Spotsy GOP Board: Do as We Say, Not as We Do – Part 2

broken-promise_handshakeFeb. 12, 2013 — After a year in office, we know that the new Republican majority on the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors has broken campaign promises. They also promised to be more open and ethical than the previous Board. Looking at their actions, it looks like the Republicans have broken that promise, too.

In 2004, the previous Board adopted a Code of Ethics  “to  assure public confidence in the integrity of local government and its effective and fair operation.” It has been endorsed and signed by Board members, top officials and appointees ever since.  Out of the 18 ethical tenets, these are perhaps the most important ones that govern the actions of Board members:

Act in the Public Interest
Recognizing that stewardship of the public interest must be their primary concern, members will work for the common good of the people of Spotsylvania County and not for any private or personal interest….

Comply with the Law
Members shall comply with the laws of the nation, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the County of Spotsylvania in the performance of their public duties. These laws include, but are not limited to: the United States and Virginia constitutions; the Code of the County of Spotsylvania; laws pertaining to conflicts of interest, election campaigns, financial disclosures, employer responsibilities, and open processes of government; and County ordinances and policies.

Conduct of Members
The professional and personal conduct of members must be above reproach and avoid even the appearance of impropriety….

Decisions Based on Merit
Members shall base their decisions on the merits and substance of the matter at hand, rather than on unrelated considerations.

Conflict of Interest
In order to assure their independence and impartiality on behalf of the common good, members shall not use their official positions to influence government decisions in which they have a material financial interest, or where they have an organizational responsibility or personal relationship that may give the appearance of a conflict of interest.

In accordance with the law, members shall disclose investments, interests in real property, sources of income, and gifts; and they shall abstain from participating in deliberations and decision-making where conflicts may exist.

Gifts and Favors
Members shall not take any special advantage of services or opportunities for personal gain, by virtue of their public office, which are not available to the public in general….

Policy Role of Members
The Board of Supervisors determines the policies of the County with the advice, information and analysis provided by the public, boards, commissions, and committees, and County staff. The Board of Supervisors delegates authority for the administration of the County to the County Administrator.

Members therefore shall not interfere with the administrative functions of the County or the professional duties of County staff; nor shall they impair the ability of staff to implement Board policy decisions.

Looking at these once again, I would say that the new Republican Spotsylvania Board has violated all of these ethical guidelines.  For instance, the proposed Route 3 bypass had been reviewed and advanced by state and regional government officials, experts and private sector partners for eight years. They invested hundreds of thousands of public-private dollars.  Studies showed that the road would alleviate congestion on hated Route 3 for 30 years, and its alignment was the least intrusive of other alternatives studied, perhaps impacting four or five properties. Granted, any property impact is problematic, but this alternative was better than others that would have destroyed hundred of homes, not to mention the historic  battlefield and the beautiful Rappahannock River.

But the new bypass might’ve impacted Supervisor David Ross’s property. Ross, a retired Marine and government employee who had never been involved in local affairs, ran for office for the sole purpose of killing the road project to save his property. He was subsequently elected, and two months later on the night of his first meeting, the first vote he made was to stop the project, and his Republican cohorts followed suit. With that one vote, Ross killed the road project, saved his property from being impacted and therefore, personally benefitted, and violated six, if not more, tenets in the Code of Ethics. Legally and according to the County’s Code of Ethics, Ross should have recused himself from voting, but he did not. No one, not even the County Attorney, said a thing.  Oh, he and his Republican colleagues, all of whom were backed by the Tea Party and like to brag about saving tax dollars, ended up wasting hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars.

It was bad enough that Ross and his Republican Board killed the badly needed road project and wasted tax dollars. They also forced the Commonwealth Transportation Board to take away the $14 million dedicated to the project and give it to a project in Stafford County. Moreover, Ross and his Republicans didn’t have an alternative plan to fix Route 3 traffic for the next 30 years. Their big idea was to get VDOT to synchronize the lights on Route 3, which made things better for a week – until someone “unsynchronized” them during Sunday church service at Life Point – but it’s not a 30-year solution.

In their ignorance and arrogance, Ross and his colleague, Tim McLaughlin, started bragging to people, as recently as a November HOA meeting in Lake Wilderness, that they had a plan to build the outer connector along the Route 20 corridor in Orange County. This came as news to property owners, preservationists and state and regional officials, who have never seen any real plans and would have to approve and fund the project. Of course, Ross and McLaughlin don’t have a plan, nor do they have any idea where the money would come from. They are finding out that they are no longer barking orders in the Marines; they are finding out that the pesky thing about being an elected official is that you have to govern….

Fast forward to the budget and tax vote in April.  At least two of the four Republican Board members – Heidig and McLaughlin – are substantial property owners.  Heidig owns the Lake Anna Winery, and McLaughlin owns over $3 million in commercial and residential properties, which he manages on the side in his real estate business.  During the tax deliberations, McLaughlin and Heidig led the charge to cut the property tax, directly benefitting themselves.  Furthermore, McLaughlin led the plan to cut the BPOL tax, which, again, directly benefitted his real estate business. Again, legally and according to their Code of Ethics, Heidig and McLaughlin should have recused themselves from voting. But, again, no one, not even the County Attorney, said a thing.

(As a side note, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that McLaughlin is ethically challenged. It was reported by LeavingMyMarc during the 2011 election that public documents indicated that McLaughlin committed voter fraud and dodged Virginia state taxes by claiming as his primary residence in Florida a house that he sold in 2005, while also claiming to live in Spotsylvania since 2002.)

God knows what these guys did over the summer months when no one was watching, but jumping to the fall, the Republican Majority came up with the plan to directly hire the deputy county administrator and other department heads. This move not only subverts the authority of the County Administrator, but it also violates another tenet in the Code of Ethics:

The Board of Supervisors delegates authority for the administration of the County to the County Administrator…. Members therefore shall not interfere with the administrative functions of the County….

Then, to add insult to injury and to commit more ethical violations, the Republicans worked with Republican State Delegate Mark Cole to hire him as the new deputy county administrator.  (As was noted in reports, Cole, a professed government-hater, was laid off from his government contracting job.) Cole and the Republican Majority had campaigned together in 2011, and exchanged campaign contributions. One would think that hiring Cole was and is an outright conflict of interest, not to mention the appearance of one, but they were allowed to vote and give Cole his new cushy job with a salary and benefits approximating $150-160,000 a year.

It is almost comical and very Spotsyltucky-esque that the government-hatin’ Republican Majority, who each now receive 2-3 government paychecks a month, would turn around and give a top government job to their friend and fellow government-hater, Del. Mark Cole, who is also on the government dole. But, as they say, we get the government we deserve, and Spotsylvania voters elected this bunch….

As I mentioned in a post last month, the ethical violations surrounding Cole’s hiring go beyond Spotsylvania. According to the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) Code of Ethics, the hiring and retention of Cole violates at least two of the tenets, possibly more: personal relationships, conflicting roles and participation in elections.  In any case, his hiring does violate common sense and our intelligence when he and the Board try to convince us that out of 104 candidates, Cole was the most qualified.

After a year in office, the new Republican Majority has broken promises and committed ethical violations that would sound alarms in most towns and counties. But, no one, not even the Freelance Star, or the Spotsylvania Democratic Committee, or the County Attorney, or the people of Spotsyltucky say a thing. And so it goes….

[Read: Spotsy GOP Board: Do as We Say, Not as We Do – Part 1]

Posted in Spotsylvania County, Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors, Spotsylvania Government, State Politics, Virginia House of Delegates Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Spotsy GOP Board Members: Do as We Say, Not as We Do!

broken_promisesFebruary 5, 2013 — It’s been a year since Spotsylvania’s new GOP majority has taken over the reigns of government. They promised big things: refunds to taxpayers, new industries, new jobs, tax cuts, more money for schools and public safety, more transparency, higher ethical standards, the sun, moon and stars…. Actually, they didn’t promise those last three things, but they might as well have. Let’s see how they’ve done so far….

First, the four GOP amigos – Ann Heidig, Paul Trampe, David Ross and Tim McLaughlin – pride themselves as strong, Tea Party conservatives who complain that government is the problem, is too big, spends too much and must be wrestled to the ground and tied up so it can’t bother us anymore. Typical Tea Party stuff. What they don’t tell you is that ALL of them were (Heidig is a retired government employee), or still are government employees. Furthermore, as they brag about their plans to chop government spending, with their new government job on the Spotsylvania Board, they now receive two or three government paychecks – plus benefits and reimbursements! Sweet! Government has been berry, berry good to them….

Well, you say…we have lots of government employees around here, so it’s unfair for you to point that out. Okay, you’re right. I’ll turn a blind eye on their employment status and hypocrisy and just look at their record so far. Remember that refund they promised? Well, they spent it. Remember the jobs they promised? The county may get 10 full-time and 40 part-time, minimum-wage jobs with the proposed Dominion stock car racetrack in Thornburg. How about school funding? They held the funding and are now micromanaging the school budget, much to the dismay of the elected School Board. Public safety? After criticizing the last Board for its improvement plan, the new Board adopted it but delayed funding the full implementation of it. And so on… Lots of talk, promises, smoke and mirrors — and very little action.

One area in which they have succeeded is repeatedly violating the County’s Code of Ethics. More on that in my next blog post….

Posted in Spotsylvania County, Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors, Spotsylvania County Schools Tagged with: , , , ,

GOP’s Groundhog Day: More Weeks of Treason?

groundhogFeb. 2, 2013 — Today is Groundhog Day.  ‘Punxsutawney Phil’ predicted an early Spring.  But reading the news out of  Washington and Richmond, it looks like we will continue living with the Republican’s Winter of Discontent and suffer more weeks of Republican obstinacy.

For the past four years, we have witnessed the constant drumbeat of Republican opposition to anything proposed by President Obama. Opposition to Obama’s budgetary and economic plans have slowed economic recovery and even downgraded the Nation’s credit rating for the FIRST time in history. This Republican temper tantrum, coupled with their plans to slash and burn government, continues to cause uncertainty in our economy. At a time in our Nation’s history when our leaders should be coming together to do what’s right for the country, Republican leaders continue to cry like colicky babies and for the first time since Obama’s economic recovery, the economy contracted during the last quarter of 2012.

Right on queue, of course, the explanation from Republican leaders and their right-wing noisemakers blamed Obama’s spending. They say we need more federal budget cuts.  But, looking at the facts, which are like kryptonite to right-wingers, federal spending is down, and in fact, last quarter’s slide is largely attributable to federal spending cuts.  Let’s get this straight: the economy slid due to federal budget cuts, and so Republicans want MORE cuts! It’s been stated before, but the media largely dismisses it, but you have to really wonder if these guys are deliberately trying to sabotage our economy for their political gain.

Washington is paralyzed by the hit and run tactics of Republican leaders.  On the state level, it’s not much better.  Here in Virginia – and in other places across America – we now have Republican leaders advocating nullification of federal laws. The latest salvo is in response to the President’s call for a comprehensive plan to tackle gun violence. Never mind that the President’s measures are backed by the majority of people, including NRA members, Republican leaders say they will ignore federal laws, and even our own Republican Senator Bryce Reeves pushed legislation to do just that! We know it’s a blatant smooch to the NRA and extremists in the base, but what kind of message does that send to our kids?

What is going on today is nothing short of treason. Yep, I said it. You think that’s harsh?  Okay, but what do you call someone whose actions are deliberately harmful to the country? What do you call someone whose actions deliberately advocate unlawful actions against the government and incite others to follow suit? Before you blow this off, let’s look at the definition of treason:

Treason – /ˈtrizən/ noun

1.the offense of acting to overthrow one’s government or to harm or kill its sovereign. 2. a violation of allegiance to one’s sovereign or to one’s state. 3. the betrayal of a trust or confidence; breach of faith; treachery.

Origin:
1175–1225; Middle English tre ( i ) so ( u ) n  < Anglo-French; Old French traïson  < Latin trāditiōn-  (stem of trāditiō ) a handing over, betrayal. See tradition
Synonyms
1. Treason , sedition mean disloyalty or treachery to one’s country or its government. T reason is any attempt to overthrow the government or impair the well-being of a state to which one owes allegiance; the crime of giving aid or comfort to the enemies of one’s government. Sedition is any act, writing, speech, etc., directed unlawfully against state authority, the government, or constitution, or calculated to bring it into contempt or to incite others to hostility, ill will or disaffection; it does not amount to treason and therefore is not a capital offense. 2. See disloyalty.
Looking at these definitions and what the Republican Party and its leaders have been doing, it is pretty obvious to me that if it’s not treason, it’s sedition.  We can argue the difference, but it’s disloyal to their oaths of office and is harming the country and all of us, and we need to speak out and call it like it is.  Period.
Posted in Federal Government, GOP, Guns Tagged with: , , , ,

GOP: Grumpy Old Pfarts!

January 29, 2013 — This past oldfartweek, we witnessed a Republican Party that is becoming increasingly out of touch – and desperate to hold on to power and the past!

On the state level in Virginia, GOP leaders continued their attempts to change the rules on voting and how Presidential elections are tallied.  They are still simmering over the President’s SECOND victory in Virginia, which propelled him to a second term. This happened even after GOP leaders spent last year passing legislation to disenfranchise minorities, college students and the poor.  So, this year, the GOP ramped up their efforts to make it even HARDER for these voters to exercise their Constitutional rights.

As if that weren’t bad enough, GOP leaders in the state Senate, split evenly between 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats, snuck in a redistricting bill on Monday, January 21, Inauguration Day, when Sen. Henry Marsh (D-Richmond), a noted civil rights leader in Virginia, went to D.C. to attend the Inaugural ceremonies.  With the Senate now divided 20-19, the GOP had the advantage and rammed through this bill.  Even Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, Republican, was ashamed.  Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell distanced himself from the Senate action, but whether or not he will veto the bill remains to be seen.

And as if THAT weren’t bad enough, Virginia GOP Sen. Bill Carrico led the fight to change the electoral rules of Presidential elections from winner-take-all to proportional allotments by Congressional Districts, which the Tea Party/GOP Congress gerrymandered in 2011 and which would give the GOP the advantage.  This paralleled action in other states controlled by the GOP that were won by Obama.

With these actions, the GOP motto has become: If you can’t beat ’em, cheat ’em.  Remember, this is the “values” Party….

Let’s face it, Republican leaders are mad!  They HATE the fact that Obama is President – and won again!  They will do anything to gain and keep power, including lying, cheating and stealing.  They and their shrinking base of old white guys HATE the fact that the face of America and Virginia is changing, so they fuel the flames of fear and use lies to divide people, and pass laws that keep people from voting and change the rules so they can win.  They continue to call the President names, and on and on and on….

Sadly for the country, it’s SOS from the GOP – a bunch of Grumpy Old Pfarts.

The day after the Inauguration, GOP Speaker John Boehner accused the President of trying to “annihilate” the GOP.   At the rate they are going, Boehner and his GOP/Tea Party right-wingers will accomplish this feat all on their own.  Here’s to their success!

Posted in State Politics, Virginia, Virginia Senate Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

VOTE Everyday with the Choices You Make!

choicesJanuary 28, 2013 — Republican Party leaders have no shame.  This past week, we witnessed history with the second inauguration of President Barack Obama.  In his speech, he challenged all Americans to reach to their higher natures, as he spoke of American values of community, equality, and helping the elderly and less fortunate.

Not surprisingly, GOP leaders and their hate machine (Fox, Limbaugh, Beck, et al.) tightly hugged their lower angels and sneeringly dismissed these things as “liberal.”

When did community become “liberal?”  We fought a Civil War to maintain the UNITED States of America.  We tried a confederacy, and it didn’t work, and when the Southern states seceded, it was held together for a greater cause.  In Virginia, we proudly call ourselves not a state, but a “Commonwealth,” which is a community of people united for the purpose of serving and governing for the “common good.”

Equality?  Well, it’s right there in our Declaration “all men are created equal…”, signed by all those liberal founding fathers, and celebrated by Americans each year on July 4.  Enough said.

And supporting programs for the elderly and poor is a value we have supported as a Nation for almost 100 years – and even before that through churches and civic organizations.  Although it has been hotly debated since our founding, supporting the “general welfare” is embedded in our Constitution, primarily giving Congress broad authority to tax and spend monies to promote the general welfare of the Nation.  Since ours is a government of, by and for the people, our democracy reflects our values.  And since the majority of Americans support helping the elderly and poor, we have given our government and elected representatives “permission” to fund these programs, namely Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

This value of service, of helping “the least of these,” was also a commandment of Christ (Matthew 25), along with his two highest commandments – loving God and loving your neighbor.  So, not only is this value embedded in our Constitution, which again, is a living document reflecting our values, it’s embedded in the Bible and Christian values.  It is hardly liberal, and if GOP leaders and their noise machine and base want to dismiss it as liberal, then fine, I – and the majority of Americans – are liberals and are in very, very good company.

What really irritates me is that these same GOP leaders and followers parade their piety and wear Jesus on their sleeves.  But, looking at their agenda, inflammatory rhetoric and reckless actions, they are hardly displaying Christian values.  And we need to call them on it!

Now, we can discuss HOW to manage these programs to ensure efficiencies and cost-effective management, and that IS the duty of elected officials and government employees. But, today, GOP leaders and their base are not acting in good faith when they attack these programs, because they do not wish to contribute anything positive or constructive to that discussion.  They just want to gin up resentment with lies, and slash and burn these programs so they can redirect tax dollars to their priorities, namely a more bloated Pentagon and tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations.  Their calls for a limited government really means that they want to limit government benefits to their cronies.

The fact of the matter is that in 2008 and again in 2012, the majority of Americans reaffirmed these values with the election and re-election of President Obama.  They are not liberal or conservative.  They are American values, strengthened by the new coalition of Americans that support the President and his agenda.

Make no mistake, though.  The GOP leaders will continue to attack these things, and we need to fight back.  We need to stay engaged.  Speak out. Write letters to the editor and contact our elected officials.  And turn out and VOTE!

Yes, VOTE!   Vote not only in elections, but everyday.

Each day, we vote to support people, products, companies and organizations by the choices we make.  Before you make that choice, whether it’s with your money or your time, find out if it supports your values.  If not, don’t invest.  We can start with Fox – not just Fox News, but all of Fox and News Corp.  That one is easy.  How about others?  Let’s work together to “out” those companies and people who are working against us and our values.  By doing this, we don’t have to wait for elections.   We can make a difference every day.  Each day, by making the right choices that reflect our values, we can make the world a little bit better.

Posted in Federal Government Tagged with: , , , , , ,

No, We Can’t Stay Home Again

Obama InaugurationJanuary 21, 2013 — In his inaugural speech yesterday, the President challenged us to come together as one community, one Nation to tackle big things and move America forward.  The pundits are effusive in their praise of this overture, as if it’s something new.  But those of us who supported the President in 2008 and 2012 know that this is nothing new.  Barack Obama has been talking about the importance of community and unity for quite some time, and in fact, became famous for uttering these lines in his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention:

…there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too: We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States, and, yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.

Nor is it new that as the President continues to try to unite the country to address our challenges and opportunities, Republican Party leaders and their allies have already signaled that they will continue their strategy of dividing Americans and opposing the President’s agenda (see Joan Walsh’s piece in Salon).  I am continually amazed how pundits and reporters criticize the President for his inability to change the tone in Washington, as if it his responsibility and his alone.  Yes, he is the President, and he sets the tone, and like he did four years, today he asked for unity.  And like they did four years ago, Republican leaders will smile politely today, but tonight will ignore the call and continue to use vicious lies and fears to divide Americans and to stop the President.  So, who’s really to blame for the continued partisan tone in Washington and throughout America?  To the pundits who criticize the President for not being “nice” and schmoozing with Republicans, when will you wake up and hold those Republican leaders to the same standards?

As the President begins his second term, we are told that he is wiser and knows what he’s up against with the Republican, Inc., hate machine.  We the people need to be smart, too.  In 2009, we were elated that we elected the President, who espoused our vision and values.  We thought that we had done our job, and we went home.  We didn’t turn out in 2009 during Virginia’s state elections, and we didn’t fight back against the lies during the healthcare and subsequent battles.  And look what happened: Governor Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, and a Tea Party Congress.

Folks, this time, we can’t go home.  We have to fight for our values.  We have to fight for our community.  We have to fight against policies that restrict voting rights and women’s rights.  We have to turn out this year and elect people who share our values and vision and will move Virginia forward.  We can’t leave it up to others.  It’s up to us.

Posted in 2012 Election, GOP Tagged with: , , ,

Cole has a dream: Squash King’s dream

Cole_DreamJanuary 19, 2013 — Today’s Freelance Star includes a story on the dual roles of that great multi-tasker, Virginia House Del./Spotsylvania County deputy administrator Mark Cole.  Among the many humorous items in the story is Cole’s assertion that he can handle both jobs by working days, nights and weekends to make sure he gets it all done.  I find that particularly amusing, because looking at Mark Cole,  one doesn’t get the sense that he has a huge metabolic rate or is burning a lot of calories, but I digress…..

More importantly, the story also once again raises the ethical violations surrounding Cole’s appointment pushed by the Spotsy Board’s new Republican majority, who either received from or gave campaign contributions to Cole.  In addition, according to to the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) Code of Ethics, the hiring and retention of Cole violates at least two of the tenets, possibly more.  In any case, his hiring does violate common sense and our intelligence when he and the Board try to convince us that out of 104 candidates, Cole was the most qualified.

All of this comes during the weekend when the Nation is honoring the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.  You might ask what that has to do with the unethical hiring of Cole?  This is the same Mark Cole, who continues to push for ways to keep people from voting.  Not just any people, mind you, but more specifically, African Americans, Latinos, college students and poor people – people who traditionally vote Democratic.  Last year, he supported legislation to keep these folks from voting, and when that didn’t work in the 2012 elections, he upped the ante and introduced legislation to make it even harder!

Of course, just as he tries to justify his hiring in Spotsy, Cole tries to justify his voter suppression initiatives.  But, they don’t wash.  Again, his violation of there civil rights and voting rights violates common sense and our intelligence.

Dr. King died fighting for civil rights and voting rights.  That’s why we honor him this weekend.   And as we honorDr. King and remember the moral and spiritual movement he led, today’s story reminds us that we live in a county that is led by people who vote for and hire a guy like Mark Cole, who is working hard to undo the great work of King.  As we reflect on the life and work of Dr. King, let us also think about what kind of community we want to create and want kind of people we want leading it.  We can do better than this.

Posted in Spotsylvania County, Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors, Spotsylvania Government Tagged with: , , , ,