Limits?

Do you support a Referendum in Virginia to “vote on term limits to replace career politicians with citizen legislators.”
Yes, I support setting term limits, it's long over due.
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Wednesday, June 21, 2006





There is no shame in making a mistake. But please… just try not to make the same mistake over and over. And… for goodness sake… when you make a mistake, don’t compound that mistake by seeking refuge in denial. Fess up, take responsibility, fix the problem as best you can and vow to do better in the future.

The Iconoclast is pleased to give this up-dated report on the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors and it’s torturous journey to learn this hard lesson about fixing mistakes and moving on to better days.

This story all started back in the summer of 2005 when Prince Edward County citizens facing a controversial zoning proposal began complaining of a dysfunctional planning process and allegations that the Planning Commission was stagnant, mismanaged, and unfairly organized. Worse yet, there were unresolved ethics questions hanging over both the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Planning Commission.

Previously, the Iconoclast has described this story as taking more twists and turns than a plate full of spaghetti. That description still fits well enough to spare our readers of having to again go through the twisted logic that Chairman William “Buckie” Fore and Vice Chairman Howard Simpson went through before finally revering course. But, thankfully, reverse course they did!

Anyone who is not already familiar with this history can click on the related articles in The Commonwealth Iconoclast below. Also, read related news reports in both The Farmville Herald and The Southside Messenger.

While the Prince Edward Board of Supervisors may have wandered around in the desert for a painfully long time, in the end, they have found their way back, if not to a path of righteousness, at least to a policy that is plausibly fair and politically defensible.

To make a long story very short, after denying fair representation on the Planning Commission since last October, Chairman Fore and Vice Chairman Simpson finally led the way to reverse the Board’s earlier direction. In April, the Board (except for Supervisor Jones) authorized the addition of new seats on the Prince Edward County Planning Commission. In June, the Board filled two seats with new representatives who live in the Farmville area of Prince Edward County. So now in theory, all citizens of Prince Edward County are represented on the County Planning Commission.

Congratulations! Congratulations! Congratulations! Hats off to Chairman Fore and Vice Chairman Simpson! Better late than never.

Hopefully, the Prince Edward Board of Supervisors will continue with all smiles, and move ahead towards a brighter future where everyone has a voice in Prince Edward County government.

This is a good day for Democracy in Prince Edward County. Isn’t that what it is all about?


All Smiles With Prince Edward Board

On Issues of Human Equality Compromise Is Not An Option

Out To Lunch

Chairman Fore’s Train In Vain

The Dunn Deal: A Family Affair?

Real Estate 101: A Simple Guide To Becoming (Very) Rich!

Bad Day for Democracy in the Heart of Virginia

Note: The Iconoclast apologizes that no current group photograph is available for the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors in the Google archives. If a good one is available, we would appreciate a digital copy. Thanks.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Virginia General Assembly Evades Responsibility to Citizens

Heroes In Short Supply

Big Issues Left Unresolved

Frankly, I never wanted to address this issue in the first place.

There are plenty of other experts and pundits out there who follow the Virginia General Assembly all the time and know all the technical aspects of the budget process better than I do.

Besides, I am on vacation and don’t want to push my blood pressure up unnecessarily fretting about the General Assembly and their sorry handling of the Commonwealth’s new two-year budget plan.

But... what the heck... might as well give my two cents worth.

My overriding impression of the Virginia General Assembly is disappointment. I find it hard to find any heroes in this story. For those of you out there that care, we are down to 10 days until the start of the new two year budget.

Is this close enough to scare you?

Only after weeks and weeks of inaction, childish behavior, and political jousting has the leadership in the Senate and House moved towards doing what they have known all the time that they would have to do: get a budget in place... any budget!

I think there are some good people in Richmond who represent us in the Virginia General Assembly. But sadly, I am at a complete loss to say who if any demonstrated that important quality of leadership. Some seem content to just sit there and wait.

The politicians are no doubt beating their fists on their chests trying to rationalize that what they have been doing… essentially jerking the citizens around and jeopardizing our future… somehow made sense.

Some big issues are being compromised, including the Commonwealth's credit rating and reputation as a sound manager of state funds. In the end, the 600 pound gorilla in the State Capitol was successfully ignored for the time being. So the Commonwealth’s transportation issues are still up in the air… put off for another day… and not getting any cheaper.

What else did they forget or just flat out ignore?

One thing for sure, there was never, ever any real threat that the General Assembly or the Governor was really going to let the state government shut down. That was just theatrics and a little fun between the Democrat Governor and the Republican Attorney General and his Republican friends in the Senate and House. Really, unless somebody was born just yesterday, most people understand that this was just an adult version of the game of “playing chicken.” Who is going to be the chicken?

A second thing for sure, the good incumbent members of the General Assembly didn’t forget their favorite “pork” appropriations. These little pet projects, political payoffs and favors to keep folks back at home "in the pink" are what politicians hold near and dear to their hearts. If all the roads of the Commonwealth were crumbling (I mean more than they actually are), politicians are still going to get their “pork” appropriations taken care of first. I wouldn't say all these "pork" appropriations are a complete waste of tax dollars. But too many of them are questionable public expenditures and some fall so far short that they are indeed a complete, unnecessary wast of tax dollars.

Maybe these "pork" appropriations are good for incumbents on election day, but that is about it.

I have a theory.

Maybe this little recent display of General Assembly paralysis is a clever ploy to gain popular support for the idea of changing from a part-time citizen legislature to a full-time professional legislature.

Take a moment to wrap your mind around that thought.

Of course, if we fall for that ploy, we will have to give all these heroes in the General Assembly enormous raises and equally large staff budgets to conduct the Commonwealth’s business.

How depressing is that?

NOTE: Also see previous Iconoclast article.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

National Debt-Killing Our Future

Debt Clock by TIPS!

In 1981 the gross national debt, as a percent of the nation's annual income, reached its lowest point since 1931, 32.5%. It could have been paid off then easier than at any time in the previous 50 years. But inflation was high and Reagan mistook inflating dollars for a real growth in debt. On February 5, 1981, two weeks after taking office, in his "Address to the Nation on the Economy" Reagan said:
"By 1960 our national debt stood at $284 billion. ... Today the debt is $934 billion. ... We can leave our children with an unrepayable massive debt and a shattered economy."

But, the 1960 debt he said was "smaller" was 56.1% (instead of 32.5%) of our national income. As seen in this graph Bush II has imitated Reagan and turned the debt upward once again. The White House, in OMB's 2006 Budget, predicted a 47 year high in 2006. It also explained what happened with Reagan and Bush I


Folks, this isn’t a Republican –vs- Democrat situation. As we can see from the above graph, Presidents Truman-D, Eisenhower-R, Kennedy-D, Johnson-D, Nixon-R, Carter-D and Clinton-D all worked at successfully reducing the Debt to GDP ratio. Presidents Reagan-R, Bush I-R and Bush II-R have worked to erase those gains for America and put us back into a debt/GNP situation that hasn’t been seen since World War II.

We quite simply cannot keep spending more than we have. Period. We don’t operate that way in our personal or business lives, and we cannot continue to do so as a nation.

We have the responsibility as voters to look at the record of those running for office and make the proper choice. We have the responsibility as citizens to work hard for, and invest in, good and responsible leaders. For our own sake, and our children and grandchildren, we must get rid of those opportunistic politicians who have sold our future to gain power for themselves.


Is our government on the right track, or the wrong track regarding the National Debt?
We are on the wrong track and must change how we do business.
We are on the right track and must stay the course.
Free polls from

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Freedom of Information

The Ownership of Government

Power to the people through a little ray of sunshine

There was a little ray of sunshine in today’s edition of the Richmond Times Dispatch.

This story is about the a Virginia General Assembly resolution of commendation for the Roanoke based Virginia Coalition for Open Government for its efforts over the past decade in promoting citizen access to the business of state and local government.

All journalists know that "good news" does not sell newspapers so this little piece was buried deep in Section B as a sidebar story grouped with three separate murder cases across the state.

I know this is not the Nobel Peace Prize. But this resolution is nonetheless significant and should be applauded by all citizens who care about public policy, how tax dollars are spent and the effectiveness of their public officials in the performance of their duties.

While the political theory of public access to government is old, the practical laws enforcing the principles of open government, known popularly as the “sunshine laws,” are relatively new.

Here in Virginia it is the Virginia Freedom of Information Act and it is found as § 2.2-3700 in the Code of Virginia.

Essentially, the Virginia Freedom of Information Act says that we the citizens have a fundamental right to access to local and state government business. This is because the ownership of government is in the hands of the people. This includes access to most meetings and most documents. There are a few exceptions outlined specifically as exemptions by the Code, but those exceptions are supposedly provided to protect certain especially sensitive information.

While progress has been made in the last ten years, largely owing to the good work of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, much more work needs to be done.

Too many citizens are not aware of their rights to access public business and too many public officials still struggle with their natural instincts to keep public the public in the dark.

Consequently, public interests are compromised and the citizens are denied the kind of accountability they are entitled to from their public officials.

Furthermore, there are too many exemptions in the Code, making it easier for public officials to inappropriately hide what they are doing and making it harder for citizens to gain access public business.

Certainly, Code exemptions are needed in cases where the revelation of information would be clearly harmful to the public interest or confidential private interests. But there is no place for exemptions designed to give inappropriate cover to public officials who want to keep the public in the dark on legitimate public business.

While the Iconoclast appreciates the Virginia General Assembly's resolution of commendation, they still have got a lot of work to do. For starters, the General Assembly might want to work harder to remove barriers to public access to public business and to give the the law some teeth so that public officials who flaunt the law face more serious sanctions than presently exist.

For whatever reasons, too many public officials who hold the public trust are too often sucked into the idea that somehow "secrecy is their friend." Why is this?

While public officials may temporarily hold their offices, those officials whether elected or appointed, need to remember that ownership of government always rests with the people. Let us not ever forget that!

So, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

SPECIAL NOTE: This is election day (Democratic primary in Virginia). Get out and vote. You need the exercise.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Democratic Primary-What is your opinion?

Will you vote in the June 13th Democratic Primary?
Yes, I will vote for Miller because he can defeat Allen and will do a good job.
Yes, I will vote for Webb because he can defeat Allen and will do a good job.
Yes, I am a Republican and will vote for Miller because he is the weaker candidate.
Yes, I am a Republican and will vote for Webb because he is the weaker candidate.
No, I am a Republican and plan to vote for Allen in November.
No, I don't believe anyone anymore.
No, I don't like Allen, Miller or Webb.
Free polls from

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Great Wall

Barbarians, Tartars... they are a coming!

What about the Canadians?

Are we safe?

Events in recent days involving the Canadian conspiracy to amass 6 thousand pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer with the potential of producing a very big boom, prompts the Iconoclast to address the issue of illegal immigration and border security.

Prior to this week’s news in Canada, our national political leadership was focused 110 percent on providing security for the 2,000 miles of border between the United States and Mexico.

Isn’t it funny how one week can make such a big difference in how we look at things?

Now we can worry about providing security for the 4,000 miles of border between the United States and Canada also.

In rough numbers, that makes maybe 6,000 miles of border to worry about.

What to do? What to do?

How about… let’s build a wall? No… let’s build two walls!

Big walls! Very tall walls built of sturdy materials. Maybe they could be electrified. And of course, we will need lots of motion detectors and surveillance cameras. And guards too… lots of guards.

Why didn’t anybody think of this earlier?

The fact is… someone did: our own Virginia 5th District Congressman Virgil H. Goode, Jr.

Back in November, Representative Goode joined Representative Duncan Hunter of California proposed to build a sophisticated 2,000 mile long security fence along the border between the United States and Mexico. At that time, this project was estimated to cost from between $5 and $7 billion.

So, if the U.S / Mexican fence costs $5 to $7 billion, the U.S. / Canadian fence will add an additional $10 to $14 billion.

In the end, we are looking at maybe a total of $15 to $21 billion.

But who wants to put a price tag on the peace of mind we would have knowing that we are safe from illegal immigrants and/or terrorists? Besides, we all know how accurate the government is in estimating the cost of things. Really, it is best not to dwell on the cost question.

But seriously folks… let us stop and reflect on this idea for a minute before we get too carried away. I will admit it... I like simple answers to complex problems just as much as the next guy! But this idea of a great fence, whether it be 2,000 or 6,000 miles long is just silly.

It has been done before, albeit on a smaller scale. It was called the Great Wall of China and it was only 1,500 miles long. It was built to keep out the invading Tartars (much like modern day Canadians, Mexicans and terrorists).

Most historians characterize the security value of the Great Wall of China as a monumental failure, “astonishingly expensive to build, maintain and garrison” and as causing the diversion of scarce resources away from measures that could have actually made a difference in preventing the eventual fall of the Ming Dynasty.

But what do historians know anyway? When you stop to think about it, it is pretty easy to figure out what a dumb idea something was from the perspective of hind-sight.

Who knows? Maybe a Great Fence America will work...

Or maybe not...

So long as American businesses and citizens are motivated to hire illegal immigrants for the immediate financial advantage of avoiding paying higher wages and payroll taxes, I suspect there is no fence or wall high enough or sturdy enough to stem the tide.

It is kind of like the illegal drug problem: As long as there is a strong American demand for illegal drugs, those drugs will find their way across our borders somehow.

No one would disagree with the idea that border security is important. But please, let us deal with this problem more intelligently. U.S. immigration policy needs to address economic and social factors causing the basic problem. Only then will the problem be managable. By doing this, we might also make it more difficult for terrorists to hide in the netherworld of illegal immigration.

Perhaps our political leaders would be wiser to eschew the “simple answers” to complex problems and start looking for ways to invest our scarce resources for measures that will actually make a difference.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Editor of Daily News-Record Praises Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing...

But no mention of organizations questionable past dealings...

Yesterday, the editor of the DNR praised Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing for the organizations recent actions after the earthquake in Indonesia. Yes, it does appear that Operation Blessing is indeed helping the victims of the Indonesian quake. This is a good thing too, and yes they do deserve to be recognized for their actions!

Never the less, let's not forget the "checkered" and sometimes questionable past dealings of Operation Blessing. One of my very first "exposes" as a new blogger almost a year ago was to examine some of Robertson's activities (via Operaton Blessing) in West Africa. You might recall, that Robertson - through Operation Blessing - jointly owned a diamond mine with deposed Liberain President Charles Taylor.

Recently Taylor was charged with war crimes by the Special Court of Sierra Leon. Former President Taylor is alleged to be the primary instigator of some extremely heinous war crimes in the West African region. Call me crazy, but I find it odd that a Evangelical Preacher from Virginia Beach and a warlord from West Africa would have an open association, but money makes people do odd things...

Once again, kudos for Operation Blessing for helping the people of Indonesia. But do remember, be catious of folks who do good works, and then proceed to let everyone know about these good works (AKA: a "loud giver")....

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