Sunday, August 21, 2016

Corey Stewart Goes Yuge

And I always thought it was the great Darrell Hammond of "Saturday Night Live" that did the best impression of Donald Trump. I must acquiesce that I was wrong. Instead it is Corey Stewart, Virginia Chairman for the Trump Campaign. From egregious falsehoods blaming Lt. Governor Ralph Northam and Hillary Clinton for inciting police violence to supporting remarks that Trump made about a judge in a heinous fashion to threatening retribution for Republicans that support Gary Johnson for President, Stewart has doubled down on the outrageousness of Trump, himself, even drawing ire from the Trump campaign for his statements.

Of course, you didn't need me to tell you about all of these items, but I believe that Stewart is out-Trumping Trump.

Back in December, I wrote about my concerns with Stewart joining the Trump campaign, stating that, just by joining the campaign, he was going to burn bridges necessary to lead Prince William County properly as well as the state, as he intended to run for governor. In the meantime, he has gone further, seizing his position as Virginia chairman of the Trump campaign as a means to media attention. However, all news isn't good news -- there is a difference between name recognition and notoriety.

As time has gone on, the yuge outrageousness of Trump has backfired in a big way. While the results of the election in November may be different than current poll numbers, the lay of the land looks pretty bad for Trump as he barely clings to or is behind in plenty of swing states. Trump trails Hillary Clinton significantly in Virginia polls. While I have not yet seen polls for Prince William County, it is, indeed, a battleground county that is trending bluer with Democrats winning most countywide elections in the past few years, including the election of Ryan Sawyers, the Democratic-endorsed School Board chairman.

I believe that Donald Trump will likely be sacked in Stewart's own end zone. Safety!

As Stewart has gone yuge, he has hitched himself to the wrong star. Remarkably, Stewart is tarnishing his best quality -- being a voice of reason, at times, on the Board of County Supervisors against the extremes of Pete Candland. That would've been a good brand to run on as governor and to continue chairing the BOCS. Instead, he has made himself appear as a serial opportunist.

Solving problems in Virginia and the county require the bringing of people together and measured leadership, not going off the deep end for the wrong people. Stewart needs to dial it back, not just for the sake of his political future, but for the benefit of the residents and businesses in the county he serves.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Some Thoughts on the Appointment of a Temporary Brentsville District School Board Member

While there is nothing wrong with having an opinion, there is a problem with having an entitlement to rules that act only in one's own favor.

In politics, this happens much too often. One example includes the minority party's use of the filibuster in the Senate. The filibuster appears to only be terrible when the minority party benefits from it and efforts to get rid of it have been led by both parties at separate times, depending on which party controlled the Senate at the time. One can legitimately argue whether the minority party's use of the filibuster is good tactic or an abusive one, but it should not be viewed in a partisan lens.

What numerous Republicans and certain right-wing blogs have done has been reprehensible in the wake of Brentsville District School Board Member Gil Trenum's announcement that he will be going into active military duty. Frankly, their tactics and grandstanding have been disrespectful of their fellow Republican, Mr. Trenum. 

School Board Chairman Ryan Sawyers was definitively correct to seek clarification from the Attorney General's office for proper steps to take in this unique circumstance, where someone needs to be temporarily appointed as Brentsville District School Board Member. While Trenum named several individuals that he would personally have liked to take his place in his absence, that did not necessarily mean the School Board was required to choose any of these individuals. 

In the meantime, right-wing blogs posted fabricated false Democratic "strategy" letters and private information of a Don Shaw, a Brentsville district resident who was interested in the temporary School Board position, but not named by Trenum. Further, numerous Republican office holders have held rallies decrying Sawyers for being partisan. 

But, wait, aren't these Republicans and right wing blogs being partisan in their own efforts to attack and smear? They appear not to be interested in a quick resolution or following the proper protocols, but, instead, to make sure another Republican is installed temporarily as Brentsville District School Board member.

It is interesting to note that nothing of this nature occurred in 2013, from Democrats, when Republican Steven Keen was appointed as Woodbridge District School Board Member until a special election could be held. Democrat Denita Ramirez was elected to this seat, but resigned at the end of 2012 to accept a job in and move to Richmond. While the argument is being made that not choosing one of Trenum's hand-picked individuals to fill his seat is akin to going against the voters of the Brentsville District who elected Trenum, did not the Republican-controlled School Board, in 2013, do the same thing in 2013 by appointing a Republican to fill out a position that a Democrat had been elected to?

Personally, I have no problem with Steven Keen or any of Gil Trenum's choices as successor. What bothers me is that numerous Republicans and right-wing blogs have turned a situation that was not supposed to be partisan into a partisan situation through lies and smear campaigns. All this has done is distract from and undermine the important work of the School Board and trivialize what should be done in the wake of Trenum's deployment. I truly believe these tactics are emblematic of fear, anger, and resentment that some have about Democrats, for the first time, controlling a governing body in Prince William County.

The response received from the Attorney General's office to Sawyers' inquiry stated, "In Prince William County, the appointing authority to fill vacancies on the school board is the remaining members of the school board.” Just like in 2013, to appoint a successor for Denita Ramirez, the School Board members should vote for whom they feel will best fill out Gil Trenum's duties while he is deployed. 

I should also note that I wish Trenum the best in his deployment and am grateful for his service.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Loss of Reason

I am not without my biases and opinions. Nobody is. I’ve chosen to fight for those issues and causes that I care about. However, I also know that “Radical Common Sense” means that there is more than one side to an issue.  Too often today, people are not willing to have discourse about issues without insulting or refusing to consider the other side. They craft their opinions and make their decisions simply out of fear of the other side.

It really bothers me when I see so much hate towards local elected officials such as School Board Chairman Ryan Sawyers without a regard for the facts.  Yes, one can argue whether or not the Godwin name change to George Hampton was a good decision or not and there are valid arguments on both sides. However, if one disagrees with him, Sawyers’ advocacy for the renaming of the school should not automatically make him a bad guy or a wasteful spender of tax dollars. As we have pointed out on The Counts, the cost of the namechange is miniscule compared to the funding needs and gaps between other schoolsystems’ funding levels. “The other side” then went into outrageous arguments skewering Sawyers over “peanuts,” making up lies about George Hampton, among other things. Even, months later, this remains an issue to "the other side." The point, to me, has became less about the renaming itself than fear and hatred from supporters of Sawyers’ competitors who do not like the idea of a Democrat being chairman of the School Board for the first time in the history of elected School Boards in Prince William County. Here was their opportunity to pounce and get their just desserts.

If it isn’t about perpetual attack mode, why aren’t these same people on “the other side” praising Sawyers for his efforts to improve morale with returning 30 minutes to teachers, to lower class sizes the most since the recession began, and to compensate teachers, even attempting with School Board Member Justin Wilk to provide additional salary increases for long term employees?  Sawyers has done a lot of a good in a very short amount of time. My point is that it’s fine to debate items like the Godwin renaming but using it as a way to attack somebody is going too far. “The other side” in its echo chamber of fear and hatred uses this and other items as a way to attack instead of discussing the issues. While they think it is universally reviled, many praised the name change, including myself.

On the other hand, at The Counts, we have been tough on Supervisor Pete Candland along with several other blogs like The Prince William Muckraker and Moonhowlings. Personally, I feel that Candland is an easy target because of his positions on various issues and his tactics. I definitely have concerns with some of Candland’s associates, as discussed on the Muckraker. However, I also am willing to admit that Candland also has good ideas, as well. Unlike those on “the other side,” I do not attack without merit or refuse to acknowledge good ideas from those I disagree with. That is because I neither fear nor hate Candland. Simply, I disagree with him much of the time, But, some his ideas, such as proffer reform and returning funds from the recordation tax to the school division, are great ideas.

If I can positively acknowledge Supervisor Candland, why can’t “The Other Side” positively acknowledge Chairman Sawyers?

Sadly, this goes beyond just one issue, one person, and one blog. It’s the problem when people who genuinely want to make a difference are not wanted in local Facebook groups because they do not fit a certain mold on the issues. It’s the problem when lies and personal information are posted by bloggers in order to manufacture scandals to create fear and anger in attempts to silence those who don't agree with them. It’s the problem even when people vote against someone else in fear of what they will do instead of voting for someone and what they will do.

All I’m saying: Let’s get rid of the fear, vitriol, and dishonesty.  I’m not backing off of my opinions and not asking anybody else to, whether or not they agree with me.  We’re lucky to live in a country where one should not fear of having an opinion. Disagreement is not a personal attack. Everyone should focus on the merit of the issues and not paint people with broad brushes.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Of Partisanship and Projection

I was recently reading an article about toxic people, relationships, and how to avoid them. One word that stuck out to me was "projection." In the article, it was defined as a defense mechanism used to displace responsibility of one’s negative behavior and traits by attributing them to someone else. 

Recently School Board Chairman Ryan Sawyers raised concerns about the proper process in appointing an interim member to represent the Brentsville district while Gil Trenum is deployed. This is a unique circumstance where Sawyers' concerns are valid and his idea to consult the Attorney General is a good way to make sure that the process and decisions in appointing an interim member are done in prudent ways.

While Trenum has offered some decent candidates to fill the void while he is deployed, it does not mean that there are not others in the Brentsville district that should have the opportunity to be considered as well. One who has wished to be considered is Don Shaw, who happens to be a Democrat. 

All of this has been decried by county republicans as being partisan.  As a way to justify ths position, a mysterious letter, allegedly to the Prince William Democratic committee has appeared on the partisan Sheriff of Nottingham blog showing a partisan connection of dots. However, there is no name or signature. It appears that the letter could be fabricated, easily typed up, printed, crumpled, and scanned. 

Projection. The Republicans project their partisanship at the Democrats using questionable assumptions and fabricated evidence. But it is actually, the Republicans who have chosen to make this process into a toxic one by their own partisanship.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

FOIA Absurdness Hits a New Level

Last week, the Board of County Supervisors passed a resolution whereby elected officals could no longer use taxpayer funds to pay for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, which passed 7-1, Supervisor Pete Candland being the lone dissenting vote. This stemmed from Supervisor Candland's use of taxpayer-funded FOIA requests as a weapon of retribution towards his colleagues on the BOCS because of a FOIA request he had received. It makes sense that elected officials should not get this special privilege, since the everyone in the general public has to pay for the cost of their own FOIA requests.

Much about this issue has been covered excellently by The Prince William Muckraker and Moonhowlings, so I encourage anyone who wants more background to visit these blogs.

A few days after the vote, Supervisor Candland sent an e-mail blast where he spins the vote about FOIA requests to be some sort of apocalypse for county residents and attempts to play the victim:
The Board also passed a resolution that will build obstacles for citizens to see how their money is being spent.  As an elected official, I routinely ask for information from the County and my fellow Supervisors in order to help shape policy decisions.  This access to information is critical in determining needed reforms. 

Yet on Tuesday night, the Board voted to change County FOIA policy so all elected officials will need to personally pay to obtain requested information from the County or other Supervisors.  This move will have the unintended consequence of reducing the ability to hold our elected officials accountable for their spending decisions.
I'm trying to wrap my head around what the Supervisor wrote ... Usually when someone wins, they do a victory lap... not when they lose 7-1.

These assertions are not grounded in reality. "The Board passed a resolution that will build obstacles for citizens to see how their money is being spent." No, the Board passed a resolution that builds obstacles for elected officials who wish to use taxpayer funds for FOIA requests.  It does nothing to build obstacles for citizens nor does it reduce access to information for anyone, whether a citizen or elected official.

I don't feel sorry for Supervisor Candland or any elected official who waves the flag of austerity and ridiculous cuts but as soon as a cut is proposed that hits their own wallet, they rise up against the cut. Supervisor Candland has no reduction his ability to hold any elected official accountable, he just has to pay for it out his own personal funds and not taxpayer funds. As much as Supervisor Candland remarks about wasteful government spending, he should realize that billing the taxpayer to go on partisan witch hunts is about as wasteful as one can be with limited taxpayer funds.

This type of spin and stretching of the truth is nothing new for Supervisor Candland and his associates who regularly exaggerate the truth as a means to pursue an extreme small-government agenda. Unfortunately, some who received Supervisor Candland's e-mail blast will not see it that way and will take what was written in this e-as about threats to open and accountable government as gospel, when the reality is quite the opposite.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

NYTimes: When You Dial 911 and Wall Street Answers

With all of the comments in response to our last post about Supervisor Candland's failed library privatization scheme, I thought I would share the New York Times article , "When You Dial 911 and Wall Street Answers," that I read this morning.

While this article may not be about privatization of libraries or about Prince William County, it is about the outsourcing of critical governmental functions to the private sector. In this article, the outsourcing of emergency services to private equity firms is discussed and the consequences -- slow response times, stealing of supplies from hospitals, patients going bankrupt from ambulance services. Yes, Prince William County has had its own debate about emergency services, particularly about merging operations of volunteer forces with the Prince William Department of Fire and Rescue, but, luckily, there has not, YET, been the suggestion of privatization.

Any sort of outsourcing of a major government operation to a private corporation should be concerning -- whether it be libraries, fire departments, police departments, or school operations. Privately run public schools -- charter schools -- are one example of where the statistics have shown that student achievement is about the same or worse than regular public schools while lack of oversight, corruption, and embezzlement are problems.

Our county government is, indeed, stuck between a rock and a hard place considering lack of total revenues, lack of commercial development, and consequences such has having the lowest funded schools in the region. Yet, Prince William County is also the fourth wealthiest county in the state and one of the wealthiest counties in the nation. There does, indeed, need to be a serious discussion of bringing in more revenue versus what government can afford to offer. However, a serious discussion should not mean resorting to knee-jerk solutions, grounded in politics.

I encourage you to read the New York Times article to see more details about the consequences of privatized emergency services.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Book is Thrown at Supervisor Candland on Library Privatization Scheme

In our absence from posting here at The Counts, we have have been impressed by the coverage of issues by The Prince William Muckraker, particularly going on the offensive against hypocrisy by Supervisor Pete Candland and his associates.

There has been a lot remarked about this week in the Prince William blogosphere regarding his FOIA requests of fellow supervisors paid for with taxpayer dollars and by his associate Mac Haddow. I entreat you to read about it on The Prince William Muckraker and Moonhowlings. Particularly entertaining is Supervisor Candland's stream-of-consciousness and close-to-tears rant about being the subject of FOIA requests himself and his defense of Mac Haddow here (go to 3:31:58).

But, back, to the subject at hand -- Supervisor Candland's rouse to outsource library operations to a private corporation to save $3 million dollars a year, which amounts to 0.5% of the county budget. There should always be a concern when it is considered to outsource a core government service to a private entity as it results in reduced levels of service and/or reduced salaries and benefits for employees. Further, a private entity has a profit motive that the government does not have. This would have been an unnecessary move for our county's libraries which are well-attended and have high satisfaction rates as well as a slap in the face to employees.

I must applaud the Board of County Supervisors for voting 7-1 to discontinue efforts to outsource library operations. While I would have loved to hear the discussion that happened in closed session, it is quite a dubious distinction for Supervisor Candland that even his most dedicated allies assailed him in this vote.

Supervisor Candland, just before the vote, underscored the main theme of everything he has done as supervisor: "Our responsibility is to look at all opportunities to save money." For Candland, it has meant saving money, no matter the cost.

His full, somewhat whiny and defensive, comments on the vote are available here at 4:29:19.

Maybe, most surprising to me, is that Supervisor Candland was such a proponent of library outsourcing to begin with when he was one of the biggest cheerleaders of the recently-opened Gainesville Community Library in Haymarket, which cost $11 million. Why the need to save $3 million all of a sudden? Maybe it is so he and his associates can do more FOIA requests. Or is it a window into what Candland and associates desire -- to privatize any and all government and school operations to the lowest bidder?