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Manassas Spends $1,500 a Month To Trample Your Rights

By Greg L | 18 October 2011 | Manassas City | 27 Comments

Way to go, Manassas City Council.  If you want to wage a war against property rights, don’t forget that three of your members are going to face the voters in the May, 2012 municipal elections.

The City of Manassas is joining other localities to wage a campaign against a proposed constitutional amendment in the Virginia legislature that will affect everything from whether state roads are built to the city’s ability to shut down streets for its Christmas parade, according to officials and lobbyists.

The issue at hand is a proposed constitutional amendment that would protect citizens from having state and local government seize property, even if that seizure is temporary, without paying just compensation and only in those narrow cases where the reason for doing so is clearly in the public interest.  Ever since the Kilo decision, government has had free reign to take property for such ridiculous reasons as to supposedly increase the tax base.

This brings to mind this little snippet of American history, one that apparently is lost on the Manassas City Council:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

So Manassas taxpayers are going to shell out $1,500 a month so a lobbyist can badger our elected officials to trample our constitutional rights, precisely the opposite purpose for government existence as laid out in the Declaration of Independence.

How utterly insane.

H/T: Bearing Drift



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27 Comments

  1. Cromagnum said on 18 Oct 2011 at 3:17 pm:
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    Doesn’t Manassas City own all the utilities for thier jurisdiction, unlike most of the state?

    I think its time to start the call to privatize utilities in Manassas, and thereby raise short term capital revenue and eliminate this problem for one city.

    I think there would be better uses for that capital money from the sale, either paying down existing high dollar bonds, or looking at significant projects that either improve the city in the long term, or enhace the fiscal solvency.

  2. Anonymous said on 18 Oct 2011 at 4:05 pm:
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    Careful here Cro . . . the ability to control utilities by the City is a big plus that can be used to attract big, tax paying firms and to keep utlities lower for all citizens. Is the council looking to take over any property? Prescott House? Dumb idea if that is the case.

  3. Maureen said on 18 Oct 2011 at 5:48 pm:
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    It doesn’t matter if the council has plans to take over property or not it is not their place to send a lobbyist down to Richmond. If they want to oppose this then they need to get their asses down there themselves just like us average citizens.

    Greg can you call me when you get a chance? Please.

  4. R said on 18 Oct 2011 at 6:16 pm:
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    You can either run the local utility for the benefit of the local citizens, or you can sell the utility to an investor-owned corporation and have it run the local utility for the benefit of its shareholders. Right now the rates of our distribution system do not reflect a premium in the form of a dividend paid to shareholders. If the utility were to be sold, the shareholders would demand such a premium, or else why would they be in favor of purchasing the system? There are approximately 2000 municipal electric utility systems in the United States. They exist solely for the benefit of their citizens. If you read the pleadings they file in various legal fora throughout te country you can easily see what they generally stand for. By contrast the understandable goal of investor owned utilities is to get as much as possible from ratepayers and hand it to the shareholders. Not saying there is anything wrong with this but don’t mistake it for anything else. A distribution system is a monpoly; there is only one set of wires. Do you really think it will benefit the city and its citizens to hand that over for a short term gain?

  5. R said on 18 Oct 2011 at 6:36 pm:
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    Regarding the quoted language from the Declaration, it is certainly fine language at the core of who we are as a Country. To avoid misconstruction of that language the drafters incuded, in the Declaration, a list of examples as to what collectively constitutes the Government becoming “destructive to these ends.” The drafters did this to provided clear examples of what they were talking about, to avoid future revolutions except in the most extreme circumstances approximately those in effect when we were subject to British rule. Look at the examples therein. Nothing going on in Manassas today even remotely approximates what it was like for our citizens under British rule, and to suggest otherwise is just plain silly. To read the Declaration out of the context expressed within it is to dishonor the document drafted by our forefathers.

  6. Ray Beverage said on 18 Oct 2011 at 8:50 pm:
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    Ok, we in the City shell out $1,500 for a lobbyist. Y’all in the County shell out a lot more.

    In FY2010, the in-house Legislative person was eliminated and the contract went out for that salary amount of $132,000 for one agency to do State, one to do Federal.

    In FY2012, that contract saw an increase of $145,000.

    Add them together and y’all County Folks are shelling out $277,000 for two lobbyist firms PLUS paying the salary of a young lady in the CXO office to cooridinate the activities, and also be in Richmond during the GA Session.

    So we in the City are paying only 0.54% of what you are doing, and that contract also covers the rest of the lobbying.

  7. Greg L said on 18 Oct 2011 at 8:55 pm:
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    R, you miss the point. The purpose of government is to secure liberties, not attack them.

  8. R said on 18 Oct 2011 at 9:12 pm:
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    Greg, I wholeheartedly agree with your point as restated immediately above (”The purpose of government is to secure liberties, not attack them.”

    Off topic but quite an active debate on tv tonight. Unfortunately too much bickering about matters at the edge.

  9. Ray Beverage said on 18 Oct 2011 at 9:17 pm:
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    Did my posting too quick….that last decimal is useless considering when I corrected myself by taking the City’s 12,500 versus the County amount, we are paying around 8% of what PWC is doing. That said, the monthly rate of $1,500 is not far from the PWC rate of around $1,800.

    The Joint Resolution in 2011 is below just so the discussion about what was to be the Constitutional Amendment was to be:

    http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?111+ful+HJ693

  10. Groveton said on 19 Oct 2011 at 6:43 am:
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    It seems like this could use some additional detail.

    I plead the fifth. Namely, the fifth amendment, which reads …

    “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”.

    “…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

    OK, So - that’s in the US Constitution.

    The Kelo case was a court case in New London, CT. The City Council of New London took private waterfront property from a private citizen and “sold” it to a redevelopment group. I believe the “sale” was to the redeveloper for $1/year. The redeveloper promised that it would build many homes, provide many jobs and generate millions in taxes. While perhaps not germane to the rule of law, none of the promised benefits were realized and the taken land remains abandoned.

    The Kelo case was decided by the US Supreme Court. In a 5 - 4 decision, the supreme court held that the general benefits a community enjoyed from economic growth qualified such redevelopment plans as a permissible “public use” under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

    So, several states have proposed laws and constitutional amendments which prohibit the state (and, sometimes, localities) from processing eminent domain proceedings where the property taken would be transferred to natural persons or private entities.

    The key wording in the proposed Virginia amendment is as follows …

    “A taking or damaging of private property is not for public use if the primary use is for private gain, private benefit, private enterprise, increasing jobs, increasing tax revenue or economic development, except for the authorized provision of a public service company, public service corporation, or railroad service, or for the elimination of a public nuisance existing on the property. The condemnor bears the burden of proving that the use is public, without a presumption that it is.”.

    Some people have expressed concerns about this amendment’s potential to restrict municipal utilities. It seems to me (as a layman) that those situations are excluded from the prohibition against taking.

  11. Just the Facts said on 19 Oct 2011 at 7:50 am:
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    The amendment is vital to protect citizens against developer interests. Groveton provided a very good, succinct summary of what’s going on here. The Kelo decision allows local elected officials to work hand-in-hand with the development industry to confiscate private property on behalf of the developers. This amendment would help stop that absurd practice.

    Eminent domain should apply only in situations where projects represent a clear public benefit AND public use. Private property owners should receive full market value for property taken. That means roads, schools, etc. Crooked local politicians and developers (who finance their campaigns) argue that private projects generate a public benefit by increasing tax revenues, and the Supreme Court, in one of the worst decisions in history for personal freedom and property rights, agreed.

    Anyone ever read an economic benefits analysis provided by a developer? I have – lots of them. They are works of pure fiction. Developers hire economic mercenaries to rape the data and show that whatever they want to do has a “public benefit.”

    Anyone noticed the amounts of campaign financing going from development interests to the candidates likely to win Board of Supervisor seats in the election next month? Check it out – www.vpap.org.

    Manassas taxpayers and property owners should be irate about the City using their money to lobby on behalf of developer interests. Is Prince William County fighting the amendment also?

  12. Peter said on 19 Oct 2011 at 9:08 am:
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    Really? The City wants to spend public funds to prevent citizens from considering an amendment to the State Constitution that would prevent them from seizing private property to then give to private developer friends for non-public purposes - on the grounds on that it might improve tax revenues. A very slippery slope there don’t you think. How is this not asking City taxpayers to pay for public graft protection legislation lobbying. They already have the right to seize private property for pulbic purposes.

    Perhaps I am missing something here, but I do not see any connection to this and whether or not private property is taken for a public use or a public assest is sold for continuing public use to include a public utility designed, contructed, rehabilitated, or operated under contract with private financing. If that too is the intent of the proposal, we have a problem. Our aging public infrastructure, combined with the need for more such infrastructure and demands for higher levels of service and service quality requires that we have transparant alternatives to these types of investments - especially in communities that are hard pressed to do so with tax revenues.

  13. Groveton said on 19 Oct 2011 at 11:45 am:
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    Arizona:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arizona_Proposition_207_(2006)

    Florida:

    http://www.sptimes.com/2006/11/13/Tampabay/Crimping_eminent_doma.shtml

    Michigan:

    http://www.iandrinstitute.org/BW%202006-5%20%28Election%20results%29.pdf

    New Hampshire

    http://www.sos.nh.gov/general2006/sum-chesconcon06.htm

  14. Groveton said on 19 Oct 2011 at 11:47 am:
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    Maybe time to start asking if the City Council members might be living in blighted homes?

    From Wikipedia:

    “Subsequent to this decision, there was widespread outrage across the country. California developer and libertarian Logan Darrow Clements scooped a similar proposal by New Hampshire libertarians to seize Justice Souter’s ‘blighted’ home in Weare, New Hampshire, via eminent domain in order to build a “Lost Liberty Hotel” which he said would feature a “Just Desserts Cafe”. Officials of the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire (LPNH) and the Coalition of New Hampshire Taxpayers had been eyeing the Justice’s property to build a Constitution Park. A few weeks later, LPNH Vice-Chair Mike Lorrey discovered that Justice Breyer owned an extensive vacation estate in Plainfield, NH, and announced on the New Hampshire Public Radio show The Exchange focusing on eminent domain that LPNH would be pursuing their Constitution Park concept with Breyer’s property in mind. Lorrey and Clements both advocated an amendment to New Hampshire’s Constitution limiting eminent domain, which passed New Hampshire’s legislature on March 24, 2006. The text of the amendment is as follows: “No part of a person’s property shall be taken by eminent domain and transferred, directly or indirectly, to another person if the taking is for the purpose of private development or other private use of the property.”[41] It passed by an overwhelming margin in the 2006 general election.”.

  15. Groveton said on 19 Oct 2011 at 11:58 am:
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    Here is the list of Delegates who voted against even moving this possible amendment forward to the next session after an election (required by VA law):

    NAYS–Brink, Carr, Ebbin, Englin, Filler-Corn, Herring, Hope, James, Kory, Morrissey, Plum, Scott, J.M., Sickles, Surovell, Toscano–15.

    Here is the list of state senators who voted against even moving this possible amendment forward to the next session after an election (required by VA law):

    NAYS–Locke, Lucas, Miller, Y.B., Ticer, Whipple–5.

  16. Groveton said on 19 Oct 2011 at 12:27 pm:
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    A little more research on those would don’t want the next General Assembly to even consider whether to (maybe) let Virginians vote on a bill that has been adopted with large majorities in many other states:

    1. All 18 NAYS in the House are Democrats.

    2. All 5 NAYS in the Senate are Democrats.

    In fairness, many Democrats in both the House and Senate voted “Yes”. However, all Republicans voted yes.

    3. 10 of the 18 House of Delegate members who voted against this are from Northern Virginia. They are:

    Bob Brink (D) - 48th - Arlington
    Adam Ebbin (D) - 49th - Arlington/Fairfax/Alexandria
    David Englin (D) - 45th - Arlington/Fairfax/Alexandria
    Elieen Filler-Corn (D) - 41st - Fairfax
    Charniele Herring (D) - 46th - Fairfax/Alexandria
    Patrick Hope (D) - 47th - Arlington
    Kaye Korey (D) - 38th - Fairfax
    Kenneth Plum (D) - 36th - Fairfax
    James Scott (D) - 53rd - Falls Church
    Scott Surovell (D) - 44th - Fairfax

    4. 2 of the state Senators who voted against this are from Northern Virginia. They are:

    Patricia Ticer (D) - 30th - Alexandria/Arlington
    Mary Margaret Whipple (D) - 31st - Arlington

    Note: Some districts have been re-districted since the last session of the General Assembly. Some of those who voted aginst this have (blessedly) decided not to seek re-election. For example, Mary Margaret Whipple.

  17. Ray Beverage said on 19 Oct 2011 at 1:04 pm:
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    Living in the City, there is already part of my property taken for a sidewalk, a fire hydrant, light pole, utilities, water & sewer connection. I pay tax on the land.

    That strip on the other side of the sidewalk with the pole, hydrant and water meter gets the grass killed every time the City plows.

    In one reading of the Joint Resolution proposed amendment, since my grass I work hard to maintain is “damaged” each year because of the plowing…and for that matter, a mailbox I set in was damaged a couple of years back…since it is damaged, the way it reads I can bill the City or have them repair each Spring the damage at a higher cost then my $5 in grass seed.

    AGREE the intent of the Amendment is to prevent just outright taking the land for a developer. But also see the point raised that without definition of what “damage” is, and the extent of liability to City and subsequently my taxes increased, the Mayor does have worthy points.

  18. Ray Beverage said on 19 Oct 2011 at 1:09 pm:
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    @Groverton

    City is doing something about the derelict properties. Once the GA gave the local governments the authority, the City has been taking action.

    Take note of the October 10th Council Meeting where they got an update of the ongoing and new cases. The video of the session can be viewed on line at the Media Center:

    http://www.manassascity.org/MediaCenter.aspx

    The presentation starts around Time Stamp 50:54

  19. Groveton said on 19 Oct 2011 at 2:07 pm:
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    @Ray Beverage

    The question is not whether the amendment should pass. The question in the 2011 session was whether the proposed amendment should be sent to the 2012 session for consideration as a ballot item for the voters to consider.

    It was a vote for a vote for a vote.

    Yet, 23 of our representatives were unwilling to even pass the possibility on to the next GA session for consideration.

    Really?

    There is legitimate debate. However, that does not excuse these 23 so-called representative for their vote to kill the process in its cradle.

  20. Doug Brown said on 19 Oct 2011 at 8:50 pm:
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    @Ray B.

    Do you know a lawyer that specializes in Frivolous Lawsuits? If you don’t maybe the city council can direct you to the building in which they found the Frivolous Lobbyist?

  21. Ray Beverage said on 20 Oct 2011 at 5:33 am:
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    @Groverton: Agree with you on it being a legitimate debate. This is something that needs to be discussed, debated, and have clear definitions in the process. Killing it before hand does a service to no one.

    @Doug: LOL! Yeah, I can think of a few shyster types. Hiring the same guy out of the firm the City contracted with makes me want to hang a shingle out on the VML website as someone who can perform services.

  22. Doug Brown said on 20 Oct 2011 at 6:56 am:
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    Ray,

    Perform services?! Morning coffe spill. Hey, Ray I wonder how many other guys besides me would show at night with ladder and spray paint to decorate your shingle during the night. :)

  23. Ray Beverage said on 20 Oct 2011 at 10:01 am:
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    Doug…hope the coffee spill landed to the left or right :-) And graffitti on the sign? Me thinks at the moment you might have to push through a small crowd…LOL!

  24. Greg L said on 20 Oct 2011 at 12:51 pm:
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    Attorney General Ken Cucinelli sent out an email today on this subject — here’s a part of it:

    Here in Virginia, Patrick Henry, James Monroe and George Mason realized how important it was to defend the fundamental right to property. In Virginia’s constitutional convention in June of 1788, they voted against the US Constitution because it did not include the protection of property rights, among other individual rights.

    Given this commitment to property rights among our founders, it is shocking that to this very day property rights are still not protected in Virginia’s Constitution! Amazing.

    The good news is, we took the first steps to protect property rights in the Virginia Constitution during the 2011 General Assembly Session. Both the House and Senate voted in favor of amending our Constitution to explicitly protect a Virginian’s right to property. But under Virginia law, a constitutional amendment must be passed twice by the legislature – once before and once after an intervening election – at which point it goes to Virginia’s voters in a referendum.

    That means the amendment is coming up for another vote in the 2012 General Assembly session, which begins in January.

    The amendment addresses four issues related to eminent domain, the power of local and state governments (and some private utilities, i.e., public service companies) to take your property for so-called “public uses.”

    The first is insuring that proper damages are awarded to people whose property is taken.

    The second is requiring government entities (or utilities) taking property to prove that it’s going to be put to a true public use.

    The third is limiting those entities from taking any more property than is absolutely necessary for the achievement of the public use.

    And finally, the fourth issue is to stop Kelo-type takings (do you remember the Kelo case?) where the declared ‘public use’ is simply to increase the tax base or spur economic development by taking property from one private landowner and turning it over to another private landowner to develop.

    I was dismayed and shocked to read an article last Thursday in the Washington Post (link here for the full article) that said municipalities around the state are hiring lobbyists and gearing up to fight the passage of this amendment in the upcoming legislative session.

    Let me say that again… counties and cities are hiring lobbyists with your tax dollars to go to Richmond and fight to kill an amendment that protects your property rights!

    You might be asking yourself - what member of the General Assembly would oppose protecting property rights?

    Well - there are many, including, over the years, some Republicans. Critically this year, Virginia’s own State Senate Majority leader, the ever blunt Democrat Dick Saslaw said - not once, but twice - on the floor of the Senate that property rights have no place in Virginia’s Constitution (to see that for yourself, click here [ http://cl.publicaster.com/ClickThru.aspx?pubids=9190%7c1%7c8744%7c8745&digest=TXz5RJaFx8oxQ8Tyx0aU%2bQ&sysid=1 ] ).

  25. Ray Beverage said on 20 Oct 2011 at 7:52 pm:
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    Greg, thanks!

  26. Groveton said on 21 Oct 2011 at 7:12 am:
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    Greg:

    Interesting e-mail from AG Cuccinelli. However, he is overplaying his hand. The video of Saslaw was from 2007. I guess Dick Saslaw saw the light this time around. Instead of wasting political firepower against a guy who won’t be defeated in this election, why not focus on some of the 23 General Assembly members who voted against this just last spring?

    For example, why isn’t Caren Merrick pinning Barbara Favola to the wall with this issue.

    Force Favola to either stand with her ideological twin sister Mary Margaret Whipple or disown her on this topic. Merrick could also successfully note the “Arlington mentality” on this. Also forwarding the amendment on to the next GA session was opposed by a ver small minority (23/140), much of that minority came from Arlington. Do the nice liberals in Arlington really want mean people like Bob McDonnell and Ken Cuccinelli to sieze their homes and give them to the Koch Brothers so they can turn them into a Tea Party Convention Center?

    I thought not.

    The state senate could go Republican if the Republicans make a good final push in a few key races. Caren Merrick could make use of this. Tell Cooch to stop wasting time with 2007 videos of Saslaw and help Merrick get after Favola on this.

  27. Jonathan Way said on 21 Nov 2011 at 8:22 am:
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    Eminent Domain Constitution Amendment

    1. I fully support Virginia’s current restrictions on eminent domain. The KELO decision was bad social policy, and has been prevented here in Virginia by legislation in 2009. There should be, and for the most part are, major restrictions on the justification for condemning property. Any gaps in current restrictions should be plugged.

    2. I do not like the rationale for requiring a constitutional amendment rather than simply modifying existing legislation. The only argument I have heard is that we can’t trust the General Assembly to leave legislation alone and that a constitutional amendment is much more likely to survive because of the more complex voting requirements. This raises two issues for me:
    a. Why can’t we trust the GA? If we cannot, then what other subjects can we not trust them with?
    b. If we are going down a road where things are very difficult to change, then we have to get them exactly right the first time. Can we really trust the GA to get it exactly right the first time? If we can, then consult “a” just above.
    c. If, as some of the wording suggests, the GA can write critical parts of the amendment later and/or re-write the amendment from time to time, then what good is it?

    3. While fully supporting just and reasonable compensation for property taken, I am troubled by the analyses of the VML and other organizations which contend such compensation can include almost anything a claimant can dream up for “lost profits”, “lost goodwill” and “lost access”. It sounds to me like another medical malpractice fiasco in the making. We have seen lesser examples in the city where each bit of sidewalk needed for roadway expansion has become the most valuable property in the Commonwealth.

    4. I believe constitutional amendments should be few and far between and should be statements of policy, not administration. They need lots of careful thought, particularly about unintended consequences. A good current example of this is the federal health care mandatory purchase requirement which I think is a gross over-extension of the commerce clause.

    5. Bottom line for me is go slow and thoughtful; no “hip shooting” on something this important. I am not opposed to the tighter restrictions, just to the prospect of settlements which are even more outrageous.

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