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...

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...

7 Comments:

  • At 8/02/2006 3:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    OH, good. I was beginning to think that us folks here in Southside Virginia had a monopoly on corrupt County Adminstrators.

    What a releif!

     
  • At 8/02/2006 9:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    They were very wise to bring in a special prosecutor to keep things on the up and up. When you have people of this high level of authority, it would have been easy to cover this up. But I agree this as a sad story.

     
  • At 8/03/2006 11:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Were it not for observant citizens, this problem would not have been discovered and nothing would ever have been done about it. But the county is to be credited for taking this matter seriously, appropriately I might add, and doing what was necessary to bring about resolution. As you may well imagine, this was a very sensitive issue and one that local officials were wise enough to send out for a special prosecutor to handle. This removes any question in the public perception of "cover-ups" by county officials to avoid embarrassment or to protect personal loyalties. Let us now move on.

     
  • At 8/03/2006 11:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Good Point. Do you how its suppose to be done Buckingham County?

    Here in Buckingham our CA follows the "eyes wide shut" approach, and then cashes is County paycheck too.

     
  • At 8/04/2006 1:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thats easy. If you have concerns about potentially illegal behavior by county officials, just take those concerns to the local commonwealths attorney. If there is probable cause, the matter will likely be turned over to appropriate investigative officials and a special prosecutor will be named to avoid any appearances of "cover-ups" as was suggested by a previous writer. When ever allegations involve public officials, it is a very serious matter.

     
  • At 8/05/2006 10:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Commonwealth's attorney in Buckingham? The same commonwealth attorney who is also paid by the county as the county attorney, the same individual who works so closely with the chairman of the board and the county aministrator?

     
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