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Stalingrad On The Occoquan

By Greg L | 16 September 2008 | Prince William County | 31 Comments

Ever imagine what it might be like if you could convince county government employees to provide you with electronic surveillance of your political opponents?  That might be kind of neat, but for most it would never occur to us to ask for such a thing.  There’s no way county employees would do anything other than report you to the police for asking, right?

Wrong. You just need to be of the right political persuasion.

On Tue, Jun 17, 2008 at 5:30PM, <danrapela@aol.com> wrote:

Eric,

We tracked down the person in charge of the security camera footage.  He said different buildings are saved longer than others because the footage is stored in local drives.  When the hard drives fill up, the oldest footage gets deleted.

Tell us specifically what date and which camera and I’ll forward that to our Building and Grounds Department.

Dan

Boy, isn’t that a helpful government employee?  He’s even conducting government business for you on his personal email account.  I don’t imagine that might have anything to do with making it easier to hide this kind of activity from public disclosure.

Now if you or I made an official request for something like this, the county would whip out an exclusion to disclosure under Virginia Code § 2.2-3705.2 faster than you can say “we’re going to treat this as a FOIA request.”  That would make a lot of sense if that were done, however, since such footage could provide valuable information that could facilitate a crime.  Things like what gets caught by a camera, what gets missed, how good the picture is, whether the camera catches motion smoothly.  You get the picture.  If you want to break in somewhere, and you know exactly what gets captured and how well, it makes your task a lot easier, which is why there’s about zero chance you or I could ever get this kind of footage.  But Eric Byler can.

From: “Eric Byler” <ericbyler52@gmail.com>

Date: Tue, 17 Jun 2008 17:52:34
To: danrapela@aol.com
Subject: Re: Security Camera Footage

The date would be April 22nd.  The time would be about an hour after the straw votes ended.  I guess it would be around midnight.  The cameras we are interested in would be:

1) hallway cameras

2) the window where taxes are paid

3) outside the front of the building

Would we be able to come in and scan the footage?  Or do we need to describe exactly what we’re looking for?

Thanks,

Eric

So would you think that this might finally kick in some crisis of conscience in a county employee?  Apparently not.

From: Dan Rapela [mailto:danrapela@aol.com]

Sent: Tuesday, June 17, 2008 6:15PM
To: Brown, Nichole P
Subject: Fw: Security Camera Footage

Nikki,

Here’s the request from Eric Byler with the date he’s looking for.

Sent via Blackberry from T-Mobile

So here’s another county employee who just might ask why this request is being made, and there’s plenty in this email trail that you’d think might trigger a question or two.  Let’s see if this employee can do better:

From Brown, Nichole P.
Sent: Tue 6/17/2008 6:18PM
To: Flory, Donald H
Cc: Bahrns, Elizabeth A.

FW: Security Camera Footage

Don, is this possible?  I believe that April 22 is past the date that we have footage available.

Thanks,

Nikki

Nikki Brown
Public Information Specialist II
Office of Executive Management
Prince William County, VA
703.792.6992
nbrown@pwcgov.org

Well, maybe not, but at least the county’s Director of Communication was copied on this email.  Certainly, she would know what to do when someone who is not even a county employee requests access to security camera footage.

From: Flory, Donald H

Sent: Tuesday, June 17, 2008 7:09 PM
To: Brown, Nichole P
Subject: RE: Security Camera Footage

Nikki,

You are correct.  April 22nd is gone forever.

Thanks

Don

Well, you just have to wonder what would have happened if the footage actually hadn’t been overwritten with more recent footage.  Think hard.  We’ve got everyone from the county employee who manages the video for County Channel 23 all the way up to the county Director of Communication privy to this email chain, and not a single person ever bothers to ask whether it is right for county employees to be releasing this information.  Not only that, but the search for footage and all the email back and forth only takes an hour and a half, even after business hours.  You’d think that Eric Byler must be the county executive, since I’ve never even seen county staff even acknowledge any email I ever sent them within 24 hours of receipt.  Yeah, it would have been provided if it was available, without a doubt.

I find it fascinating that county employees can be so willingly engaged in an attempt to conduct electronic surveillance on county residents.  Not once does anyone seem to step back for a moment and wonder whether fulfilling this sort of request is ethical, legal, or consistent with county policy.  While liberals seem to be terribly concerned about government surveillance of private individuals, they sure seem in this case to be happy it occurs (for lawful purposes in this case to secure county property) when it can be used for their purposes.

“Freedom is slavery,” indeed.



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31 Comments

  1. Loudoun Insider said on 17 Sep 2008 at 12:06 am:
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    Good work with all this stuff - is it from a FOIA request?

  2. Greg L said on 17 Sep 2008 at 12:25 am:
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    Roger that. I caught wind that a citizen had filed a FOIA and provided the response to one of the Supervisors. After a phone call, I got the whole kaboodle, and boy, is there a lot in this…

  3. Anonymous said on 17 Sep 2008 at 6:08 am:
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    Wow! Keep it coming.

  4. Love The USA said on 17 Sep 2008 at 6:27 am:
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    They should all be sweating.

  5. Loudoun Insider said on 17 Sep 2008 at 8:27 am:
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    Having seen a lot of the FOIA wars in Loudoun, be prepared to have people start to hide things from FOIA. Now that this cat is out of the bag, they will try to find more creative ways to communicate or simply “lose” the worst items. One of the toughest questions to ask is - who is in charge of collecting the FOIAed information and distributing it? If it is the admin directly under the exec. it would be all too easy to simply “lose” the most embarrasing items. I think all municipalities need an independent insulated FOIA office in the county IT department. This would be a great bill to introduce into the General Assembly for some reform minded legislator (hey Bob Marshall, check this out!).

  6. Emma said on 17 Sep 2008 at 8:46 am:
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    A fine example of Eric Byler’s “journalistic objectivity” in simply “documenting” the debate:

    EricByler, 16. September 2008, 21:38
    I will be calling Frank, Maureen, and Mr. Jenkins tomorrow to thank them. I feel really good about this.

    By the way, Elena, the video you posted is slightly different from the one the Supervisors got. The one they got has no cutaways to Supervisors listening

  7. DPortM said on 17 Sep 2008 at 8:54 am:
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    Emma, good point. He must be on a first name basis with Principi and Caddigan.

  8. such foolishness said on 17 Sep 2008 at 9:19 am:
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    You’d think that Eric Byler must be the county executive, since I’ve never even seen county staff even acknowledge any email I ever sent them within 24 hours of receipt. Yeah, it would have been provided if it was available, without a doubt.

    Now that’s rich, Greg! Especially since we all know you’ve got Corey and John in your back pocket, and they’re happy to forward any and all emails to you. How many PWC citizens enjoy the quality time you seem to share with Corey and John? Perhaps you’re suffering from selective memory? I’ll bet Corey answers your phone calls on the first ring. Care to share his private email address with the rest of us?

  9. Just the Facts said on 17 Sep 2008 at 9:22 am:
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    I thought the material and analysis I’ve been posting about the financial mismanagement at the senior levels of County Government should have the BOCS writing up pink slips. These revelations trump that.

    Now I realize that not only am I paying more in taxes, receiving less in services, and facing a one-third cut in County Government that comes with RIFs of friends who are just low or mid-level County staffers trying to do their jobs, but I can’t even assume I have any privacy on County property.

    I have no objection to the County using security cameras or other appropriate measures to ensure our safety when we visit County facilities. However, using such material to support the efforts of a private organization to advance their political agenda and perhaps embarrass County citizens for doing nothing more than attending a public meeting or exercising their First Amendment rights is utterly despicable.

    I don’t blame any of the Supervisors of either party for any of this – yet. However, now they know. PWC’s house needs to be cleaned.

  10. /\/\3|)iç 64 (Winner of the BVBL 40k and 50k post award) said on 17 Sep 2008 at 9:33 am:
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    This will probably be the last you see as far as emails go. They know that they are under scrutiny and they will communicate by other means. Text messaging will be the norm from now on since they will not be “hard documented” like emails are. I wonder if the same person mentioned in the emails from the IT dept is the same one that fulfills the FOIA requests. If so, I imagine they will have a reduced response than before or have the “gotcha” parts redacted, “lost” or a server issue that prevented the email from being preserved.

  11. Mando said on 17 Sep 2008 at 9:56 am:
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    If nothing else comes of this, at least Byler, Park, and certain govt. employees will have a harder time screwing tax paying citizens.

  12. /\/\3|)iç 64 (Winner of the BVBL 40k and 50k post award) said on 17 Sep 2008 at 10:22 am:
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    How do you figure Mando, like everything else that involves ILLEGAL aliens and their apologists, nothing will be done to them, they are immune from prosecution because, heaven forbid, we actually ENFORCE a law somewhere!!!

  13. finding waste said on 17 Sep 2008 at 10:30 am:
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    Speaking of Government waste why doesn’t someone sit outside the McCoart building at quitting time and watch how many County owned vehicles are driven to remote locations throughout Prince William County just for the purpose of the employees communing to and from work…..and NO I am NOT taking about the police and fire personnel. Simply a waste of our money!!!!

  14. freedom said on 17 Sep 2008 at 11:50 am:
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    If there is to be an accounting for “waste” within the county, the County Executive should be directed to create a zero-base budget within each department now and every five years thereafter…perhaps staggered by department.

    The purpose would not be to “…justify the police department every year…” as Craig Gerhardt ridiculously alledged last year, but to clearly identify the tasked functions of each department and then, to outline the resources (personnel…to include salary grades…and materials) necessary to perform each of those functions. In aggregate, you have the budget.

    Today, the Staff “creates a budget” and gives it to the BOCS for review. As has been said before, the BOCS nor the Supervisors’ “budget review committees” have visibility into the details of budget creation. A zero-based budget would provide that visibility. Do you think it will happen? Nope.

  15. NotFrankPrincipi said on 17 Sep 2008 at 12:46 pm:
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    Such foolishness (indeed)

    Elected officials play politics, and you’re “foolish” to think that they wouldn’t. County employees are prohibited from doing so. You want to throw out the county’s ethics policies, that’s fine, but at least be honest that you self-loathing liberals are the ones that want county employees to be freed from any obligation to act as nonpartisan public servants.

    No doubt if county employees were supporting HSM while drawing a taxpayer-funded salary, you’d be marching out front with a sign reading “not with my taxes” while muttering incoherently about warrantless wiretaps. I guess liberal orthodoxy hasn’t changed much since the Soviets taught you all about the bennies of spying on anyone who gives a crap about the Constitution. Let’s just use spy cameras on all those HSM people. They’re as inferior as all those unborn children we execute to prevent mothers from possibly suffering post-partum depression. Let’s use public resources to bully them into compliance with our enlightened worldview. It’s cheaper than building all those re-education camps, and we can use the savings to fund public school teachers instructing kindergarteners how to mastrubate.

    I guess ethics policies are those things that Repugs have to deal with, while Barney Frank continues to roam the corridors of the Capitol looking for young boys to molest and Barry “Just Words” NoBama stuffs cash into his burka that he got from the slumlords and Fannie Mae executives he’s been shielding from prosecution.

    Liberals. Ignorance should be a lot more painful than it is.

  16. Mando said on 17 Sep 2008 at 12:56 pm:
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    @ Medic

    I figure since all this has come to light, further proddings by Byler will be shunned and the red carpet will be rolled up. Maybe I’m being naive.

  17. starryflights said on 17 Sep 2008 at 1:46 pm:
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    Time to send out emails.

  18. /\/\3|)iç 64 (Winner of the BVBL 40k and 50k post award) said on 17 Sep 2008 at 2:09 pm:
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    Mando,

    I know (c: I was being sarcastic :) I am in hopes that their names in the public will prevent them from “helping” those that do not go through the correct channels. If byler gets his hands on any of this stuff, we should be able to get it as well and with the same ease as he did.

  19. c2consult said on 17 Sep 2008 at 4:07 pm:
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    Did Byler get the security camera footage? No! From reading this, all I see is that he asked for it and received a response from the media relations team. If the footage existed, you bet the county attorney would have been asked and you bet he would have said something to the effect of “hell no”. They would handle it the same way if FOX5 or NBC 4 asked for a Police 911 tape. I’ve made those requests before - sometimes you get a yes –sometimes a no.

    I work in media. Bloggers now fall into the category of ‘non-traditional media’. They usually get the same rights as ‘traditional media’. Didn’t the Wonkette blog obtain White House press credentials a couple years ago? Isn’t the Washington Post a blog when they put stories online and allow comments? Whatever Byler’s slant, it seems he just asked the right people. What did he get? Some DVDs and a cable to hook into a media pool audio feed? All the TV crews get to do that.

  20. starryflights said on 17 Sep 2008 at 4:47 pm:
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    Byler may not have gotten any surveillance video that time, but what about previous times? Who else might have asked for this or other video and received it?

  21. Indigenous_Elvis said on 17 Sep 2008 at 4:53 pm:
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    whatever he asked for needs to be on the record as a standard FOIA request so the rest of the public can see what he required. That’s the way you are supposed to do it, not use backchannel methods. Anyone asked via e-mail i.e. the persons above, should have informed him to submit a proper FOIA request through the proper channels. I’m concerned that none of the county employee’s told him this.

  22. /\/\3|)iç 64 (Winner of the BVBL 40k and 50k post award) said on 17 Sep 2008 at 5:50 pm:
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    elvis,

    I am concerned as well. It doesn’t matter that he is with the 9500 Liberty group, who else is getting the same info through the backdoor? Why does he need this, wouldn’t an FOIA request spell it out? Given his reputation at 9500, this seems like a witch hunt or something that will be added and misconstrued truth that they seem to be able to push out now. I had respect for them at first, but lost it after I saw the transition to ILLEGAL alien apologists.

  23. Indigenous_Elvis said on 17 Sep 2008 at 6:19 pm:
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    medic,

    I’m truly concerned as well…actually very, very concerned as this is a possible abuse of process. The FOIA procedures were put there for a reason, to allow the citizens to keep tabs on the government and to allow other citizens to see what was disseminated. FOIA was meant to cover the bases to ensure all that was being accomplished. By going in the “backdoor” we have the appearances of a process breach, In fact I’m not going to file a FOIA request to see everything that Eric Byler has requested. I doubt I’ll get anything back on this, but at least It should prickle some feathers somewhere.

    I’ve been researching the 9500 liberty crowd and what I have come to find out is that they appear pretty shady; byler writing his own wiki entries and such. It’s pretty apparent they flip-flopped on the illegal immigration issue. I have a strong suspicion that when the election is over and the illegal immigration issue is not as strong on peoples minds as it is now, they will all disappear into the woodwork. Elena and the others will follow for sure when they find a better cause to support….

    I have always felt this was just another “cause” for them to support, help the poor little illegal aliens who can do no wrong, all they want to do is work right? They provide more services than they take right?

    Wrong, Illegal is Illegal no matter how you slice it. why should anyone give a damn about someone who is here illegally? criminality breeds criminality, does not matter how passive people seem to be..the fact that they do one criminal act means they have compulsion to do another (you see illegals driving all the time without licenses, that’s illegal and they freely admit too it all the time)

    My personal feelings is that I dont give a damn about illegals or their families. I have always felt birthright citizenship should have been amended long ago (it was for slaves, not illegals) and that they all should be deported immediately. Push them all back across the border from whence they came and not to let the door hit them on the way out. And, anyone who supports or abets an illegal alien in hiding and/or criminal activity while knowing they are illegal should be deported too.

  24. Indigenous_Elvis said on 17 Sep 2008 at 6:20 pm:
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    sorry, I’m AM going to file a FOIA request…actually many of them. I doubt I’ll get anything back as mentioned.

  25. Greg L said on 17 Sep 2008 at 8:03 pm:
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    Ed note: numerous off-topic comments that started digressing into a flame war have been removed. Let’s please not try to drag threads off-topic, please?

  26. Lafayette said on 17 Sep 2008 at 8:19 pm:
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    My only intent was to share information regarding immigration in PWC.
    I thought that was a topic. Greg, you really should consider sharing that information on the Study Circles with you posters and members of HSM.
    I do sincerely apologize. I am not willing to participate in a flame war BTW.
    sorry,
    Chris

  27. Riley said on 17 Sep 2008 at 10:40 pm:
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    The Prince William Board of County Supervisors needs to take these revelations very seriously and get out ahead of this. An independent investigation should be undertaken led by someone from outside the county with no ties whatsoever to Gerhart, any of his underlings, Police Chief Charlie Deane or Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert. Questions need to be asked of Gerhart and the other named staffers and the supervisors need to take appropriate action up to and including termination of such employees as is warranted. These individuals are supposed to be working to implement official county policy as set by votes of the supervisors, not furthering their own personal ideological agendas.

    It is time for our elected officials and we the citizens of Prince William County to take our government back from these insulated career bureaucrats who believe they are accountable to no one.

  28. Loudoun Insider said on 17 Sep 2008 at 11:28 pm:
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    Is Ham Sandwich still around?

    Speaking of FOIA, back when the Tate case was hot and heavy, Loudoun CA Jim Plowman was FOIAed for correspondence. Somehow they were inadvertently not saved. Someone found copies somehwere else later and they didn’t make him look good.

    As I said before, a truly independent FOIA officer is needed in every county to ensure selective FOIA doesn’t become the norm.

  29. Maureen said on 18 Sep 2008 at 4:56 pm:
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    Riley some of the BOCS have helped promote this. Not ready to mention names yet, although they know who they are.

  30. indigenous_Elvis said on 18 Sep 2008 at 6:42 pm:
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    seems as the FOIA requests are flying, I hope to see some results posted around here on what people find out, when I get something I’ll forward it to greg for a look. I threw in two today, I’ll keep what I asked for under wraps until I get something interesting. I would have put in more but I was too busy laughing at the touchy/feely crap on the other board, better than comedy central. it should be called hippy central.

  31. Emma said on 18 Sep 2008 at 7:03 pm:
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    It’s what comes after the vicious character assassination and manipulation of County resources. Time to play nice.

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