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...

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Has Senator George F. Allen “jumped the shark” ?


Political career trajectory unclear!

Still climbing or on his way down?

A moment’s lapse of judgment causes damage!



Continuing today was the discussion around the water cooler about Senator George F. Allen and his little “macaca” problem. The headlines in The Richmond Times dispatch this morning read “Allen phones, apologizes to Webb aide”.

It was a slow day and everybody had to chime in with an opinion. Some think it is a non-consequential issue. Some think it is an embarrassment but that it too will pass in time.

But one of the old "gray-beards" in the office suggested a scenario that may not bode so well for the junior Senator from Virginia.

Russ (last name withheld), a normally quiet gentelman in his later 50's, was at UVA a couple years ahead of George F. Allen. He didn’t really know Allen then and wasn’t into the football scene or other circles that Allen may have traveled in.

But Russ was ready to talk. It seems that Russ clearly remembers when young George Allen, just barely out of law school, ran for a seat in the Virginia General Assembly. He did not win that time but "carried the ball home" with a win for a House of Delegates seat in 1981, beginning the meteoric political career of George F. Allen.

Since that time, Russ followed with close interest Allen’s fantastically successful rise from a humble beginning of wealth and privilege to the spectacular political career that included being elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, the United States House of Representatives, Governor of Virginia and now the United States Senate. Some political observers now consider Allen as a man with promising prospects to end up in the Oval Office and leader of the free world in 2008.

All of this happened in the short span of only 25 years.

But Russ was quick to point out that Allen’s meteoric raise in politics was not all of his own doing. It was to a good measure due to being in the right place at the right time (the U.S. House of Representatives race in 1991 to fill a vacancy left by ailing Congressman D. French Slaughter, Jr.) and to the mistakes of his political opponents (poor political judgment of candidate for Governor Mary Sue Terry in 1993).

Without the benefit of one U.S. Congressman getting sick (Slaughter) and one Virginia Attorney General (Terry) getting goofy, it is entirely possible that George Felix Allen would be a political nobody today.

Russ recounted how former Attorney General Mary Sue Terry experienced a similarly blessed political career.

Terry started out her political career as a conspicuously successful Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney, was first elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1978, and was elected Virginia’s first woman Attorney General in 1985. She was arguably one of the most popular politicians in Virginia in 1985. Every political challenge she met, she coasted through with resounding victories. Of course during her ascendancy as a political power hitter, she was always running as a Democratic candidate during an era when the Democrats were in control of Virginia politics.

So, when Mary Sue Terry announced that she was running for Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, there was little doubt that she would succeed, especially since she was running against a less well known Republican opponent who was considered at that time to be a political “light-weight” --one George Felex Allen.

As expected Terry’s campaign got off to a good start and she enjoyed a comfortable lead in both the polls and the money chase. Things were looking good… real good.

Then something happened… Something bad... real bad.

The golden girl, Mary Sue Terry, started tripping over her own tongue. She didn't sound like a Governor... or at least somebody the voters were comfortable in making Governor.

There was bad advice coming from the DNC down to the Terry camp. There was fumbling by her handlers. There were policy gaffs that revealed that Terry either did not understand Virginia needs too well or that she was not in charge of her own campaign. Whatever the case may have been, the early lead Terry enjoyed vaporized in breath-taking short order and campaign dollars started flowing to political “light-weight" George Allen. The rest is history.

The political ascendance of Mary Sue Terry was in a meteoric trajectory until, through her own little political mis-steps, it came to a sudden apex and began a rapid descent during the months preceding the November 1993 election for Governor of Virginia.

Russ pointed out that every political star has a certain trajectory of ascending to an apex and then going into decline. Some trajectories are longer and some are shorter. Some are higher and some are lower. We never know how a political career will end until it is over.

The question now is obvious: Did Senator George F. Allen hit his political apex on August 11th when he twice called a “foreign looking” but American born Webb campaign worker by the name “macaca” … a type of monkey and also a term that is sometimes used as a racial insult.

Another one of our more culturally enlightened colleagues chirped in: “It sounds like Senator Allen may have jumped the shark.”

Of course none of us mid-30-ish people knew what on earth she was talking about… "jumped the shark" ? What is that supposed to mean?

The explanation was a lot along the lines of what Russ had explained but it had to do with the rise and fall of the old TV favorite “Happy Days.” The popular TV series went on forever until the Fonz “jumped the shark.” That symbolism now applies to any situation where the ascendancy in popularity of a TV show, a celebity, political personality, or whatever, has stopped and the decent has begun.

Recent polls (take your pick) indicate that Senator Allen no doubt did himself some damage. Rasmussen gives a pretty good run down and assessment.

So, for those of you who relate better to the pop-culture than to practical politics the question might be better stated: Did Senator George Allen "jump the shark" on August 11th?

I guess we will know better in November.

Readers... your views please.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Virginia: Numero Uno!!! But for what?



Hog heaven for business interests?

Or…

Something more sinister?

The Iconoclast asks some awkward questions!


No. Miss Virginia did not just take top honors in the Miss America contest. While that would be nice, that would be just another beauty contest and not an appropriate topic for the “serious blogosphere journalism” that you have come to expect here at the Iconoclast.

What we speak of now is nothing less than serious business… "business" as defined by Forbes Magazine... arguably one of the world's most respected authorities on the subject.

Forbes Magazine also has a web-site at http://www.forbes.com that claims to be the “Home Page for the World’s Business Leaders.” Forbes Magazine and its web-site are reputable sources of all things "business" and especially all things “money.”

Forbes is known for its practice of publishing ranked “lists” of money related things like for example executive pay, Forbes 400 richest people in America, the World’s richest people, most expensive zip codes, etcetera, etcetera, on and on, adnauseam. Frankly, I think Forbes publishes these lists to give a little bit of spice to an otherwise very dry subject matter.

I understand that for many, money is never a dry subject… maybe it is just that Forbes is not my regular choice of reading material.

But anyway, how could I overlook the headlines in the August 16th edition of Forbes reading “Virginia: The Best State For Business” ?

Alright! We’re number one!

By Forbes standards, this was a “fluff piece” written in terms that even I could understand and enjoy.

Briefly, the Forbes ranking of all 50 states in America was based on 6 general categories containing a total of 30 “metrics” measuring the desirability of a state for business interests.

The 6 general categories included business costs, economic climate, growth prospects, labor, quality of life and regulatory environment.

In this ranking Virginia placed in the top ten states for all six general categories and in the top half of all states for all but 3 of the 30 metrics.

Pretty darned impressive if you ask me.

Having been born and raised and lived in Virginia my entire life, I generally knew that Virginia was a good place to call home and a state with many assets to be proud of… the mountains, the ocean, its historic cities, its beautiful country-side, its long and significant history, its contributions to our nations founding and growth… I could go on and on…

But to be honest, I don’t ever recall thinking that “I like Virginia because it is a good place to make money.” I would probably like Virginia as my home even if it were a bad place to make money. I guess that is why I am not a regular subscriber to Forbes.

But, the basic premise of the Forbes new list and Virginia’s “numero uno” position has got me thinking.

What does it really mean?

Is being the number one best state for business necessarily always good for all of us regular people who live here?

After some research, my findings were decidedly mixed.

Yes, there is an obvious correlation between a good business environment and the creation of profit for business owners and investors. Sometimes, but not always, that translates to good jobs and good wages to support workers, families and the community in general.

Did you notice that I said "sometimes" ?

Business profits do not always translate directly to good business citizenship.

Some businesses take more from the community than they give back. Some businesses provide jobs but they are not living wage jobs. Some businesses extract non-renewable resources. Some businesses create harmful environmental impacts. Some businesses abandon inner cities that got them started and move out to the richer suburbs. Some businesses become a burden on community infrastructure and never generate taxes pay for that burden. Some businesses expect that the taxpayers should subsidize their profits (AKA corporate welfare).

So, the point here being, business profits for owners and investors are not enough to conclude unequivocally that a favorable business environment is all good and never bad for everybody. That would be a far too simplistic generalization. As in everything, there are always winners and loosers.

In fact, there are some real interesting pitfalls to consider.

Some most interesting insights on these potential pitfalls are found in an arcane piece of research coming out of the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis (CCEA) at the University of Connecticut entitled “The Economics of Ethics: The Cost of Political Corruption” published in February of 2004.

The basic thesis of this research is that political corruption is harmful to the public interests and carries significant economic costs for society in general.

No kidding?!

Most interestingly, while this research seems to have prompted by circumstances in Connecticut, it provides a ranking of political corruption on a state by state basis. The research document explains that the quantification of political corruption is difficult because “the perpetrators work so hard to evade detection.” However, it goes on to conclude that “…the number of federal convictions of public officials for crimes involving corruption is a good proxy for the level of political corruption across the states.”

This is where it gets real interesting for us Virginians. (Read this very carefully.)

It seems that the Commonwealth of Virginia, the same Virginia just came in number one in the Forbes list for the "Best States for Business" is none other than the same Virginia that came in number one in the CCEA ranking of states on Federal misconduct convictions per 100 elected officials for the ten year period from 1986 to 1995.

Not only did Virginia come in number one for the most political corruption during this period, its rate of Federal convictions of elected officials during that period (10.3 convictions per 100 elected officials) was nearly 5 times greater than the average for all states (2.12 convictions per 100 elected officials). Remember… this was for a ten year period. This is not a fluke.

When you compare the 25 best states and 25 worst states for business to the ranking for political corruption, it is really hard to see any correlation at all. This leads me to conclude that what we have here is "apples and oranges" or an inappropriate statistical comparison.

Given this problem, what can we to conclude from this unusual dual number one ranking for Virginia… "the best state in America for business" and the at the same time the most politically corrupt?

Are we to conclude that political corruption is good for business? Such conclusion would be sensationally provocative and obviously an oversimplification of a much more complex dynamic.

However, there can be no doubt that political corruption is not infrequently motivated by shady business practices aimed at making a quick and easy buck. Sad to say: this happens all the time... here in Virginia and elsewhere. Maybe here in Virginia far too often.

In the hope to glean more insight, we had one of our Iconoclast research associates contact directly the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis to try to find out why Virginia is not just number one in political corruption but conspicuously in a league of its own and depressingly way ahead of almost all other states (only Florida and Maryland were even remotely close to Virginia for official corruption).

A knowledgable CCEA representative graciously offered the theory that it “probably was linked with the combination of a lot of opportunities for public officials to exploit economic development activities and contracting and weak state or local oversight.”

Very interesting...

That theory makes a lot of sense. Little official oversight combined with the temptation to make a quick, easy and crooked buck.

Going further in our research, we came across the May 28, 1991 speech by the then President of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel, entitled “On the temptations of political power” delivered on the occasion of his acceptance of the Sonning Prize for his contribution to European civilization.

And yes, this does relate to the subject we are discussing.

The speech, opens with the thought provoking question: “Why is it that people long for political power, and why, when they have achieved it, are they so reluctant to give it up?"

He then goes on to explain that there are three basic motivations for seeking political power: the motivation of ideas for a better society, the motivation of self-affirmation the individual is making a difference, and the motivation of the perks that come along with political power.

Havel was appropriately humble when he said: “I feel compelled again and again to examine my own motives and ask whether I am not beginning to deceive myself. Might I not be more concerned with satisfying an unacknowledged longing for self-affirmation – a desire to prove that I mean something and that therefore I exist – than I am with pure public service?”

What about the privileges of office… you know… the perks… Yeah…the perks are nice.

On the issue of privileges of office Havel is poignantly circumspect… as if thinking about himself he said: “But where do logic and objective necessity stop and excuses begin? Where does the interest of the country stop and the love of privileges begin?”

Continuing he says: “Regardless of how pure his intentions may originally have been, it takes a high degree of self-awareness and critical distance for someone in power – however well-meaning at the start – to recognize that moment clearly. You get used to things, and gradually, without being aware of it, you may lose your sense of judgment.”

Mmmm. Something to think about…

The Iconoclast makes no pretense of being any kind of a “socio-political think tank” However it a sobering thought that my home state Virginia, the state that I love is, ranked number one in the Forbes list of the "Best States for Business" and at the same time number one for political corruption over an entire decade.

It bothers me that not only is Virginia ranked number one in political corruption for an entire decade, the incidence of political corruption is nearly five times the national average.

This is nothing short of disgraceful!

I would like to thank the CCEA of the University of Connecticut for their very informative research. I would like to also thank former President Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia (1989-1992) and the Czech Republic (1993-2003, where ever he is, for his thoughtful insight on the temptations of political power.

This issue of public integrity warrants further research and far more financial resources than the Iconoclast has available to spend on it. Thus the Iconoclast issues a challenge to all of Virginia’s fine institutions of higher learning to delve into the issue further and find out why Virginia is number one for lovers, for business interests and for crooked politicians.

Unquestionably our beautiful Commonwealth is exploding with economic opportunity. The temptations that former Czech President Havel spoke of are beckoning our political leadership. Inadedequate state and local oversight is sacraficing the greater public interest. Reform is needed. Virginia universities... step up to the plate and help find the way to higher public integrity.

Being number one is not all that it is cracked up to be.

This is not just one more beauty contest.


NOTE: The photograph accompanying this article has little or nothing to do with the subject of the article. It is just a picture of some pretty girls in a beauty contest. No suitable pictures were available of happy rich business investors or corrupt politicians who helped them get that way. So this picture was as appropriate as we could find. Thanks for understanding.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Buckingham County: What is the measure of political leadership?


What role does honesty play in political accountability?

Supervisor / Vice Chairman Brian Bates still silent!

Questions of accountability continue to mount!


The interesting story in Buckingham County concerning the impasse between the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors and the Buckingham County School Board continues unresolved with little sign of political leadership on the horizon… least of all from Buckingham County’s own Supervisor and Vice Chairman of the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors, Brian Bates.

It seems that Supervisor Bates has started a war but is now heading for the hills leaving others to clean up the mess. What started out as a legitimate question of general public policy has now become a question of political accountability by one of Southside Virginia's up and coming political leaders.

Some history might be in order here.

For the past year, the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors and the Buckingham County School Board has been at an impasse as to how best to address the County’s school facilities needs. Such disagreements are not uncommon but the Buckingham County impasse is conspicuously entrenched in the local politics.

Considering that the County school program represented about 70 percent of Buckingham County’s total budget for the year ending June 2004, plus the fact that the impasse hurts first and foremost the school aged population of the County, this is a very serious problem with fair arguments on both sides.

In July, the impasse led Supervisor and Vice Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Brian Bates to come up with a bold and novel solution, that being to wipe the elected Buckingham County School Board off the face of the earth through a new referendum that would replace the elected school board with a new school board appointed by the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors. The local news paper, The Farmville Herald, characterized Supervisor Bates’ plan as the “nuclear option”… an apt description if there ever was one.

This bold and novel “solution” to the impasse problem was made by “private citizen” Brian Bates as he explained it in his own words and the voters were encouraged not to confuse the interests of private citizen Bates with the political interests of Supervisor and Vice Chairman Bates. (Please remember that these are two entirely separate individuals with no overlapping interests.)

By August 4th , Supervisor Bates… I mean private citizen Bates… had proudly announced that he and his supporters had collected 512 signatures of the 865 signatures required to get the measure on the ballot as a special referendum but had fallen slightly short by the deadline of August 9th to get the matter on the ballot for November 2006. He lamented that he should have initiated the effort earlier so that he would have had 60 to 90 days to collect signatures.”

Private citizen Bates was effusive in his quoted comments to local newspaper saying among other things “That’s pretty respectable” and “this has been a positive experience” and perhaps most significant “Even the people who disagree with the notion of an appointed school board agree with the course of action by the Board of Supervisors”…

Please remember that this is private citizen Bates speaking and not Supervisor / Vice Chairman Bates who may have some interest in that “course of action by the Board of Supervisors.” (I apologize if this gets a little confusing at times.)

Citizen Bates was also outspoken against certain unidentified individuals who might question his plans labeling the concern that he was trying to take away voters rights to directly elect the school board as “dubious at best”.

Of course private citizen Bates was not trying to take away citizen rights to directly elect school board members… never in a million years! It should have been intuitively obvious to anyone that what private citizen Bates was trying to do was to wipe the elected Buckingham County school board off the face of the earth. It had nothing at all to do with voting rights. If there is nothing to vote for there are no voting rights to take away.

Duh!

Two weeks ago, the Iconoclast asked the obvious question: What is private citizen Bates going to do with the 512 signatures.

If indeed they exist, this petition drive is nothing less than phenomenal, a mandate to continue and to get this measure on the ballot for a special referendum in the November 2007 election… the very next election cycle.

At the same time (two weeks ago) the Iconoclast issued to Supervisor and Vice Chairman Bates… or Citizen Bates… a challenge to allow an independent verification that he had truly collected 512 signatures in support of his bold and novel solution to the impasse problem.

So far, neither citizen Bates nor Supervisor/Vice Chairman Bates has chosen to step up to the plate and be accountable for either his personal or political actions.

No word … no independent verification of the 512 signatures. Mmmm….

If the special referendum on the method of establishing the Buckingham County School Board was a good idea for November 2006, why wouldn’t private citizen Bates continue on his phenomenal trajectory of success and give the citizens of Buckingham County the choice they so richly deserve?

The Farmville Herald revealed in a recent op/ed piece a certain squeamishness about this referendum saying that “Thankfully, that petition drive failed to get enough signatures to put the elected School Board issue on the ballot in November. There is no need for Buckingham County residents to give up their election of School Board members and if enough signatures had been collected to put that question on the ballot it would have certainly created additional delay in settling the school construction issue.”

The Iconoclast respectfully takes issue with our friends at The Farmville Herald and particularly with the logic. With a phenomenal 512 signatures already collected in less than 30 days (according to private citizen Bates’ unverified accounts) the issue demands an final resolution by the voters on November 6, 2007. As for the Herald’s presumption that the referendum would “would have certainly created additional delay” there is no plausible logic to suggest that the future is limited to only that one pessimistic scenario.

In fact a pending referendum could be the catalyst to propel both the Board of Supervisors and the School Board to be on their best behavior this coming year and to finally get the job done. Either that or risk political extinction in the next election cycle for all concerned.

Coincidentally, Supervisor /Vice Chairman Bates… no relation to private citizen Bates… is up for re-election in November 2007.

The Iconoclast is of the view that failing to pursue the referendum idea now, considering its phenomenal public support so far (according to private citizen Bates’ unverified accounts) is tantamount to “sweeping the problem under the rug” for others to clean up later. This would be the lazy and easy thing to do... but not the right thing to do.

Of course, if private citizen Bates’ petition drive was a failure… and we are not saying it was… the Iconoclast would certainly understand why private citizen Bates would choose to suspend any further pursuit of the special referendum in 2007.

But according to private citizen Bates, the petition drive was far from being a failure and in fact was a phenomenal success… vindicating the Board of Supervisors position all along… a position that he… private citizen Bates… has no stake in.

Mmmm…

Frankly, the Iconoclast is beginning to wonder if Supervisor /Vice Chairman Bates is being entirely honest with the citizens who he serves.

If Supervisor Bates has the 512 signatures he claims, it would be a very easy matter to have those signatures independently verified. This has not happened.

Why not?

And, if Supervisor Bates has those signatures, why is he not pursuing the referendum for November 6, 2007, at the same time he is running for re-election as Supervisor?

In the final analysis, this is a question of political accountability.

What is it that we look for in our political leaders?

Is it firm conviction in ones vision for the future? Is it determination to get the job done? Is it the ability to compromise and find consensus among diversity of views? Is it the ability to act with bold wisdom?

Maybe.

What role does honesty play in political accountability?

What would it mean if Supervisor Bates can not or will not submit to independent verification of the 512 signatures on the petition he initiated?

What if the 512 signatures do not exist? Not saying that they don't... but what if?

Would it really matter to the voters in 2007 if Supervisor candidate Bates gets an “A” for boldness and an “F” for honesty?

The Iconoclast is not impugning Supervisor Bates’ integrity but is wondering why he has not responded to the simple request for independent verification of what he is publicly claiming? This is an important question and it deserves an answer.

So again Supervisor Bates, if you have the goods, you deserve credit for your initiative and success. The Iconoclast will post the findings as soon as they are independently verified. If you do not have the goods, we would be interested in hearing your explanation. So please contact commonwealthiconoclast@yahoo.com.

Let us get this matter resolved.


RELATED ARTICLES:

Gavrilo Princip, unintended consequences...

Buckingham Official Evokes "Nuclear Option"...

Buckingham County: The Battle of the Boards

Friday, August 18, 2006

My two-cents on Macaca Gate: Was Allen on the Sauce?


The blogosphere is on fire in regard to Senator Allen and "macaca gate"....is it plausible that a little sauce loosened up the Senator's lips?

Last night, I showed the infamous "macaca" blast by our junior (and hopefully out-going) Senator to a couple of friends who were vaguely familiar with the whole ugly fiasco.

Needless to say, after watching the video, my friends - who are generaly ambivalent when it comes to politics - were taken back by the pure hate and vitriol that radiated from Senator Allen while dressing down Mr. Sidarth.

To my friends it appeared that possibly Georgie might have had a little Kentucky bourbon (aka: truth serum) running through his veins when he went David Duke on Sidarth. Good point.....

Now I haven't heard this mentioned yet, but why not? After all, George loves his dip, and chewing tobacco, so why not a litte bourbon to wash it all down? Every card-carrying good ole boy loves a taste of Kentucky bourbon on occasion, including me! (My favorite would be Maker's Mark by the way...)

Think about it for a minute. Seems plausible.... George and all his buddies, cruising around in a tour bus, making campaign stops, socializing...it's easy to see why this would be almost akin to a rolling party on wheels. Hell why not? Toss back a few bourbon and gingers...make a speech, shake some hands...oops, say something stupid, yet very telling!

So take a look again at the video again, do you think George was on the sause? If so, is it possible that Allen has "issues" with the bottle?????

All jokes aside (sort of), if Allen was drinking or not is beside the point. The "macaca" comment taken in context of his history as reported in The New Republic may open up a crack in his armor by revealing that he is a mean spirited, smart mouthing, product of privilege, who has become fat and smug as an incumbent politician.

Gradually, Allen's public image as a likable guy is starting to erode to be more in line with reality... a highly ambitious, vindictive and unlikable person... something that many Virginians have known for quite some time.

The next two months are assured to be extremely interesting! It's almost September and Jim Webb has a chance, and this is good!

Therefore I think we should all have a drink to this tonight!

Cheers!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Appalachia Investigation Widens


Election fraud investigation sparks new inquiries.

New Special Prosecutor named by panel of Judges!

Illegal gambling tied to ongoing investigation?

Where is it all going to end?


In the sad story of official corruption in the Southwest Virginia community of Appalachia, The Richmond Times Dispatch reported last week new developments in the widening investigation.

Readers of the Iconoclast will recall that this whole mess got started about two and a half years ago (May of 2004) as a result of complaints and allegations of strange and goofy election practices in the Town of Appalachia.

When it was learned that votes were being bought for as little as a bag of pork rinds (I kid you not), there was the inevitable snickering and guffawing throughout the Commonwealth and even the nation, the story having made the national news!

The snickering stopped, however, when the announcements came of the 300 page indictment, including 917 separate charges against no less than 14 important citizens of the Town of Appalachia including none other than The Honorable Ben Ellis Cooper.

Along with Mayor Cooper, also indicted were Councilman Owen Sherrett III, Benjamin Surber, head of the Appalachia Police Department, and eleven other cronies and relatives who shared in the “privileges of office” during the reign of Mayor Cooper.

The 300 page indictment revealed a disturbing pattern of dirty local politics, vindictiveness, greed, megalomania and out right corruption by public officials.

Once again in May of this year (see earlier Iconoclast report) , the community was again rocked by a major police action to uncover a major illegal gambling activities and that they were possibly related to the official corruption investigation.

Initially, this investigation was being led by Wise County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chad Dotson, who stepped aside to be replaced by two Norton attorneys, Tim McAffee and Greg Stewart as Special Prosecutors.

While McAffee and Stewart started the investigation into the illegal gambling investigation, a three Judge panel, last week, appointed the a new Special Prosecutor, Lee Harrel, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney from Wythe County to handle the illegal gambling investigation.

Both Special Prosecutors McAffee and Stewart will remain to prosecute the voter-fraud case against the 14 persons indicted so far.

This makes three Special Prosecutors working on the widening investigation in the little Town of Appalachia.

Given the incredibly complex nature of this widening investigation, it is easy to see why they now need three Special Prosecutors. Expect this developing story to continue for many months if not years before the whole story is played out. We wouldn't be surprised if more indictments are not on the way.

The Iconoclast will keep its readers updated periodically on this sordid story. Maybe we can learn something from it.

Note: As always, the Iconoclast appreciates additional insights and tips from readers who are close to ground zero. Information may be sent confidentially directly to commonwealthiconoclst@yahoo.com .

RELATED STORIES:

Pork Rind Scandal No Longer A Laughing Matter

Pork Rinds: A threat to democracy?

Three Cheers for Grand Jury...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

In the Search for Elusive Truth



Who can you believe?


Professional journalism vs. Blog journalism?


What is ground truth in our complex and diverse world?


Truth is where you find it... even in the blogosphere!




Team Iconoclast is always amused to see how the blogosphere continues to gain in prominence in the modern lexicon.

Even the most casual perusal of mainstream media outlets will find scores of references to blogs and the blogosphere. We even find references to blogs in the cartoons. Everybody wants to talk about blogs and the blogosphere, but still the blogosphere is a mystery to most observers, especially those much over the age of thirty… sadly, I am now pushing those limits.

This is kind of curious considering the term “blogosphere” was only first coined in 1999 and didn’t have much public exposure until just a couple of years ago (about 2004 during the Presidential election campaign season).

Still, countless academics, social-scientists, philosophers, journalists and pundits of every description are trying to make heads or tails out of what the bloggosphere is and what role it serves in the world today. The blogosphere... a product of the Internet… is an ever expanding web that never ends… so they say…

So, it was with interest that we recently read in The Southside Messenger an editorial entitled “Anonymous bloggers.”

The recent editorial piece was about blogging and contained some thoughts about what blogging is all about. The editorial points out that “up until recent years the American public was reliant on mass media outlets to obtain their news” but now “the internet has spawned a new form of journalism: blogging.”

While this is perhaps an over simplification, there is indeed a faction in the blogosphere that can be categorized as pertaining to current events, political and social commentary, etc. These blogs might fairly be considered a new form of journalism providing an important alternative source of information to those who are so inclined to search the world-wide-web.

The Iconoclast falls in that narrow category of the vastly diverse blogosphere.

On one point we take mild exception to the editorial position of The Southside Messenger where the editor states that “unlike professional journalists, bloggers are not tethered to any code of ethics.”

This is not true.

Within the blogging community which is admittedly informal, rapidly growing and constantly changing, there is a spirited debate and discussion concerning standards of ethics. For the vast majority of all news-type blogs, the unvarnished truth is the "gold standard" for measuring what is fit to publish. Admittedly, there is now and always will be spirited debate on what is the real truth. The measure of truth is elusive. Also, the truth sometimes uncomfortable if not down right unpleasant.

Furthermore, does anyone really believe the mythology that professional journalists are free of bias and report only the unvarnished truth? Code of ethics notwithstanding, every major outlet in the mainstream media has a bias on just about any issue you can think of. The idea that mainstream media is purely objective is absolutely ridiculous.

Think about it. Who in their right mind would accept the FOX (conservative spin) or CNN (liberal spin) version of the news as the absolute pure and objective, fact based news?

The fact is that the really good professional journalists are skillful at camouflaging their biases so that they appear objective and fair. Maybe it is... maybe it isn't. That is the job of historians to hash out later.

The bloggosphere is much harder to assess and categorize than the mainstream media. There are too many blogs for anyone to effectively assess. Some are very scholarly. Some are stupid and frivolous. Some are based on some form of reality. Some are based on fantasy. Some have ethical purpose of mind. Some have malicious purpose of mind. Some are in between. There is no way to fairly generalize about the nature of all blogs.

Yes, there will always be rogue bloggers who intentionally publish hurtful lies, distortions of fact, and malicious propaganda for any number of causes… good, bad or indifferent. These bad examples are normally quickly identified and challenged by a large universe of knowledgeable readers. The rogue bloggers are forced to either rebut the challenge, retract their erroneous positions, or to whimper away in silence. The rogue bloggers come and go sometimes in a matter of days or a few weeks. Most of these rogue bloggers just can’t sustain any regular readership other than by fellow crazy’s.

The Iconoclast doesn’t claim to be The New York Times of blogs… oh… maybe that wasn’t such a good example… but we endeavor to base our reports on verifiable facts and to take principled positions on those facts. These are our opinions. We are entitled to have opinions just like everybody else.

We receive a fair number of scandalous tips from readers as potential topics for new posts. Some of these tips are quite useful. As a matter of editorial policy, we do not report scandalous tips just for the sake of feeding the scandal. Information received from readers, anonymously or identified, is not used unless 1) it serves what we consider some principled purpose, and 2) it can be reasonably verified as factual through at least one other independent source. Our editorial policy is not all that different from the standard used by so called professional journalists.

From time to time, the Iconoclast will make a mistake in a post. Errors in fact or of a clerical nature will be corrected as soon as they come to our attention.

But, for the most part, points of disagreement are not due to error. They are simply a reflection of honest differences of opinion on any number of contentious issues. Readers who take exception with the Iconoclast’s editorial position on any issue are encouraged to express their disagreement in the form of comments. We only ask that the comments be kept reasonably civilized.

But... in case you are wondering... we do not retract positions or opinions just because somebody gets their feelings hurt.

Some might ask about the anonymity that is so prevalent in the blogosphere.

Participants in the blogosphere include those who write posts on a blog and those who participate in the discussion of those posts. Anonymity is a common practice in the blogosphere for many reasons.

The Internet was born in the murky world of international cold war politics and secrecy. J.C.R. Licklider, one of architects of the evolving information technology “saw [the idea] of universal networking as a potential unifying human revolution.”

Think about it: universal networking… a unifying human revolution. What does this mean? Does the word “revolution” give you any ideas?

For one thing, the concept of universal networking tears down all barriers concerning who has the right and capability to express ideas. With universal networking, otherwise known as the Internet, everyone has the right and capability to put their thoughts out there on the world-wide-web for better or worse.

Anonymity is useful because ideas are dangerous… even good ideas… even progressive ideas.

In some parts of the world today, the expression of certain ideas that most of us would consider righteous can result in almost certain assassination, execution, torture, or indefinite incarceration for no lawful reason.

Even here in America, where we have the First Amendment right of freedom of speech, the expression of ideas is not always welcome by the prevailing political authorities and can result in very real and unpleasant political retribution. Consequently, many individuals who participate in political blogs today in America elect to remain anonymous. They chose to let their ideas do the fighting.

As a political / social commentary blog, the Iconoclast does not shy away from controversial issues, stories or personalities. In fact, controversy, or sharp differences in positions on various issues is exactly what makes for interesting blog posts. We are not afraid of offending traditional sensibilities and we do not mind making irreverent fun of bad behavior by important people.

Regular readers of the Iconoclast will recognize that we often discuss examples of bad behavior by public officials as a way to teach better behavior. From these examples of bad behavior, others can learn to avoid the same mistakes.

On the other hand, the Iconoclast doesn’t mind giving a tip of the hat and thanks to those little people who distinguish themselves by taking the righteous stand against injustice under the color of authority. There are many unsung little heroes in every community who stand up to against the “tanks” of abusive authority every day. Some get run over. The least we can do is to give them a little unsolicited recognition and appreciation.

So, during your search for the elusive truth, don't presume that the mainstream media will always tell you the truth and don't presume that the blogosphere will always tell you lies.

The Iconoclast advises that readers should evaluate critically all sources of news and only after careful evaluation use your analytical skills to determine where the truth really is. It takes work... but it is worth it.

The truth is out there... and maybe even in the blogosphere.

You, my friends, are the final arbitrator of what the truth is.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Conflict of Interest: A case study in standards of public conduct.





















Are appearances of conflict important?

Or, shall we adhere to the “handcuffs and prison bars” standard of public accountability?

Richmond’s Benjamin J. Lambert IV caught on the horns of a dilemma?



Readers of the Iconoclast are no doubt aware that the Iconoclast has addressed the issue of “conflict of interest” by public officials on a number of occasions during this past year.

So, it was with interest that we read the recent news report and accompanying editorial piece in The Richmond Times Dispatch concerning Benjamin J. Lambert IV, and his withdrawn candidacy for the 3rd District Richmond School Board seat.

Before we go any further, we wish to make it clear that Mr. Lambert has a good reputation and has done nothing to warrant criticism in this matter. He is in the news because he has been caught on the horns of a dilemma... a decidedly uncomfortable place to be!

The news article in The Richmond Times Dispatch explains that Mr. Lambert who had earlier announced his candidacy for the school board seat, and to contest incumbent School Board Member, Carol A. O. Wolf, was compelled to withdraw his candidacy when his employer Banc of America Investment Services, elected not to approve his request for company permission to run for elected office.

Mr. Lambert is a vice president and financial advisor to the Banc of America Investment Services.

In declining Mr. Lambert’s request for permission to run for the Richmond School Board, Banc of America Investment Services sources indicated that the company “takes a conservative view on conflicts of interest and so turned down Mr. Lambert’s request to seek public office.”


Mmmm… interesting phraseology… “takes a conservative view” on conflict of interest?" We will come back to this in a moment.

What exactly is "conflict of interest"?

In the same edition of The Richmond Times Dispatch, the Editor, weighed in on this matter in an editorial entitled “Side Out.”

In this piece, the Times Dispatch Editor laments that the withdrawal of Mr. Lambert from the contest will leave the 3rd District Richmond School Board seat uncontested giving incumbent Carol A. O. Wolf a free ride. It goes on to suggest that Mr. Lambert “would have brought a fresh voice to the discussion on the city’s schools…”

The Iconoclast does not disagree with the Times Dispatch’s concern that the 3rd District School Board seat will go uncontested. Yes there is a need for ”sober reflection and dispassionate scrutiny” as the Editor characterized the qualities that Mr. Lambert would bring to the table.

However, the Iconoclast takes a slightly different view of the situation… a dilemma if you will… one that pits the question of appearances of conflict of interest against the real need to have spirited debate and self reflection on the Richmond School Board.

And this issue goes beyond the Richmond School Board and even the City of Richmond.

Now let us go back to the interesting phraseology cited above. The Iconoclast is inclined to commend the Banc of America Investment Services for it is so called “conservative view on conflicts of interest.”

What the Banc of America Investment Services seems to be saying here is that they are not satisfied with meeting minimum standards of the law when it comes to their own employees becoming involved with public offices. The company is setting a higher and more ethically strict standard concerning conflict of interest than is required by law.

Good for them! A breath of fresh air all too rarely seen in modern business practices and today's politics!

Not only does the Banc of America Investment Services want to avoid actual legal conflicts of interest, it wants to avoid even the appearances of conflict of interest. The company apparently recognized that this situation could have become a credibility and trust issue in a scenario where Lambert would serve in a dual role as a broker-dealer and member of a school board trying raise money via bond issue.

By Virginia law namely Title 2.2, Chapter 31, the State and Local Government Conflict of Interest Act, Mr. Lambert could have no doubt walked a careful line to avoid actual conditions of legal conflict of interest. The Banc of America Investment Services was wise to not accept the minimum standard. They will be better served by adhering to the higher standard of public accountability.

For this good example of high standards in ethical conduct for its employees, a tip of the hat to the Banc of America Investment Services from the Iconoclast!

While the Richmond Times Dispatch is not flaunting the issue of conflict of interest, the Iconoclast awards Times Dispatch a questioning raise of the eyebrow for not even mentioning the issue of “conflict of interest” as the company’s concern in declining permission for Mr. Lambert’s candidacy.

It seems to us that the Times Dispatch may have overlooked the more important issue... namely integrity in public service.

Conflict of interest... this is an important issue. Editors of The Richmond Times Dispatch... wake up and pay attention!

There is no doubt that Mr. Lambert will have many opportunities to contribute to his community in the comming months and years. For the time being, it is best that he do so as a private citizen. We wish him well in whatever role he serves.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Lunenburg Special Election for Sheriff: A Nice Guy Finishes First!


"Nice guys finish last"...but not this time!

Arthur Townsend - who was recently fired by interim Sheriff Randall Stoots for not being "loyal" - wins Lunenburg's special election for Sheriff!

Though the State Board of Elections hasn't verified the results, it appears that Sheriff Randall Stoots is on the bottom looking up at both Arthur Townsend and Jimmy Moses in Lunenburg's Special Election for Sheriff which took place yesterday.

Will this serve as a "wake up call" to other local elected officials in Southside Virginia who consistently exercise poor judgement? Let's hope so, or the ghost of Barney Fife could come calling on those folks next!

The Iconoclast congratulates the voters of Lunenburg County for selecting Arthur Townsend as their next Sheriff. Our sources in the area indicate that Mr. Townsend is experienced, professional, and well-liked by citizens of the County. We feel confident that Mr. Townsend will make better decisions than his (albeit temporary) predecessor, Mr. Randall Stoots.

We here at the Iconcolcast hope that newly elected Sheriff Townsend will offer Jimmy Moses back his former job, which Moses was unjustly fired from a few months ago by Stoots.

Additionally the Iconoclast hopes that Mr. Townsend will publically offer Randall Stoots the option to stay on as a Deputy with Lunenburg County. Thus showing real leadership, professionalism, and courage - which is something Mr. Townsend was unjustly denied when Stoots dismissed him after 20 + years of dedicated service. We know this is asking alot, but we feel that Mr. Townsend is up to the task! Whether or not Mr. Stoots chooses to accept such an offer is his choice...

So, nice guys don't alwasy finish last do they?! Congratulations to Arthur Townsend, and we wish him the best of luck in his new, and well deserved position!

(Note: The photograph above is not Arthur Townsend addressing the media after his victory, but rather someone who is happy about the results of another unrelated election!)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Buckingham School Board Petition: "Trust, but Verify"


"Trust, but verify." - President Ronald Reagan

A new twist in the Buckingham School Board Petition effort. Buckingham Supervisor Brian Bates said he acquired 512 signatures in support of a referendum on this issue.

The Iconoclast would like to independently verify these signatures. Consider this a respectful challenge!

Regular reader of the Iconoclast are aware of an on-going story involving Buckingham County's Vice-Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Brian Bates, and the County's elected School Board.

In summary, it appears that in the past the two elected Boards have had a few "issues". In regard to the "issues" the Iconoclast isn't inclined to chose a side, instead we hope the two Boards will work out their differences for the good of all the citizens and children of Buckingham County. We still feel this can be done...

You might recall that this past July Supervisor Bates - acting as a "private citizen" - proposed (in the eyes of many) a fairly radical solution to the disagreements between the two elected Boards. Supervisor Bates stated he would spearhead an effort to collect signatures in order to put the issue (of elected versus appointed School Boards) back to the voters of Buckingham County this coming fall.

The July 7, 2006 issue of the Farmville Herald stated, "Brian Bates is spearheading a drive to gather singatures on a petition supporting a local referendum on changing from direct election of school boad members to an appointment process."

If Supervisor Bates was looking to stir up a "hornets nest", he was successful. Reactions from citizens, local media, silly internet polls, and the Iconoclast wasn't too supportive of Supervisor Bates' propostion to eliminate the direct election of School Bord members in Buckingham County. After all, it was only a few years ago that voters in the County overwhelmingly voted in favor of direct elections for School Board members.

As I stated previously, anyone who actually believes that voters would willing chose to take away their right to vote for something, is living in "la la land". But that's just my opinion.

Additionally, Bates' proposal for Buckingham appears to be having the opposite effect in nearby Prince Edward County. As we speak signatures are being collected in Prince Edward in support of a referendum (which would appear on the ballot in November of 2007) to directly elect School Board members in that County.

Though I personally feel that Supervisor Bates' proposal is tanatamount to political suicide, he absolutely has the right - per the Code of Virginia - to petition the citizens of Buckingham County in order to place this issue on the ballot. Fair enough....

So how did Supervisor Bates' recent petition drive go? According to Supervisor Bates pretty well...

Supervisor Bates recently told the Farmville Herald that his drive to collect 865 signatues (or ten percent of the registered voters in Buckingham County) has fallen short just before the deadline, August 9, in order to have this issue appear on the ballot this coming fall.

The August 4, 2006 issue of the Farmville Herald states,
"Brian Bates, who spearheaded the effort, said that 512 signatures were acquired....Bates launched the petion drive druing the first week of July and faced an August 9 deadline for filing the certified petition...Bates said that he was not terribly surprised given the time-frame and added that he should have started the effort earlier so that he would have 60 to 90 days to collect the signatures. Noting that over 500 signatures were gathered in just a few weeks, he offered, "That's pretty respectable"


INDEED SUPERVISOR BATES, THAT IS PRETTY RESPECTABLE, BORDERING ON AMAZING!

We here at the Iconoclast just happen to know a little bit about collecting signatues for a petition. Sure, it might sound pretty easy? right? Well guess again!

I've had the opportunity to collect signatures for a petition in a large urban area, where registered voters are plentiful. I found out when people sign petitions, they generally like to know exactly what they are signing. Therefore, it's not unusual to take up to 15 minutes (and often more time) explaining to voters exactly what they are signing.

Now imagine doing this in a large rural County with only 8,649 registered voters covering 581 square miles! In case you're wondering that's approximately 15 registered voters per square mile. Even if you put aside the fact that such a petition would likely be highly unpopular with voters, it's easy to see that such a task wouldn't exactly be akin to shooting fish in a barrel. Petition drives can be tough, tedious, and exhausting work!

Consider these issues as well:

In 1992, only 800 (18 percent) voters suppported appointed School Board againts 3,630 (82 percent) who suppored elected School Boards.

Accepting the claim that there were 512 signatures, Bates obtained in less than a month a number of signatures equivalent to 64 percent of all voters who voted for appointd School Boards in 1992.

Assuming Supervisor Bates was able to obtain one signture every 10 minutes of canvassing, his signature campaign would have required at a miniumum of 85 hours of total survey time.

Considering that for every voter in 1992 who voted for appointed School Board members, there were 4.5 voters who voted the opposite way (for an elected School Board), the probability of getting one signature every 10 minutes during a 85 hour effort, is while not physically impossible, highly doubtful.

Considering that the ability to obtain one signature every 10 minutes, during the 85 hour effort, would require in a span of 10 minutes the surveyor to explain what the petition was about to several people who were not likely to sign (on average 4.5 persons), convince them to change their minds, or alternatively go on to the next person, repeat the process again, and have them print out their name and address and sign the petition.

Maybe Supevisor Bates had lots and lots of help gathering signatures? I think it would be more reasonable to assume it would require an average of more like 20 minutes on average per signature, or 171 hours.


Quite simply we here at the Iconoclast have our doubts. Therefore, we respecfully challenge Supervisor Bates to show a mutually agreeable third party the 512 signatures within two weeks from today's date.

Honestly, if Supversisor Bates did gather 512 signatures in such a short period of time we would be extremely impressed! Additionally, we would hope that Supervisor Bates would continue with these efforts, and again attempt to gather enough signatures to place this issue on the ballot for the 2007 election. If Supervisor Bates gathered 512 signatures in such a short period of time, he should have an easy time gathering the same signatures, plus the needed addtional signatures by next August. Indeed, this is his democratic right!

All we ask is that Supervisor Bates contact the Iconoclast (commonwealthiconoclast@yahoo.com) in order to work out the details to have a mutually agreeable third party view the 512 signatures. Supervisor Bates has corresponded with the Iconoclast in the past, so we know he is able to contact us if he wishes.

We here at the Iconoclast are not attempting to "beat our chest" in some sort of silly cyberspace bravado. If we can verify the existence of the 512 signatures we will gladly report this to the readers of the Iconoclast. We are simply following the advice from our Nation's 40th President...

"Trust, but verify"


We look forward to reporting to our readers the results of our inquiry.

Stay tuned....

Friday, August 04, 2006

Barney Fife to decide Lunenburg race for office of High Sheriff ?


Ghost of famous lawman decisive factor in special election!

Ectoplasm and Politics in the Old Free State!

Ghosts and goblins…is this fair politics… or what?


Ladies and gentlemen… we are almost on the eve of the final special election for High Sheriff of Lunenburg County.

On August 8th, only a few days away, the good citizens of Lunenburg County will finally decide who will take the office of High Sheriff of Lunenburg County Virginia, the Old Free State of the Confederacy.

Friends tell me… and who am I to doubt it… that Lunenburg County is called the “Old Free State” because when Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, in anticipation of the late unpleasantness, they seceded for good… forever… and forever…

Yes, there may have been a few minor military set backs… but nothing that would change the minds of the Lunenburgers and their political leadership.

So the story goes, Lunenburg County may have “forgotten” to rejoin the Union after the War of the Rebellion was done.

Technically, Lunenburg County may still remain a sovereign nation separate from the United States of America!

Probably just a clerical error… or something…

Whatever…

The real issue today is the almost unbelievable political drama that is unfolding in Lunenburg County in the special election race for Sheriff in the aftermath of the untimely (and perfectly legal and natural) deaths of the past two Sheriffs.

We now are facing a four way race.

See previous posts for details.

So far, the Iconoclast has elected to not endorse any one candidate. However, we confess to make a great deal of fun of Sheriff Stoots for firing two reputedly competent Deputy Sheriffs after learning that they could be political rivals.

Frankly, Sheriff Stoots has never adequately explained his actions in firing Deputies Moses and Townsend to our satisfaction. Excuses and rationalizations… at best. Dumb knee-jerk reaction by most accounts!

So… with the Iconoclast poll showing that Sheriff Stoots and fired-ex-Deputy Moses in an apparent neck-in-neck race with only a few days remaining before the final vote, we at the Iconoclast are in the awkward position of making a recommendation to the good citizens of Lunenburg County.

We had hoped it wouldn’t come to this but it did…

Given this dilemma, we notice that not too far behind the leaders in this special election (Sheriff Stoots and fired-Deputy Moses) is none other than the Ghost of Deputy Barney Fife.

The Ghost of Deputy Barney Fife. Dare we hope for answers? Yes... We hear you...

Given these most strange circumstances, we at the Iconoclast are inclined to suggest some kind of way for Lunenburg County to come together and heal. There must be some way to move ahead and bring some sense of closure to this very strange situation.

So, we suggest that those who voted for the Ghost of Deputy Barney Fife consider voting for fired-Deputy Moses in the actual election on August 8th.

This is our thinking…

We hope that Sheriff-elect Moses will do the right thing for all concerned. Give fired-Deputy Townsend back his job. He did not deserve being fired by Acting-Sheriff Stoots on highly questionable grounds. This was an act of political retribution.

Furthermore… and this is a big one… the Iconoclast recommends that Sheriff-elect Moses offer to Sheriff Stoots (after losing the election) a job as “Deputy Stoots,” so long as he (Stoots) agrees to carry out the oath of office (none of this “loyalty to the boss” crap).

Deputy Barney Fife was always a “Deputy” and we always loved him. In his hands, the results of the Lunenburg County special election for High Sheriff now rest.

To be perfectly honest, most of us know that Barney Fife is a fictional character played by Don Knots. We are cool with anyone who might differ with our view. But Barney Fife was a great inspiration whether fictional or real or ectoplasm.

Barney… we seek your guidance!

The Iconoclast has no problem in entrusting the results of the Lunenburg County special election to this great lawman.

May the best candidate win…

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Ex-County Administrator in Greene County Convicted!


Citizen complaints lead to allegations of false entries of records by an officer!

Long term investigation ends in conviction of Ex-County Administrator!

Long arm of the law catches up!


This is an interesting news story coming from nearby Greene County, and falling under the category of violations of public trust by public officials… an all too large category and one shared by too many individuals who mistakenly feel that “privileges of office” include not having to follow normal policies, rules and even… as in this case… the law.

Greene County Virginia is a very pleasant little county of about 15,000 people, located only a few miles north of Charlottesville. It doesn’t have the rapid growth that the Charlottesville area has but it is a prosperous and growing community with a bright future.

Real estate speculation and development is a thriving business for some. The smell of money to be made is in the air.

Perhaps that is what led to the problem we speak of now. What problem?... you may ask.

The problem that eventually led to this interesting news story started almost two years ago, and a year prior to the retirement of the long-time Greene County Administrator. The problem evolved from an inconsequential citizen complaint about certain irregularities involving the County’s zoning ordinance.

This story was reported briefly again last week in The Daily Progress of Charlottesville.

It turns out, that those irregularities involved a certain property owned by then County Administrator Julius Lee Morris.

One thing leading to another, a Special Prosecutor was named, and nearly two years later, the former Greene County Administrator Julius Lee Morris, who had only recently retired after serving as the County Administrator for 32 years, has been convicted of altering official public documents.

Specifically, the alterations involved unauthorized changes to official planning / zoning documents of the County.

While it is perhaps significant that the former County Administrator’s inappropriate behavior involved real estate property that he had a personal financial interest in, that particular fact was secondary to the fundamental illegality that a public official had made false entries into the official public records of the County.

Think about this for a moment.

Why do we bother keeping “official public records” anyway?

Answer: It might be good to keep and protect certain records for the protection of the public interests.

This would make good sense, given the frailties of human memory and inevitable differences of opinions that result on different issues after the passage of time. Having official public records guarantees that citizens can inspect the records and derive satisfaction that everybody is playing by the same fair policies and rules.

It certainly would not make any sense if important official public records were to be arbitrarily changed willy-nilly by those officials who are entrusted to keep and protect those public records.

Nor would it be appropriate for public officials to mishandle, damage, destroy or loose public records, either through negligence or especially, intentionally with the purpose of changing the nature of public policy and actions.

In the case at hand, planning /zoning documents are for the purpose of documenting the official policies and actions of the local unit of government pertaining to land-use and development. Policies, rules and procedures are adopted by the governing body to ensure that there is uniformity and fairness in how land is developed and used.

The attorney for the ex-County Administrator argued that her client somehow was not responsible because the records were not “in his keeping and belonging to his office.”

Unfortunately, for ex-County Administrator Morris, the Judge did not buy these specious and convoluted argument which were outlined in an earlier article in The Daily Progress.

The Judge concluded that the ex-County Administrator was indeed criminally culpable as he was the top administrator and direct supervisor of the zoning administrator who routinely kept custody of the documents. The Judge concluded that the alterations were made with fraudulent intent and were therefore illegal. Central to the Judges ruling of illegal conduct, he noted that the alterations were done by “concealing the original writing on the plans rather than noting a revision” as is normal procedure when an alteration is proper.

To add to the ex-County Administrator’s problems he was found to have “lied” to state police and to be “untruthful” in his representation that the County Attorney gave him advice to make the alterations to the planning/zoning documents.

It is unclear what advantage the ex-County Administrator Julius Lee Morris derived from this illegal act of making “false entries of records by an officer” but it is likely that he rationalized it as minor matter and one that would not be noticed by the public or be questioned by other county personnel. After all, he was the boss.

The ex-County Administrator was wrong on all counts. The public did notice. And, when faced with an official investigation by a Special Prosecutor from other county, other Greene County personnel had no choice but to cooperate and tell the damaging truth. To do anything other than tell the truth and whole truth would have resulted in unpleasant legal consequences.

This is not a happy story. Sources in the community have suggested that over the years the ex-County Administrator Morris seemed like a pretty respectable public official. Unfortunately for Mr. Morris, a Judge has ruled that his behavior was illegal.

No we are not talking about long years in prison for the ex-County Administrator. However, Mr. Morris’ otherwise good reputation is tarnished forever. Worse yet, Mr. Morris betrayed the public trust and damaged public confidence in the Greene County Government. It will be repaired in time, but not forgotten soon.

If there is any silver lining to this sad story of violation of public trust, it is that the wheels of justice and long arm of the law, while slow and ponderous, do in most cases, and in the end achieve justice for all... even for Mr. Morris.

Sigh…




POST SCRIPT: According to The Daily Progress: "Present in the courtroom was Catherine Clossin, Greene’s former planning director, who said she was fired for probing into possible zoning violations involving Morris. She has filed a federal lawsuit against Morris and the county seeking unspecified damages. No trial date has been set."

What a tangled web we weave...

Sigh... again...