Charlottesville city police are investigating a report of city funds being used to pay for a cell phone used by former Electoral Board member Stephanie Commander more than three years after she left office, K. Burnell Evans reports in The Daily Progress.
The Electoral Board is a three member board that is charged with conducting elections in Charlottesville and certifying the results. Members are appointed by Charlottesville Circuit Court Judges based on nominations from the two political parties that received the most votes in the most recent gubernatorial election. The current Governor’s party has two representatives on the Board and the party receiving the next highest number of votes has one representative. Current members are Chairwoman Joan Schatzman and Vice Chair James Nix, both representing the Democratic Party, and Republican Rick Sincere.
Members are optionally given city-issued cell phones, and three years after she left the Board, Democrat Stephanie Commander was still using hers at a cost to the city of over $2500 since leaving office.
City Registrar staff brought this issue to the attention of City Manager Maurice Jones last March. On Friday, Board Chairwoman Joan Schatzman turned phone records over to city prosecutors. In addition to Ms. Commander, for the past five years the city has also paid for a cell phone for Pat Owen, the husband of City Registrar Sherri Iachetta. Ms. Iachetta reports that she has reimbursed the city for her husband’s phone every month since it was first issued to him.
Board members Nix and Sincere do not have city-issued phones.
State police are investigating the Albemarle County Circuit Court’s office, Graelyn Brashear reports. Nobody’s saying what it’s all about, other than that it involves an employee of the office, but since the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts is involved, it’s pretty likely that this is about ongoing financial irregularities in the office’s bookkeeping.
The Clerk of Court is Debbie Shipp, a 30-year veteran of the office who was elected as clerk in 2007 after eight-term incumbent Shelby Marshall stepped down. Annual audits by the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts started looking grim in 2011, and did not improve any in 2012 or in 2013. Shipp was given the benefit of the doubt by many because of the serial deaths of her son and sister (an employee of her office), but the auditor’s report made clear that her office’s financial practices are chronically irregular, with no plan to improve them, and lack many of the basic practices employed by most people in their personal finances. The Democrat is serving an eight-year term, so she’s not up for reelection until November of next year.
Of course, it’s possible that this investigation is unrelated, but given the involvement of the state auditor, it seems likely that there is suspicion that this is not about incompetence, but fraud. Nobody’s been arrested, nobody’s been charged, and perhaps nobody will be. No word on what the next step is, but apparently the investigation is ongoing.
In a stunning development, the Federal Highway Administration is requiring VDOT to prove that the Western Bypass will serve any real purpose and is better than alternatives, Sean Tubbs reports for Charlottesville Tomorrow. The FHA points to the growth of the region and questions whether the two-decade-old plan to build a bypass around our bypass makes sense anymore. (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.) They’ve told VDOT to consider alternatives, which is almost certainly a euphemism for grade-separated interchanges along 29. In perhaps the most gutting line in the letter, they encourage VDOT to “work closely with local representatives to gain their support of the transportation improvement moving forward,” an acknowledgement that only a single member of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors supports the proposed Western Bypass.
As Sean Tubbs writes in the article, “in combination with expected action by the Albemarle Board of Supervisors to withdraw its support, construction of the Western Bypass in the near future now appears very unlikely.”
02/20 Update: Rubbing a little salt in the wound, BOS Democrats passed a surprise resolution against the Western Bypass at last night’s meeting. Ken Boyd, the lone Republican, objected to the unexpected appearance of the resolution, which was met with laughter from the audience and some members of the board. Boyd famously engineered the same thing in 2011, in that case causing the long-dead bypass to rise up again. The whole scene last night amounted to something like revenge fantasy pornography for bypass opponents, who now hold the high ground on nearly every front, an utter reversal from the position of defeat that they occupied three years ago.
President Obama and French President François Hollande will visit Monticello on Monday, The Hill reports. That’s just one day before Hollande’s state visit to the White House. In a statement, the White House said that “the residence of Thomas Jefferson, one of the United States’ earliest envoys to France, Monticello reflects Jefferson’s affection for the people of France, the long-standing relations between our two democracies, and the shared values we hold dear: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” There is no reason to think that this will be a public event.
Albemarle County has agreed to accept a gift of 410 acres to create a nature preserve, Sean Tubbs reports for Charlottesville Tomorrow. Montgomery Bird Woods and Jose V. Lambert tried to donate the land earlier in the year but, surprisingly, the gift was turned down at the recommendation of Albemarle County staff. The rationale for the rejection was that the county isn’t prepared to do anything with it, and they’re not in a position to prevent people from trespassing on parcel. The land is located on Route 29, just south of town, near Arrowhead Valley Road. The couple was frustrated by the decision, and invited county officials to visit, which they did. The solution was to partner with the Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary and the Ivy Creek Foundation, who will act as caretakers, which will leave the county spending just $6,500/year on the land.
Confusingly—or perhaps fittingly—the park will be named “Woods Park,” in honor of Montgomery Bird Woods’s father, William Sharpless Derrick Woods, whose name you might know from “McGuire, Woods, & Battle.”