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...

Monday, November 27, 2006

If God shopped… he (she) would shop at Wal Mart…

Wal Mart is God!

Or at lest... our friend the all mighty dollar!!!

You are getting sleepy… very sleepy….

Go buy some stuff at Wal Mart…

I love Wal Mart… (oh, by the way... happy holidays!).

I love everything about Wal Mart…

I love the approach to the parking lot! It is so big and inviting. I start to drool as I take in the first vision of that big, beautiful, box like building… full of familiar but yet unknown treasurers.

I came to get eggs… but yet… there is a perceptible increase in my heart beat… an unmistaken rush of anticipation.

I know that if I am lucky, I will find a parking space within a hundred yards or so of the main entrance of that temple of consumer delights. If not… well… who really gives a sh…! I will park where ever I have to… just to get my Wal Mart fix!

I even love the smell when I walk in the big doors... packing boxes, freshly pealed open with a box cutter knife by practiced shelf stockers.

Ummm... so comforting...

Yes… perhaps I sometimes feel guilty… I am fully aware that I really don’t need anything but the eggs I came for, but know that I will find something else… a treasure that will gratify my lust for consumption. Maybe some especially appealing deal will jump out at me… some unbelievably attractively priced garden hose… some fantastically beautiful lawn furniture competitively priced or not… and, of course, some really cool toys for the kids.

The eggs? Oh yeah... the eggs... I will try to remember...

What is there not to like about Wal Mart?

It makes me happy! The stuff... yes... the stuff...

But there is more...

The people… I really like the people. They, the Wal Mart associates (sometimes mistaken for employees), obviously like their jobs. Hell no… they love their jobs… Some of them love their jobs so much that they go way beyond what might be considered normal retirement years just so they can bring joy to consumers like me. They stand at the door and greet me with such enthusiasm. It is like they have the perfect job… just standing there and smiling at me… giving me the self-affirmation I need to take the whole experience in…

These are obviously “people people” who enjoy the joy of selling stuff to people who truly need some stuff...

Number six? No!!! I am not a number... or maybe... yes... I suppose I could be... Where was I?

I don't really crave the stuff...

I can stop any time I want... I just don't want to... at least right now...

The cart… it is so big and… yes… so inviting... I feel warm and comfortable...

Pile in the stuff… lots of stuff…

So… what is this disturbing news we are seeing coming out of Roanoke County?

It seems that some crazy people out in Roanoke County are questioning the advisability of building another quarter million square foot Wall Mart store.


Who cares about traffic?

Who cares about impacts on surrounding neighborhoods?

Why would anyone question Wal Mart?

So what if Wal Mart sucks massive amounts of disposable income out of the Roanoke Valley and sends it by wire transfer to Arkansas every day?

So what if Wal Mart undercuts local businesses until they go bust?

So what if Wal Mart exploits local labor?

Why would anyone waste time on these questions?

Most communities don't bother. Local elected officials in little communities everywhere go absolutely ga ga when they get a call from corporate headquarters from our friends at the United States of Exploitable Market Areas... otherwise known as the US of EMA... the real government of North America.

I want my stuff!!! I want it cheap!!! Yes… I want my Wal Mart…

You are getting sleepy… very sleepy…

Go buy some stuff at Wal Mart!!!

Don’t worry… be happy!

NOTE: Of course, regular readers of the Iconoclast recognize sarcasm when they see it. Typically, local officials are idiots and fall all over themselves when dealing with Wal Mart and other recognized "big box" prospects who like to be known as "economic development". Beware... economic development is not about selling a bunch of stupid "stuff" to a culture of adicted consumers who don't really know why they buy the stuff in the first place. Nine times out of ten, the community gets ripped off because local government officials don't require that the prospect pay a fair impact fee. Do most local officials even know about impact fees? You be the judge.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Greene County Named As Defendant In Law-Suit While Ex-County Administrator Dodges Bullet on New Fellony Charges!

Was Board of Supervisors negligent in oversight of County Boss?

Will Taxpayers have to pay to clean up the mess?

What are the lessons to be learned?

Back in August, the Iconoclast reported on an interesting story about citizen activism leading to the prosecution of the ex-Greene County Administrator on charges of making false entries of official records by a public official… fundamentally a violation of the public trust by the County’s chief administrative official.

For those of you who may not be familiar, Greene County is a pretty little County located roughly between Harrisonburg and Charlottesville.

In July, the ex-County Administrator, one Julius Lee Morris, with 32 years of service, was convicted of misdemeanor charges of altering official public documents while in office. The conviction resulted in no jail time and a nominal $1000 fine.

At that time the Iconoclast opined that while the convicted former County Administrator would not be facing any jail time he had irreparably tarnished his otherwise long public service career and undermined public confidence in the Greene County Government.

However, since that time, Mr. Morris has appealed his conviction on the misdemeanor counts.

Seemingly in response to the appeal, a Grand Jury has recently returned new felony indictments against ex-County Administrator Morris for the same misconduct for which he was previously convicted misdemeanor charges.

The new felony counts, if they were to have stuck, would have resulted in up to 20 years in prison and a $200,000 fine. As bad as the mindemeanor convictions were, convictions on the new felony charges would have been indeed very bad news for the long time Greene County Administrator.

So, perhaps seeing the wisdom of leaving well enough alone, Mr. Morris has recently dropped his appeal of the misdemeanor convictions. In turn, the prosecutors have dropped the new felony indictments.

The most recent twist in this story can be seen by clicking here.

But this is not the end of the bad news for Mr. Morris.

As the story goes, the ex-County Administrator is alleged to have compounded his initial problems by abusing his authority of office to attempt to frustrate the efforts by other County officials to investigate “multiple, potential zoning violations” concerning real properties for which he, the County Administrator, had financial interests in. This abuse is alleged to have led to the unjustified firing of then Planning Director Catherine Clossin … with the purpose of silencing her and stopping the investigation.

Didn’t work…

Isn’t it amazing how one bad deed leads to another, and another, and another?

But anyway… as a result Ms. Clossin, the former planning director who had her job with the County cut short, has filed a $1.35 million lawsuit against her former boss alleging wrongful dismissal from her position.

Interestingly, the lawsuit also names the Greene County government for its role in the misconduct, presumably the Board of Supervisor’s failure to properly supervise the County Administrator and hold him accountable, and failure to prevent the wrongful dismissal.

This story has just gotten a lot more interesting to the taxpayers of Greene County… and worrisome.

To what extent is the Board of Supervisors responsible for the misconduct of the County Administrator? How much is this going to cost the taxpayers… in legal fees and a potential settlement? What could have been done to avoid this troubling situation?

The answers to these questions are still a long ways out… probably many months or maybe even years. Ms. Clossin’s attorney has indicated that his client is not really all that interested extracting money from the County. But, isn't that what the attorney’s always say?

Much will depend on the depositions. What information did the Board of Supervisors have at its disposal? Did the Board of Supervisors act reasonably or was it negligent? Was there reasonable expectation that the Board of Supervisors should have known what was going on before the planning director was fired? Did they know and choose to turn a blind eye? Or, the worst possible scenario, were Board members acting in complicity with the County Administrator perhaps to avoid bad press coverage, or out of a misguided sense of loyalty to the long time County boss, or to cover up a bigger problem?

These are all possible questions for the lawyers to ask in deposition.

Most fundamentally, this is the classic question of … “what did they know, and when did they know it?”

If the Board is ultimately revealed to have had knowledge of the County Administrator’s wrong doing and failed to act appropriately on that information, for any reason, it is quite possible that the County government will face significant civil damages.

Unfortunately for the Greene County Board of Supervisors, some of the most damning facts of the case have already been decided once in Court indicating that the County Administrator was criminally culpable. It is also known that the County Administrator was responsible former planning director was fired. The County Administrator works directly for the Board of Supervisors. There is not much left to the imagination.

So, the Iconoclast will go out on a limb and predict that this lawsuit never goes to trial, the principal reason being that the County’s attorneys are very likely to advise the Board of Supervisors to negotiate and settle the claims rather than risking a trial in front of a vengeful jury.

This story is interesting because it involves local government officials who are sworn to serve the public interests. The questions are what make this story both interesting and instructional. By observing the mistakes of others, we can learn to avoid similar problems and hopefully achieve higher standards in public accountability.

The Iconoclast hopes that the golden horseshoe brings Greene County some good luck. Looks like they might be needing it.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 05, 2006





If you read the Iconoclast regularly or once in a while, there is an excellent chance that you will need no reminder that Tuesday is Election Day.

You will march right down to the appointed polling place and participate in the Great American experiment in democracy.

Democracy... What does that really mean?

Chances are... you will vote not just because it is a right, but because it is a duty to all your fellow Americans, a duty to your community, a duty to your nation.

You will also vote because it is an expression of hope and anticipation that the American experiment in democracy will continue to evolve into a more perfect model of government.

Admittedly, some may be voting with the thought to “throw the current rascals out” and to bring in some new ones…

I mean to say … bring in some new leaders… not new rascals.


Whatever your party affiliation (or not), Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Independent, Communist, Green, etc., voting should be taken seriously by all Americans who are eligible to vote. Voting is an easy way for every little voice to be heard... to count... to make a difference in our home communities and across the nation.

Unfortunately, too many eligible voters choose to stay at home and let others decide their political fate on a whole variety of issues... national security, health care, social security, taxes, education, community quality of life, transportion, etc... you name it.

Even in the last hotly contested 2004 Presidential Elections, only about 61 percent of eligible voters turned out to cast a vote. The other 39 percent failed to show up for what ever reasons. Some may have had a plausible excuse. No car to get to the polls; no cab fair; in the hospital in a coma; had to take the cat to the vet. Unfortunately, too many just stayed home watching cartoons on the boob tube or some other nonsense.

More voter turnout statistics from the 2004 general elections can be seen by clicking on this link.

If nothing else seems to get you too excited about putting forth the effort to vote, just remember that one of the most important reasons to vote is that a lot of Americans have fought, bled and died for the principles of democracy and so that you will have the right to vote.

And too, Americans have fought, bled and died so that others in all parts of the world can enjoy freedom and democracy.

How many Americans have bled and died? Too many to be sure… You can see the numbers here.

So, on Tuesday November 7th, get out and exercise your right to vote. Do your part to make the Great American experiment in democracy a more perfect model. And after you have voted, be proud that you have done something important.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Henry County Virginia Sheriff's Department Officials Alleged to Be Crooks!!!

Prosecutor declares: “Disgraceful corruption!”

20 Indicted Including 13 Current or Past Members of Sheriff Department…

Including… GASP… Sheriff Frank Cassell himself!

By now the news has hit the streets, in Henry County, the epicenter of the story, in Roanoke the home of the Poff Federal Courthouse, and throughout Virginia. The news was big enough that it was on the national network news before most Virginia news outlets had a bead on the story.

Readers of this blog are perhaps aware that the Iconoclast has an editorial policy of exposing the bad behavior of public officials as a way of educating others of the perils of such behavior. By doing so, we hope that in some small way public officials her in Virginia will hold themselves to higher standards when carrying out their public business.

This story is particularly depressing…

This is a story of a culture of corruption in the Henry County Sheriff’s Department in Henry County, Virginia.

Henry County is a good sized county in the far western part of Southside Virginia or maybe the eastern part of Southwest Virginia. It is perhaps best known for the City of Martinsville that is located in the center of the County. With a population of about 60 thousand, Henry is a significant population center. They have experienced economic problems in recent years and have been working hard to pull themselves up by the boot straps.

You can read more about Henry County by clicking here.

Yesterday, we learned that Henry County Sheriff Frank Cassel, and about a dozen other individuals currently or previously affiliated with the Sheriff’s department and another seven civilians were named in a 48- count indictment involving theft of impounded property, using and dealing with illegal drugs, trafficking in firearms, and abstruction of justice.

You can get the high (or low) points of this pathetic story from The Roanoke Times by clicking here.

Or, if you are a real glutton for punishment, you can read the 50 page Grand Jury indictment in all its inglorious detail.

Before going any further, the Iconoclast wishes to acknowledge that in America there is a presumption of innocence for all persons accused of a crime. That presumption applies here to Sheriff Cassell and his 19 co-defendants.

He and the rest will have their day in court. Given the potential consequences of lawmen and women being convicted of such serious crimes, I am sure that there will be a spirited defense effort put forward in the coming months.

It should also be mentioned that just because the Sheriff and quite a few of his Sheriff's Department personnel are facing indictments, it should not be construed that all of the Henry County Sheriff's Department personnel are crooks. The work of the Sheriff's Department must go on. Hopefully, the remaining organization is strong enough to pull itself together and move ahead with their responsibilities to the 60 thousand people of Henry County.

Having said that, a casual review of the indictment suggests that things do not look so good for the named defendants, considering that at least one is cooperating with the FBI and DEA.

The allegations if proven true are most egregious. Individuals who wear badges of authority… individuals who wear uniforms symbolizing the law and order… individuals who are sworn to protect and serve the citizens of their community… these individuals are now standing accused of committing some of the most dangerous and despicable crimes that can be imagined in any community… that being stealing dangerous contraband held in their own custody, and selling this contraband back on the streets to criminals. That contraband is alleged to include dangerous drugs (cocaine, crack cocaine, and marijuana) and guns.

What is the public to think when individuals sworn to uphold the law are seen to be the crooks?

What would possess any law enforcement official to betray the public trust?

If the allegations are proven against the Sheriff and the other members of the Sheriff’s Department, it won’t be the first time that members of the law enforcement community have crossed the line to become the crooks.

But what is so disturbing about this case is the large number of law enforcement officials who seem to be involved in the overall conspiracy.

Who else knew or suspected what was going on?

How long has this alleged corruption been going on?

How is it possible that so many people could be involved without others knowing about it?

What kind of “culture” was being maintained in the Henry County Sheriff’s Department?

Is this another example of corrupting nature of power?

Or is this just a pitiful betrayal of public trust and community safty for the money?

Chances are, when all is said and done, we will be able to look back and see that... yes... there were signs of problems that were ignored by people who should have known better.

Maybe we can learn something from this very depressing story as it unfolds.

Stay tuned.

NOTE: The photograph above is of Sheriff Frank Cassell as he is leaving the the Poff Federal Court Building in Roanoke. He doesn't look quite as impressive as he does in his official portrait for the Henry County Sheriff's Department Webpage.