By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau
RICHMOND, Va. — There’s nothing like a former governor’s federal corruption trial, a debt-ridden county, special elections and twice-registered voters to keep things interesting in these dog days of summer.
Some say the news cycle slows down in summer — but that isn’t the case this August in the Old Dominion. For those who were on vacation this week, or just too busy to read every story in depth, here’s your week in review.
Almost 15,000 voters reportedly are registered in both Fairfax County and Maryland.
And the Virginia Voters Alliance, an election integrity group, is urging Fairfax’s electoral board to do what state officials haven’t done yet: Purge those duplicate voters.
VVA President Reagan George complained that the state Department of Elections is only classifying duplicate voters as “inactive,” meaning nearly 44,000 voters alleged to be registered in both Virginia and neighboring Maryland are eligible to vote until 2019.
George praised the Fairfax board for working with Maryland to identify duplicate registrations in its jurisdiction. He called on Fairfax General Registrar Cameron Quinn to cull the voter list as soon as possible.
But the clock is ticking towards November elections. By law, election officials can’t purge voters within 60 days of a general election.
Redflex Traffic Systems is getting the red light in Virginia’s Rockingham County.
Just about a month after Watchdog.org reported that Redflex said it planned to fix the controversial way it runs its school bus camera program and violation tickets, Rockingham Public Schools decided to table its partnership with the scandal-ridden company.
It was the first school district in Virginia to begin putting the program in place, according to Redflex spokesperson Jody Ryan.
Redflex, based in Australia, uses cameras mounted on school buses to capture video and high-resolution images of drivers allegedly passing the school bus illegally when the stop sign arm is extended. Redflex sends that evidence to local law enforcement to review and decide whether the driver violated the law and needs a citation. Redflex prints the citation and mails it to the car’s registered owner.
Residents were concerned about the lack of law enforcement or even human interaction in the ticketing process.
Now that Republicans firmly control the General Assembly with their big win this week in coal country’s Senate District 38, Virginia can expect blissful compromise between state legislators and the Democratic executive branch, right?
It’s safe to expect more tough legislative pushes from Republicans — and more uses of executive power from Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, one political analyst says.
“I don’t think you’re going to see less partisan rancor than you’ve already seen in the first months of McAuliffe’s administration,” Geoff Skelley, political analyst for the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, told Watchdog.org. “… To some degree, you’re going to see similarities in what’s going on in Washington and what’s going on in Richmond” — not the same political structure, but a similar gridlock effect.
The General Assembly has a big budget, but sometimes, it’s county government that needs a watchdog more than anyone.
King George County, a rural enclave of 25,000 people, has racked up $100 million in debt with a spending spree on new public buildings.
The “Gateway to the Northern Neck” is a tale of two communities. Average income ranks high, thanks to the presence of wealthy landed gentry and a Naval weapons center at Dahlgren.
On the other hand, a third of King George’s subjects subsist at or below poverty level. Downtown consists mainly of broken-down homes and struggling businesses.
Overseeing the county is a Board of Supervisors, the majority of whose members have been in office for decades. In recent years, they have spent millions to construct a new library, animal shelter, football stadium, sheriff’s office and other public buildings. The capital improvements have saddled the county with one of the highest per-capita debt loads in Virginia — $4,230 for every man, woman and child in King George. The Virginia average is $2,693, according to the state Auditor of Public Accounts.
King George County residents aren’t the only ones losing money.
If the jury in former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s federal corruption trial finds him guilty, he’ll probably lose his cushy retirement benefits thanks to a law that he helped enact.
In March 2011, McDonnell, who championed himself as a reformer of the state’s underfunded pension system, signed a law denying retirement benefits to public employees convicted of on-the-job felonies.
A conviction on almost any one of the more than one dozen criminal counts he and his wife are facing for their gift-filled relationship with wealthy businessman Jonnie Williams will wipe out potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer-funded pension benefits over the course of his lifetime — up to about $60,000 a year, as the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Jeff Schapiro first suggested. That doesn’t even include lifelong health insurance and other benefits.
McDonnell took the stand Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to defend himself. The trial, which began at the end of July, could easily go as late as mid-September.
— Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter with Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau, and can be found on Twitter @kathrynw5.