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, 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.

11 Comments:

  • At 11/09/2006 6:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    How do we get one of these investigators to Buckingham County?
    Seems we could use some house cleaning as well.

     
  • At 11/09/2006 8:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Obviously, we can't go to the commonwealth's attorney here in Buckingham because of his unusually close relationship with the county administrator and the board. Go to the state police if you have a specific complaint of official wrong doing.

    But, the countdown has started for the November 2007 elections here in Buckingham. We can do a lot better. It would be nice to get some honest and ethical board members to replace some of the weak links we currently have. The voters have the power to change things here in Buckingham.

    Just do it. Start now.

     
  • At 11/10/2006 12:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I don't think the entire board knew what was going on, but some probably did and should have acted differently. The former planner, Ms. Clossin, has a good case for some serious damages and would be foolish to not go for a cash settlement. Maybe the board will pay a little closer attention to what their key employees are doing if they have to pay out a big chunk of cash to settle the case.

     
  • At 11/14/2006 9:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    These belong in Buckingham's site.. not Greene county.. Please put in Buckingham's site as they are certainly well worth reading..

     
  • At 11/14/2006 3:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    And where exactly is Buckingham's site and how do I get to it? If they are starting to hit the little corrupt counties - I am sure Buckingham is on the list.

     
  • At 11/15/2006 11:32 PM, Blogger Will Vaught said…

    Our intent here at the Iconoclast is to write about situations where we can learn something. This post is about inappropriate behavior by public officials in Greene County but we do seem to have some people noticing similarities in Buckingham. That is good and shows that people are listening and paying attention.

    The question from one commentor suggests that the Buckingham comments should on the Buckingham site. Well, there are several sites or posts on the Iconoclast that could be considered the Buckingham County site. The most recent is found at the following address:
    http://commonwealthiconoclast.blogspot.com/2006/10/big-bamboozler-of-buckingham.html . But we know what you mean down in Buckingham and you can comment anywhere you like.

    We appreciate your interests. Keep the comments and tips comming. We are amazed what insights our readers can provide.

     
  • At 11/16/2006 8:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    did anyone notice the new industry that will be locating in Buckingham County...maybe the big bamboozler did something right !

     
  • At 11/16/2006 4:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Glad to hear about the new industry. However, I believe the owner of that project died unexpectedly. As far as the Bamboozler being involved with that - does that erase the lies and deceit? Not for me it doesn't. Still have seen no petition results. We need a board and a "Commonwealth Attorney" that is looking out for Buckingham more than they are looking at for themselves. Until we have that - we are doomed!

     
  • At 11/26/2006 4:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    we need a new story to sink our teeth into will!!!

     
  • At 11/27/2006 10:30 AM, Blogger Will Vaught said…

    Yes, you are right about that. Unquestionably, the pre-election season kept the adrenalin pumping and fueled the blogosphere here and elsewhere. Now it is time to reflect. What does it all mean? There will be exciting times ahead to be sure.

    There are lots of interesting things going on here in Virginia, state-wide and especially on the local scene. But even bloggers need to take time for the holidays and just kick back and enjoy the season.

    We will be weighing in soon on various issues great and trivial in our little quest to change our world into a better place.

    Where will we strike next? Who knows?

     
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