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...

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


What keeps you awake at night?

Things that go bump in the night?

Or is it something scarier?

Ghosts, goblins and vampires?

No, not so scary.

Mad dogs, snakes and spiders?


But what really keeps you awake at night? What really scares you?

Perhaps it is the weight of the world that seems to fall on your shoulders at times.

Perhaps it is the fear of the unknown future that gapes in front of you.

Perhaps it is self doubt.

Perhaps it is a secret that you are not particularly proud of.

Perhaps it is shame for an unjustice that you are responsible for.

Perhaps it is disappointment that you could have been a better human being.

Yes, these are the real scary things. These are the things that keep us awake at night.

But anyway, maybe we can all do better next year.

Happy Halloween!!!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Prince Edward Vice Chair "Lawyers Up"!

Vice Chairman Howard Simpson... on CDA development...

Doesn't know?

Doesn't care?

Or maybe there is something to hide?

The scene at the Prince Edward Board of Supervisors October meeting in Farmville, Virginia was surreal...

Hard questions concerning the Poplar Hill Communtity Development Authority (CDA) were asked... but no answers were delivered...

A well attended Board room... A long agenda... A number of important issues of public interest...

Coming late on the agenda, following a number of routine matters... approval of minutes, routine reports, paying of bills, and several public hearings... was a little matter entitled "Request for Status Report on Poplar Hill CDA."

This request was the topic of a previous Iconoclast post.

One could almost imagine Chairman Buckie whisper under his breath: "Please... everybody... just go home and do not watch this pathetic display of complete non-accountability of County government."

Observers in the Board of Supervisors meeting room (few that they were at the late hour) were aghast at the scene.

You could hear a pin drop...

All of the questions were addressed to Vice Chairman Howard Simpson who was the Board of Supervisors representative on the Poplar Hill CDA board since 1999... the very beginning of the CDA.

But few answers were coming from Vice Chairman Simpson that evening.

Not complete silence... but... a lot of mumbling... and... what was that again? Talk to the lawyer...

Talk to the lawyer? What is this all about?

Observers were again left to scratch their heads in wonderment about what was going on. The CDA is a publicly created entity owned "lock, stock and barrel" by the good citizens of Prince Edward County. Why do we need to talk to the lawyer?!

It seems that back in early July, there was some curious news reported in The Farmville Herald concerning a bank forclosure notice on certain key real property holdings of the publicly owned Poplar Hill Community Development Authority (CDA) in Prince Edward County. The news of the foreclosure came only a month after the "Grand Opening" of a brand new 18 hole golf course financed through the aid of a $8.8 million Federall loan guarantee.

At that time, the headlines in The Farmville Herald read: "Could Impact Inn, Conference Center Site, Not New Golf Course."

I am not kidding... the claim was that the foreclosure would "not impact" the golf course!

Not to mince words too much, the Iconoclast has previously made fun of the Herald's overly optimistic headline "spin" on an obviously serious problem.

Fact is... the foreclosure on significant real property holdings of the CDA has serious implications for the overall project and may be a sign of other problems ahead for the citizens of Prince Edward County and taxpayers in general.

Perhaps the Herald's earlier optimism was misplaced.

But now, perhaps to set the record straight, a new article has appeared in the Herald on the Poplar Hill development under the headline "CDA Would Consider Sale Of Existing 18-Hole Golf Course Site In PE." Coincidentally, this new Herald article appeared exactly three weeks after the Iconoclast first broke the story about possible problems in paradise.

Wow! Sell the golf course!

This article represents quite an "about face" from earlier Herald reports that the forclosure would NOT have an impact on the golf course.

Of particular interest, this article contained several comments by Poplar Hill CDA Chairman Norm Krueger. Krueger, in addition to being the current Chairman of the publicly owned Poplar Hill CDA, is also the Vice President for Business Affairs and Treasurer of Hampden Sydney College. Recall also that Hampden Sydney Poplar Hill, LLC is an important stakeholder in the overall Poplar Hill development holding significant real estate interests.

Anyway, Krueger is quoted in the Herald as saying: "Its been a bumpier than expected start for Poplar Hill Community Development Authority's 18-hole golf course..." and that "Playwise, it's down from what we had projected because of the inn and conference center absence and the lack of development out there."

Mmmmm... "Playwise it's down because of the inn and conference center absence and the lack of development out there." Is that the same as NOT having an impact?

Krueger also volunteered that "The CDA is certainly not... an expert in running golf courses..." (Now is a good time to let the citizens know!)

And then there is the real bombshell... the acknowledgement that "Yes" the sale of the CDA owned golf course is an option that would be considered.

Consider the sale of the golf course?!

What does that mean? Under what circumstances and terms would the CDA consider selling the golf course?

Hasn't that golf course been promised to revert to County ownership in the future? If it is sold, what are the citizens of Prince Edward County going to get out of this deal?

What about the $8.8 million Federally guaranteed loan guarantee? What about all the other public resources that have been invested? Are we talking about a sale price to recover the significant public investments? Or are we talking about the taxpayers having to eat the loss? Who is looking out after the public interests in this deal? Who would have to approve the sale of the golf course?

So many questions....

And this brings us back to our story...

At least in title, Vice Chairman Howard Simpson is supposed to be representing the Prince Edward Board of Supervisors on the Poplar Hill CDA board of directors, and therefore is also supposed to be looking out after the public interests.

However, when Vice Chairman Howard Simpson was asked to report on the Poplar Hill CDA there was... a pregnant silence.

Other than referring to the minutes that he has provided the Supervisors, Vice Chairman Simpson's only substantive comment was that he would not comment further and that things discussed about the CDA in executive session are not to be discussed now (during the October meeting).

Executive session?

What executive session? Does the public ever really ever know when the CDA meets? Aren't all of the CDA meetings kind of private... kind of secret? So how can the public ever know anything about the CDA... especially if Vice Chairman Simpson is not talking?

Vice Chairman Simpson fended off several questions with the same answer... talk to the lawyer... that being the CDA's attorney Harlan Horton.

Considering that Vice Chairman Simpson has represented the Board of Supervisors and citizens of Prince Edward County on the Poplar Hill Community Development Authority for seven years (since 1999), his lack of responsiveness to basic questions was alarming to most observers.

I guess the good citizens of Prince Edward County are just expected to trust their elected officials to do what is best. But maybe that is not such a good idea.
Why can't Vice Chairman Simpson answer basic questions about the financial condition of the Poplar Hill CDA? What is protected about that? What does he have to hide? Why does he need a lawyer to answer these basic questions?

Maybe answers can be found elsewhere...

Maybe the answers can be seen in the picture below of the "Grand Opening" of the Poplar Hill Golf Course on June 14th.

Do these gentelmen have the answers to the important questions?

They are from left to right: Henry Booth, Harlan Horton (Poplar Hill CDA attorney), Southard Brumfield, Hunter Watson (former Chairman of the Prince Edward Board of Supervisors and Commonwealth Transporation Board member), and Scott Harwood (former Chairman of the CDA and current Virginia Tobacco Commission member)... all well known movers and shakers in Prince Edward County.

Also, all of these individuals are known to have been part of the original Poplar Hill Associates, LLC, a private for-profit entity related directly to the overall Poplar Hill Development but separate from the CDA. Nonetheless, Watson was the former Chairman of the Board of Supervisors; Harwood was previously the President of the Poplar Hill CDA; and Horton, is the current CDA attorney, the same attorney who Simpson referred all questions too.

Mmmmm... Getting nervious yet?

Perhaps we will be hearing from Mr. Horton in the near future. But frankly, we wonder... who is Mr. Horton most likely to represent best in this matter... the citizens of Prince Edward County or his buddies and business associates out their on the fairways? Yes... we wonder...

But in closing, the Iconoclast asks once again: Why does Vice Chairman Simpson have to "plead the fifth" to basic questions concening the Poplar Hill CDA?

Oh well...

As they say... Mr. Simpson ... "you have a right to remain silent... "

Maybe Vice Chairman Simpson is smart to "lawyer up" rather than to explain what he has been doing for the past seven years.

You can bet that there will be more about this story in the future.

NOTE: Quotes of CDA president and group picture are from The Farmville Herald. As always, thanks for the tips. Keep them coming.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Electric Deregulation Revisited... Likely to fail in Virginia says Richmond Times Dispatch!

Lawmakers asleep at the switch?

Or are lawmakers just selling out to special interests?

The consequences of a failed campaign finance reform policy.

A new case for term limits.

It is kind of interesting when I learn that the big boys in the mainstream media wake up and acknowledge the reality that the Iconoclast has previously reported.

Click here for previous posts.

In the Iconoclast post back in May of this year, we pointed out that electric power deregulation will probably be a bad thing for Virginia, especially for the smaller consumers.

So now we are learning that The Richmond Times Dispatch editorial staff is concluding that electric deregulation will likely fail in Virginia, with the consequences that consumers will be shortly facing power bills skyrocketing out of proportion to present conditions, like in other states.

Surprise, suprise! Electric power deregulation is going to wind up costing us consumers more money!


What were our lawmakers thinking when they came up with this idea of deregulating the electric power industry, which was essentially dominated by a few very large public corporations overseen by the government? Did these "rocket scientists" in Washington really think lots of little upstart companies were going to jump in and drive costs down? Have you recently priced the development cost of a new power generation station... by any fuel or method of power production? How about the cost of developing or acquiring a power distribution system?

Frankly, this was a "no-brainer". Of course electric power deregulation is going to cost the consumers more money. Also, anticipate impressive profits for the big electric power generation and distribution utilities... all thanks to our lawmakers in Washington who thought it made sense to eliminate or at least reduce governmental oversight of the industry. Investors want to make money and with the government now stepping away from their regulatory role, expect that management will take advantage of the situation.

The lawmakers were apparently a little woozy from getting wined and dined too much by the lobbyists and didn't think too much about what their actions would end up doing to the average consumer.

Which brings me to another subject... campaign finance reform.

Politicians often do some crazy things and their motives are not always pure, especially when money is so important to winning elections. Candidates and office holders are always looking for more money and lobbyists are always accommodating to make sure money is available to those who can deliver for the special interests.

Given the nature of the system, we are kidding ourselves if we think that campaign finance reform is the answer or will every work. It is not ever going to work... ever!!!

Money has a way of finding its way into the pockets of people who can be bought. (Think Randy Cunningham... a war hero... and a few others in just recent months.)

A few of the politicians get caught. Others don't. But there is a lot of questionable money floating around on Capital Hill.

The Iconoclast therefore goes on record to recommend a serious reconsideration of Congressional term limitations.

This goes for both the United States House of Representatives and the Senate.

Members of Congress should be limited to no more than three, four year terms consecutively, for a total of twelve years consecutively. Presently, Members are allowed unlimited numbers of two year terms.

US Senators should be limited to no more than two, six year terms consecutively, for a total of twelve years consecutively. Presently, Senators are allowed unlimited numbers of six year terms.

If very successful and popular office holders want to wait out a term and then try again for another twelve year stint, that would be fine. But the idea of term limits is to break up the heavy advantage of the incumbency and to reduce the financial influence of special interests on elections.

All efforts to effectively control or manage campaign finance have been thus far a failure... kind of like electric power deregulation has been and will continue to be. Under the present system, Capital Hill is occupied by Senators and Members of Congress who have been effectively bought and paid for by special interests.

This is wrong and undermines the basic principles of democracy.

Unfortunately, for too many lawmakers, it is all about the money... a vicious cycle.

Only by getting new people in office on a regular basis will Americans ever realize true democracy uncorrupted by "influence buying".

Term limits now!!!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Official Corruption in Appalachia: A sad but all too common story.

One down!

Thirteen to go!

The healing process has begun…but…

The gavel came down hard this past week in a courtroom in Wise, Virginia.

A sickening bang echoing throughout the courtroom and throughout the little community of Appalachia.

Former mail carrier Don Estridge heard the verdict pronounced: Guilty!

One down. Thirteen to go. And they are coming down fast... most expected to cop a plea by the end of next month rather than risk worse consequences in front of an unforgiving jury and judge, and team of prosecutors.

Estridge was the first defendant to face the music in the voting-fraud conspiracy that brought the little Town of Appalachia into the national news earlier this year.

Thirteen others are waiting in the wings to learn their fate.

Of course, we knew that the story was not going to have a happy ending.

This is a story of wide-spread official corruption in the little Town of Appalachia, Virginia. It is a story of strong willed and seemingly intelligent people who, for reasons unknown, could not resist the temptations of power.

Some of the background on this pitiful story can be read in the Iconoclast archives.

It all started off as a seemingly amusing story about buying votes for as little as a bag of pork rinds. Yes, it sounded funny at the time the story broke.

Eventually, it was found that other pitiful bribes worked just as well…cartons of cigarettes and six packs of beer… whatever!

The amusing little story quickly turned serious when the 300 page indictment was handed down naming 14 good citizens of Appalachia, some in high political offices, in a conspiracy to rig the 2004 Appalachia town election for fun and profit.

It is sad to think that democracy can be so horribly corrupted with such pitifully insignificant bribes.

Just think about what serious bribes can do!

Mr. Estridge is one of the "little" co-conspirators and will face a relatively mild six months in jail and a fine. He was convicted of stealing or diverting absentee ballots, but acquitted of conspiring to help others to vote more than once.

Most of the other co conspirators seem to be negotiating plea deals with the government, including former Town Mayor Ben Cooper, the alleged “mastermind” of the plan to take over control of the local government.

Only former police officer Mike Baber is resisting cooperation and will likely go to trial in the coming months.

As previously reported in the Iconoclast, the voter-fraud conspiracy is just one aspect of this unfolding story. The investigation continues to broaden and is now looking into illegal gambling operations that may have been protected by the crooked public officials.

Additional indictments can be expected.

Who else is involved?

Time will tell.

The healing process has begun.

But... sad to say... the story is far from over.

Stay tuned for new developments.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Big Bamboozler of Buckingham

Buckingham Schools make the grade!!!

But Buckingham Vice Chairman silent on big plans to remake School Board in his own image?

Is Supervisor Bates attempting to hoodwink community?

Greetings friends and former neighbors in Buckingham!

Recent news reports indicate that congratulations is in order for the Buckingham County School Division for having won accredidation for all division schools. A difficult challenge for any school division but all the more so when you have the political leadership engaged in open warfare as we have seen this past year in Buckingham.

Superintendent of Schools, Larry Massie gave appropriate recognition to all concerned for the accreditation success, including the students, teachers, principals staff and the School Board. He even acknowledged the important efforts of the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors which have "contributed to Buckingham County's ability to recruit and retain highly qualified instructional personnel."*

Yes indeed, it certainly helps when everyone is pulling in the same direction to get a tough job done, and it must be gratifying to see the good results of the cooperative efforts.

Speaking of everyone pulling in the same direction, what ever happened to Buckingham County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Brian Bates' plan to remake the Buckingham County School Board in his own image?

Because you asked, the Iconoclast has followed up on the story that originally broke in Buckingham earlier this summer.

This story was interesting because of the unusual reversal of normal circumstances. Like they say… there is no story in a case involving a dog biting a man… but when man bites a dog… now there is a story!

Such was the case when earlier this summer, Buckingham County Supervisor and Vice Chairman Brian Bates made a big splash in the local news concerning his plans to… how shall we say... roll back the principles of democracy a bit in Buckingham County to eliminate the pesky elected Buckingham County School Board that had been giving the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors some grief over the past year about how best to deal with the school facilities requirements for the county.

Supervisor Bates plan was to hold a new special referendum to reverse the 1998 county referendum that created a school board with members elected directly by the people. If successful, this new referendum would allow the Buckingham Board of Supervisors (himself included) to hand pick new school board members.

So, back in July, Supervisor Bates started his quest to gather signatures on a petition supporting a local referendum on changing from direct election of school board members to appointment by the Board of Supervisors. According to news reports, he needed only 865 signatures.

By August, The Farmville Herald reported that Supervisor Bates by his own account had collected a “pretty respectable” 512 signatures, but fell short of the needed 865 signatures. In the same news report Supervisor felt it appropriate to express offense to those who had suggested that he was trying to “take away the citizen’s right to vote” labeling that criticism as “dubious at best”.

Wow!!! 512 signatures in less than thirty days! Unbelievable!!!

On top of that, Supervisor Bates went on to claim that most of those 512 people who signed the petitions agreed with the Board of Supervisors position on the school facilities issue.

Gosh, it must be gratifying for a politician to enjoy such wide-spread support!

But then, it seems it is time for a reality check.

On the basis of emails we have received, it seems that some Buckingham County folks are skeptical of Supervisor Bates’ convenient claim of personal vindication of his position.

There were other questions.

If Supervisor Bates was so impressively successful in the petition drive in less than 30 days, wouldn't that suggest that the idea was an important one and that it enjoyed wide support? So, why stop now? Why not carry that petition forward and put the same question on the ballot in November 2007, concurrently with his re-election bid?

It only makes sense: if the refererendum is a good idea now, it will still be a good idea in 2007!

So in August, the Iconoclast asked Vice Chairman Bates for an independent verification of the petition signatures.

As of early September, the Iconoclast had received no word from Vice Chairman Bates.

That being the case, the Iconoclast again contacted Supervisor Bates directly by email at his office at Longwood University a few weeks ago. Again nothing.

We again contacted him last week and offered him a final opportunity to present his signatures of support or alternatively explain his position.

Thus far, Supervisor Bates has elected to ignore all of our invitations.


Perhaps it is because Vice Chairman Bates does not have and never did have 512 signatures supporting his plan. To borrow his own words, perhaps the petitions are... “dubious at best”.

Or perhaps, using our own words...the petitions and 512 signatures are a sheer fabrication so that Vice Chairman Bates could avoid having to admit that his initiative was such a humiliating failure.

If the signatures existed, it would be easy and wise for Vice Chairman Bates to allow an independent observer to drop by his office to see them.

Why would he claim to have the signatures if they did not exist?

What does it say about Vice Chairman Bates' character if he is making the whole story up?

Would a politician ever be so bold as to lie to his or her constituents? (This is obviously a rhetorical question.)

The Iconoclast offer to Supervisor Bates still stands: If Vice Chairman Bates produces the evidence, the Iconoclast will publish it here with apologies for ever doubting him.

On the other hand, if Vice Chairman Bates remains in hiding, we say his actions speak volumes concerning his character and worthyness to hold public office.

Has Supervisor Bates earned the new title: "The Big Bamboozler of Buckingham" ?

For all practical purposes, his actions seem to have put that question to rest.

NOTE: The quote (*) is from The Farmville Herald. The picture at the top of the page is not a real politician. It is the late, great W. C. Fields who sometimes played a variety of fictional roles including of that of bamboozling politicians and other assorted dishonorable characters. The picture below seems to be the real thing.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Good Morning Korean Peninsula

N. Korea pulls the trigger.

Crazy people with atomic bombs!!!

So, what now?

It is so good to see the sun rise following such a dreary weekend. But wait... that is not the sun rising over the Korean Peninsula.

It appears to be a nuclear bomb test.

North Korea?

Where is North Korea? Why should we worry? What do we really know about them? Maybe this is just somebody elses problem?

Is this part of the "War on Terror"? Probably not... (I don't remember hearing anything about their oil reserves).

Perhaps they are just trying to protect their national interests just like the rest of the members of the Nuclear Weapon Capable Club of Nations.

Perhaps we can sit down and talk with them. I am sure they are reasonable people.

Obviously, it was a little bomb and word on the street is that they do not have enough weapons grade nuclear material to make more than a dozen or so bombs.

Just a dozen or so little nuclear bombs. Probably no big deal.


What if they decide to sell them to friends?

Osama and his Al Qaeda associates?


Somebody else with a big grudge?

What now?

Any way... good morning.

Friday, October 06, 2006

What can Congress learn from the Vatican?

Individual bad behavior condemned.

But Institutional bad behavior may be bigger scandal.

There is no need for the Iconoclast to rehash the sordid details concerning the grossly inappropriate behavior of former US Congressman Mark Foley of Florida. Those details are abundantly available in print, TV and Internet venues.

Besides, scandal in Washington DC is nothing new.

Money and sex are common themes for scandal in Washington going back to the earliest days.

The list of Washington politicians who have found themselves the center of attention in scandals of one description or another over the years is too long to recite here. But strikingly similar scandals involved former Congressmen Mel Reynolds of Illinois and Gerry Studds of Massachusetts both having been sexually involved with minors... one having gone down for the misconduct and the other surviving it.

We also have a long list of Washington politicians who are more into the power and money thing. Former Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham comes to mind.

The Abramoff scandal still unfolds as we speak.

But now Washington a all "a twitter" over the most recent scandal involving former Congressman Mark Foley. The investigation is just now beginning and will likely drag on well past the looming Election Day.

Having listened to the story unfold over the past week, it seems that the real story and scandal, yet untold, is less about the deplorable behavior of one obvious “bad-egg” on Capitol Hill, but rather about the political culture that seems to have covered up the bad behavior. Lots of people are talking and apparently Congressman Foley's behavior was not such a surprise to the Capitol Hill regulars.

While the Foley investigation is likely to drag on and produce vague and inconclusive results prior to November 7th (Election Day), it is likely to eventually reveal that too many individuals in positions of authority clearly knew or should have known of the explosive nature of the behavior long ago and turned a blind eye to the problem.

In the end the political apologists will explain the behavior in ways to diminish the perception of wrong doing. We are already hearing excuses that the story did not come out earlier because of the desire to protect the victim and his family. We will probably hear more lofty explanations that privacy rights of the Congressman Foley prevented earlier intervention. And of course, we will hear some who say that the leadership in Congress was focused more on the important issues of national and international concern.

However, in the end, this may turn out to be just one more example of an institutional cover-up motivated by self-interests of political preservation.

The more I hear about the story, the more it reminds me of the Catholic Church sex scandals that have surfaced over the past several years, involving misconduct by priests and high church officials who knew about the inappropriate behavior but still covered it up... in numerous cases and over many years.

Perhaps Church officials thought they were acting to protect the victims. Perhaps they didn’t want to ruin the "more important" work of the Church. I am sure that the high Church officials had what they thought were good reasons for inaction.

Do you see the similarities?

But in the end, it was nothing but a cover-up to avoid responsibility of the institution. And, in the end, the cover-up was by far the much bigger scandal.

Will Congress end up the same way?

NOTE: Photograph at top is the Vatican dome. Photograph at bottom is the US Capitol dome. A remarkable similarity in visual images. Are there other similarities?