As badly crafted and ineffective as it is, Virginia Code §15.2-953 at least establishes some limits to the gifting of taxpayer dollars to non-state entities. Most of that code section is utterly inoperative, but there is one section of the law that is actually enforceable. It would be refreshing to see the Prince William Board of County Supervisors actually follow it.
Here’s the one section of that law that is enforceable (emphasis added):
Any locality may make appropriations of public funds, of personal property or of any real estate and donations to the Virginia Indigent Health Care Trust Fund and to any charitable institution or association, located within their respective limits or outside their limits if such institution or association provides services to residents of the locality; however, such institution or association shall not be controlled in whole or in part by any church or sectarian society. The words “sectarian society” shall not be construed to mean a nondenominational Young Men’s Christian Association, a nondenominational Young Women’s Christian Association, Habitat for Humanity, or the Salvation Army. Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit any county or city from making contracts with any sectarian institution for the care of indigent, sick or injured persons.
I’ve obtained a listing of the expenditures made by the Board of County Supervisors, and to my utter surprise, a Supervisors have unlawfully donated taxpayer money using the recently-abolished political slush funds to entities that are controlled at least in part by a church or sectarian society. After being briefed by the county attorney on this very subject, both Supervisors Maureen Caddigan and Marty Nohe disbursed taxpayer funds in defiance of this law (and with the aquiescence of the entire board), demonstrating once again the high standards of legal and ethical behavior we’ve come to know and love from this bunch.
Marty Nohe’s gift of $500 to Prince of Peace United Methodist Church on 09/09/2011 and Maureen Caddigan’s gift of $500 in taxpayer funds to Catholics for Housing, Inc. on 12/07/2010 unfortunately violate a law where no civil or criminal penalties are explicitly called for, making this one of those wonderful instances where our elected officials can break the law and never seem to worry about suffering a civil or criminal consequence. That’s unlike the rest of us who go to jail or at least have to shell out thousands of dollars in legal costs and civil fines if we break the law.
There are however a few opportunities to hold these elected officials to account for their behavior.
The first is what is called a “recall trial” pursuant to VA Code §24.2-233 which is what we have in Virginia in lieu of recall elections. After petitions obtain the signature of 10% of the number of persons who voted in the last general election, which would be 945 signatures for Marty Nohe and 774 signatures for Caddigan, a judge holds a trial to determine whether the officeholder should be removed. This rather unusual process has rarely ever been used, and it would be unlikely either one would be removed absent additional complaints, especially those that involve additional violations of the law. Given that we’ve seen at least Caddigan misuse taxpayer dollars to purchase soft campaign advertisements with public funds, it’s not outside of the realm of possibilities that a bigger laundry list of legal and ethical violations could be compiled that would make it at least possible that Caddigan would be removed in a recall trial. Nohe is quite a bit craftier than Caddigan, so it’ll be a lot harder to find much in the record with his fingerprints on it.
A more likely avenue is to simply badger these elected officials about their ethical and legal misconduct that they resign from office. Being an elected official can be pretty stressful and at times unrewarding, especially when they’re under fire for wrongdoing. Today the Chairman of the D. C. Council resigned over a misdemeanor campaign finance violation, just the latest example of how elected officials react when they’ve been caught and lose the confidence of the voters. To that end I’ll be spending quite a bit of time from now on poring over every record of their conduct I can get my hands on, pointing out every violation of law and ethics I can discover, and making sure voters have plenty of reason to have with their elected officials what is called in diplomatic circles “a frank exchange of perspectives.”
It doesn’t bother me that elected officials gave public money to religious charities any more than them giving taxpayer dollars to any other kind of charity, but the law in this regard is quite explicit and we expect our officials to comply with the law. When elected officials regularly violate the law and commit frequent ethical infractions it undermines the public’s trust of their government and for the sake of our republic, they need to go.
Readers should take special care in asking pointed questions to these two supervisors about their behavior, and to talk to all their friends and neighbors about what they’re learning here. We only fix the government of this locality of you do something. If you don’t care that lawbreakers are in charge of your government, just sit on your hands and do nothing. If you actually think you deserve better government than this, you need to start doing something. Now.
Keep an eye out for recall petitions. I wouldn’t be surprised if they start circulating in the near future.
The opinions expressed here are solely the views of the author, and not representative of the position of any organization, political party, doughnut shop, knitting guild, or waste recycling facility, but may be correctly attributed to the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. If anything in the above article has offended you, please click here to receive an immediate apology.
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