Transparency News, 12/6/2022


December 6, 2022

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state & local news stories


VCOG is seeking nominations for its open government awards for citizens, press and government.
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A judge on Monday declined to dismiss a lawsuit claiming Virginia’s ban on slots-like skill machines violates free speech and indicated a state senator’s involvement in the case means it won’t go to trial until after the 2023 General Assembly session is over. At a hearing Monday morning in Greensville County Circuit Court, Judge Louis Lerner also rejected a claim the General Assembly violated the Virginia Constitution by quietly adding legislation to the most recent state budget that sought to reinforce the purported illegality of the machines that have proliferated in Virginia convenience stores, truck stops and sports bars. Lerner said he had serious concerns about the argument but ultimately concluded it wasn’t the court’s role to try to force the General Assembly to legislate in the open. “Government at any level should not be doing business in the dark,” Lerner said from the bench. “But once again, I’m not going to peek into that closet.”
Virginia Mercury

The Youngkin administration has posted an opening for a “chief procurement officer” and has commissioned a nearly $2 million consultant’s study to come up with recommendations for changing the way state officials buy things. The job posting says the new chief procurement officer is needed to implement recommendations that are to come through that nearly $2 million study by the Boston Consulting Group, an international management consultant firm. In its contract, Boston Consulting said its first look at state spending as it was putting together its proposal for the state showed Virginia could save as much as $900 million a year, roughly 10% of the state’s discretionary spending in fiscal year 2021. The state’s total general fund spending that year was budgeted at nearly $48 billion, so the savings would have reduced the call on taxpayers’ money by just under 2%. While the contract included sections detailing where Boston Consulting found state expenses could be cut, these were blacked out in the copy the state provided in response to a Richmond Times-Dispatch Freedom of Information Act request, on the grounds that the state spending data was proprietary information belong to the Boston Consulting. The Department of General Services, which formally signed the contract, did not reply when asked how state spending data could be considered as belonging to a private firm or as a trade secret of that firm.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

A special grand jury convened at the request of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has issued a scathing report against a northern Virginia school system accusing it of mishandling a student who sexually assaulted classmates at two different high schools last year. The grand jury report accuses the Loudoun County Public Schools superintendent of lying to the public to cover up what occurred, and authorities of ignoring multiple warning signs that could have prevented an assault.
Associated Press

A former political consultant for ex-U.S. Rep. Scott Taylor avoided prison Monday at the Virginia Beach Circuit Court by pleading no contest to three misdemeanor charges of neglect of election duty. Robert “Rob” Catron received a three-year suspended sentence. He was ordered to pay court costs, $7,500 in fines and to maintain good behavior for the next 12 months. Catron, who now works at the Alcalde & Fay, a lobbying firm in Arlington, was facing 10 counts of making false statements and election fraud stemming from a petition scandal during Taylor’s 2018 campaign for a second term in Congress. Each count is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
The Virginian-Pilot

No decision was made at Monday’s hearing on reversion, but the judges presiding offered plenty of comments during the proceeding, and none of them appeared to be in support of the city. In March, the Supreme Court of Virginia appointed W. Reilly Marchant of the 13th Judicial Circuit (Richmond) as Chief Judge, Frederick A. Rowlett of the 28th Judicial Circuit (the city of Bristol, Smyth and Washington counties) and Rufus A. Banks Jr. of the 1st Judicial Circuit (Chesapeake) to a three-judge panel. Martinsville outside counsel Stephen Piepgrass argued that despite a breakdown in negotiated reversion between the city and the county, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between both parties was still binding, effective and enforceable. Rowlett added that the City’s request cut out a “built-in process for the citizenry to weigh in” on the matter. “The citizenry gets the right to weigh in,” said Rowlett. “They get another crack at it.”
Martinsville Bulletin

The Washington County Service Authority Board of Commissioners met in a special called meeting Monday to discuss paying a severance settlement to its ousted longtime manager, Robbie Cornett. Following a closed session, the board approved the terms of a severance package made in agreement with Cornett on Nov. 30. Details of that package were not released to the public at Monday’s meeting. “It’s not a public document,” Board Chairman David Campbell said. In November, the board opened an internal investigation into Cornett’s dismissal and the firing and re-hiring of Human Resources Manager Shawn Blevins. Still, the details or reasons concerning the dismissal of Cornett’s dismissal on Nov. 3 have not been released. “We cannot discuss personnel problems,” Campbell said at Monday’s meeting.
Bristol Herald Courier

The FBI is investigating a hack of the Norfolk Airport Authority after $389,000 was sent to a criminal’s bank account through five payments. According to court documents, in March 2022 someone hacked Norfolk Airport Authority email accounts. They pretended be an account representative for the airport. They told one of their vendors -- Avis Car Rental -- that the airport changed its payment procedures. The hacker provided an account and routing number to a JPMorgan Chase bank account.

stories of national interest

During the height of the war in Afghanistan, U.S. military leaders flocked to the Caspian Sea nation of Azerbaijan to embrace its president, Ilham Aliyev, despite a report from the U.S. Embassy comparing the mustachioed strongman to mafia bosses in “The Godfather.” Setting aside concerns about Azerbaijan’s culture of corruption, Pentagon officials persuaded Aliyev to open his country’s borders and airspace to critical U.S. and NATO supply routes to Afghanistan. In exchange, U.S. officials promised a closer diplomatic partnership with Aliyev and steered $369 million in defense contracts to Silk Way Airlines, an Azerbaijan cargo carrier that U.S. investigators say was controlled by the government. Two U.S. Air Force generals — Duncan McNabb and William Fraser III — who oversaw the supply routes from 2008 to 2014 later tried to cash in on their Azerbaijan connections. Upon retiring from active duty, the four-star generals negotiated valuable consulting deals with Silk Way Airlines, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act. One of them stood to earn $5,000 a day.
The Washington Post
(Note: Reporter Nate Jones is scheduled to speak at VCOG's conference March 16 in Charlottesville.)