Happy 4th of July to all. By request, we’re sending the summary below, with updates, of our 27 Jun email titled “BOCS Chair’s Disregard for Others & Rule of Law Is Undermining Our Freedoms & Prosperity: 11 Examples”. Here’s a link to the full text of that message, with extensive documentation, as well as updates to items 1, 4, 5, and 6: https://pwcbg.org/2020/06/bocs-chairs-disregard-for-others-rule-of-law-is-undermining-our-freedoms-prosperity-11-examples/ . Please also share this summary via social media and/or other means: …. )
In Prince William County our freedoms and prosperity are both at risk due to a series of extreme abuses of power and maladministration by Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) Chair Ann Wheeler in which, unfortunately, she has usually been joined in lockstep by the other four members of the BOCS’ Democratic majority. Using police state tactics as much as she can get away with it, Chair Wheeler is routinely trying to suppress: free speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances, the BOCS minority party, and the public’s right to know what its government is up to (government transparency). She has been doctrinaire and reckless, yet confused, regarding the county’s economy. And she has demonstrated incompetence on land use policy and vindictiveness toward west county residents. Here are 11 examples:
1. Enabled goon-like intimidation of the minority party — At the last BOCS meeting on 16 June, Chair Wheeler allowed numerous foul-mouthed, abusive, and threatening verbal attacks on two female Republican supervisors, Yesli Vega and Jeanine Lawson.
Such attitudes and behavior are very reminiscent of early days in the histories of the Nazi Brownshirts and of Chairman Mao’s Red Guards during the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
2. Tried to use police to remove “conservative protesters” — Wheeler and other Dem supervisors’ sympathetic reaction to the goon-like behavior noted above is unprecedented in our 15 years of experience with the BOCS and stands in dangerous and extremely hypocritical contrast to her response at the 19 May BOCS meeting to “conservative protesters” who opposed her plans to end the county’s longstanding cooperation with ICE (federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement) on illegal immigrants jailed for crimes in the county. Wheeler “threatened to have police remove [the] crowd of conservative protesters who stood outside the BOCS chamber and heckled the supervisors during the session, but used no profanity.”
3. Tried to use police to prevent a “Reopen Prince William” rally — According to local media reports and reliable confidential sources, Chair Wheeler tried to use the county Sheriff’s Department to forcibly shut down (by arrest and/or forcibly blocking or removing any participants who showed up) a legal, peaceful Reopen Prince William rally to reopen the county’s economy on 23 May. Apparently for Wheeler and her allies, bigotry and racist hate speech (see #1 above), as well as police state tactics (see #s 2 and 3 above), are just fine if they’re targeted at shutting down her opponents and denying them their First Amendment rights.
4. Violated Virginia’s open government laws in order to suppress public opposition, free speech, and the right to petition the government— Chair Wheeler held two BOCS meetings (on 12 and 19 May) without full, in-person public debate regarding ending the 287g County Jail-ICE cooperation program. This was done in apparent violation of Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) law and the BOCS’ own emergency legal justifications for holding said meetings (as printed in every BOCS meeting agenda since the Covid-19 shutdown.) She did so to pack the County Jail Board with political cronies, including, nepotistically, Potomac District Supervisor Bailey’s husband, in order to end on 17 June the County Jail-ICE cooperation program, which the five BOCS Dems oppose, and to minimize public comment.
Note: Regardless of one’s views on the appropriateness and/or efficacy of the ICE program, this was a major decision that should legally have waited until the county was sufficiently open again (from the Covid-19 shutdown) to allow in-person comment by all county citizens so inclined. At least one Dem supervisor has suggested — as justification after the fact — that the new Jail Board appointments were too few to make a difference in the outcome of the Jail Board vote against the ICE program. If so, then the 12 and 19 May BOCS deliberations/vote with no in-person public comment were neither necessary nor an emergency — and thus illegal. You can’t have it both ways.
5. Violated Virginia’s open government meeting laws in order to suppress public opposition and illegally exclude duly-elected minority party BOCS supervisors — On 31 May, Chair Wheeler and the other four BOCS Democrats attended a “community meeting” with police “on use of police force during a Manassas-area protest the previous evening.” The meeting excluded the three Republican supervisors and thus violated FOIA laws on open meetings, which require public notice when three or more members of the board are meeting and discussing policy. (See: https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacodepopularnames/virginia-freedom-of-information-act/.) The five Dems then — incredibly — denied that they discussed any matters of government business.
6. Showed poor judgement and confusion regarding the county’s severely weakened economy and reopening — Chair Wheeler unilaterally asked Virginia Governor Northam to keep the county’s economically devastated small businesses/employers closed from 15-29 May, two weeks after most of the state began Phase One of Reopening. Then, amid a groundswell of opposition to her precipitous and unilateral behavior on something that impacted so much of the county’s population, the BOCS voted 5-3 (in a very rare show of bipartisanship on major issues, without Wheeler’s support) to request Governor Northam allow earlier, partial reopening of some business activities. Northam denied the request. Then on 24 May, appearing to panic, Wheeler completely reversed direction and publicly supported early reopening of the county’s economy. (See: https://www.insidenova.com/news/special/coronavirus/leaders-making-preparations-for-may-29-reopening-in-northern-virginia/article_c377cd60-9ecf-11ea-8a79-7fdd58140b9b.html )
7. Showed poor judgement, influenced by cronyism, regarding protecting county schoolchildren — On 12 May the BOCS voted 7 to 1 (with Chair Wheeler the lone opposing vote) to make a FOIA request (with necessary redactions) for allegedly inappropriate online communications between School Superintendent Steven Walts and schoolchildren, as well as to send a letter to the elected county school board asking it to explain how it is investigating Walts. Chair Wheeler says she trusts her political crony School Board Chair Lateef and the rest of the Board to do the right thing, with no oversight, after they previously provided poor oversight of very highly-paid Walts.
8. Hypocritically put rigid, absolutist ideology above the interests of under-served communities. According to the 16 Jun BOCS meeting agenda and recent news releases from Chair Wheeler praising herself and announcing “A New Era” in the county, the county is now implementing a new program called “Diversity Lens” that will be a significant factor in designing, evaluating, and implementing county programs and strategic plans.
We wonder why no “Diversity Lens” was used to evaluate Chair Wheeler’s decision to keep the economy closed longer than most of the rest of the state or in changing the Jail Board in order to end the county jail’s cooperation program with ICE. Minority communities and under-served areas of the country were benefiting relatively more from the booming economy before Covid-19, with labor participation rates higher and unemployment lower than they’d been in over 50 years, and wages rising much faster (percentage-wise) for lower- and working-class wage earners than any other group. These communities thus had the most to lose from the county’s longer economic shutdown (see #6 above.) And minority communities also have the most to lose from immigrant criminal predators potentially being released back into their communities.
9. Showed poor judgement and cold-hearted, uncaring attitude toward county’s small businesses, employees by raising taxes during economic collapse — With official unemployment at almost 15% (over 23 million workers nationally) and a severe economic recession threatening to bankrupt tens of thousands of county residents and businesses, on 28 April silver-spoon, multi-millionaire Chair Wheeler, oblivious and/or indifferent to this suffering, led the BOCS Dem majority to raise rather than reduce private employer & homeowner taxes and to increase government spending.
10. In March, attempted to permanently restrict citizens’ First Amendment rights at BOCS meetings, then lied about and denied responsibility for doing so.
11. Demonstrated land use incompetence and vindictiveness toward west county residents — Chair Wheeler forced the big Devlin Rd. residential development project upon West County citizens on 10 and 31 March, ignoring virtually unanimous local opposition, including over 1,000 petitioners, while also ignoring BOCS rules and procedures and unresolved flooding, eminent domain, phasing, and housing density problems.
It’s our county. We can either choose to live with the above abuses of power, choose to live with ever-eroding freedoms and prosperity under Chair Wheeler’s anti-democratic, police-state mentality or fight back.
Ralph & Kathy Stephenson
Only in the bright light of public scrutiny can the common good be secured,
while in darkness and obscurity the interests of the powerful and affluent prevail.