“The General Assembly, recognizing that our system of representative government is dependent in part upon (i) citizen legislative members representing fully the public in the legislative process and (ii) its citizens maintaining the highest trust in their public officers and employees, finds and declares that the citizens are entitled to be assured that the judgment of public officers and employees will be guided by a law that defines and prohibits inappropriate conflicts and requires disclosure of economic interests. To that end and for the purpose of establishing a single body of law applicable to all state and local government officers and employees on the subject of conflict of interests, the General Assembly enacts this State and Local Government Conflict of Interests Act so that the standards of conduct for such officers and employees may be uniform throughout the Commonwealth.” These are the words of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s State and Local Government Conflict of Interests Act of which was passed in 2003. [emphasis added]
The government appointed Agency Budget Review Team (ABRT)—which recommends public funding allocations for private non-profits in Albemarle County and Charlottesville—is a chronically conflicted body. In reviewing the appropriation of County and City tax dollars, the above referenced Conflict of Interests Act sheds new and damning light on the ABRT reports and recommendations over the past several years. In short, if you are an ABRT member or an elected/government official, chances are good that the non-profit organization with which you are affiliated will receive public funding.
This year alone, the Agency Budget Review Team recommended nearly $1,000,000 to line the coffers of organizations directly or peripherally associated with sitting ABRT members. The chart below shows that of 18 total ABRT members, 8 at the very minimum appear to be either board of director members or employees (or in one case, a recent past employee) of the very non-profit organizations for which ABRT recommended funding.
The Fiscal Year 2014 Funding for Community Agencies report, page 5, delineates the ABRT: “The team consisted of 11 citizen members, the United Way-TJA President, a representative of the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation, the Charlottesville Assistant City Manager and the Charlottesville Director of the Human Services.”
Without shame or apparent concern, Albemarle County and City of Charlottesville governments are highlighting the fact that some of their ABRT members consist of beneficiary non-profit organization members as well as those in the employ of the government itself.
Charlottesville’s Vice Mayor, Kristin Szakos is deeply entangled in the ABRT scandal, as well. Her husband, Joe Szakos, is the Executive Director of left-wing political activist group, Virginia Organizing. Szakos voted affirmatively in recommending $17,500 to her husband’s non-profit organization, from which he receives compensation in excess of $10,000 per year (according to her Schedule H-2 Statement of Economic Interests). County ABRT cronies also voted to fund Virginia Organizing an additional $4000.
Sadly, Kristin Szakos is not the lone nest-featherer in Charlottesville City Hall. Mayor Satyendra Huja is on the Board of Directors at Piedmont Housing Alliance and they were recommended to receive $96,906 from City taxpayers as well as another $34,500 Albemarle County tax dollars. Huja voted in favor of the city budget that contained the funding request. And like his Vice Mayor, Kristin Szakos, Huja did not abstain from voting when he clearly should have.
The State and Local Government Conflict of Interests Act specifically references:
§ 2.2-3109. Prohibited contracts by other officers and employees of local governmental agencies.
A. No other officer or employee of any governmental agency of local government shall have a personal interest in a contract with the agency of which he is an officer or employee other than his own contract of employment.
§ 2.2-3103. Prohibited conduct.
No officer or employee of a state or local governmental or advisory agency shall:
- Solicit or accept money or other thing of value for services performed within the scope of his official duties, except the compensation, expenses or other remuneration paid by the agency of which he is an officer or employee.
- Offer or accept any money or other thing of value for or in consideration of obtaining employment, appointment, or promotion of any person with any governmental or advisory agency;
- Offer or accept any money or other thing of value for or in consideration of the use of his public position to obtain a contract for any person or business with any governmental or advisory agency;
- Accept any money, loan, gift, favor, service, or business or professional opportunity that reasonably tends to influence him in the performance of his official duties.
- Accept any business or professional opportunity when he knows that there is a reasonable likelihood that the opportunity is being afforded him to influence him in the performance of his official duties;
While the State and Local Conflict of Interests Act specifies reasonably clear standards for State and Local officials in the performance of their duties, we have a government-appointed advisory committee (ABRT) which smacks of cronyism and self-perpetuation, flying in the face of the law’s intent.
Viewed through public taxpaying eyes, ABRT actions in conjunction with associated non-profit membership relationships—and the gratuitous votes of elected officials—certainly cast an appearance of a conflict of interest and even impropriety over the entire Agency Budget Review Team process and the subsequent dispensing of public dollars.