After being threatened with a FOIA-related lawsuit in May, Greene County Administrator, John C. Barkley capitulated and relinquished documents that he’d illegally withheld. In a possible attempt to conceal complicity in a loan scandal of his own creation, Mr. Barkley has once more circumvented a FOIA request issued by The Schilling Show.
On May 20, following Barkley’s legally prodded document dump in response to The Schilling Show’s initial FOIA request, a subsequent request was made:
From: Schilling Show
Subject: FOIA REQUEST: Greene County Executive and VRS
Date: May 20, 2015 at 10:07:32 AM EDT
To: John Barkley <email@example.com>
Dear Custodian of Records for Greene County Government:
I am making a request under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (§2.2-3700, et seq.).
I would like copies of the following records:
Will you please provide me with an electronic copy of any document created, sent, or received, that directly or indirectly references the Virginia Retirement System in relation to County Executive Barkley?
The effective date of this request is from July 8, 2013 through today.
Pursuant to the Act, I request that within five working days you (a) provide me with all the records I request; (b) if the records are exempt from disclosure, identify which records are going to be withheld pursuant to which specific Code provision; or (c) if the records will be provided in part, identify which records are being withheld pursuant to which specific Code provision, and release the remaining, nonexempt records to me.
Please be advised that I am prepared to pursue whatever legal remedy necessary to obtain access to the requested records. I would note that willful violation of the open records law can result in a fine of up to $2,500, for which you can be held personally liable. Court costs and reasonable attorney fees may also be awarded.
Seven days later, Administrator Barkley responded with a seemingly sparse collection of emails (click to see all documents provided by Barkley):
From: John Barkley <John.Barkley@gcva.us>
Subject: Documents RE: VRS
Date: May 27, 2015 at 03:31:50 PM EDT
To: Schilling Show
Dear Mr. Schilling,
In response to your May 20, 2015 request for information, please see below the County’s record of email correspondence related to the VRS matter.
John C. Barkley,
(N.B. the original request was not limited to emails)
Immediately, The Schilling Show requested clarification from Barkley as to the completeness of his reply:
From: Schilling Show
Subject: Re: Documents RE: VRS
Date: May 27, 2015 at 03:41:00 PM EDT
To: John Barkley <John.Barkley@gcva.us>
Dear Mr. Barkley,
Thanks for sending these documents. Does this represent the entirety of the county’s response to my FOIA request:
Will you please provide me with an electronic copy of any document created, sent, or received, that directly or indirectly references the Virginia Retirement System in relation to County Executive Barkley? The effective date of this request is from July 8, 2013 through today.
Barkley responded affirmatively:
From: John Barkley <John.Barkley@gcva.us>
Subject: RE: Documents RE: VRS
Date: May 28, 2015 at 06:19:45 AM EDT
To: Schilling Show
Mr. Schilling, yes that’s everything that pertains to your subject request.
John C. Barkley,
Unbeknownst to John Barkley, The Schilling Show had previously obtained nearly 86 pages of documents provided to Barkley in response to The Schilling Show’s May 20 request.(Click to see these obtained documents in original form). For unknown reasons, Barkley did not submit these records to The Schilling Show—perhaps because of the damning information contained within.
Administrator Barkley—who on multiple occasions, directed Greene County staff members to not enroll him in the Virginia Retirement System (VRS), although he was legally required to participate—along with Board of Supervisors member, Jim Frydl, attempted to publicly portray the lack of VRS enrollment as “inadvertent,” when, in fact it was intentional. The circumstance of Mr. Barkley’s self-directed VRS non-enrollment led him to seek a $5,713.46 loan from Greene County taxpayers, to cover the amount he owed to the VRS upon discovery of his obligation. The interest free, three-year loan subsequently was approved by the Greene County supervisors, with Jim Frydl, Davis Lamb, and Bill Martin voting affirmatively; Chairman, David Cox voted “no,” while Eddie Deane was absent for the vote.
The following excerpted correspondence documents Mr. Barkley’s duplicity in Greene County’s “loan-gate” scandal.
Barkley says VRS “advised” him not to enroll
July 16, 2013 email from John Barkley to Lisa Herring (County Staff):
Lisa, in order to have my current VRS payout request approved and processed by the VRS, which takes about 60 days, VRS has advised that I need to delay my new membership contribution and date with Greene County until September payroll, so that the payout request from my previous employment and my new member application don’t get crossed, which will automatically cancel my payout. So I’d like to have the VRS paperwork submitted to VRS as of September payroll. [emphasis added]
Barkley says don’t enroll me in VRS now
September 5, 2013 email from John Barkley to Lisa Herring:
Lisa, just a follow-up to let you know I will not be enrolling in the VRS system at this time, so no need to process those forms. I may choose to enroll in the future but will verify eligibility with VRS before doing so.
Lisa Herring asks Barkley if he wants to enroll in VRS
April 29, 2014 email from Lisa Herring to John Barkley:
We still don’t have you enrolled in VRS. Just want to make sure this is what you still want.
Barkley again says no to VRS
April 29, 2014 email from John Barkley to Lisa Herring:
Correct–no VRS for me.
VRS confirms that John Barkley must participate
September 15, 2014 email from Rohn Brown (VRS Staff) to Tracy Morris (County Staff):
Please go ahead and enroll Mr. Berkeley with a start date of August 1, 2013. He will be responsible for paying the 5% member contributions going back to August 1 on a pre-tax basis via deductions from his salary.
Barkley makes false excuse about not initially enrolling in VRS
September 22, 2014 email from John Barkley to Lisa Herring:
Lisa, I have talked to Jim [Frydl?] about the VRS issue. As I was on probation for the first year there is no requirement to be in VRS, which is the biggest reason I didn’t enroll at first. Since I started here July 8, 2014, after the probation year the VRS enrollment will start July 8, 2014 so go ahead and get me enrolled… [emphasis added]
VRS debunks Barkley’s “probation” deferral theory
September 23, 2014 fax from Brian J. Goodman (VRS Legal Affairs) to Raymond L. Clarke (County Attorney)
I have attached a portion of the documentation regarding the county administrator’s participation in the VRS. The emails from Mr. Barkley do not appear to reflect the decision not to report to VRS during a one year probation period. Under Mr. Barkley’s email to Lisa Herring dated July 16, 2013, it appears that his expectation was to commence VRS membership when his refund of contributions from previous employment was processed. Recording Mr. Barkley as of August 1, 2013 would not affect that refund. Without any information to the contrary, VRS must stand by its position that Mr. Barkley’s VRS membership is effective August 1, 2013. The code of Virginia, specifically subsection 51.1– 135, gives VRS no authority to do otherwise.
Tracy Morris instructs Barkley to submit his VRS paperwork
September 26, 2014 email from Tracy Morris to John Barkley:
John, please submit your [VRS] enrollment forms to Lisa by September 30, 2014. If you have any questions about these forms she can assist you.
Barkley agrees to submit VRS paperwork
September 26, 2014 email from John Barkley to Tracy Morris:
Ok will do.
Jim Frydl responds to resident’s FOIA inquiry with creative language protecting Barkley
December 22, 2014 email from Jim Frydl to William Shifflett (resident):
Mr. Shifflett, We are required to pay the VRS employer contribution for all of our full-time employees. It is not an option.
A County employee was inadvertently not included in VRS. I have attached a document from VRS regarding specifics of membership in VRS. [emphasis added]
Jim Frydl tells public that Barkley’s VRS non-participation was a “simple oversight” and is a “non-issue”
May 12, 2015 Board of Supervisors meeting transcript, Jim Frydl addressing public concerns over the Barkley loan:
The issue that keeps coming up, which is pretty much a non-issue, of the supposed loan for the county administrator. Um. One, we as a board made a decision to advertise that in the effort to be transparent, even though the money was already budgeted and it wasn’t something that we had to re-advertise. Um, it was something that we advertised, put it on the agenda as a first and second reading to make the public aware of something that we were doing. So, we weren’t hiding anything. Secondly, it’s a simple oversight, uh, that oversight, uh, occurred, uh, the decision was made to amend the employee’s [Barkley’s] contract to give them an opportunity to pay back the money that we should have been removing from the check over time as opposed to all at once. That’s as simple as it is. You may disagree with it, you may not like it, but it’s not even uncommon… It’s really a non-issue. [emphasis added]
Jim Frydl’s claims that John Barkley not enrolling in the Virginia Retirement System was “inadvertent” or a “simple oversight” belie the facts borne out in the documents obtained by The Schilling Show and made public here.
Factually, Administrator Barkley initially told staff that VRS had “advised” him to defer enrollment in the system until September of 2013. That date came and went, and yet Barkley repeatedly instructed staff to not enroll him. In his subsequent defenses, Mr. Barkley never referred back to the initial “advice” purportedly given to him by VRS. John Barkley’s later claim that his “probationary” status allowed him to avoid VRS enrollment was roundly debunked by VRS legal staff.
When finally entangled in his own web of mendacity, Barkley attempted to conceal relevant documents and facts from the public via FOIA evasion. In doing so, he purposely violated Virginia open records laws while claiming those same laws protected him from releasing requested information.
Citizens of Greene County deserve greater transparency and less institutional arrogance. Citizens of Greene County deserve truthful public servants and honest answers. Citizens of Greene County should not bear the financial burden of politicians’ deceptive financial practices.
Citizens of Greene County deserve better.