So it would appear we have conflicting views about what a statute of criminal law means in Manassas. The proper venue to determine the correct interpretation of the law is a court, and the first step towards having that happen (in the absence of a Commonwealth’s Attorney concerned in any way with doing his job) is for a citizen to swear out a warrant for Mark Wolfe’s arrest for willful violations of the Virginia Code. Let’s turn this over to a court to decide if the law actually means what it says.
Tonight the Manassas City Council had a “re-vote” regarding appropriations to non-governmental entities that was done during the last City Council meeting. One of the entities that the council awarded money to was the Manassas Ballet, an entity that pays a salary to his wife and of which he is the Executive Director. That vote passed 4-2 this time, as it did before, with Wolfe voting in favor both times. The only difference between that vote and this one was that this time Wolfe disclosed his personal financial interest in the outcome of this vote tonight as he is required to do under Virginia Code § 2.2-3115(F).
At least we have a formal recognition by Wolfe that a personal conflict of interest exists and that Virginia’s conflicts of interest laws apply to this vote.
Let’s take a look for a moment at what the Virginia Code says about conflicts of interest.
§ 2.2-3112. Prohibited conduct concerning personal interest in a transaction; exceptions.A. Each officer and employee of any state or local governmental or advisory agency who has a personal interest in a transaction:
1. Shall disqualify himself from participating in the transaction if (i) the transaction has application solely to property or a business or governmental agency in which he has a personal interest or a business that has a parent-subsidiary or affiliated business entity relationship with the business in which he has a personal interest or (ii) he is unable to participate pursuant to subdivision 2, 3 or 4. Any disqualification under the provisions of this subdivision shall be recorded in the public records of the officer’s or employee’s governmental or advisory agency. The officer or employee shall disclose his personal interest as required by subsection E of § 2.2-3114 or subsection F of § 2.2-3115 and shall not vote or in any manner act on behalf of his agency in the transaction. The officer or employee shall be prohibited from (i) attending any portion of a closed meeting authorized by the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (§ 2.2-3700 et seq.) when the matter in which he has a personal interest is discussed and (ii) discussing the matter in which he has a personal interest with other governmental officers or employees at any time;
2. May participate in the transaction if he is a member of a business, profession, occupation, or group of three or more persons the members of which are affected by the transaction, and he complies with the declaration requirements of subsection F of § 2.2-3114 or subsection H of § 2.2-3115;
3. May participate in the transaction when a party to the transaction is a client of his firm if he does not personally represent or provide services to such client and he complies with the declaration requirements of subsection G of § 2.2-3114 or subsection I of § 2.2-3115; or
4. May participate in the transaction if it affects the public generally, even though his personal interest, as a member of the public, may also be affected by that transaction.
B. Disqualification under the provisions of this section shall not prevent any employee having a personal interest in a transaction in which his agency is involved from representing himself or a member of his immediate family in such transaction provided he does not receive compensation for such representation and provided he complies with the disqualification and relevant disclosure requirements of this chapter.
C. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, if disqualifications of officers or employees in accordance with this section leave less than the number required by law to act, the remaining member or members shall constitute a quorum for the conduct of business and have authority to act for the agency by majority vote, unless a unanimous vote of all members is required by law, in which case authority to act shall require a unanimous vote of remaining members. Notwithstanding any provisions of this chapter to the contrary, members of a local governing body whose sole interest in any proposed sale, contract of sale, exchange, lease or conveyance is by virtue of their employment by a business involved in a proposed sale, contract of sale, exchange, lease or conveyance, and where such member’s or members’ vote is essential to a constitutional majority required pursuant to Article VII, Section 9 of the Constitution of Virginia and § 15.2-2100, such member or members of the local governing body may vote and participate in the deliberations of the governing body concerning whether to approve, enter into or execute such sale, contract of sale, exchange, lease or conveyance. Official action taken under circumstances that violate this section may be rescinded by the agency on such terms as the interests of the agency and innocent third parties require.
D. The provisions of subsection A shall not prevent an officer or employee from participating in a transaction merely because such officer or employee is a party in a legal proceeding of a civil nature concerning such transaction.
E. The provisions of subsection A shall not prevent an employee from participating in a transaction regarding textbooks or other educational material for students at state institutions of higher education, when those textbooks or materials have been authored or otherwise created by the employee.
Wolfe complied with Section 1 above right up to the point where I’ve bolded the text. Then he voted to award the Manassas Ballet a huge chunk of taxpayer money anyways.
But what about all the rest of that stuff in that code section you might ask? Well, since I’m not an attorney I decided to go to the attorneys that supposedly know about this stuff and looked up the publication by the Virginia Municipal League about conflicts of interest, but it’s always helpful to at least read the law through once before looking at attorneys talking about it. Now that we’ve hopefully not skimmed past all that, let’s see how VML’s attorneys describe how it works:
The fact that a council member has a personal interest in a transaction before council does not automatically require that the member disqualify himself or herself. The act’s requirements for participation, if a personal interest in the transaction does exist, set out three levels of transactions. § 2.2-3112.A.
1. If the transaction deals solely with property, a business, or a government agency in which the council member has a personal interest, then the council member must disqualify himself or herself. The provision further states that disqualification is required if the transaction applies solely to a business that is a parent subsidiary (holds more than a 50% controlling interest) or considered an affiliated business (where the same owner or manager controls both businesses) to the business that in which the council member has a personal interest.
2. If the transaction affects a business, profession, occupation or group of three or more members that the council member belongs to, the council member may participate in the transaction only if he or she completes a disclosure form, described in the “Disclosures” section. § 2.2-3112.A.2. For example, if a council votes on the tax rate for professionals, and if the council member is an attorney, that puts him in the subject group affected by the professional license tax. If a town only has two attorneys, then the council member/attorney must disqualify himself or herself from participating.
3. If the transaction affects the public generally, the council member may participate. A council member may obviously vote on raising taxes, even though it affects him or her, because it affects the public generally. In comparing items 2 and 3, many transactions are considered to affect the public generally, even though not every member of the public is affected. For example, the real estate tax applies only to property owners, but it is considered to affect the general public.
Wolfe has clearly disclosed that a conflict of interest exists according to the above, so what should he do under the law? Again, VML has a pretty easy-to-understand process:
If a council member is disqualified from participating in a transaction, the act requires several steps. § 2.2-3112:
1. The council member must disclose the interest that causes the disqualification by identifying the interest, including the name and address of the business or property. § 2.2-3115.E. The disclosure is required whether the law requires the disqualification or the council member voluntarily disqualifies himself out of an abundance of caution.
2. The disclosure must be kept for five years in the records of the council.
3. The council member may not vote on or participate in discussion on the transaction.
4. The council member may not attend the portion of a closed meeting at which the transaction is discussed.
5. The council member may not discuss the matter with anyone in the government who is involved in the transaction.
So it would seem that not only me, but the Virginia Municipal League’s attorneys would agree that Wolfe has willfully violated the law here. Whether Wolfe is hiding behind the skirts of City Attorney Martin Crim here on this is immaterial - Wolfe is personally liable for any criminal behavior he commits regardless of who told him it was or was not legal to engage in that behavior. If you or I break the law and commit a criminal act, we can’t escape accountability for that simply because we got bad legal advice from an overpaid hack. Wolfe apparently thinks his behavior did not violate the law, and City Attorney Crim probably believes the same thing seeing as he once again sat on his hands while Wolfe was breaking the law. Seeing as Crim screwed up and let Wolfe vote for this appropriation at the last Council Meeting without even disclosing a conflict of interest, which is the whole reason for this “re-vote”, we’ve already determined that Crim’s legal qualities are sketchy at best.
If you believe as I that there’s a reasonable basis to conclude that Mark Wolfe’s behavior was in fact illegal, your duty as a citizen is to go to the office of the Magistrate at Prince William County District Court and swear out a warrant for Wolfe’s arrest. Swearing out a warrant based on an honest and reasonable belief that a violation of the law has occurred is a noble act of good citizenship, and not something that any decent citizen should approach with any degree of fear or trepidation. You can’t be punished for reporting a crime unless you are making false statements or otherwise trying to abuse the justice system. You’ve had a chance to review both the facts and the law here, and if you are convinced there is reason for a court to consider that Mark Wolfe may be guilty of a crime, you really have no moral option here. Your duty as a citizen compels you to act to protect your fellow citizens and uphold the rule of law.
I believe a resident of the City of Manassas should be the one to do this as this is their City Council and their government. I live in the county and don’t vote for these councilmembers. Otherwise I’d gladly be there at District Court tomorrow asking to see the magistrate. If you want some company as you make the trip, let me know and I’d be happy to come with you, though.
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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