Transparency News, 12/2/2022


December 2, 2022

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state & local news stories


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The Virginia Tourism Corporation signed more than 125 no-bid contracts collectively worth up to $11.8 million since the beginning of 2017, according to information obtained by VPM News through public records requests. The state tourism office didn’t conduct a public bidding process when it paid for vendors to lobby lawmakers in Congress, administer federal pandemic aid, market Virginia to Black tourists and add tourism-related decor to a reception outside former Gov. Ralph Northam’s office. In most cases, the decision to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars was justified in a paragraph on a single-page form signed by VTC President Rita McClenny. And in one case, more than a dozen contracts went to a marketing firm whose owner is a Democratic donor who said he personally knows Northam and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, though there’s no evidence to suggest wrongdoing. The information adds more context to an ongoing investigation by the Office of the State Inspector General into a nearly $275,000 contract VTC signed with an ad firm connected to Gov. Glenn Youngkin for a tourism video that prominently features the governor.

Petersburg’s search for a casino developer remains shrouded in secrecy, with no records available to show how the city selected The Cordish Companies to operate the proposed gaming resort. The city outsourced the process to a Richmond-based consultant, the Speller Consulting Group, but could not document how it solicited or evaluated bids for the project, in response to a request by the Richmond Times-Dispatch under the Freedom of Information Act. “Unfortunately, the information requested cannot be provided because there are no public records responsive to your request of any solicitations, public or private, made by the City of Petersburg for potential partners in the development of a casino resort, and any agreement between the City of Petersburg and The Cordish Companies for development of a casino destination economic development project,” said Shaunta’ Beasley, the city’s FOIA officer, in an email this week. “There are also no public records of any evaluation of potential casino resort projects proposed to the City of Petersburg in this calendar year,” Beasley wrote.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

A Portsmouth deputy city manager hired last month, who had been charged with welfare fraud in Suffolk, no longer works for the city, according to spokesperson Peter Glagola. Glagola confirmed Sunshine Swinson’s departure on Thursday, but declined to provide additional details, citing it as a personnel matter.
The Virginian-Pilot

A Prince William County judge on Wednesday dismissed lawsuits two local Republican election integrity activists brought against Eric Olsen, the county’s director of elections, and the county Electoral Board. The suits urged the court to undo the certification of the county’s Nov. 8 election results, direct that hand recounts be conducted in certain precincts and order that all equipment used in the election be secured and analyzed by a third-party to ensure “full transparency.” “At some point we need to trust that the people we put in place to do these things are doing them,” Judge Carroll A. Weimer Jr. said at the close of the hearing. Addressing the petitioners, he added: “I hope you feel as if you’ve gotten your day in court.”
Prince William Times

The Washington County Service Authority Board of Commissioners has launched an internal investigation after the recent dismissal of longtime General Manager Robbie Cornett and the dismissal and eventual reinstatement of Human Resources Manager Shawn Blevins. Ron Seay is now serving as the acting manager of the authority after Cornett’s employment was terminated at a Thursday, Nov. 3, special called meeting of the WCSA commissioners. At that meeting, the board voted to terminate Cornett’s employment, but provide him with a three-month severance package that included salary and benefits. Cornett’s dismissal surprised Dwayne Ball, a Washington County Board of Supervisors member who attended the Nov. 3 meeting to discuss expanding sewer service to the Interstate 81 Exit 10 area. The minutes do not reveal a reason why Cornett’s employment was abruptly terminated, and so far, the commissioners are not discussing the situation. None of the commissioners contacted Thursday would return phone calls or make comments concerning the dismissal. “No comment,” Board Chairman Dave Campbell said. “I’m not talking to the media.”
Bristol Herald Courier

The search for a new town manager for Front Royal is over. Former Town Manager Joseph Waltz is returning to his old job, after Waltz and the Town Council were able to agree on terms and finalize his employment contract on Wednesday. Town Council members voted 6-0 at a special meeting on Wednesday, which Mayor Christopher W. Holloway had called six hours earlier, to approve Waltz’s employment agreement. Town Council announced Nov. 9 that Waltz would be returning to his old job. But earlier this week Holloway told The Daily that negotiations with Waltz were “over” and that the town would need to renew its search for a town manager. Holloway could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The Northern Virginia Daily

How exactly would Wile E. Coyote or SpongeBob SquarePants represent their 7th District constituents in Congress if they had garnered enough write-in votes to best the official candidates? And who would run it better —Jesus Christ or Yeezy?  Those were just a few of the write-in choices voters made in the recent midterm elections. The Virginia Department of Elections received almost 6,000 write-in votes for congressional seats, along with write-in votes for local seats. Capital News Service filed 12 government records requests to review the write-in responses in those districts. Half of the localities provided the information free of charge. Greene County and Fredericksburg City required payments of $50 and $100, respectively, to fulfill the request. Capital News Service declined to pay the fees. The votes were available for viewing in person, according to representatives with Fairfax City, and Fairfax and Stafford counties. Prince William County denied the request and cited state code.
Prince William Times

At the Prince William County board’s Nov. 22 meeting, Supervisor Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, directed county staff to gather information on the board’s compensation compared to that in neighboring jurisdictions. Local governing bodies can change their compensation, but the changes can apply only to those elected at the next general election. Candland said the directive was issued to allow the board to consider supervisors’ pay as part of the fiscal 2024 budget and because the entire board is up for election in November.